Culture

The Virile Style

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Rapper DMX in New York City in 2006. (Bryan Bedder/Getty Images)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about all sorts of crazy stuff and available only to NRPlus members. Thank you again to all of you who have signed up in the past several weeks — I appreciate it tremendously.

The Masculinity Panic

“Where the Hood At?” by the late DMX is a very peculiar song. The first verse is about the rapper’s intense hatred of homosexuals and his intense desire to do them harm, and the last verse is about his equally intense desire to express his contempt for homosexuals and other men on his enemies list by . . . having sex with them. The song is an anthem of homophobia until it becomes a homoerotic fantasy, and the video, full of close-up shots of muscled-up shirtless men, is at least as gay as the volleyball scene in Top Gun.

That will be mostly familiar stuff to scholars of sexual history and men who have been to prison — for most of human existence, until about three days ago, attitudes toward male homosexuality were in most times and most places very strongly dependent upon whether a man took what we used to decorously call the “active” or the “passive” role in the relationship. Naïve gay-rights advocates sometimes point to ancient republican Rome as an example of a society with a tolerant attitude toward homosexuality, but Latin doesn’t even have a word for homosexual in the modern sense of that word, and same-sex relationships between men in Rome were mainly the sort of thing we very much would not tolerate in our time: pederastic exploitation by adult men of youths who were under their control (often as slaves) or who were in social positions that made them easy to exploit. To do with a Roman citizen what could be done with a slave or a child prostitute was, of course, forbidden, and if it had ever occurred to any ancient Roman to pursue something like a modern homosexual relationship — a life partnership of men generally of roughly comparable age and social status, possibly leading to marriage or something like it — the result would probably have been execution. In the case of Roman soldiers, the prescribed punishment for willingly submitting to homosexual penetration was being beaten to death — to be sexually used in such a way was, in the Roman mind, a symbol of military defeat, and, hence, by the usual operation of magical thinking in the ancient world, homosexual relations among soldiers were thought to cause battlefield losses.

If that sounds like irrelevant ancient history to you, have a look at the rifle that pathetic little misfit used in the Buffalo massacre.

The rifle in question was covered with graffiti of an obviously racial character: the names of racist mass murderers associated with massacres in Norway and South Carolina, “Here’s your reparations!”, and other things of that nature, with indifferent spelling. And some of the graffiti had a sexual nature as well as a racial one, including “Buck Status: Broken,” and “BLM Mogged.”

Those of you who are not sad-sack 4chan racial obsessives may be mystified by these. The ADL explains that “buck breaking” refers to the “use of brutal sexual violence by slave owners as punishment against enslaved Black men,” but that isn’t quite right, or quite the whole thing. The slogan refers much more specifically to a much-ridiculed documentary film called Buck Breaking, which dwells upon the claim — undocumented and preposterous — that American slaveowners punished unruly male slaves by publicly raping them, typically in front of other slaves, including their wives and children when these were available. Social and legal sanctions on homosexuality were very strong in the antebellum South, and the notion that plantation overseers would engage in public homosexual acts is, to say the least, extraordinarily unlikely. No documentary evidence of this exists. Where sexualized violence was used to punish male slaves, it was typically castration.

(The habitual rape and sexual exploitation of female slaves is well-documented.)

“Buck breaking” is another example of the phenomenon typified by the “Willie Lynch” letter, an obvious hoax purporting to be an antique guide to slave management that explains modern black social problems. The Willie Lynch letter is as fake as can be (the language is obviously from the second half of the 20th century, and there is no historian who believes that it is anything other than a clumsy fabrication), but it is regularly presented as a genuine historical document and, when confronted with evidence of its obviously fictitious nature, those who traffic in the myth of Willie Lynch inevitably turn to the “fake but accurate” approach, insisting that it represents a larger historical truth. In a similar way, Buck Breaking purports to connect the (fictitious) practice of forcibly and publicly sodomizing male slaves to the modern-day emasculation of black men, but the prurient documentary is derided as, essentially, a soft-core-porn fetish film. The Very Online racists who have taken up “buck breaking” as a threat and a term of abuse have, even if they do not quite understand what they are doing, taken on the role of DMX — they are fantasizing about cutting their enemies down to size by engaging in homosexual acts with them. Like DMX, they have arrived at the very strange point where homophobia meets homoeroticism.

In fact, much of the argot of the racist underground (and the adjacent political Right) is based on genres of homosexual pornography, not only “buck breaking” but also the remarkably fetishistic attachment to the word “cuck,” which features in certain homosexually oriented humiliation porn. Which side of the great cuck divide the Right wishes to be on is not always entirely clear: Claremont Institute Lincoln Fellow “Jack Murphy” (real name John Goldman) is an amateur pornographer who rejoices in, as Rod Dreher puts it, the “pleasures of being a literal cuckold” by “farming his girlfriend out to other men for sex.” When he is not publicly impaling himself on sex toys, Goldman’s specialization is the topic of masculinity, and, in a very similar way, Claremont’s American Mind journal is packed with the predictable kind of sexual anxiety that is by necessity associated with that version of masculinity, fretting about “soy boys” and “simps” and the like. This is the “traditional” model of masculinity that finds authentic manliness in only a handful of manly archetypes: cops, soldiers, blue-collar workers, motorcycle enthusiasts, etc.

Which is to say, it is only one feathered headdress short of the Village People.

The link between anxiety about masculinity and homoeroticism — and outright homosexual pornography — is very old and its origins very obvious. Until very, very recently, to be a homosexual man — especially a man on what DMX and the ancient Romans and an American prison inmate would think of as the degrading side of a homosexual encounter — was to be reduced to the social status of a woman. (Set aside, for the moment, Camille Paglia’s very persuasive argument that the sexual behavior of gay men in the bathhouse culture of the 1970s and 1980s was the precise opposite of feminized — it was the detached, transactional promiscuity of the male libido liberated from any need to compromise with the priorities and sensibilities of women.) From the historical Western point of view, gay men were, in effect, not men at all. Predictably, one response to this attack on the masculinity of gay men was the emergence of a gay iconography of hypermasculine archetypes: The Village People presented the consumer-friendly model of this (which gay men in that era must have found positively hilarious, because they knew what the YMCA was famous for), but the origins of that aesthetic are in older gay erotica and pornography, most famously in the works of Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen), whose drawings of muscled-up bikers, sailors, cops, and cowboys popularized and in some ways created a self-contained library of masculinity — mostly of a fun-loving libertine nature, but also containing a fair amount of darker stuff, including a scene that would have been very much at home in Buck Breaking if not for the fact that all the figures depicted are white.

(There is something to be inferred about national self-conceptions of masculinity in the fact that Touko Laaksonen did not visit the United States until he was almost 60, but his pictures were widely understood to be pictures of Americans. Europeans long regarded Americans as hypermasculine, going back at least to Alexis de Toqueville’s observations of the “women of America, who often exhibit a masculine strength of understanding and a manly energy.” The European impression of exaggerated American masculinity is in many ways parallel to white Americans’ traditional impression of exaggerated black masculinity — something regarded with a mix of admiration and fear.)

It should be no surprise that those Tom of Finland gay archetypes approximate the idealized cartoon masculinity of the online racists and their political cousins in right-wing institutions such as the Claremont Institute: In our time, it is not gay men in America who feel emasculated but white men in America. Like gay men of an earlier generation, the Buffalo shooter and his 4chan associates dream of taking on hypermasculine roles, even if that sense of hypermasculinity leads them into the realm of homosexual fantasy. Beyond “buck breaking,” the Buffalo shooter fantasized in public about “mogging” Black Lives Matter, which is to say, humiliating them with a display of intimidating physical stature. You will not be surprised to learn that the word “mogged” crops up most often at one of the traditional intersections between exaggerated notions of traditional masculinity and a gay subculture: bodybuilding. That Claremont fellow is an amateur bodybuilder when he is not subjecting himself to ritualized sexual humiliation.

It is here that our old friend Tucker Carlson enters the story.

The most interesting overlap between the obsessions of Tucker Carlson and the Buffalo shooter is not, as our self-serving Democratic friends insist, “replacement” rhetoric — it is masculine anxiety. Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson comes from the West Coast version of the old New England and Mid-Atlantic WASP elite, a product of the La Jolla Country Day School and boarding schools in Switzerland and New England. He doesn’t have any more experience with ranch labor, factory workers, or the Hells Angels than Tom of Finland had, but his valorization of blue-collar and rural life is marked by the same kind of longing after masculine archetypes, and his approach to the question of masculinity could not be more literally reductive — his interest, as described in his recent documentary, The End of Men, is commanded in no small part by the state of the American testicle. Carlson represents the latest in a very long line of insulated aristocrats gripped by a panic about the state of masculinity in their time: Teddy Roosevelt was another, with his advocacy of the “strenuous life,” and the father of Scouting, a movement intended in part to address certain perceived deficiencies in late-Victorian masculinity, was Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell, OM, GCMG, GCVO, KCB, KStJ, DL. Xi Jinping, the son of a high-ranking Communist Party official who did not find physical labor much to his liking when he was forcibly rusticated by Mao Zedong, has banned depictions of “sissy men” from Chinese media. Vladimir Putin’s regime is strangely interested in the question of gay Russians — since we have it on the good word of senior Russian officials that there are no homosexuals in their jurisdictions.

Where the fear of emasculation meets “replacement theory” is on the hard ground of social-status competition. What was that tiki-torch dork parade in Charlottesville all about? As the man behind one of the country’s premier neo-Nazi websites promised those thinking about attending that rally, the result would be not the beginning of a racial holy war or the achievement of political power or anything like that: “Random girls will want to have sex with you,” he declared. As it turns out, that doesn’t seem to be how things went down. But the Nazis say more than they perhaps intend. Of course the Buffalo shooter dreamt of inflicting sexual humiliation on those of his fellow countrymen he regards as his enemies — from a certain warped point of view, that is only reciprocal justice. You will not find very many happily married men among the ranks of the mass shooters and their 4chan fan clubs, or among the armband-and-jackboots set. It is not usually sexual satisfaction and social success that leads a man to testicle tanning. And, as even most casual observers know, socioeconomic success and marital success are linked: There is almost no difference between the overall workforce participation rate for black Americans and white Americans, with both groups typically hovering in the low-60-percent rage; married black men are significantly more likely to be in the workforce than are single white men; even more telling, the workforce participation rate for married fathers is well above 90 percent.

The acquisition of wealth is not a zero-sum game — the things we do to create wealth for ourselves often create wealth for other people as well, and because wealth is created, your gain is not necessarily someone else’s loss. The pursuit of status, in contrast, is a zero-sum game, because status is by its nature an exclusively relative criterion. The identity of sexual competition with status competition and the zero-sum nature of status games explains the seeming paradox at the heart of globalization: In an increasingly free and prosperous world, the very people who enjoy the most freedom and prosperity — white men in the Anglosphere and Western Europe — are among the most dissatisfied. (Similar phenomena hold elsewhere in the world: In India, Narendra Modi’s angry populism is targeted not at poor people belonging to marginalized minority groups but at high-status Hindus.) That dissatisfaction is distributed across a wide spectrum: Sometimes, it means grumbling along with Tucker Carlson, and sometimes, it means the sort of political radicalization that resulted in the Buffalo massacre. It is not necessary to indulge in some kind of vulgar and reductive pseudo-Freudianism that reduces every question to sex, sexual frustration, and sexual ambition to appreciate this aspect of our public life.

But it is interesting — and I don’t think accidental — that our modern right-wing nationalists and 20th-century gay pornographers have about the same idea of what a real man looks like.

Words About Words

The word cult, which I am required to use often because of the things I write about, is misunderstood. In common 21st-century American English, cult is almost exclusively a pejorative term referring to a religious or pseudo-religious organization that exercises strong and exploitative control over the lives of its members. That is a legitimate use of the word, but it grows out of the other, older senses of that word.

I am not entirely sure who was the first to observe: “Cult is the first word in culture.” If you search on the Internet, all you will get are things that I have written, so I am tempted to claim it for my own. (I have a memory of taking it from T. S. Eliot, but I can’t find exactly those words in any of his works. At least, I couldn’t on the morning I wrote this.) Cult is also the first word in cultivation, and that seems to me appropriate: The Latin root cultus means worship or reverence, but it also means labor; as such, it comprehends the two main senses of the word cultivation: learning and farming. The cultivated mind, like cultivated land, has been improved and made ready to be fruitful.

I have observed many times (possibly too many) that modern-day political partisans have re-created ancient beliefs about divine kings and, specifically, about the effect of the royal character on national prosperity; in this context, I wrote: “If I am going to join a Levantine wine cult, I choose Christianity.” The word cult there bothers many readers. But Christians have for many generations used the word cult to refer to ourselves and our devotions — for those who are familiar with the terminology, to speak of “the cult of Saint Anne” is not to suggest heresy or idolatry or anything untoward, only a particular kind of admiration for a particular saint and a devotion to that saint’s example. Cult meaning style of worship or particular religious form is pretty common in English. Back to Eliot, who writes in his Notes toward the Definition of Culture:

In the next three chapters I discuss what seem to me to be three important conditions for culture. The first of these is organic (not merely planned, but growing) structure, such as will foster the hereditary transmission of culture within a culture: and this requires the persistence of social classes. The second is the necessity that a culture should be analysable, geographically, into local cultures: this raises the problem of ‘regionalism’. The third is the balance of unity and diversity in religion—that is, universality of doctrine with particularity of cult and devotion.

Elsewhere in the same essay:

The chief cultural differences in England have, in the past, been those between Anglicanism and the more important Protestant sects; and even these differences are far from clearly defined: first, because the Church of England itself has comprehended wider variations of belief and cult than a foreign observer would believe it possible for one institution to contain without bursting; and second, because of the number and variety of the sects separated from it.

It may only be my ear, but sect also seems to be acquiring a disreputable connotation — a suggestion of fanaticism or extremism.

I would like to rescue the word cult from disreputability and to emphasize its connections to culture and cultivation — a culture contains what a civilization believes about the most important things, and cultivation is how one draws close to those beliefs and learns to understand them. (Which is not the same thing as accepting them.) At the same time, I hope it continues to sting when I describe certain political enthusiasts as being cultish or cult members. “I’m not saying I like everything about Mammon — in fact, I have some real reservations about Mammon, and I know Mammon is far from perfect! — but Moloch is the worst, and this is a binary choice: If you aren’t pro-Mammon, then you are operatively pro-Moloch. Do you really want to be pro-Moloch and have that on your conscience?”

Rampant Prescriptivism

A reader who is not Stannis Baratheon wants a ruling on less/fewer, citing this sentence from the Wall Street Journal: “Last month, Nancy Green, the chain’s president and chief executive, stepped down after less than two years running the brand.” My correspondent asks:

Maybe I have the rule wrong, but years feels like a count noun, which would entitle it to fewer. But, I’m not 100 percent if that rule applies to time in the same way it applies to say, apples.

Years certainly are countable, but, in this case, the writer is talking about a quantity of time on the job that is not necessarily enumerated in discrete years. Just because we can count them doesn’t mean we are counting them in a given usage. One year and four months is less time than two years, and one year and eleven months also is less time than two years. We are keeping track of time, but not counting years as such. But six semesters at college are two fewer than the eight required for graduation.

Here is another example: “The ski resort is still unprofitable after its fifth ski season, while others have achieved profitability in fewer seasons than that.” Here season is the necessary and relevant unit, and not only is it countable, it is being counted. So, you might write, “The program is open to boys less than ten years old” but, “He has fewer years on the job than is required” in a context in which years might be counted for the purpose of determining seniority or eligibility for a promotion. Where the years themselves are not necessarily counted, you might write: “He has less time on the job than she does” or, “He has less time on the job than the 20 years required for retirement” or, “He has fewer years on the job than the 20 required for retirement.”

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

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In Other News . . .

The J. Paul Getty Trust is the world’s richest art institution, rejoicing in a $7.7 billion endowment thanks to the philanthropy of notoriously flinty arch-capitalist Jean Paul Getty Sr., who was the wealthiest American in the late 1950s. The fruit of Getty’s fortune is being used, among other purposes, for the rescue of a hideous monument to socialism in Bulgaria. It is a shame that that other great industrialist Alfred Nobel is not around to donate the dynamite to knock the thing down, as should be done. As the New York Times reports, the “Sistine Chapel of Socialism” may be repurposed as a music venue or an event center. It currently is a rotting ruin, which makes it an entirely appropriate monument to socialism.

Lenin is supposed to have quipped that capitalists would sell the rope with which they would be hanged, but that is not what has come to pass. Capitalists may, however, sell the former subjects of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics the sound system and liquor to make a nightclub out of that old wreck on a remote Bulgarian hillside.

I advise them to ask for cash up front.

Recommended

It is not a new book, but I recommend Paul Lettow’s Ronald Reagan and His Quest to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. It is an interesting book and an excellent read. We have forgotten, or are forgetting, about Reagan’s peacemaking legacy, and his at times genuinely radical proposals for achieving peace. And, because we do not have peace, one cannot help but appreciate that our current confrontation with the Russians would have been easier going if not for Moscow’s nuclear arsenal. I am not quite the idealist Reagan was: It should not be too difficult to understand that nuclear disarmament is in the strategic interest of the nation with the world’s most powerful conventional forces.

In Closing

As Jay Nordlinger often observes, Vladimir Putin’s critics in Russia are some of the bravest people in the world. God only knows what will become of Boris Bondarev, the Russian diplomat at the United Nations who resigned his position in disgust over Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and had the guts to say so in public in very plain terms. The Washington Post reports that the Russian diplomat “told the AP he had no plans to leave Geneva.” That would be my advice — Gstaad is full of Russians this time of year.

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Politics & Policy

The Buffalo Blame Game

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New York Governor Kathy Hochul addresses the media following a shooting at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, N,Y., May 14, 2022. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about many things — language, culture, politics, high dudgeon and lowdown demagoguery. The Tuesday is available only to NRPlus members — you can become a member here.

Who Is to Blame for Buffalo?

Before the blood was even dry in Buffalo, Democrats were asking the most important question:

“How can we well-heeled white progressives most effectively use the murders of all these black people to our personal and political advantage?”

The murderer in Buffalo didn’t kill anybody you’ve ever heard of, and so the first thing to do if you want to exploit the deaths of all these people — and that is what Democrats intend to do — is to connect the crime to some famous name or prominent institution. It doesn’t matter if there isn’t any actual connection: Just assert it, and that’s good enough for the newspapers and the cable-news cretins and the impotent rage-monkeys on Twitter. And so New York governor Kathy Hochul blames social-media platforms. Amanda Marcotte blames Tucker Carlson. Other hack Democrats blamed Donald Trump, the Republican Party, Fox News, the National Rifle Association, etc. The usual suspects.

Democrats are looking for something — anything — to cling to politically at the moment, because they are terrified that they are going to get wiped out in the midterm elections. And they probably are going to take a beating: Never mind that the Republican Party doesn’t deserve to win — the Democrats deserve to lose, and that’s what matters at the polls. What can Democrats do about that besides pray that Marjorie Taylor Greene has an extra shot of espresso in her moonbat latte this morning? There are options, but they are tough, and apparently it has never crossed Governor Hochul’s mind (such as it is) to try a different approach: Rather than cheap demagoguery and shunting great streams of public money into her husband’s company, she might try competent governance and see how that works out.

Apparently, that never occurred to her. Apparently, it never will.

Apparently, it never occurred to anybody in New York to keep an eye on the lunatic who showed up at school wearing a full hazmat suit. The kid who already was on the radar of the state police and the mental-health bureaucracy. The kid who was asked about his post-graduation plans and answered: murder-suicide.

As with so many shootings of this kind, the massacre in Buffalo didn’t exactly come out of nowhere. The same is true for the less dramatic kinds of shootings, too: There were at least 33 shootings in Chicago over the weekend, and, when the data are in, we’ll almost certainly find that the victims were almost all black and that the shooters almost all had extensive prior criminal records, including prior weapons violations in many cases. This stuff doesn’t just fall out of the sky. It is predictable as the change of seasons. You won’t see a lot of headlines about those 33 shootings, and that is, in one horrifying sense, entirely appropriate: They aren’t really news. News is something unusual, something unexpected.

We talk a great deal about crime in Chicago, because it is a big, dangerous city, and it is one of the five U.S. cities that the national media ordinarily pay attention to. Buffalo is a smaller, more dangerous city, with a homicide rate just slightly above Chicago’s: 18.38 per 100,000 vs. 18.26 per 100,000.

The vast majority of murders in these United States are no surprise at all — we know with actuarial precision who is going to do the killing, who is going to do the dying, when the crimes are going to be committed, etc. We even know what policies would likely be effective in preventing these crimes — for example, enforcing the gun laws at the state and federal level, particularly the straw-buyer laws — but we don’t do that, because that would be hard work and take up a lot of resources that could be used for more important things, like paying cops to eat Doritos and shoot Jim Beam on the taxpayers’ time and dime, paying cops to impersonate garage doors, paying Philadelphia homicide detectives in excess of $300,000 a year, and buying armored attack trucks to patrol the mean streets of Norman, Okla.

There is much that could be done, if anyone were willing to do it.

Here’s something I am not willing to do: I am not willing to renegotiate the Bill of Rights every time some sexually frustrated loser with a 5.56mm death-boner has a homicidal temper tantrum.

Set aside, for the moment, the inevitable attack on the Second Amendment: Governor Hochul is targeting the First Amendment. Never mind enforcing New York gun laws or funding more proactive policing measures or maybe asking some more pointed questions about the kid who showed up to school in a full hazmat suit, Governor Hochul intends to focus on an area in which she has no authority, expertise, or influence: policing speech online.

From the New York Times:

When pressed on how she planned to confront such hate speech online, without impinging on First Amendment rights, Ms. Hochul noted that “hate speech is not protected” and said she would soon be calling meetings with social media companies.

The New York Times being the New York Times, that “noted” obscures more than it communicates. She didn’t “note” anything. She made something up out of whole cloth. She lied.

(And I have my doubts about the word “pressed” in that sentence, too, unless there was a New York Post reporter on the scene.)

As a matter of constitutional law in the United States, there is no such thing as “hate speech.” It is not a legal term at all — the words have no legal meaning. As such, there certainly is no exception to the First Amendment for “hate speech,” a fact that is well understood and attested to by boatloads of constitutional scholars holding many different political points of view. It is the unanimous position of the Supreme Court. This is not new. Governor Hochul, who has a law degree on her sad little résumé (Erie County clerk and bank lobbyist) ought to know better. Perhaps she has forgotten. Perhaps she missed that day in law school. Perhaps she is a cheap demagogue who ought to be ashamed of herself and of whom New York ought to be ashamed.

There is no such thing as “hate speech” as a matter of constitutional law in the United States, and the sort of thing that is classified as “hate speech” in countries that do have such laws is — pay attention, now — exactly the kind of speech the First Amendment is designed to protect: offensive, unpopular, detestable, the kind of speech that most people consider immoral and indefensible. The kind of speech nobody likes or wants is the kind of speech the First Amendment is there for — the other kind of speech doesn’t need any protection. Here is a useful heuristic: If you immediately want to suppress somebody’s speech, then that is probably the kind of speech the First Amendment was made for. We write down our laws for a reason, and that reason is because your gut instincts can’t be trusted and because we don’t want our civil rights to depend on whatever kind of daffy electrochemical misfire is happening inside that three-pound ball of meat Kathy Hochul calls a brain on any given Monday morning.

Like “hate speech,” “assault weapon” is a term without meaning. (“Assault rifle” is a term with a formal military sense, and if you think that we should not ordinarily sell them to civilians, then, rejoice: We don’t.) The shooter in Buffalo was armed with an ordinary modern sporting firearm, a 5.56mm semiautomatic rifle — the most common rifle in the United States. It was not, contra the Washington Post, “modified.” The Post headline reads: “Suspect in Buffalo shooting modified Bushmaster so it could hold more ammunition.” But as far as I can tell it was only “modified” by putting this magazine instead of that magazine into the rifle. (Magazines holding more than 10 rounds are illegal in New York State, but the law is effectively unenforceable, and it wouldn’t make any difference in these cases even if it weren’t. EDIT: He would have had to break the lock that keeps the fixed magazine in place, a simple task taking about two minutes, which is what he did. So I suppose the rifle was modified in the sense that a locked-up bicycle is modified when a thief breaks the lock to steal it.) The killer seems to have chosen the Bushmaster brand because it has been associated with similar shootings. This is a reminder that there is no major daily newspaper in the United States of America that is capable of writing about firearms competently.

Another line of argument that has been put forward: We shouldn’t let 18-year-olds buy firearms. I am open to that as a policy reform — we don’t let 17-year-olds buy firearms, and that doesn’t seem to me incompatible with the Second Amendment. But if we are going to treat 18-year-olds like children, then we have to go all the way and raise the age for voting, the age of sexual consent, the age for marriage, getting a tattoo, joining the military, etc. If we are going to take away 18-year-olds’ civil rights, then we have to take away their bank accounts and credit cards, too. The civil right enshrined in the Second Amendment isn’t something that some Supreme Court justice magically pulled out of his penumbra — it is right there, in writing. That means it deserves the highest level of protection and deference — and that means that there are a lot of things that 18-year-olds can lose before their explicitly constitutionally guaranteed rights.

New York already has a “red flag” law on the books. I think those laws are probably unconstitutional, but some legal scholars whose opinion I value disagree. In any case, nobody even bothered to try to take the shooter’s guns away under that law — even after he very publicly expressed his desire to carry out such a massacre.

But, by all means, let’s all go chasing around 4chan and Twitter and see if we can’t sort this all out.

Kathy Hochul is an unserious politician representing an unserious party in an unserious state in a largely unserious country that is kept on the road mostly by sturdy guardrails inscribed in an 18th-century document that some guy wrote with a feather. Events such as the one in Buffalo require a serious response, but there is nobody around to provide one, at least not in elected office. What we have is mediocrities, demagogues, and grandstanding ghouls happy to climb atop any pile of dead Americans, no matter how high or how mangled, to do a little TikTok dance in the blood and sing a verse of “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

But, really, I am sure this is all somehow Tucker Carlson’s fault.

Words about Words

Your interest is piqued, not peaked.

These are not the same word, but they are closely related, belonging to a set of words generally referring to that which is pointy: pike and picket are in the family, as are peck and the eating disorder pica. (Pica from the idea that, like a magpie — pica in Latin for its long, pointy beak — the person in question will eat almost anything.) The word poke may be a distant cousin, from the Middle Low German poken, to “stick with a knife.” Poking and sticking and stabbing and such invited applications to sewing and needlework, and, hence, through a longish but predictable etymological chain, you arrive at piqué, the fabric, which is derived from an Old French word for quilt.

It says something about our culture and its history that English has so many different words, with such fine shadings of degree, for wounded vanity. Pique can mean stimulate, as in piqued my curiosity, but it usually means something more like irritation, as in a fit of pique. The Century Dictionary links pique to umbrage and notes that in both cases the feeling is not necessarily linked to a desire to inflict reciprocal injury on the offending party; “pique is more likely [than umbrage] to be a matter of injured self-respect or self-conceit,” the dictionary says. “It is a quick feeling, and it is more fugitive in its character. Umbrage is founded upon the idea of being thrown into the shade or overshadowed. It has the sense of offense at being slighted or not sufficiently recognized.” The 1841 Webster’s dictionary (thanks again to my in-laws for this splendid Christmas gift) notes that pique “expresses less than exasperate,” and includes “to touch with envy” among its meanings. It also notes a now-lost sense of the word that, in the weird English way, means something like the opposite of the other meanings: “to pride oneself on something.” “Men pique themselves on their skill in the learned languages,” is the example Webster’s gives. There is also this from Matthew Prior’s “Protogenes and Apelles”:

Piqu’d by Protogenes’s fame,
From Co to Rhodes Apelles came,
To see a rival and a friend,
Prepar’d to censure, or commend;
Here to absolve, and there object,
As art with candour might direct.

So, pique, umbrage, exasperation, dudgeon, high dudgeon — more or less in that order, I think.

Rampant Prescriptivism

A correspondent points to a source of ambiguity:

The question is how to punctuate usage of qualifiers like “ex” or “anti” applied to phrases of more than one word.

For example, Jim Geraghty’s Morning Jolt referred to a candidate who was once described as “the anti-Kamala Harris,” which I initially parsed as applying to someone, surnamed Harris, who stood out among the Harrises for being unlike Kamala (and suggesting, also, that it is the nature of Harrises to be pro-Kamala). A favorite of mine is calling someone “an ex-prize fighter,” suggesting that he fights in order to win things that used to be, but no longer are, prizes.

Well-observed. I thank my correspondent.

Here is where typographic nerdery is very helpful. Normally, those of us using conventional word-processing programs have access to three basic kinds of dashes, which are, in ascending order of length, the hyphen (-), the n-dash (–), and the m-dash (—), the latter two so named in typographical convention because traditionally they are the length of an uppercase N and an uppercase M, respectively. The hyphen you will be familiar with, and the m-dash (or em dash) is what most people mean by dash, used in formulations such as: “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass — and I’m all out of bubblegum.” You will also see the m-dash used — very often in this newsletter — as a kind of soft and less-formal parenthesis.

The n-dash, however, is a rare beast and a misunderstood one. It has a few different uses, but one very helpful one is forming compound modifiers. We use hyphens in formulations such as “an old-fashioned belief” and “a black-and-white picture,” but we use the n-dash for phrases in which more than one word is joined to a single word: “A fine example of Leave It To Beaver–era television,” “a Franklin Roosevelt–style cigarette holder,” “his Calvin Coolidge–like taciturnity.”

If we can use the n-dash at the end, I don’t see why we can’t use it at the beginning, though this is not common practice: “an ex–prize fighter,” “the anti–Kamala Harris,” etc.

Let’s make this happen.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

There is a recent film called Everything Everywhere All at Once. I like that formulation so much I stole it: What do you get if you do everything wrong everywhere all at once? Joe Biden’s economic policy. More in the New York Post.

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

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

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

To support National Review Institute, go here.

In Other News . . .

More than 1 million Americans have now died of Covid-19.

Recommended

More to come on this, but in the category of self-recommending books is a new one from James Kirchick: Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington.

In Closing

I joke about drinking a lot, but alcoholism is a terrible problem for people who are afflicted with it, and what is in many ways worse than the physical and emotional effects of alcohol abuse itself is the shame that goes along with it — it is that shame which in many cases keeps people from getting help. To die from shame is a terrible thing, and an unnecessary one. If you are someone who needs that kind of help, please do get it, and do not let shame keep you from doing so. However strong or important or stoical you think you are, stronger and more important and more stoical men have been brought low by booze, and the smart ones have done themselves the good service of getting help. The people who love you care more about your being happy and healthy now and in the future than they do about your failures in the past. Treatment isn’t painless or easy, but we do have relatively effective methods that work reasonably well for the people who want them to work. Call your doctor or a treatment center, or walk into pretty much any church in the country and someone will help you connect with appropriate treatment and support. There is some useful reading here. If you take one step toward the people who want to help you, they will take 20 steps toward you.

To subscribe to the Tuesday, follow this link.

Culture

The Specter of Christianity

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Pro-abortion demonstrators outside Saint Pauls Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn N.Y., October 9, 2021. (KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about language, culture, and politics, with extended parentheticals and excessive — truly excessive! — use of the parenthetical M-dash. To subscribe to the Tuesday and receive it via email as God and Dwight D. Eisenhower intended, please follow this link. If you are reading this as an NRPlus subscriber, I thank you on behalf of all of us here for your support. If you aren’t an NRPlus subscriber, then it is time to sign on the line that is dotted, my friend: The Tuesday goes forever behind the NR paywall from here on out. To quote Jesse James’s palm tattoo: Pay up, sucker. Actually, that’s a little bossy-sounding for this newsletter, habitual prescriptivism notwithstanding. If you would like to continue reading the Tuesday but haven’t signed up for an NRPlus subscription, you can do so at a very reasonable rate by clicking here. I hope you will. There isn’t some billionaire dilettante tech heiress behind National Review, we don’t run a lot of “You Won’t Believe What Happened Next” clickbait, and the best way for us to maintain our freedom and independence is to fund our operations by means of subscriptions. We value our freedom and independence, and so that’s how we are doing things. If that sounds good to you, please do join us. I am sincerely grateful for your support, particularly to those of you who have signed up after my announcements in the past couple of weeks.

The Sign of the Inverted Cross

These pro-abortion maniacs. Yikes.

I wish our bishops were in fact and in deed as pro-life as the people who hate the Catholic Church seem to think they are.

The Catholic Church is officially against abortion, of course — there is no circuitous Jesuitical workaround for “Thou shalt not kill” — but a great many senior figures in the American church are inclined to impersonate country-club Republicans circa 1992: “Sure, we’re against abortion, but let’s not make a whole thing about it.” Pope Francis may be silly about many things — and possibly an outright heretic if you want to get mean about it — but he remains solid on abortion: an “absolute evil,” he calls it. And the pews aren’t any more reliably pro-life than the pulpit: Catholics have on average about the same attitude toward abortion as other Americans, and the horrifying fact is that even a third of those who attend Mass weekly identify themselves as “pro-choice.”

(That is dismaying but not surprising. Jesus and Immanuel Kant both thought of people and institutions in terms of trees: “Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit”; “Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.” Christians have as much trouble going against the grain as anybody else does, and the American church is planted in the same soil as Scientology and Facebook and Gilligan’s Island.)

If you really want to get in the churchgoing faces of some true-believing pro-lifers next Sunday, I could point you in the direction of some promising Presbyterian, foot-washin’ Baptist, and Mormon congregations that are considerably more reliable on the life issue. Or go find an African Methodist Episcopal church to desecrate, if desecrating the churches of pro-life congregations is the sort of thing you have a heart for — which it shouldn’t be, so don’t do that.

But the maniacs remain fixated on Catholics. That is interesting.

Of course, there are a disproportionate number of Catholics on the Supreme Court. They fall on both sides of the abortion issue, and they are a mixed bunch: There are Irish-American parochial-school cradle Catholics such as Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh. The Court’s most important intellectual, Clarence Thomas, is a former seminarian who was estranged from the church for some 25 years. The Court’s most drearily rote pro-abortion activist is the lapsed Catholic Sonia Sotomayor, who fills the honorary G. Harrold Carswell seat on the Court. (G. Harrold Who? Carswell, an unimpressive figure, was nominated to the Court by Richard Nixon. About his nomination, Senator Roman Hruska, a Nebraska Republican, observed: “There are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they?” The senators rejected him, presumably on the grounds that personifying mediocrity is their job.) The Catholic William Brennan voted in favor of Roe in 1973, and the Catholic Anthony Kennedy (who was on the Court only because “Captain Toke” didn’t make it) was a reliable pro-abortion vote.

(Captain Toke? Douglas Ginsburg, a longtime judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and now a much-admired professor of law at George Mason’s Scalia School of Law, is a remarkable man — he became a law professor at Harvard in his third year out of law school — who was nominated to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan and was forced to withdraw when it was revealed that he had — angels and ministers of grace, defend us! — smoked marijuana while a college professor in the 1970s. He was parodied on Saturday Night Live as “Captain Toke.” In the skit, a student asks, “But, Captain Toke, isn’t marijuana . . . illegal?” Captain Toke, high as a Georgia pine, answers: “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Jon Lovitz played Ginsburg, I believe, with a turtleneck and big wooden peace sign around his neck. Related: Justice Kennedy said he had a special bond with Roe v. Wade author Harry Blackmun: They both were third choices — Kennedy following the failed nominations of Robert Bork and Captain Toke, Blackmun following the failed nominations of Clement Haynesworth and the aforementioned G. Harrold Carswell. Randomness plays a big role in many careers.)

So, if Catholics in the general population and Catholics on the Supreme Court are all over the map on abortion, then why the particular focus on Catholics by the pro-abortion savages out there running around in the streets with bags of bloodied baby dolls and untreated psychoses?

About that, I have a theory.

There is a kind of native anti-Catholicism in the United States, a holdover from the Puritan days when anti-Catholicism was a fundamental part of the emerging national identity. In 1647, Massachusetts adopted two interesting laws: One had a name I love, the Old Deluder Satan Act, which was New England’s first public-school law and which was passed with the idea that promoting literacy would protect the children of Massachusetts from the temptations of popery by allowing them to read Scripture themselves; the second, more direct law made it a crime punishable by death for a Jesuit priest to set foot on the soil of Massachusetts. (We think of Boston as being a very Catholic city, but it didn’t have a Catholic church or even a publicly celebrated Mass until the 19th century.) That kind of anti-Catholicism is still very much a part of Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture in America, as is well appreciated by any Catholic who has been informed umpteen million times that “Catholics worship Mary” and believe that the pope can’t lose a game of checkers and whatever else it is Catholics are supposed to believe. Even well-meaning and good-natured American Protestants have a lot of that in them. These are the epigones of the old Protestant stock whose indictment of Catholics was that they hate sex and have too many children.

The other main kind of religiously rooted anti-Catholicism is the Catholic kind. The kind you see in lapsed Catholics such as Justice Sotomayor and Marxist intellectuals from Catholic Europe and Latin America. Clarence Thomas the seminarian and young black radical broke with the Catholic Church because he was disappointed about his fellow seminarians’ views on race. (And here I don’t mean a dorm-room “microaggression” but cheering the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., that sort of thing.) American college faculties were for years full of angry former seminarians who had quit the church in the 1960s and 1970s over social-justice complaints and became the most vehement anti-Catholic zealots the nation has ever seen, men whose anti-Catholicism would have given pause to Cotton Mather or Jonathan Edwards.

(I mean the “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” Jonathan Edwards, not the hilariously corrupt Democratic poohbah who blew his political career by knocking up a campaign aide and whose Wikipedia page contains these wonderful sentences: “[Campaign aide Andrew] Young further claimed to have set up private meetings between Edwards and Hunter, and that Edwards once calmed an anxious [extramarital lady friend Rielle] Hunter by promising her that after his wife died he would marry her in a rooftop ceremony in New York with an appearance by the Dave Matthews Band. Young also maintains that Edwards asked him to ‘get a doctor to fake the DNA results . . . and to steal a diaper from the baby so he could secretly do a DNA test to find out if this [was] indeed his child.’” The Dave Matthews band part is what upgrades this story from tawdry tabloid tale to legend.)

But I think the main source of anti-Catholicism is a fascination with Catholicism, which has a much richer aesthetic, literary, and philosophical storehouse than anything else on offer in the Western world.

Allow me to briefly change gears to illustrate my point.

As some of you may know, I am a fan of the band Slayer, though I should here dispel the rumor that I am actually in the band. That’s not me:

Slayer guitarist Kerry King performs during the Rock in Rio Music Festival in Rio de Janeiro in 2013.

I’m a fair guitarist, but I’m no Kerry King, pictured above. Kerry King of Slayer is in fact such a highly regarded player that the Dean guitar company makes a Kerry King signature guitar. Slayer being Slayer and very much a creature of the 1980s, the schoolboy-Satanist vibe is pretty strong on the guitar — “This has so many inverted crosses on it,” a Dean representative observes. “For those of you who are too sensitive, it’s not for you.”

(Unexpected product review from the Tuesday: I’ve played one, and it’s a terrific guitar if that’s your kind of music. I don’t think I’d take it to jazz night or use in it a Buck Owens tribute band.)

The whole metal-occult thing is straight from the mind of the angry 15-year-old doodling on a textbook cover who is at the spiritual center of every great rock band, and I’ve never thought of it as something to be taken seriously — and the people who take it seriously definitely are not to be taken seriously — but rather as something more akin to enjoying horror movies.

(And not to go off on a whole disquisition on rock music, but the more you move up the spectrum from metal to punk music, the closer you get to the golden age of horror movies, and you ultimately land at the Misfits, a 1950s horror film in the form of a 1970s punk band. I was very amused to learn a few years ago that the Misfits’ cartoonishly ghoulish Jerry Only is buddies with my former National Review colleague Kat Timpf. New York is a weird, small town.)

Those inverted crosses have always struck me as emblematic, but not in the way that they are intended. I’ve written a dozen different variations on these paragraphs and never been quite satisfied with the result, but I’ll try again:

Western civilization has two main parts: The first is the Greco-Roman classical civilization that brought us democracy, imperialism, the rule of law, the familiar pattern of urban life, Cicero, Virgil, Homer, Plato, Julius Caesar, etc. The second part is Christendom. One need not ignore the religious diversity of Christian Europe from the fall of the Roman Empire through the Middle Ages and into the modern era to appreciate the fact that Western civilization is Christian civilization. And that Christian civilization is still alive, unlike its pagan forebear, though it is decaying into high-tech barbarism. But, still, that Christian civilization is the civilization in which we live. And Christian culture, Christian philosophy, and Christian themes dominate our art, literature, and political thinking. This is the case both for believing Christians and non-Christians. Caravaggio probably wasn’t a conventional Christian (he was certainly unorthodox, possibly an atheist), but his themes and subjects, and the milieu in which he worked, were Christian to the core. Caravaggio may have been an atheist, but his work was Christian work — and, more to the point, we don’t have a Caravaggio of atheism, or a Caravaggio of secular humanism, or a Caravaggio of mild, resigned agnosticism. The inverted cross is still the cross, and the underside of Christian civilization is still Christian civilization: The Omen is a scary movie because of its religious context; we don’t have scary movies about liberal humanism or yoga.

(I think you could argue that Midsommar is a horror movie about social democracy, an Invasion of the Body Snatchers for our time.)

The schoolboy Satanism of a Slayer album cover, like its more sophisticated literary equivalents (say, Christopher Hitchens’s religious writing), is pure reaction, an aesthetic and a school of thought that define themselves only in terms of what they reject — having no positive content of their own, they are forever doomed to the condition of intellectual and artistic parasite. The inverted cross is, in its way, a confession: that the cross matters as a symbol, and that those who detest it have nothing to put in its place — all they have the wherewithal to do is to invert that which is already there, which was there long before they were and which will be there long after. Another great rock band, Bad Religion, popularized the symbol of the cross inside an interdictory circle (that’s the red circle-and-slash sign, or “universal no,” as it is sometimes called), another purely reactionary gesture: That band’s main songwriter and aesthetic center, Greg Graffin, is a no-kidding real-world scientist with a Ph.D. from Cornell, and for all his learning, he remains intellectually and aesthetically powerless before the cross — he can mock it or reject it, but he cannot escape it, because he has nothing to put it its place.

(I know: G. K. Chesterton already has written The Ball and the Cross, and there is no need for me to rewrite it here. Go read The Ball and the Cross.)

For a parallel case, I think of a BJP politician who observed that India’s is a Hindu civilization and then was chastised by a secular-minded critic: “No, India’s is a civilization with toleration, pluralism, and diversity.” To which the politician answered: “Yes, India has tolerance and pluralism — because it is Hindu, because India is 80 percent Hindu and 20 percent Muslim rather than the other way around.” With all due respect for the diversity of political practice in the Islamic world, the gentleman had a point. In a similar way, the West has its Jeffersons, Darwins, Marxes, etc., because it is Christian.

(I encountered the famous atheist Christopher Hitchens only once — in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, ironically enough, about 10 in the morning, at Bill Buckley’s funeral. He was drunk.)

I think that much of the appeal of communism in the 20th century was the fact that it was probably the closest thing to a real cultural competitor that Christianity had had for a very long time: It had its own aesthetic (socialist realism), its own art and artists, its own literature, its own symbols, its own flag, its own hymns. And it put its mark on works of art that were genuinely original: Diego Rivera’s paintings, John Steinbeck’s novels, Simone de Beauvoir’s philosophy — but, then, the disappointed communist Mikhail Bulgakov ended up writing his most famous work about Jesus and Pontius Pilate, and Soviet communism in particular blew on the spark of New Testament eschatology in Marx.

The aesthetic weight of Catholicism is heavier because the Catholic Church is older and more connected to the ancient world (part of the value of Augustine is that he had a foot in both the Christian and Greco-Roman worlds) and because many Protestant traditions take an essentially Islamic view of artistic depiction of the divine. Orthodox Presbyterians, for example, specifically forbid the display of crucifixes, even in private homes, and many Evangelicals will point you to the Canadian theologian J. I. Packer’s essay, “Why You Should Not Wear a Crucifix.”

(Or you could get real serious about it and read up on the “Puritan Regulative Principle of Worship.” Short version: Any form of worship that is not explicitly commanded in Scripture or that is not derived from the same by “good and necessary consequence” is verboten. The Westminster Confession specifically forbids worship “under any visible representation.” My inner Puritan shares the contempt for idolatry, but I think the definition the Puritans arrived at is excessively encompassing.)

Our Protestant friends may have made themselves superabundantly safe from graven images and good architecture, but there just isn’t as much aesthetic juice in beige carpet and folding chairs as there is in Notre-Dame or Salome with the Head of John the Baptist. You can parody the works of Leonardo, because there is a lot of there there. There isn’t a Methodist Leonardo — the words “Methodist Leonardo” sound like the setup to a joke.

The pro-life movement is not a uniquely Catholic movement — it did not really take off politically until Protestants in the South got on board. As Daniel K. Williams observes in That August Journalistic Institution:

Before the mid-1970s, active opposition to abortion in the United States looked almost exactly like opposition to abortion in Britain, Western Europe, and Australia: It was concentrated mainly among Catholics. As late as 1980, 70 percent of the members of the nation’s largest anti-abortion organization, the National Right to Life Committee, were Catholic. As a result, the states that were most resistant to abortion legalization were, in most cases, the states with the highest concentration of Catholics, most of which were in the North and leaned Democratic.

The pro-life movement is not even a particularly Christian thing. There are Jewish pro-lifers, Muslim pro-lifers, Hindu pro-lifers, Buddhist pro-lifers, etc., even though many of those religious communities do not take a strong corporate stand on abortion. (If you want to make a nice vegan progressive with nine cats and a student loan really uncomfortable, tell her what Tibetan Buddhists actually teach about homosexuality.) There are atheist pro-lifers — my friend Charles C. W. Cooke is a famous one, and “Atheists for Life” are a thing. So are “LGBT Against Abortion.” There are many pro-lifers who don’t have any particular religious affiliation, because there are many Americans who don’t have any particular religious affiliation.

But the pro-abortion zealots, like the evangelical atheists, the schoolboy Satanists, and many others of that kidney, are drawn to Catholic churches, Catholic imagery, the peculiarities of Catholic practice (is there anything more radical in our time than celibacy?). Why are they there? I always think of that famous scene in The Exorcist: The power of Christ compels you!” And doesn’t it? Why else would people be so entirely and so personally obsessed with something they say they believe to be an irrelevant, childish fiction and a mean-spirited plot against their happiness? They are compelled.

They’d never admit it, of course, but there is a reason they end up standing there, bereft, confused, fearful, lonely, screaming themselves hoarse, full of dread, outside the church. Some advice: The door is always open if you decide you want to come inside. It isn’t any easier on the inside, and in many ways it is much harder. But there is a reason you maniacs come to the church to have your public nervous breakdowns and sad little group-therapy sessions. And I think that you don’t actually understand what that reason is.

Come and see.”

Words About Words

Last week, I wrote a little about generational suffixes such as Jr., Sr., II, III, etc. I meant to include a bit about middle initials, too. Now I will.

Sometimes, a middle initial is useful for distinguishing a person from someone who has the same name or a very similar one: Our founder, William F. Buckley Jr. (whose “Jr.” I questioned last week) was a contemporary of a few other William and Bill Buckleys, including a famous Australian rugby player. To complicate things, he had almost exactly the same name, very nearly the same year of birth, and some career crossover with another WFB, William Francis Buckley, a special-forces officer and CIA section chief who unhappily was much in the news in the 1980s, when he was kidnapped by Hezbollah, the terrorist outfit that held him hostage and subjected him to torture at the hands of the infamous psychiatrist Aziz al-Abub. He died, probably via execution, while Hezbollah’s hostage. Our WFB was William Frank Buckley, and he worked briefly for the CIA in Mexico as a young man.

There was a Saturday Night Live skit about an accident at a Pittsburgh name-change office, an event witnessed by one Jeffrey B. Epstein, who is irritated when the TV reporter interviewing him keeps omitting the middle initial. “That’s a very important B,” he says. A quick look around the Internet reveals a number of contemporary American men with the name Jeffrey Epstein, many of them using a middle initial.

(Epstein is a “habitational” name, meaning a name connected to a place. There is an Eppstein in Germany, and there probably have been other places with similar names, Eppstein likely being derived from Germanic words meaning water or river and stone. Hence Epstein is equivalent to the English surname Waterstone or the less-common Riverstone.)

I use my middle initial partly because there are a couple of other writers named Kevin Williamson, including the much more famous television-and-movie guy (who is Kevin Meade Williamson) and a Scottish politician and Burns scholar. I have always loved the fact that the guitarist Yngwie J. Malmsteen uses his middle initial — one wouldn’t want to confuse him with all the other Yngwies one encounters. If you don’t know Yngwie’s music, he is a famously virtuosic rock guitarist who incorporates elements of classical music, especially Baroque, into his playing. He is the reason guitarists who grew up in the 1980s all know the harmonic minor scales, and the J. in his name is, almost inevitably, for “Johan.” He was born Lars Johan Yngve Lannerbäck.

You still see “Dwight D. Eisenhower” from time to time, even though you could dispense with his middle initial and his first name entirely without confusion, or cut him all the way down to “Ike,” a nickname for which those mid-century headline writers must have been grateful. There remains a lively debate about the orthography of the name of his predecessor, Harry S Truman — because the S did not actually stand for anything (his parents apparently put the S in there to split the difference between his grandfathers, Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young), it is not technically correct to write it with a period: “Harry S. Truman.” According to legend, he wrote his name “Harry S Truman” until the editors of the Chicago Manual of Style chided him for it, after which he used the period or else ran everything together: “HarrySTruman.”

Rampant Prescriptivism

A reader asks about a recent Dan McLaughlin piece at National Review, about the Supreme Court leaker, and points to the sentence: “A clerk who is found out could easily end up fired, disbarred for breaching confidences, and maybe prosecuted.”

The question: Should that maybe be may be?

It may be the case. Maybe.

It certainly is the case that the clerk may be prosecuted, but we also use maybe colloquially to mean possibly. “We’re going to meet after work, have dinner, and maybe talk about the situation with the Finkelstein kid and whether he should be sent to military school.”

There would be slight differences in connotation, but I think Dan could have written that either way and been on solid ground, though if you want to use the verb may be rather than the adverb maybe, then you’d want a subject after that comma and coordinating conjunction: “He could easily end up fired or disbarred, and he may be prosecuted.”

(Yeah, I’m sticking with that neuter he.)

But you wouldn’t write, “May be I’ll take a nap,” or “I maybe wrong.” You will find may be for maybe in earlier English. It means the same thing as perhaps, which is also pretty archaic-sounding if you think about it or if you write it in the original way, as two words: per hap, meaning by chance.

Some familiar guidance applies here: Maybe and may be don’t mean the same thing, so just make sure to use the one you mean.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

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

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

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

To support National Review Institute, go here.

In Other News . . .

With all this abortion craziness going on — the office of a pro-life group was firebombed in Wisconsin — President Joe Biden is out there talking about subsidizing high-speed Internet. America’s poor cry out with one voice: “Please, for the love of God, relieve us of our Oberlin student loans, and knock five bucks a month off our broadband bills!”

Recommended

I hope to write some more on this, but if you are interested in the ongoing fight over public monuments, then check out Erin L. Thompson’s Smashing Statues: The Rise and Fall of America’s Public Monuments. I disagree with much of the book and expect that many of you will, too, but it is very interesting and probably the best-informed and most thorough treatment of the subject I have read. Thompson’s biography identifies her as a “professor of art crime at the City University of New York,” which sounds like something from a Dan Brown novel, but no sane person wants to read a Dan Brown novel. (Except his publishers and agent, I guess, and the small team of theoretical mathematicians who keep track of his money for him, and maybe Tom Hanks.) There is a particular irony to the fact that so much of our discussion of these historical monuments lacks historical context, and Professor Thompson provides some, a useful public service.

In Closing

This has been a long one. Bonus Pancake:

To subscribe to the Tuesday, follow this link.

World

One China, One Taiwan

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A Taiwanese sailor holds his country’s flag on a frigate in 2008. (Nicky Loh / Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about many things and even some thangs. To sign up for NRPlus and receive the Tuesday on the regular as a paid-up National Review subscriber, please click right here.

The Most Dangerous Fiction

It is a little bit surreal to hear China’s rulers and their servants talk about Taiwan. It is a little like a little kid who is very, very committed to his imaginary friend.

In the recent session of China’s rubber-stamp ersatz parliament, there were many energetic denunciations of “separatist” elements seeking “independence” for Taiwan, according to English-language media reports. When former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe wrote a Los Angeles Times op-ed comparing Taiwan’s situation vis-à-vis China to Ukraine’s relationship with Russia, the Chinese consul general in Los Angeles wrote angrily to the newspaper:

The situations in Taiwan and Ukraine cannot be compared. Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, where the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government. This One-China Principle is explicitly stated in both joint communiqués for establishing China-U.S. and China-Japan diplomatic ties.

In one sense, the consul general is absolutely right. In another sense, he is absolutely full of it.

There is a considerable degree of ritual in Beijing’s fretting about the “independence” of Taiwan, which has been an independent country — and a thriving democracy with a sophisticated economy — for many years now. Likewise, to call the Taiwanese “separatists” is very strange in that Taiwan has been separate from Beijing for decades and decades.

On the other hand, it is the case that both the United States and China — and Japan — officially buy into the “One China” policy, which is a fundamental part of the basis of diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing. Under “One China,” Washington officially acknowledges just what the consul general says: “Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, where the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government.” Washington has no official relations with Taipei — Taiwan in fact has normal diplomatic relations with only a baker’s dozen of countries, mostly small and obscure ones (Nauru, Palau, etc.) a few more prominent ones (Belize, Guatemala, Haiti) and one of great symbolic importance: the Holy See.

The United States maintained relations with Taiwan for decades after its establishment until President Jimmy Carter suddenly abandoned Taiwan in 1979 to pursue a closer relationship with the so-called People’s Republic of China on the theory that Beijing could be a reliable part of a united front against Moscow and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, then our chief global adversary. The United States maintains robust political, cultural, economic, and military relations with Taiwan, a country that, as far as the official story in Washington is concerned, does not exist. The two nations do more than $100 billion in trade annually, but Washington does not recognize the government in Taipei.

There is a delusional Taiwanese version of the “One China” policy, too, the official view of the Kuomintang (the Nationalist Party or KMT) that there is one China and that the regime in Taipei is the legitimate government of all of it. KMT traditionally opposes “Taiwanization” and emphasizes closer relations with Beijing — not exactly what you’d expect from an anticommunist nationalist party, but it is a complex situation. The center-left Democratic Progressive Party, which currently runs the show in Taipei, also calls itself a nationalist party, but the nation it means is Taiwan, not a notional unified China.

Washington accepted the One China fiction as a Cold War expedient, but the expedient has outlived its expediency. As I noted in an earlier newsletter, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was an act of naked international aggression, but a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be — on paper, as a formality, in the official view of the United States — an internal matter, Beijing taking extraordinary measures to reincorporate a breakaway province. That isn’t how things actually stand, of course, but the “One China” fiction matters — for one thing, it provides Beijing with a fig leaf if not a moral permission slip, and, for another, it actually encourages Beijing to believe that it can act as though “One China” described the real world. Washington calls its Taiwan policy one of “strategic ambiguity,” and, while ambiguity certainly has its uses, it is also dangerous.

Shinzo Abe writes:

Russia’s invasion is not only an armed violation of Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty, but also an attempt to overthrow the government of a sovereign state with missiles and shells. On this point, there is no controversy in the international community over the interpretation of international law and the UN Charter. While the extent to which countries participate in sanctions against Russia has differed, no country has claimed that Russia is not in serious violation of international law.

By contrast, China claims that Taiwan is “part of its own country,” and the US and Japanese position is to respect this claim. Neither Japan nor the US has official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and most countries around the world do not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state. Unlike in Ukraine, Chinese leaders could claim that any invasion of Taiwan that China launches is necessary to suppress anti-government activities in one of its own regions, and that such acts therefore would not violate international law.

When Russia annexed Crimea, the international community ultimately acquiesced, even though Russia had violated Ukrainian sovereignty. Given this precedent, it is not surprising that Chinese leaders may very well expect the world to be more tolerant should they, too, adopt the logic of “regional” — rather than national — subjugation.

This logic has made strategic ambiguity untenable.

Under the Biden administration and a surprisingly robust bipartisan congressional consensus, the United States has — to its credit — undertaken unexpected and extraordinary measures to support Kyiv against the predations of Vladimir Putin. Putin complains that the United States is conducting a proxy war against Russia, and Putin is not far from wrong. President Biden dices it pretty fine when he insists, “We’re not attacking Russia; we’re helping Ukraine defend itself against Russian aggression.”

While there are critical lacunae in the U.S. and EU sanctions regime, the United States and our European allies are doing everything short of sending regular troops into the battle. Weapons and equipment supplied by the United States and European governments are being used by a Ukrainian military that is — and should be — conducting operations not only inside Ukraine but also inside Russia. It seems likely that at some point Moscow will decide that the United States is an undeclared belligerent in the Ukraine war, and, if that time comes, Moscow will have a pretty good case. The United States and the Biden administration are right to take a hard line here, but we should as a country be clear in our own minds about what that means. While it is something close to a metaphysical certainty that U.S. forces would sweep the Russians off the battlefield like toy soldiers in a direct confrontation between conventional forces, there are obvious risks to such a confrontation (Putin has a considerable nuclear arsenal) and non-obvious risks as well.

In many important ways, our current confrontation with Moscow is a useful test run for our likely future confrontation with Beijing. It is certainly a useful one for Beijing, which now has a good understanding — one hopes it is a sobering understanding — of the likely scope and intensity of U.S. and European sanctions that might be deployed against a too-adventurous China, and the capabilities and limitations of what the Western world can bring to the fight short of putting troops in the field. President Biden is not exactly an inspiring or energetic leader — or, in many regards, even a credible one — but the country is in some ways less divided than had been supposed, and when figures such as Tucker Carlson and J. D. Vance attempted to pull a cynical Charles Lindbergh on the Ukraine war, they got their fingers burned. Joe Biden, Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron, Olaf Scholz, and Ursula von der Leyen all together might not add up to one Winston Churchill, but there is reason to think that we can manage in this case without one. This isn’t an age of heroes, but there is still work to be done.

Which brings us back to the tense Taiwan Strait.

Senior figures in the Biden administration have been holding talks with their U.K. counterparts with the goal of developing a better-coordinated policy on China and Taiwan. Similar outreach has been undertaken toward our European partners. The new AUKUS security bloc was launched with an eye toward China, too. There are many in Washington, London, and Brussels — and Taipei — who worry that the war in Ukraine is a prelude.

From the Financial Times:

In a sign of the enhanced co-operation with the UK, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, a British aircraft carrier, last year spent more than six months deployed in the Indo-Pacific. Heino Klinck, a former top Pentagon Asia official, welcomed the US-UK consultations on Taiwan. He said they came on the heels of European naval deployments in the Indo-Pacific that increased last year after the Trump administration had held discussions with European allies about boosting operations in the South China Sea.

“Deterring Chinese aggression against Taiwan is in everyone’s interest. It is not just an Indo-Pacific issue, it is a global issue,” said Klinck. “US military planners are not counting on Germany or France sending warships, or Britain sending a carrier in the case of a conflict over Taiwan. But when those countries send ships to the South China Sea, or transit the Taiwan Strait, it sends a strong signal to China.”

A senior Taiwanese official said Taipei was aware of the US efforts to involve more allies in its Taiwan planning. “They’ve been doing it with Japan and Australia, and now they’re trying to do it with Britain,” he said.

It surely is the case that “deterring Chinese aggression against Taiwan is in everyone’s interest.” It is in Beijing’s interest, to begin with, even if Beijing doesn’t know it.

And so the HMS Queen Elizabeth patrols the Indo-Pacific, and the bland old men who sit behind desks in the world’s capitals move their chessmen around the board. The situation is a complex one. But I cannot help thinking that we might simplify it a great deal by dispensing with the lie — which is what the “One China” policy is. Perhaps it was true in some sense at some time. But the fact is that Taiwan today is as much of a real country as Germany or France or the United States.

If we mean to take seriously our historical commitment to Taiwan, then the thing to do is to be plain about the fact that we’d think of China’s invading Taiwan the same way as we’d think of its invading one of these.

But that isn’t true, either.

And Furthermore . . .

Sovereignty is a subject that seems to draw to itself all sorts of funny little fictions. We pretend that China and Taiwan are one country and that Taiwan isn’t sovereign. We treat countries such as Pakistan as sovereign even though the government doesn’t actually control much of the country. I think about this sometimes in the case of the U.S. government’s relationship with the Indian nations, whose sovereignty is an official fiction to which we remain very strongly committed. I am no expert on native issues and am entirely open to the argument that Washington should take tribal sovereignty seriously, but Washington doesn’t — see, for example, how little tribal sovereignty means when it comes to the so-called War on Drugs. I can’t help thinking that some kind of rectification is needed, that we should either stop pretending we believe in tribal sovereignty or start acting like we do.

And Further-er-more . . .

There is a scene in The Lion in Winter that perfectly encapsulates the might-makes-right politics that we liberals and idealists are always trying to get past but never can. In a testy confrontation between Henry II of England and his French counterpart, Philip II, Hank the Deuce insists that a certain French territory is his. “By whose authority?” Philip demands. “It’s got my troops all over it,” Henry answers. “That makes it mine.”

Words About Words

A reader writes:

Your recent use of the term “sacralized” is a bit jarring for your medical readers.

For us it refers to a lumbar vertebra which — by virtue of a common and usually benign anatomical variation — is immobile relative to its immediate neighbor, the sacrum, and hence “sacralized.”

This obviously has no religious or cultural significance, my use of the word “virtue” in my explanation notwithstanding.

I thank my correspondent.

Context is everything: I don’t think any of my readers is going to mistake an adjective referring to a politician for something suggesting the existence of a backbone.

The same goes for “virtue.”

More mail:

Kevin, what do you think of the use of “Nazis” here?

The “here” links to a Federalist headline reading: “Mask Nazis Who Terrorized Americans For Years Are Worried They Might Get Mocked For Mask Obsession.”

About that, a few thoughts:

First, I will give myself a preemptive “Lighten up, Francis.” We’ve been talking about the Soup Nazi, grammar Nazis, HOA Nazis, and the like for a long, long time. In terms of the things that have contributed to the coarsening of our political culture, I put the humorous abuse of “Nazi” way down there with those “In This House, We Believe” signs. It isn’t something to be taken seriously, probably.

(On a related note, I think that comedians such as Mel Brooks are right that, having defeated Adolf Hitler and his National Socialism, the best thing we can do is to ridicule their memory.)

That being said . . .

I think we should call each other “Nazis” a lot less in our political conversation. The same goes for “Marxists” and “fascists” and “Stalinists” and a great many similar terms of abuse.

There are a few Nazis in American public life and have been over the years: I recently wrote about the ACLU’s defense of the National Socialist Party of American Nazi George Lincoln Rockwell’s rights under the First Amendment, a reminder that the American Left was once liberal. (It is a great loss to our civil society that the ACLU no longer believes in that sort of thing.) But there are not many actual Nazis or Nazi admirers. We have Jew-hating weirdos such as Louis Farrakhan and people of that ilk, and a handful of Twitter trolls who loom large among the Very Online. (It is easy to exaggerate how many: As Megan McArdle recently pointed out on the Remnant podcast, the people involved in a headline-generating Twitter convulsion would all together not fill up a good-sized Texas high-school football stadium.) A Nazi is a specific kind of person with a specific point of view, and there are all sorts of ways to be bad and wrong without being a Nazi. I think it is important to pay attention to those distinctions: If you want to understand a white nationalist such as Richard Spencer, for example, it is helpful to understand what he actually thinks and what he actually wants to do.

People got their noses out of joint when I twitted Bernie Sanders, whose views are both strongly nationalist and socialist, as a national socialist. But the thing about National Socialism is, those maniacs were serious about the nationalism and the socialism — we do ourselves a disservice to pretend that antisemitism and dictatorship were the whole of National Socialism.

There are a few actual Marxists and Marxians in public life, such as Slavoj Žižek, and a considerably larger number of socialists, including self-identified socialists such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. One of the best — and most honest — professors I had in college described himself as a Marxist (back then, it was still sort of fashionable), though I am not sure he still does. And you should listen to people when they tell you what they are: Take Steve Bannon seriously when he calls himself a “Leninist.”

As I wrote in The Smallest Minority, Americans who have made a religion of politics — and who have become disconnected from such traditional sources of meaning and connection as family and church — dream of an apocalyptic conflict between themselves and those they perceive to be their enemies, and they can understand themselves only in terms of their enemies because their own characters lack sufficient content to construct an identity on a positive basis rather than a merely reactive one. That is why the only thread connecting the various elements of the contemporary Right is anti-Leftism and the only thread connecting the factions of the Left is anti-Rightism. If they’re for it, we’re against it — it’s as simple as that.

Abraham Lincoln, who was active during a considerably more challenging and bloody chapter of American history, rejected the notion that we should understand each other as enemies. (As a matter of rhetoric, that fluffy stuff about the “mystic chords of memory” seems to me to be much less moving than the sturdy plain syllables: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.”) In these times of relative peace and prosperity, we ought to be able to do at least as much. At some point, we are going to have to deal with the fact that “Own the Libs!” is not compatible with: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

I think that if your politics necessitates that you regard your fellow countrymen as enemies, then you need to rethink your politics. And, possibly, that you need to grow the f*** up.

Of course, I have contributed to that at times, and have repented of the fact. I expect to repent of it again, and to keep repenting of it for as long as I am writing.

And that being written . . .

If I’m being totally honest, I’m more irritated by the hijacking of the name of Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist for some dopey knucklehead newsletter than I am about Seinfeld’s “Soup Nazi.”

Rampant Prescriptivism

“Hank the Deuce” was the nickname of Henry Ford II. Wikipedia identifies him as the son of Edsel Ford I and the grandson of Henry Ford I, but, unless you are writing about a king or a pope, putting “I” after the name of a person who has namesake descendants seems to me a bit much.

And, of course, you don’t use a “I” after a name if there is no II, or if you are writing in a historical context that precedes the II. William Shakespeare’s purportedly virginal patroness did not become Elizabeth I until June 2, 1953, with the coronation of Elizabeth II.

Hank the Deuce was Henry Ford II and not Henry Ford Jr. because his father was not Henry Ford (I) — that was his grandfather. This comes up in some families that like to stick to a few names, as old East Coast WASP clans used to do. Properly, a man is a Jr. if he has exactly the same name as his father, and he is a II if he has exactly the same name as his grandfather or another direct ancestor. The second president named George Bush is sometimes wrongly called George Bush Jr. or “junior,” but he is not that, because he does not have precisely the same name as his father: The younger Bush is George Walker Bush, while his father is George Herbert Walker Bush. Walker is the maiden name of President George H. W. Bush’s mother, Dorothy, the wife of Senator Prescott Bush. Certain names have a way of sticking around in politics and cropping up: President George H. W. Bush has a daughter named Dorothy Walker Bush Koch, who is sometimes assumed — wrongly — to have married into the family of famous libertarian political activists, but her husband, who has what is probably a pretty fun job as the wine industry’s No. 1 lobbyist, is unrelated to that family.

Traditionally, a man retired “Jr.” upon the death of his father, but William F. Buckley Jr. remained known as that to the end of his days, even though his father, William F. Buckley Sr., is known to history mostly only for being the father of William F. Buckley Jr.

(And editor of the Cactus yearbook at the University of Texas.)

(Incidentally, WFB’s grandfather was the elected sheriff of Duval County, Texas, holding office — almost inevitably, given the time and place — as a Democrat. According to one newspaper account, he was still showing up at the polls to vote Democrat as late as Lyndon Johnson’s 1948 Senate election, which bespeaks a truly incredible political commitment for a man who died in 1903.)

So, to sum up: Henry Ford II was not Henry Ford Jr., George W. Bush is not George Bush Jr., and William F. Buckley Jr. technically should have stopped being Jr. with the death of his father in 1958.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

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Recommended, Sort Of

When it feels like the world is falling apart, I seek refuge in religious rituals — but not because I believe my prayers will be answered. The prayers we say in synagogue remind me that evil has always been with us but that people persevere, survive and even thrive. I take my kids so that they feel connected to that tradition, so that they know the world has been falling apart from the start — and that there’s beauty in trying to put it back together.

Soon, Rex will stand before our congregation and pray to a God he can’t quite believe in. It will be a magical morning, and for that moment, at least, we’ll transcend the troubles of the world.

This is a sort of reverse recommendation — you should read it, but not because it is good. Rather, it is worth pondering the fact that an actual philosophy professor writing in the New York Times cannot manage more than this remarkably superficial engagement with the basic questions of religion. Recently retired Times editor Dean Bacquet once observed: “We don’t get religion,” that nobody on the Times staff really understands the role of religion in American life. Well, keep looking.

Don’t blame me if you read that and end up taking the Lord’s name in vain.

In Closing

Abraham Lincoln invoked “the better angels of our nature.” Can you guess who asked: “Can’t you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something?”  

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Politics & Policy

Is Our Future French?

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Election results with the two candidates for the second round in the 2022 French presidential election, French President Emmanuel Macron and National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, on a screen at Le Pen’s venue in Paris, France April 10, 2022. (Pascal Rossignol/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about politics, language, and culture, proper nouns and improper thoughts. Also dachshunds, from time to time, but not every week. To get access to the Tuesday as part of a National Review membership — which soon will be the only way to read the Tuesday — please go here. Thanks to all of you who already have signed up since last week’s invitation — your support means a great deal to me and to all of us here at National Review.

A Country without a Left

A country without a Left may sound like a paradise to American conservatives, but it isn’t the paradise they had in mind.

Vive la France!

France’s 2017 presidential election was a preview of the one that took place over the weekend: Emmanuel Macron won, and Marine Le Pen claimed a moral victory owing to the fact that she didn’t lose as badly as she did the time before. The 2017 French election season was notable for another development: the collapse of the Socialist Party, which in France is the center-left party. In fact, the Socialists’ showing in the parliamentary elections that season was so poor — it went from having 280 out of 577 seats to just 29 — that it lost its state subsidies, meaning that the party would not be refunded for the cost of running its election, as is the French practice. The party was financially ruined: It warmed many a capitalist heart to see the strapped Socialists forced to sell their party headquarters, a splendid Left Bank mansion — these are French socialists we are talking about. In 2022, the Socialist candidate was knocked out in the first round, winning less than 2 percent of the vote. Which is to say, in this election what once was France’s main center-left party has underperformed the showing the Libertarian Party in the United States enjoyed in 2016.

(N.B.: 2016 was an unusually good year for the Libertarian Party, another reminder that Trump vs. Herself should have been a New York City mayoral election, not a presidential race.)

Of course, it isn’t entirely true that France has no Left left: The third-place finisher in the first round was the far-left candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon. And it isn’t only the center-left party that is in trouble: The Republican (center-right) candidate also was knocked out in the first round, winning less than 5 percent of the vote.

And so, as things stand, there appear to be two major blocs in French politics: The technocratic-progressive Macron bloc and the nationalist-populist Le Pen bloc.

Put another way, France just had its 2016: The far-left candidate was a significant but in the end minor factor (So long, Bernie!), the center-left element coalesced around a technocratic progressive-centrist (which is the position that the Clinton and Obama factions always have aspired to), the old center-right tendency was effectively absent, and the nationalist-populist element grew in stature by fusing a species of reconstituted social conservatism with big-spending welfare populism. Donald Trump won and Marine Le Pen lost, but the political vectors in play are remarkably similar in the two cases.

So, who is Emmanuel Macron? He is the most popular French political figure . . . in Germany, which should tell you most of what you need to know about him. Macron began his career in the Socialist Party, became an independent, and then ran for president on the ticket of a party he founded as his own personal vehicle: La République En Marche! (As in the case of 1990s rock bands Therapy? and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the punctuation is part of the name.) Macron has a great deal in common with Barack Obama: He began as a left-winger and moved toward the center when he desired to become a national figure; he has genuinely technocratic tendencies, together with a tendency to take political and ideological pet projects and dress them up in technocratic drag; his party is organized (reorganized, in Obama’s case) around his personal political interests and does not fare nearly as well as he does in its legislative and local races; he is often arrogant and at times insufferable; he is very, very lucky in his opponents.

But he is unlike Obama in important ways, too: Obama left office with a 59 percent approval rating, while Macron faced reelection with the precise inverse approval rating: 41 percent. (Obama was at a solid 53 percent in his 2012 reelection.) Americans are generally pretty well disposed toward Barack Obama (if this comes as a surprise to you, you need to broaden your media diet), while the French — including many of those who voted for him — generally detest Macron, denouncing the former Socialist as président des riches.

In many ways like Obama, Macron also is in many ways the French version of a 1990s Democrat, beginning with the fact that he is made rapt by Silicon Valley–style business rhetoric, describing his vision for France as building a “start-up nation.” He is very much a Europeanist (he marched to his victory celebration to the tune of Beethoven’s Ninth, the European Union’s version of a national anthem) and a globalist, a progressive and a Davos man. (And surely a Monocle man.) He is a business-friendly corporate progressive in the Clintonian New Democrat mode.

Marine Le Pen is something that once would have seemed strange if not anathematic to the American Right: a right-winger who lands a bit to the left of Elizabeth Warren on most economic issues. Le Pen, like Donald Trump and many of the figures who wish to claim his gold-lamé mantle, is what is sometimes called a “welfare chauvinist,” a term that is useful in that the most obvious alternative — national socialistcomes with a great deal of baggage. She is as perfect a modern example as you will find of Jonah Goldberg’s observation that as a practical matter almost all socialist regimes end up being nationalist regimes and most nationalist regimes end up being socialist regimes. A socialized industry is a nationalized industry and vice versa, but there is more than economics at play: Goldberg is correct in identifying this as a matter of sentimentality in that rationalist theories of government fail to inspire the kind of emotional commitment necessary to sustain the regime and thereby require the psychological oomph of nationalism, ethno-nationalism, or some other political tendency that implicates issues of identity. Stalin always elbows out Trotsky, and the dream of worldwide revolution always ends up being the Great Patriot War to Save the Motherland.

The reference point of social conservatism is, ironically, easily shifted. French social conservatism once meant Catholicism and monarchy, whereas Le Pen and her element position themselves as champions of French secularism, particularly vis-à-vis Muslim immigrants. Thirty years ago, Donald Trump would have been held up as Mr. Bad Example by the same American social conservatives who rallied to his cause in 2016 and 2020. The Golden Age is wherever you find it: There are Americans Left and Right who wish to fix the nation forever in 1957, though for very different reasons.

Whatever the point of reference, social conservatism and welfare-statism meet and conjoin on the common ground of Hobbit-hole sentimentality, which is predicated on the false belief that if modern capitalism were a little less dynamic and a lot less global then there would be a renaissance of civic and community life, of life lived at the family, village, and parish level rather than the transnational scale or, as in the cases of Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, the extraterrestrial scale. In reality, everybody chooses modern capitalism, because nobody really wants a 1957 standard of living — I’ll confidently wager that J. D. Vance does not live in an 800-square-foot house without air-conditioning — but the welfare-chauvinists believe (again, wrongly) that atavistic economic policies would put them on more defensible ground when it comes to social status, which is, of course, what right-wing populism is all about: It always begins with Tucker Carlson of the La Jolla He-Man Woman-Haters’ Country Club sounding the klaxons of alarum about the death of masculinity and ends with Madison Cawthorn in a lace bustier. Somewhere along the way, Republicans give up the idea of balancing the budget or reforming entitlements.

Anti-capitalist conservatism and anti-capitalist reaction are familiar elements of Continental politics. There is a tradition of anti-capitalism in Anglo-American conservatism, too, and it is very closely allied with anti-modernism. T. S. Eliot, the great Modernist American poet, was such a social reactionary that he ended up an Englishman (accent and all!) whose Tory politics were quite at home with his skepticism of business and industry, his prescient environmentalism, his neo-medieval model of community life, and — unhappily, this is not incidental — his antisemitism. J. R. R. Tolkien — the original Hobbit-hole sentimentalist — had a deep dread of technology and industrialization, which he wrote about in terms that were more mystical than political. There is a good deal of wisdom in Shire conservatism — “We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!” — but in politics as in literature, that life is mainly fantasy: The world does not go away when you cover your eyes.

A capitalism-skeptical Right may seem alien to those of us who remember OK Soda, but you’ll find similar sentiments everywhere from Albert Jay Nock to Dwight Eisenhower’s misunderstood “military-industrial complex” speech. (Eisenhower was in many ways a High Modernist, as much a midcentury icon as an Eames lounge chair, but there was a strain of 19th-century prairie populism in him, too.) The tendency is more pronounced in Catholic Europe than it is in the English-speaking countries, where private wealth has long provided a welcome counterbalance to the power of the state. England may be a “nation of shopkeepers,” in Napoleon’s (supposed) estimate, but, as it turns out, all that shopkeeping makes a nation rich, free, and powerful — a lesson not lost on England’s overseas descendants.

Not lost until recently, anyway.

In the United States as in France, we are seeing politics settling into two main blocs: a technocratic-progressive bloc with its roots in the Left and allied with the commanding heights of business, and a reactionary-populist bloc that has swallowed up most of the Right while attracting enough support from the center and the Left (those Sanders-to-Trump voters are a real thing, though the rank-and-file union vote shifting rightward is a bigger deal) to leave the Left proper as a weak third-place contender in a political contest that recognizes only first and second place.

Figures such as Elizabeth Warren are seeking to straddle the technocratic and left-wing camps in the belief that this is the surest route to power against a thoroughly Trumpist Republican Party, but Sanders-style socialism remains a distinctly minority taste among critical voting blocs within the Democratic Party, which is why Joe Biden won the 2020 nomination and is president today. Of course, personalities will shape coming events: Le Pen has lost enough presidential races that she probably will be obliged to pass the baton, and I doubt that Trump will run again on the Republican side, though I do not regard that as an impossibility. As it stands, both camps are limited mainly by their respective cultural radicalisms: There are moderate conservatives who could find some common ground with pro-market technocrats but find it impossible to share political space with people who can’t say what a woman is and support legal abortion up until the moment of delivery. (And, in more cases than you’d think, a ways beyond.) There are moderate Democrats who might be attracted to a political party that wants to protect or even enhance their social-welfare benefits while also taking seriously issues such as crime and illegal immigration but who cannot work themselves around to joining a party that goes to such extraordinary lengths to accommodate anti-vaccine kooks, the Jewish-space-laser element, and (WFB forgive the term!) crypto-Nazis.

And like France’s Republicans, the sort of people who used to be Republicans in the United States — social conservatives who also support free enterprise and an assertive foreign policy backed by a strong national defense — are reduced to the point of near irrelevance as far as elections are concerned, though they maintain some institutional power.

We may end up being a country that is effectively without a Left, but that doesn’t mean that conservatives are going to get what they want.

Words About Words

A reader asks: Why is it that the past tense of wreak havoc isn’t wrought havoc?

The answer is because wrought is not the past tense of wreak — it is an old and almost forgotten past tense of work.

Wreak means cause, but it has the destruction baked into it: Its original sense is avenge. So you wreak havoc, wreak your revenge, etc. All negative and destructive uses.

But when Samuel Morse sent the first telegraph message, it was “What hath God wrought!” That isn’t a question, by the way, though you often see it that way: “What hath God wrought?”

The phrase comes from the Book of Numbers:

He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: the Lord his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them.

God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.

Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought!

Behold, the people shall rise up as a great lion, and lift up himself as a young lion: he shall not lie down until he eat of the prey, and drink the blood of the slain.

Drinking the blood of the slain — that’s some great Old Testament stuff, right there.

Rampant Prescriptivism

We have authoritative sources for how words are spelled: The general practice for any given stylebook or publication is to choose a specific dictionary and to follow its guidance in situations where there are multiple spellings for a given word — usually, the preferred spelling is the one that has the full definition, while the variants are simply noted as that. So if you’re an American Heritage Dictionary shop, it’s adviser, not advisor.

But what about how proper nouns are styled?

As noted above, some names feature quirky insertions of punctuation marks (Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Therapy?, will.i.am, etc.) or play games with capitalization: bell hooks, FOX News, MGMT, eBay, USA TODAY. Capitalization comes up frequently with initialisms and acronyms. (Those aren’t the same thing: An acronym is pronounced as though it were a word, like FISA or NASA, as opposed to USDA or FBI.) The Associated Press approach is to capitalize letters only in initialisms where they are individually pronounced (CIA, not Cia; Ikea, not IKEA) and to handle acronyms by more or less arbitrary convention: UNESCO, but Patriot Act, scuba, laser, etc.

(The PATRIOT Act is — I hate these cutesy legislative acronyms — “Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.” LASER is “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.” SCUBA is “self-contained underwater breathing apparatus.” Laser and scuba have become common nouns and so do not get capitalized, but PATRIOT Act is a proper noun, so I’d keep PATRIOT uppercase, against AP’s guidance.)

But convention gets us only so far.

I don’t see any way around just including the funny punctuation however it is received. Capitalization I take on a case-by-case basis. Part of me says the best thing to do is to just write a name the way its owner does, but part of me doesn’t want to reward a company for relying on cheap attention-grabbing all-caps. Love you, USA Today, but, USA TODAY? Not gonna do it.

There is an old convention, honored here, in which a publication small-caps its own name in its own pages, and so we are National Review here but National Review elsewhere.

In any case, you still capitalize the first word of a sentence, so it’s “Bell hooks was born in . . .” “EBay was founded in . . .” Etc.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

I am not the world’s biggest Twitter fan, as you may know if you have read The Smallest Minority. And while I don’t have a particular dog in the fight, it is fun watching Elon Musk scare the pants off of that gang of miscreants. More in the New York Post.

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

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

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

To support National Review Institute, go here.

In Other News . . .

Write a column about how Twitter makes people nasty and imbecilic, get nasty and imbecilic Twitter responses. Kind of meta!

Well-known MAGA guy, indeed.

The thing about stupid people is, they’re stupid.

In Closing

Yesterday was the feast day of St. Mark the Evangelist. He is invoked against (among many things) both impenitence and insect bites. With the weather warming up and summer just around the corner, both are likely to be needed. He is also a patron saint of both lawyers and prisoners — I suppose that you may petition him in the former capacity to avoid the need to petition him in the latter one.

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Politics & Policy

Labor’s Love Lost

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., October 19, 2021. (Mandel Ngan/Pool via Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter on politics, language, and culture. Also, dachshunds. To get access to the Tuesday as part of a National Review membership — which, starting in a couple of weeks, will be the only way to read the Tuesday — please go here. As always, I am grateful for the remarkable support of our readers and friends here at National Review, who have been the foundation of our work since 1955.

The Workers’ Party?

“Democrats are the party of working people.” So states Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) in a “guest essay” — it isn’t an essay at all; it is ordinary campaign literature — in the New York Times. Senator Warren could have used some editing. The first thing her New York Times editors should have asked:

Is that true?

Let’s think about that phrase, “working people.” You would think that “working people” would mean “people who work,” but that is not what Senator Warren wants it to mean. Hedge-fund managers are working people — it is fashionable to sneer at people working in finance, but if you think that it isn’t work, try doing it. You think they’re giving all that money away? Doctors are working people. Lawyers are working people. College professors and novelists and movie producers are all working people, too. Even some journalists are working people, though not very many of them.

So, if “working people” does not mean “people who work,” what might it mean?

Maybe it is supposed to mean blue-collar workers, the industrial and manufacturing workers who make up what at least a few of Senator Warren’s colleagues at Harvard still refer to as the “proletariat.” It certainly is the case that the Democratic Party once was the party of factory workers and farmers — that’s why the party in Minnesota is still known as the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party. The word “union” used to have a distinctly lower-middle-income taste to it, but it doesn’t really anymore. Most unionized workers in the United States today are government employees, with incomes that range from the upper-middle to the high. These union workers are public-school teachers making $125,000 a year in the suburbs of Pittsburgh — the Molly Maguires, they ain’t.

Setting aside the unionized public-sector professionals and clerical workers, what about the old-school union workers, the men and women who put stuff together in factories and steel mills and whatnot? A great many of them vote for Democrats, but a great many don’t. And don’t is on the rise as ordinary workers act on the most obvious of all political facts: that the interests of the union bosses, who have been entirely captured by the Democratic Party, are not precisely the same as the interests of the union workers themselves.

Rank-and-file union members snub Biden for Trump,” read the 2020 Politico headline. Our friends over at FiveThirtyEight aren’t exactly what you’d call raging Trumpists, but Nate Silver observed about the 2016 election:

The shift among union voters was enough to swing the election to Trump. According to the CCES, Obama won union voters by 34.4 percentage points in 2012, but Clinton did so by only 16.7 points in 2016. That roughly 18-point swing was worth a net of 1.2 percentage points for Trump in Pennsylvania, 1.1 points in Wisconsin and 1.7 points in Michigan based on their rates of union membership  —  and those totals were larger than his margins of victory in those states.

Robert Reich doesn’t think the Democrats represent these “working people,” either, writing in 2016:

The Democratic party once represented the working class. But over the last three decades the party has been taken over by Washington-based fundraisers, bundlers, analysts, and pollsters who have focused instead on raising campaign money from corporate and Wall Street executives and getting votes from upper middle-class households in “swing” suburbs.

Those suburban swing voters are the real game here, but let’s put them off for the moment and take a minute to observe that in 2016, the left-wing populist Reich and the socialist Bernie Sanders both sounded pretty Trumpish on Trump’s key issues: trade and immigration. Reich again:

Democrats have occupied the White House for 16 of the last 24 years, and for four of those years had control of both houses of Congress. But in that time they failed to reverse the decline in working-class wages and economic security. Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama ardently pushed for free trade agreements without providing millions of blue-collar workers who thereby lost their jobs means of getting new ones that paid at least as well.

. . . Now Americans have rebelled by supporting someone who wants to fortify America against foreigners as well as foreign-made goods. The power structure understandably fears that Trump’s isolationism will stymie economic growth. But most Americans couldn’t care less about growth because for years they have received few of its benefits, while suffering most of its burdens in the forms of lost jobs and lower wages.

In 2016, before his handlers yanked on his leash, Senator Sanders was nearly indistinguishable from Trump on the subject of “open borders.”

There is one reason that unionized industrial workers might have migrated toward the Republicans, joining the purported “party of the rich” — they’re rich. Mitt Romney once did the nation a great service (and did his presidential campaign a great disservice) by pointing out that one important dividing line in American politics is the one separating the people who pay federal income taxes from the people who don’t. About half the country — the higher-earning half — pays some federal income tax, and about half the country — the lower-earning half — has no federal income-tax liability at all or has a negative liability thanks to the Earned Income-Tax Credit. (It is not the case that lower-income Americans pay no taxes — it is the case that they pay no federal income tax, which is probably more important politically than it is economically, which was, of course, Romney’s point.) Those factory workers don’t make Mitt Romney money, but a lot of them make bass-boat money; a great many of them are on the right side of the income curve, which is the income-tax-paying side.

That is true for both union and non-union workers. Toyota, for instance, estimates that its U.S. non-union production workers make about 58 percent more than the average U.S. salary. GM workers represented by the UAW make about the same wage as their non-union Toyota counterparts, averaging around $30 an hour. (GM has far higher labor costs, driven by splendid health-care benefits and an expensive pension system.) Highly skilled union workers (for example, those working in nuclear-power plants) can earn decently into six figures. A union manufacturing worker married to another union manufacturing worker won’t have a household income in the top 1 percent but very well may be in the top 10 percent.

So, then, might “working people” mean “people with modest incomes”? Maybe, but the reality is more complex even when construed according to that simplistic criterion.

We like to think of things in linear terms: the richer you are, the more education you have, etc. In reality, things are not linear but lumpy. A lot of very poor people are Democrats. So are a lot of very rich people. For instance, Wall Street bigs are mostly Democrats — you think a guy with a master’s degree and an $800,000-a-year job in Manhattan, a manicure, and a big tuition bill to pay at Greenwich Country Day is going to hitch his wagon to the daft star of Marjorie Taylor Greene? That isn’t real life. Of course, no sensible person expects Elizabeth Warren to understand such complexities, because no sensible person expects Elizabeth Warren to understand anything more complicated than misrepresenting her ethnicity for professional purposes.

(“Faculty of color,” Harvard called her. Technically true — see: PANTONE 11-0602 TCX.)

If you look at the data compiled by Pew, you’ll see that while the average Republican voter has a higher income than the average Democratic voter (as of 2018), the biggest difference is not at the happy tippy-top but at the miserable bottom. Republicans enjoy a six-point advantage when it comes to workers earning more than $100,000 a year. By way of comparison, Democrats enjoy a 16-point advantage among voters earning less than $25,000 a year. Put another way, the share of Democratic voters earning less than $25,000 a year is more than twice the share of Republican voters in that income group.

Where the Democrats have one great advantage is not among working people but among non-working people, or people with only marginal and desultory employment. Receiving or having received food stamps or other poverty-related benefits correlates pretty strongly with voting Democratic. People who receive benefits under three or more government programs tend to vote Democratic and tend to fall disproportionately into demographic groups that vote Democratic — African Americans and unmarried women.

Work really is an enormously important variable. High-income households overwhelmingly have two full-time workers in them, while the lowest-income households have on average fewer than one full-time worker in them. Poverty in the United States is much less a working-class problem than a non-working-class problem. The mere fact that many poor people are not working does not necessarily mean that we should be skeptical toward providing them with assistance — some of them cannot work, and in some cases it is better that they do not work — but it should influence how we think about the design and structure of welfare programs and what our long-term economic expectations about them are going to be.

The Democrats are big with the very poor and big with college-educated government workers — i.e., the party of people who are enrolled in welfare programs and the people who administer them.

Things get complicated at the top, too, because it matters how you draw the lines. The $100,000-and-up club comprises the highest-earning 31 percent or so of U.S. households, and they lean Republican. But the very wealthy are less predictably Republican. For example, Americans earning more than $220,000 a year (the wealthiest 4 percent) in 2012 supported Barack Obama over Mitt Romney, part of a continuing trend of the very wealthy leaning Democrat. Vox isn’t exactly stuffed with Trumpists, either, but here is the headline: “Democrats are replacing Republicans as the preferred party of the very wealthy.” Why that is the case is pretty straightforward: It is not that a bunch of rich Republicans suddenly decided to become Democrats — it is that who gets to be rich has changed dramatically in the past couple of decades, with the rich-guy demographic window shifting in the Democrats’ advantage. Being rich is less correlated with being white and male than it once was, and much more correlated with being highly educated and living in a coastal metro. Urban college graduates vote for Democrats — which is why the first thing Elizabeth Warren wants to offer “working people” is college-loan forgiveness — a policy that not only disproportionately but overwhelmingly benefits higher-income Americans. Covid-era loan forbearance already has provided something on the order of $200 billion in benefits to college borrowers, most of them higher-income.

Where you live matters a great deal, too. It will surprise exactly no one to learn that the majority of voters earning more than $100,000 a year very much prefer Democrats to Republicans in California, Maryland, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, while the $100,000+ voters are more R than D in Texas, Indiana, Ohio, and Tennessee.

“Democrats are the party of working people,” Senator Warren claims. That statement is, in the most charitable reading, so imprecise as to be useless. Better to have written: “The Democrats are the party of relatively high-income college graduates, especially the ones living in relatively high-income communities, which is why we are leading with student-loan forgiveness rather than something that blue-collar factory workers care about.”

But that doesn’t have quite the same punch in the New York Times, does it?

Words About Words

A teacher writes: “I find in print and conversation that the use of the word slave is being replaced by enslaved people. I think it adds a more human touch to this most miserable of topics. I find myself using it more and more in class discussion. What is your take on this?”

I think the sentiment — to emphasize the humanity of the captive workers who were bought and sold as property — is an admirable one. But other than the old engineering convention (which has itself become controversial), I cannot think of any instance in which the word slave would refer to anything other than a person. To write enslaved person to my eye is like writing English professor person or soldier person or poet person. A slave is a person — that is why slavery was and is a horror.

Enslaved person also sounds a little antiseptic to my ear. Jay Nordlinger often refers to Robert Conquest’s term “nonconsensual societies” — I understand the point of it, but I think something like tyranny would do better. Slavery is a savage thing, and it should have a blunt, ugly name. There’s no way to nice it up, and no cause to.

Rampant Prescriptivism

Homogenous is a word, but it probably isn’t the word you want. The word you want is homogeneous, which is pronounced like a rude but admiring description of Oscar Wilde. I pronounce this one wrong all the time, as a few Mad Dogs & Englishmen listeners have been kind enough to point out in 60 or 70 emails. Homogenous is an old technical biological term that has been supplanted by homologous. Homogeneous, meaning “of the same kind,” is related to homogenized, which has both a literal meaning (as with milk) and a more metaphorical one. The pronunciation of homogenized is close to homogenous, which is probably where the error comes from. The noun form of homogeneous is homogeneity; the noun form of homogenous is homogeny. I use the word probably 200 times in The Smallest Minority, but I still pronounce it the wrong way when I am not thinking about it. 

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

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

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 recommended The Chosen, the crowded-funded series about the life of Jesus and the early days of Christianity, last week. I’ll repeat the recommendation here. But I will also add a question for readers who have seen it: How do you think The Chosen would be received by a non-Christian audience? I think there are two kinds of non-Christian audiences: those who don’t care about Christianity and those who hate it. In a weird way, I think the haters might be more interested in The Chosen, because they are simply more interested in Christianity, even though their interest is a negative one. I think this is similar in a way to the Satanic and quasi-Satanic theatrics one sees all over our culture — sometimes purely for entertainment purposes, as with the band Slayer, and sometimes offered with more seriousness. Christian ideas and the Christian (particularly Catholic) aesthetic still dominate Western civilization to such an extent that even Christianity’s enemies offer works that are almost exclusively derivative of Christianity or conceived in reaction to it. They have no real substance of their own. Andres Serrano made “Piss Christ” because nobody would care very much about “Piss Joe Biden” or “Piss Elon Musk.” In that sense, the upside-down-cross guys evince a certain backhanded respect for Christianity, while the nice, New Age–y Westerners who profess to admire Buddhism while reducing that complex body of analysis into a style of interior decoration offer a much worse insult than anything the goat-heads-and-pentagrams set has ever dreamt of. In the long term, indifference is the sharper sword — and dull accommodation the deadliest weapon of them all.

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Politics & Policy

The Ghost in the Machine Gun

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Cerakote-coated 80% lower receivers for AR-15 rifles at a gun store in Oceanside, Calif., April 12, 2021. (Bing Guan/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about big guns and small points of English usage. To subscribe to the Tuesday — and, please do that! — follow this link.

The Problem Is Ordinary Killers, Not Exotic Guns

Finding a really nice classic Mustang is not always easy and is never cheap, and, for years, a handful of very committed car enthusiasts have been making an end-run around the classic-car market and the restoration industry both by more or less building entirely new cars from the parts catalogue. This is something that is a lot easier to do with very popular classics such as the Mustang than it would be with (alas!) the 1966 Volvo P1800 I very stupidly bought as a broke college student. In reality, building a new Mustang from the catalogue entails a lot more than ordering the parts and putting them together — there is a reason most cars are built in factories rather than in artisans’ workshops. But you can do it, if you really want to.

You can build a gun from scratch, too, if you have the inclination and the skills. Contrary to what a great many people seem to think, there isn’t any law against it. There never has been, at least at the federal level. There are many kits you can buy to build old-style black-powder muskets and Kentucky rifles — a relatively easy project whose main challenges are related to woodworking rather than mechanics. But you can build sophisticated modern firearms, too. If you are a skilled machinist and have the right equipment, you can build one entirely from scratch. If that is too much for you, then you can build one from commercially available parts that simply need to be assembled — but you will have to pass a federal background check when purchasing the “receiver,” which is what the ATF considers a firearm when it is complete or almost complete.

The distinction between firearm and firearm parts is necessary in that firearm parts often are replaced or modified. For example, regular shooters eventually have to replace their rifles’ barrels, which simply wear out. Buying a new barrel for an old rifle is not the same as buying a whole new rifle, legally or practically. Likewise, some shooters will change the stocks or “furniture” on their weapons, change the grips or sights, upgrade certain mechanical parts (especially triggers), etc. At its simplest, a firearm is just a length of pipe that is closed at one end. Because it would be impractical to classify all of these the various parts as firearms under federal law, a more sophisticated distinction has to be made.

A gray area — and here I mean a political gray area; the law at this time is reasonably clear — is the issue of receivers that are sold incomplete. A receiver becomes a firearm under federal law only when it has reached a certain stage of completion. Finishing an unfinished receiver is not like snapping together LEGO bricks — it usually requires some basic machining equipment and skills, though in some cases 3D printing can be used as a workaround. A firearm made from an unfinished receiver, like one made entirely from scratch, never has to go through the background check required by a retail sale, because, as far as federal law is concerned, there never was a retail sale of a firearm at all — only the sale of some firearm parts that were used in the production of a homemade firearm.

These homemade guns, which do not have serial numbers and which require no background check to acquire, are what is meant — purportedly meant, anyway — by the scary-sounding and imprecise term “ghost guns,” the latest terror totem of the anti-gun lobby. I write purportedly because many of the firearms reported as “ghost guns” are not homemade firearms at all but ordinary commercially sold firearms that have had their serial numbers removed or obscured. As often is the case when it comes to crime in the United States, good national data are difficult to find because of inconsistent reporting practices across jurisdictions.

When I first started reading about the upsurge in “ghost guns,” my first thought was to wonder why a criminal would go to the trouble of relying on a process that involves drill presses and mechanical skill rather than do what U.S. criminals have been doing for generations; i.e., using stolen guns or guns bought in criminal transactions. As it turns out, that is pretty much what our criminals are still doing, though some cities and states report significant increases in ghost-gun seizures. There have been a few murders involving ghost guns, and those cases predictably have received a disproportionate amount of attention. To give you an idea of the situation on the ground, the gun-control group Everytown conducted a review of federal “ghost gun” cases — 114 of them over a decade, a number that should tell you something — and found that there were 2,513 such firearms connected to criminal activity. But — and these are Everytown’s findings, not mine — the crime associated with those 2,513 firearms was illegal manufacturing or dealing in 2,200 cases, not robbery or murder or assault. Put another way, almost all of the crimes associated with so-called ghost guns were, in Everytown’s review of the data, the crime of simply possessing such a weapon in the first place or selling one.

That is not surprising. Consider a point of comparison: Contrary to what many people think, it is legal to own a fully automatic weapon in the United States, provided it was manufactured before 1986, though the process of acquiring one is closely regulated and the supply of such weapons is relatively small. Almost all of the crimes associated with legally owned fully automatic weapons in the United States are violations of firearms regulations. The number of murders committed with legally owned fully automatic weapons in the United States in the past 80 years or so could be counted on your fingers. (And, in every case that I have found, those crimes were committed not by civilian owners of machine guns but by police and military personnel using service weapons. It is possible I have missed one or two.) The same is true for many other exotic armaments and accessories, such as sound suppressors, which also are legal to own and increasingly common, especially among the very busy hunters working to keep the feral hog population under control here in Texas.

(The fear of “silencers” is a largely American thing probably driven by Hollywood; in many European countries, suppressors are sold over the counter, and some European firing ranges go as far as to require them as a courtesy to other shooters. I envy this every time I am at the range next to a guy firing a .458 Winchester magnum rifle with a muzzle brake, a device that reduces recoil but makes a firearm about twice as loud. Apparently, my corner of Texas is rife with guys who are dealing with problem elephants.)

For most periods in U.S. history — and ours is no different — the most common firearm used in a crime is whatever the most common handgun of the day happens to be: A generation or two ago, it was .38 revolvers, and now it is 9mm pistols. We spend a great deal of time (and political energy) worrying about so-called assault rifles, which are used in murders only exceedingly rarely — all rifles put together, from AR-type firearms to Elmer Fudd deer rifles, account for about 3 percent of the firearms used in murders. We also are for some (probably cinematic) reason preoccupied with particular unusual weapons that are seldom if ever used in violent crimes: For example, California went bananas a few years ago over .50-caliber rifles, which are now banned in the state. I have been able to find no case in which a .50-caliber rifle was used in a murder in California, and their use in violent crimes is pretty rare everywhere else. (Don’t take my word: Check the Violence Policy Center’s review.) There is a pretty good reason for that, of course: There’s a very nice .50-caliber rifle on the shelf of my local firearms dealer — it is almost six feet long, weighs almost 50 pounds, and costs $13,000.

The more you know about the ballistic facts on the ground, the sillier these scaremongering stories sound. The anti-gun lobby talks in fearful terms about the so-called military-style rifles available to the American buying public, but there are some pretty common hunting rifles that fire cartridges that are five to six times as powerful as the standard 5.56mm used in AR-pattern rifles. This makes perfect sense when you consider that it takes a lot more oomph to kill a Cape buffalo or a bull elk than it does to kill a Russian, which is what the 5.56mm round was designed to do. (Hence its full formal name, 5.56×45mm NATO.) The gun-grabbers who proclaim that they have no interest in taking away granddad’s deer rifle are being pretty silly, from an empirical point of view.

The supposed allure of “ghost guns” is that they are “untraceable.” Which they are — like pretty much every other firearm in the United States. We do not maintain a national gun registry, and, in spite of what you see on television, there isn’t really any such thing as a “registered” or “unregistered” firearm as a matter of federal law and the laws of almost all the states. When police find a firearm that they believe to have been used in a crime, they can, if they choose, consult federal records that will show them which federally licensed firearms dealer sold that gun. Criminals are not as a class of people very intelligent, but even so there are not very many who: (1) are eligible to buy a gun legally from a dealer; (2) actually do so; and (3) leave that gun at the scene of a crime. But that is the only way in most cases that government records could be used to trace a gun from a crime scene to its owner. (Most cases: A couple of states maintain legally questionable databases that might provide more information.) Most firearms change hands at least once — and often several times — before they end up at a crime scene or in the hands of investigators. The thing about career criminals is — they’re career criminals. They don’t buy criminal implements from federally regulated providers. In many cases, they can’t: A large share of our murders are committed by people who already have at least one felony conviction.

Once you start looking at the statistics, you’ll notice a lot of small percentages and weak correlations — a tiny share of “assault rifles” used in murders, Hollywood-style machine guns practically nowhere in evidence, “ghost guns” more common than I would have expected (9 percent of the firearms confiscated by police in Philadelphia, for example) but still pretty rare, etc.

Where you will see much stronger correlations is in who is shooting the guns: About 90 percent of murder suspects in cities such as New York and Chicago have prior arrest histories; in Charlotte, half of the murder suspects have had prior gun charges dismissed, which is a genuine scandal; the No. 1 thing people being convicted of violent felonies have in common is a prior arrest for a violent felony, which is the case for two-thirds of violent felons.

(For context, be aware that the majority of murder victims are criminal offenders, too, a finding that has held true in the big cities for half a century. A 2012 survey of New York murder victims found that 20 percent of them were on probation or parole or had an active arrest warrant, 10 percent were confirmed gang members, 71 percent had prior arrests, etc. Only one in five male murder victims in New York did not have a prior arrest.)

If prior offenders make up 90 percent of our murderers, and “ghost guns” are involved in less than 1 percent of our murders, why are we concentrating on the “ghost guns” rather than on the murderers?

The tripartite answer is politics, theater, and cowardice.

The Wild Side of Inflation

Lou Reed’s New York came out in 1989, and it announced the beginning of the end of the 1980s. (The 1980s would persist musically until 1991 and Nirvana’s Nevermind.) New York is typical Lou Reed territory — addiction, abuse, poverty, urban decay — with a new and unexpected element: nostalgia. “I’ll take Manhattan in a garbage bag / with Latin written on it that says: ‘It’s hard to give a sh** these days’ / Manhattan’s sinking like a rock / into the filthy Hudson, what a shock / They wrote a book about it, they said it was like ancient Rome.” But something already was changing in New York, which was at that time only five years away from electing Rudy Giuliani and becoming the greatest urban comeback story the nation had ever seen.

One of the songs on New York is a much-maligned haves-and-have-nots anthem, “Strawman,” which I very much like. But it is a song that needs to be adjusted for inflation.

“Does anybody need another million-dollar movie?” Reed asks. “Does anybody need another million-dollar star?” That $1 million was a lowball figure even then, but $1 million budgets and paydays are positively quaint by contemporary standards: The biggest film of 1989 was Batman, which cost about $48 million to make, $5 million of which went to pay its star, Michael Keaton. Christian Bale was paid something on the order of $30 million in the $250 million Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises in 2012. (Robert Pattinson’s modest $3 million payday for the most recent Batman film has been the subject of some perplexed commentary in Hollywood.) Hollywood action figures such as Dwayne Johnson are not million-dollar stars, but billionaire-adjacent stars. (You won’t find many if any actors among the ranks of Hollywood billionaires, but you’ll find a fair number with hundreds of millions of dollars.) The rich get richer.

But the line that really makes me laugh in “Strawman” is, “Does anybody need a $60,000 car?” In 2022, an optioned-up Ford Super Duty pickup — that great emblem of blue-collar success — can cross the $100,000 mark, while a top-of-the-line Mercedes sedan is a bit more than twice that. A $60,000 car in 2022 is a decent Volvo station wagon. As a New Yorker, Reed probably did not have much of a feel for car budgets, though he did once make a commercial for Honda scooters.

Lou Reed fretted about the questionable necessity of a “billion-dollar rocket.” I wonder what he would have made of the $2.5 billion — privately built and privately owned — rockets of 2022.

But not everything on that record is an exercise in lyrical anthropology. Unhappily, New York is once again starting to look like New York.

Kingly Deference

Some things really never change. In the run up to the American Revolution — and in many other disputes with monarchs over the years — it was conventional for dissidents to blame the king’s ministers, rather than the king himself, for crimes, tyranny, and misgovernance. It was, in fact, a maxim of English law that “the king can do no wrong,” a legal principle cited unsuccessfully by Charles I right before they cut his head off. This is a prime example of the idolatry at the center of royal politics — if the king is God’s anointed, then his crimes must reflect poorly upon the Almighty. As Donald Trump disappoints his supporters by doing the most predictable thing in the world — spurning actual conservatives to support another television personality, Dr. Oz, in the Pennsylvania Senate race — true believers in the 21st-century United States are faced with the same troubling issue as their medieval forebears: How can the anointed do wrong? As with earlier royalists, they have set upon the same solution: Blame the ministers! Erick Erickson, who remarkably went from boycotting Trump as a “fascist” to actively supporting him, writes of the recent shenanigans: “It’s like Donald Trump’s staff is sabotaging Trump by convincing him to make the worst possible endorsements.” Not the king, but his wicked ministers!

That is not the thinking of a citizen — that is the thinking of a subject.

Or a cult member.

Words about Words

A phrase that seems to have fallen out of use except by attentive fans of the movie Pulp Fiction: “according to Hoyle.” In Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece, the mob trigger Jules (played by Samuel L. Jackson, who at some point got a name upgrade from his earlier credits as plain ol’ “Sam Jackson”) witnesses what he believes to be a miracle, and vows to amend his life. Challenged by his doubtful colleague, he explains: “Whether or not what we experienced was an according-to-Hoyle miracle is insignificant. What is significant is that I felt the touch of God. God got involved.” This is sound on both literary and theological grounds, I think.

Edmond Hoyle was an 18th-century Englishman who tutored the aristocracy on whist, a card game enjoyed by the high-society crowd. He wrote a little pamphlet on the subject, A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist, which became so popular that a bookseller paid him an unusually large sum of money for the rights to the work, and then paid him an additional fee to autograph copies to distinguish them from unauthorized piracies. (That detail is particularly poignant for any writer who has ever known the pain of discovering an autographed copy of one of his books in a secondhand bookshop.) A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist was considered authoritative for more than a century, until the rules of the game were revised — and, as such, “according to Hoyle” came to mean “in accordance with the most widely accepted authority.”

Furthermore . . .

A reader inquires about my use of the phrase “a long jeremiad” last week. “Isn’t that redundant?” he asks, in that jeremiad is defined as a “long, mournful complaint or lamentation; a list of woes.”

Guilty as charged. I’ll send in the $20 bounty for redundancies as soon as I can get the cash out of the ATM machine.

Rampant Prescriptivism

The Judas Priest song notwithstanding, the expression is, “You’ve got another think coming,” not “You’ve got another thing coming.” It’s another way of saying, “Think again.” E.g.: “If you think that Dr. Oz is going to be anything other than embarrassing as a senator, then you’ve got another think coming.”

Sidebar: I think it usually is preferable to write out “then” in “if . . . then” formulations such as the one above, rather than to let the “then” be implicit, as we often do. “Then” is not technically an according-to-Hoyle coordinating conjunction, but it should be treated as one in such usages.

Also: “Judas priest!” as a mild profanity is of relatively recent coinage, dating to the early 20th century. It was used in place of “Jesus Christ!” to avoid taking the Name in vain. Possibly influenced by “Judas tree,” Cercis siliquastrum, the species from which Judas Iscariot is supposed to have hanged himself.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

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

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.

Beastly News . . .

Pancake will eat the rosemary. The marigolds she only rolls in.

Recommended

It is years old, but I have only recently got around to watching The Chosen, the crowdfunded series about the life of Jesus. It is very good, and often moving. It is particularly clever — and effective — in situating the Gospel in the private domestic lives of the Biblical characters. Peter is not some holy man who is waiting around expecting the Messiah — he is a fisherman with financial problems and a tax bill he cannot pay, worried about disappointing his wife more than about being thrown in prison over his debt. The social dynamic of the wedding at Cana (the groom’s parents are socially inferior to the bride’s insufferably snooty family and fear public humiliation) is entirely recognizable in our own time. Some substantial liberties are taken with the Biblical account, of course, but these are dramatically useful and serve the spirit of the enterprise.

When an exasperated (and, up to that point, unnamed) wine merchant at the wedding is irritated and perplexed by being told to fill the empty wine jars with water, he says: “From the instructions you have provided, I see no logical solution to the problem.” Jesus, with a little sigh, replies: “It’s going to be like that sometimes, Thomas.”

The tone is distinctly Evangelical, though not overbearingly so, and in addition to being a version of the Gospel story, it is simultaneously something that would have been difficult to explain to an earlier generation of Christians: a Protestant love-letter to Jewish piety.

Also Recommended

With Good Friday approaching, do yourself a great favor and read Father Richard John Neuhaus’s Death on a Friday Afternoon if you haven’t read it before — or if you have, for that matter. It is a book that is not going to stop being good or true.

In Closing

This is Holy Week, and, while I will not be taking any time off, it is a good time to remember my friend Jay Nordlinger’s oft-repeated observation that journalism, from the Latin diurnalis (“daily”), is a thing of a day. History takes a longer view, but there is still another, much longer view, that has a claim on our attention.

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Politics & Policy

Is the Party Over?

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Delegates at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 19, 2016. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about the laughable, the ludicrous, and the lachrymose. To subscribe to the Tuesday — which I hope you will do — please follow this link.

The GOP Is Not Your Ex

As the political philosopher Neil Sedaka observed, “Breaking up is hard to do.”

Something you will no doubt have observed in your own life and in the lives of others is that the discord in a relationship — or the bitterness of its ending — is directly proportional to the intensity and closeness of the relationship itself: A romance consisting of three dates in six weeks might end without either party’s even quite noticing, but the dissolution of a 30-year marriage with children is always agonizing and potentially explosive; it is much more wrenching to leave a job you find personal meaning in than a job that is just a paycheck; with rare exceptions, you will never get as angry at your cousins as you do at your brother. Etc.

The thing conservatives need to keep in mind: The Republican Party is not your ex. Neither is the conservative movement. As it happens, I wrote this newsletter — except for the sentence you are reading — before Charlie Sykes’s latest — “A Governor Breaks Up with Trump” — landed in my in-box; the headline could not be more apt.

There was a time when sensible conservatives could take a realistic, instrumental view of the GOP and find it reasonably useful for our ends. The job of the Republican Party was to serve conservative interests — not the other way around. That has become complicated in two equally significant ways: One, political tribalism has done its awful work on conservatives as much as it has on anybody else, and many on the right today see advancing the electoral prospects of the Republican Party as, in effect, the whole of the conservative agenda per se; second, the Republican Party is today a much less able and reliable vessel of conservative policy than it was ten or 20 years ago, because it has been deformed by vulgar populism and infantile nationalism, to such an extent that certain important factions within the GOP have discovered a strange new respect for everything from heavy-handed and politically tinged antitrust regulation to economic redistribution to Vladimir Putin — and a positive loathing of free trade, free speech, the military, and the libertarian sensibility that Ronald Reagan famously described as “the very heart and soul of conservatism.” Down with Reaganism, up with Orbánism; down with Margaret Thatcher, up with Marine Le Pen.

For a certain kind of contemporary rightist, the relationship between the Chicago Boys and Augusto Pinochet is something that reflects poorly not on the economists but on the generalissimo. You’ll rarely meet a leftist who detests the thinking of Milton Friedman as much as our rage-addled new rightists do.

How should an unsentimental conservative think about the Republican Party?

Before the question of what we should think about the Republican Party, we might start with how we should feel about the Republican Party, about which I would advise — not very strongly.

If I am not quite politically where you’ll find, e.g., my friends over at the Bulwark, I am not emotionally where they are, either, and that may be more to the point. By this, I do not mean to cast any aspersions on that school of thought and its adherents. I would be very surprised if William Kristol did not have much stronger personal feelings about the Republican Party than I do: He served in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations (as chief of staff to the vice president in the latter case), advised (and even managed) Republican campaigns, led organizations with the word “Republican” in their name, etc. — and I didn’t. Joe Scarborough held office as a Republican. If you look at the résumés of conservatives most bitterly estranged from the Republican Party, you’ll see many former advisers, campaign operatives, Hill staffers, party officials, etc. These are people who didn’t casually date the Republican Party — they were married.

And when I talk with them or read their work, I often think: “I don’t especially disagree with any of that, but — holy crow! — are they ever angry!”

The ladies and gentlemen on talk radio and the cable-news shows talk admiringly about “passion,” while John Adams feared passion — and he was right to do so.

It is worth remembering that passion is another word for suffering.

My own view is that, looked at dispassionately, the Republican Party is an organization that has for a long time been only partly useful to conservatives and that is becoming less useful each day. And all of that angst and wailing from the likes of Sean Hannity and the rest of the Chicken Little crowd — the sky is falling, Joe Biden is the Antichrist, and we are only one election away from losing our country forever! — is verbal camouflage deployed by people who have political or financial interests in maintaining the myth that conservatism and the Republican Party as so closely identified as to be in effect a single instrument. You may have noticed that the two kinds of people who argue most intensely for the complete identification of the conservative movement with the Republican Party are professional progressives and entrepreneurs in the more commercial side of right-wing media — in this, and in much else, those interests are quite closely aligned.

What conservatives will have to do in the post-Trump era is what conservatives have always had to do — take our wins where we find them, be realistic about our prospects, and expect to be disappointed by politicians. I am always happy to see a Ben Sasse rising in the world and would be pleased to see such figures rise farther; on the other hand, Lindsey Graham and figures like him are a net loss for the republic irrespective of whether what we are talking about is a Brand R Sycophant or a Brand D Sycophant — and if your sense of loyalty necessitates pretending that this is not the case, then you are loyal to the wrong things.

The Republican Party as it currently is constituted is not the only instrument available to us, nor is it the only possible instrument that might be available to us. Those who speak despairingly about the prospects of third parties should remember that the GOP began as one. But this is not mainly a question of forming new parties or engaging in some kind of endless Tracy Flick–ism, in which the ambitious and the frustrated start new organizations to give themselves something to be in charge of. In the long term, ideas are and always have been the most powerful force in politics: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”; “Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!”; “Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer!”; “It is accordingly our wish and our command that the English Church shall be free, and that men in our kingdom shall have and keep all these liberties, rights, and concessions, well and peaceably in their fullness and entirety for them and their heirs, of us and our heirs, in all things and all places forever.”

This should figure more prominently in our political thinking than does the question of the party registration of the next man to be elected chief dog-catcher of Penobscot.

Words About Words

The word eponym refers to two things: a word derived from a person’s name and the person whose name formed the word. Boycott is an eponym, and its eponym is Charles C. Boycott, a 19th-century victim of the now-familiar pressure-campaign strategy. An eponym I did not know about until National Review’s Dale Brott mentioned it to me last week is derrick, which we think of as the pyramid-shaped structure over an oil well (a usage dating to the 19th century) but which originally meant a kind of gallows. It was named for a famous London executioner, Thomas Derrick, his surname being a variation of both Dietrich and Theodoric. Derrick the executioner is referred to in a few works of Elizabethan drama.

The (possibly embellished) story is that Derrick was a convicted rapist who was spared execution for his crime by volunteering to become the London executioner, a job no one much wanted. He was appointed to the position by the Earl of Essex, whom he would later execute. Essex elected for beheading rather than hanging — big mistake: Derrick was an innovative hangman but apparently not very good with an ax, and he took several swings to finally do in the earl.

The famously eponymous (and famously incompetent) Earl of Sandwich had somewhat better luck in his patronage. And see if the famous description of him applies to anybody you can think of in contemporary politics: “Seldom has any man held so many offices and accomplished so little.”

Rampant Prescriptivism

Continuing on that theme, a common question is: When does one use hanged and when does one use hung? There isn’t really a grammatical rule in play here; the issue is that we treat hang the execution method as a different verb from hang meaning “suspend.” So hanged is used only when you are writing or speaking about an execution — otherwise, hung.

You might think the same thing would be at work in lit vs. lighted, but it isn’t quite that. Both words have been around for a very long time as the past tense of light in both British and American English. Lighted is more common in adjective uses (“a well-lighted room”), and it is no surprise to see the noun light transformed into an adjective in a way familiar from such phrases as “a well-propertied man” or “the moneyed classes.”

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

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

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.

A Lass Unparallel’d

After almost 15 years of giving my family unmixed and unreserved joy, our older dachshund, Katy-May, passed away over the weekend. She was my friend, sidekick — and, not infrequently, taskmaster — for the last third of her life, and my wife’s constant companion since she was a puppy.

As is so often the case, the sadness is mostly for us, the ones who have a little sausage-shaped hole in our family, rather than for Katy, who had an excellent life and who, though elderly, spent her last years mostly undiminished except for a few short days at the very end. She was still going up and down stairs on her own — a sign of real vigor in a creature who was by the conventional measure about 98 in human years and who possessed legs that were about four inches long.

Katy traveled the world, romping through Central Park in her early Upper West Side days, trotting along the boulevards of Paris and the beaches of California and Costa Rica, hiking in the Swiss Alps and the Rockies, a natural tourist and happy to go wherever life took her, on airplanes or trains or boats. On a trip to Aspen, we made a point of hiking up Smuggler’s Mountain every day, which Katy was happy to do — until she wasn’t, at which point she would sit down, definitely, and no amount of cajoling or persuasion or leash-tugging could convince her to take another step. Then she would go into the backpack, poking her head out at times or curling up and going to sleep, napping being her second-favorite activity, behind breakfasting.

Her gift for marathon napping was such that she could make the whole of an international flight unnoticed by her fellow passengers. The first few minutes of a car ride always made her a little nervous, but, once she had settled in, a sunny spot in the passenger’s seat (or in the passenger’s lap) contented her very well, as did the necessary closeness of automobile travel. I don’t know how many times she crossed the country, but it was more than a few. Her last long road trip was to pick up our other dachshund, Pancake, whom Katy approached in her characteristic way with strangers — initially with skepticism bordering on positive hostility and then settling into aristocratic indifference — until it became clear that the puppy was part of the family, after which she taught the younger dog about important things such as yogurt, pushing open the back door, and the all-important 5 a.m. reveille.

It was clear to me that, from her point of view, I filled two roles in Katy’s life: leader of the pack and full-time live-in butler. If she saw any contradiction or incompatibility in those roles, she never indicated it. She preferred to take her morning nap in sunny spots and, if the sun moved into an inconvenient position, she would nudge me and complain about it, apparently believing that I had the power to move the sun. If I could, I would have.

It is easy to make too much of the love we have for dogs. But it is also easy to make too little of it.

The Stoics believed that the world has an ineffable and incomprehensible perfection in it, and that most human unhappiness comes from our inability to perceive — or to accept — the necessities of that perfection. Christians, in a similar way, believe that God has a plan for us, individually and together, and that we do well to depend on Providence when the complexity and subtlety of the divine plan and its requirements are beyond what we can know. I take it as a token of His omnipotence that the Architect of Universes can put a full measure of His grace and goodness into small, simple, short-lived things. I am not saying Katy never misused a rug, which she most certainly did, or that she was particularly generous when it came to sharing treats, which she most certainly was not, but what she was, she was a perfect example of. I cannot think of any way in which she could have been improved.

Good dogs are good to us, but what really attaches them to our hearts is that they give us an opportunity to be good to them, to care for something innocent whose uncomplicated needs we can meet in an uncomplicated way. Katy never lacked for a warm, soft place to snooze, was never hungry, never afraid, never lonely. (Never legitimately hungry; she always thought she was hungry.) Beyond the occasional bit of invasive grooming or a trip to the dentist, she never really suffered any stress or anxiety. People were instinctively good to her: Once, when we had to board her for three weeks during a trip we could not bring her on, one of the people who ran the kennel took her home at night to give her a little extra attention and comfort — she was that kind of dog, and she knew it.

Sometimes, when she was let off her leash for a romp and roll in some lovely green place, she would glance over her shoulder with a little look of astonishment and gratitude, as though to say: “For me?”

Yes, I like to think that it was.

Sailing with friends
On the road

In Closing

On this day 230 years ago, President George Washington handed down the first presidential veto — of a bill having to do with the apportionment of House members that Washington believed to be unconstitutional. The example is one that subsequent presidents have sometimes failed to follow, signing into law bills that they believe to be unconstitutional, leaving it to the Supreme Court to sort it out for them. Washington’s example, as usual, deserves to be heeded.

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World

Biden’s Regime-Change Talk Is Worse Than a Simple Gaffe

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President Joe Biden speaks during an event at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland, March 26, 2022. (Slawomir Kaminski /Agencja Wyborcza.pl via Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about language, politics, culture, and current dachshund affairs. To subscribe to the Tuesday, follow this link.

What Regime Change in Russia Means

“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”

Joe Biden said it about Vladimir Putin. Two seconds later, Joe Biden’s staff members were no doubt thinking it about Joe Biden.

Politics, particularly on the campaign side, is full of people who excel at verbal cleverness, and, as a result, it is full of people who believe that verbal cleverness is the height of intelligence. Cleverness is overrated. But there is a big difference between a policy of working toward “regime change” in Russia and a policy of talking about working toward regime change in Russia. Words matter, and the words of the president of the United States of America matter a great deal.

Biden’s people were, almost immediately, engaged in that great Washington cliché: “walking back the president’s remarks.” Biden’s people do more walking back than Younger Bear.

What President Biden really seems to have in mind is not so much regime change as regime decapitation — getting rid of Vladimir Putin but leaving the rest of the Moscow machinery in place, getting rid of one caudillo in the hope that the next one will be better inclined toward Washington, or, if not more malleable, at least less adventurous.

That is not the worst idea. Putin has enemies; some of them are ruthless enough to remove him from power — which would almost certainly mean assassinating him or executing him after a show trial — and supplant him. That might leave Ukraine and Europe — and Russia — in a better place, and it might serve long-term U.S. interests, which are what President Biden is supposed to be trying to secure.

Then again, it might not.

Vladimir Putin is a problem. But he is not the problem, or the only problem in Russia. And he probably is more of a symptom of the underlying Russian malady than the source of that unhappy nation’s criminal misgovernance. Putin did not create the Russian mafia-state: Russia has had a mafia-state for a very long time, and the worst of its post–Cold War crisis coincided with the efforts of Russian reformers to replace that mafia-state with something more worthy, or at least less indecent. The Russian people did not seem to be buying what the reformers were selling, and the country descended into its current and deepening state of gangsterism and oligarchism.

But we should understand that, as gratifying as it would be to put a toe-tag on Putin, changing Russia’s relationship with the world means changing Russia itself, which means dismantling the mafia-state at the center of Russian national life. That would be a very large and ambitious project of the kind the United States has not often executed successfully. The model here isn’t deposing Manuel Noriega — it is the reconstruction of post-war Japan. The United States has not just defeated Russia in a devastating war and is not occupying the country — but, even if that were the case, the examples of Afghanistan and Iraq suggest that even an occupation is not enough to ensure the success of such a reconstruction. If we are serious about hamstringing Russia until Putin is driven from power, we need to be serious about what kind of outcome we expect (which is not likely to be precisely the same as the outcome we desire) and realistic about the risks involved. We should push on Putin and push hard — but big talk followed by big hand-waving weakens our position.

Putin has overreached and overextended himself, and this has presented the United States and our allies with a historic opportunity: to use economic measures to crush not only the Putin junta but also to deal a potentially lethal blow to the Russian mafia-state itself. But that would take something close to a geopolitical masterstroke, because it would mean not only sustaining the economic sanctions but ratcheting them up strategically even as the Ukrainians sue for peace — and, if necessary, even after some settlement has been reached between Kyiv and Moscow. The Ukrainians have fought heroically, and they deserve all of the support — both practical and moral — that we can offer them. But we also must understand that American interests vis-à-vis Moscow do not begin and end with the invasion of Ukraine. Our interests do not end with a cease-fire or an armistice.

Putin is a menace. But we have a very well-stocked arsenal of weapons with which to fight him, not only through fortifying military assets such as NATO and deepening our security relationship with the European Union, but also vast economic resources and the ability to shut Russia out from a great deal of the world economy — and we don’t require a great deal of multinational support to do it. We also have the ability to beat Putin at his own game, flooding world markets with U.S.-sourced oil and gas, trade in which will enrich both domestic producers and our trading partners abroad.

The Biden administration has a tremendous opportunity in its hands — but it lacks the leadership at the top to make the most of it. The president is too diplomatically clumsy, too parochial in his political interests, too nickel-and-dime in his priorities, and too beholden to the left-wing elements in his party to do what needs doing, especially when it comes to energy policy. Joe Biden is no Vladimir Putin, but one might be forgiven for thinking in a moment of frustration: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”

And Furthermore . . .

That being the case, the GOP also has a historic opportunity in front of its collective snout. All Republicans have to do is . . . the thing they failed to do last time around: offer a better alternative who can close the deal. But, for some reason, Republicans have kept the loser at the center of their thinking, their fundraising, and their planning.

The thing about losers is, they lose.

Words About Words

I am forgiving when it comes to the sometimes-stilted English one hears on DW (Deutsche Welle, “German Wave”), the valuable and interesting German public broadcaster. It isn’t any worse — and often is better — than the English of the American media. But two phrases stuck in my mind in a recent broadcast about Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine.

In the first, the broadcaster referred to the war’s one-month mark as a “grim anniversary.” Grim, yes; anniversary, no. An anniversary is, as the name suggests, annual, from the Latin annus (year) and versus (turning), with the Latin word anniversarius very closely resembling its English cognate. (So closely, in fact, that Microsoft Word keeps changing it to “anniversaries” in my text. Bad Microsoft Word!)

The monthly answer to annual is mensual, and a monthly occurrence is a mensiversary. You don’t see mensual very often, though its cousin, menstrual (both from the Latin mensis, “month,”) is familiar.

A magazine that is published twice a month might be described as semimonthly — not bimonthly — though here at National Review we use fortnightly, which I much prefer.

The second usage that jumped out at me was describing two neighboring countries as “sharing a common border.” As far as I can tell, all borders between two countries are common, and there is no way to have a border that isn’t shared. I suppose that there are situations in which more than two countries or territories come together at a common point: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah share a common border at Four Corners. But that isn’t what people usually mean when they write “share a common border.” We have bordering, adjacent, neighboring, etc., and no need for “share a common border.”

Rampant Prescriptivism

Item one: Homophones, as you know, are words that sound alike but mean different things: Hear, here; new, knew; duel, dual; led, lead; gorilla, guerilla; etc. Many of the common misspellings in English are homophone problems: “What lead you to believe that you’d never make a typo?” “The actors did not know there lines.” Most of those aren’t the result of writers’ not knowing how to spell something — sometimes, the fingers do the talking. And if the fingers aren’t always properly connected to the brain, neither are the ears: Last week, Jonah Goldberg mentioned on his podcast that his guest would be talking about rising Russophobia, and I thought to myself: Jonah is a pretty well-known Rousseau-hater, but I don’t think most Americans are familiar enough with Rousseau to have strong feelings one way or the other. The homophone bust (they’re, their, there) is one of the most common errors in English — be vigilant!

Item the second: The past tense of plead is pleaded, not pled. “He pleaded guilty to the crime, and his familiar pleaded for leniency.”

Item the third: As above, you use the possessive to make an adjective out of a noun to modify a gerund: “Most of those aren’t the result of writers’ not knowing how to spell something,” “His dancing was clumsy,” “We were all pleased by his winning the election,” etc.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can hear me discussing many things on the above-mentioned Remnant podcast with Jonah Goldberg here.

You can read my New York Post column on why Democrats care more about well-off people with college loans than they do about poor people with other kinds of debts here.

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

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.

Molly Ivins, Phony

KERA-TV, my local public broadcast outlet, is showing Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins, a documentary about the famous progressive journalist.

Ivins is fondly remembered in Texas, where Democrats can sometimes feel lonely, since they are the majority only in Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, and the Rio Grande Valley. (Poor Democrats.) I remember her the way she should be remembered: as a complete phony.

Ivins was one of those dyed-in-the-wool Texans who was born in California; the family relocated to River Oaks (think Beverly Hills, but in Houston) when her father, an oil executive, took a new assignment. She went to the fanciest of fancy schools (St. John’s) and maintained a prep-school social circle that included, among others, the young George W. Bush. She entertained classmates on the family yacht on the weekends. She worked on her French at Château de Montcel and went to college at Smith, as had her mother and her grandmother before her.

When she decided to embark on a career as an entertainer (journalism isn’t exactly what she did) she developed a ridiculous fake Texas accent heard in no part of the state; before that, “she spoke with an East Coast, educated elite diction, inflected by a junior-year-abroad French accent. She sounded like Jacqueline Kennedy,” as one of her close friends reports. “She was the daughter of corporate power and wealth.”

She was dishonest in a couple of important ways: She sometimes lied about her background, suggesting she grew up in hardscrabble East Texas rather than in River Oaks. And she was a thief, stealing from, among others, National Review’s house misanthrope, Florence King. When King called her out on the plagiarism, Ivins — rich, famous, powerful — was singularly ungracious, and went so far as to call King a “bitch” in her forced apology. (Hooray, feminism.) It never seems to have occurred to Molly Ivins, who had never known anything except affluence, that Florence King was someone who couldn’t afford to be stolen from.

Ivins lambasted politics as a good-ol’-boys’ club, but she was born a member of the club (she bragged that she got a leg up on the competition as a reporter because she spent all her time drinking with political insiders) and was comfortable being a servant of power, as long as the power was Brand D power. She was the opposite of what she often claimed to be: a representative of “the boonies.” She was, among other things, a leading apologist for Bill Clinton, going so far as to refuse to write about the Monica Lewinsky matter at all at the height of the scandal, pressing her fellow political commentators to ignore the story, calling it nothing more than “high school hysteria.”

The self-appointed tribune of the plebs wrote at the time of the Clinton scandal that such things were to be expected of such men: “We in the Boonies understand this; we are not stupid. It’s only the chattering classes who are still sitting around pretending these not very deep subtleties are beyond our grasp.” That is what it looks like when a fake populist recruits the “We the People” — against their will — into service as human shields for the powerful.

But how Ivins loved to talk about “We the People.” “We the People don’t have a lobbyist!” she once thundered at me. (We were on one of those talking-heads panels together when she was attempting to launch a television show of her own.) When I pointed out to her that We the People do, in fact, have any number of lobbyists — because We the People are not an undifferentiated mass of commodity peopledom but farmers, nurses, teachers, taxpayers, journalists, and other employers of lobbyists, that both gun-lovers and gun-haters have lobbyists on their respective payrolls — she did what she usually did when challenged: Say the same thing again, but louder and more angrily. She liked to call lobbyists “lobsters,” and clearly believed this to be very, very clever.

Ivins did have a knack for giving people demeaning nicknames: It was she who popularized “Shrub” for George W. Bush, her one lasting contribution to American letters. A phony, dishonest, gold-plated populist with an affected verbal bluster and a penchant for schoolyard name-calling: You might think of Molly Ivins as a slightly less effeminate Donald Trump. You might as easily think of her as a left-wing Tucker Carlson who stayed in print journalism in part because she never found a way to succeed in television.

What Molly Ivins illustrated most brilliantly is that Aw-Shucks Down-Home Champion of the Regular Folks is a terrific career path for prep-school poseurs who are too dim for law school and too lazy to sell real estate. That lesson has been learned too well, and her heirs and heiresses are all around us.

Putin’s Priorities

Russian government seizes Audemars Piguet inventory.

In Closing

Today is the feast day of St. Gwynllyw Filwr, alternatively Gwynllyw Farfog, friend of King Arthur and patron saint of buying a vowel. 

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U.S.

Stuck with the Suburbs

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Suburban homes in San Marcos, Calif., March 21, 2020. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about the seen and the unseen. To subscribe to the Tuesday — and please do! — follow this link.

Malinvestment and Externalities in Suburbia

High fuel prices have many Americans spending an unusual amount of time talking about one term from economics: inflation. But there are two more that ought to be part of the conversation right now: externalities and malinvestment.

Externalities are side effects of economic activities that have some effect on a third party. Externalities can be positive or negative, but, like most things in life, we tend to notice them most when they are negative. The textbook example of an externality is pollution: A factory that makes steel or computer chips will produce pollution, and, in most situations, neither the producer nor the consumer pays any direct price for that pollution, provided the factory is operating within regulation. If you drive 35 miles in your Honda Civic, you are going to burn about a gallon of gasoline, which will produce a certain amount of air pollution. That doesn’t impose a direct cost on anybody: not the oil driller, not the refinery operator, not the wholesaler, not the local Texaco station, and not you. But, of course, air pollution matters, and it imposes real costs on society. In theory — and here I mean way, way theoretical theory, sophomore philosophy theory — if we had an efficient way to properly price externalities, then little or no regulation would be needed, because everybody would be paying directly to mitigate the damage he does through his economic life.

Malinvestment is a term mostly associated with the “Austrian” school of economics, which nobody knows about in Austria, the key figures of the Austrian school having emigrated to the United States and England as they fled Nazism in the 1930s and 1940s. Malinvestment is what happens when some public policy or other source of economic distortion makes certain otherwise unprofitable investments look profitable or makes them temporarily profitable until the underlying economic reality asserts itself. The (very simplified) Austrian explanation of recessions is that when politicians goose the economy through loose monetary policy, that lowers the cost of capital and makes certain investments more profitable than they otherwise would be, resulting in a misallocation of capital that lasts until the artificial stimulus ends. Think about a real-estate developer: Some construction projects that are economically feasible if he can borrow money at 5 percent are infeasible if he has to borrow at 9 percent. If access to capital had cost Elon Musk three times as much as it did in 2004, building Tesla into what it is today would have been a very different kind of proposition. You would think that what everybody would want would be cheap money all the time — and that is what politicians generally want — but keeping money artificially cheap is a manipulation of prices (i.e., artificially lowering the price of borrowing), and that always causes problems, one of which is inflation like what we currently are experiencing. When central bankers have to raise interest rates to fight inflation — as our Federal Reserve is doing right now — then some investments that appeared to be profitable are revealed as unprofitable. That misallocation of capital is malinvestment. As the Austrians see things, a recession is what happens as those bad investments are unwound and the capital reallocated to more productive purposes.

I think those two ideas are helpful as we consider the current push-pull that Americans are experiencing vis-à-vis cities and urban life. On the one hand, Covid-19 and the general normalization of remote work has made suburban or rural life much more attractive to many Americans than it was a few years ago. On top of that, many cities — New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Minneapolis, and others — have made themselves less attractive through bad policies and misgovernance that have made housing unnecessarily expensive and crime unnecessarily widespread. For many people — especially affluent professionals with children and flexible working arrangements — life in the urban cores has lost some of its allure, while the prospect of a bigger house on an acre of land in the suburbs — or 40 acres in the countryside — has more appeal than it may have a few years ago.

Of course, rich people have lots of choices and can afford to have things their own way — that’s the point of being rich — but the same dynamics shape the decisions of people of relatively modest means, and people who are poor. These people have a lot less choice about where they live, and many of them have long commutes to work (or are obliged to drive a lot for other reasons) because housing is less expensive in areas that are (not coincidently) less conveniently located. And those people are right now feeling the pointy end of the stick when it comes to the rising price of gasoline, the burden of which often falls most heavily upon those households that are least able to endure it.

There is a kind of long-term malinvestment associated with the post-war pattern of American development. For one thing, it is built on a foundation of cheap gasoline and a norm of personal automobile ownership — and neither assumption is likely to hold forever.

American cities — and, more important, the broader metropolitan areas around them — that developed in the golden age of suburbia (between the end of World War II and the beginning of the urban renaissance of the late 1990s) are built to the automotive scale, not to pedestrian scale. As the Missing Persons song rightly put it, “Nobody walks in L.A.” The relatively dense patterns of development that you can see in the older urban parts of the country — Manhattan and Brooklyn, Philadelphia’s Center City, San Francisco’s Tenderloin — are radically different from the sprawl of Houston or Los Angeles County in fundamental ways. The differences are physical, and they are also social, cultural, and economic — and, hence, political.

Each model of development has certain advantages. The denser areas are not only easier to navigate on foot but also easier to serve by mass transit; businesses there can engage in more specialization because they are more easily accessed by more customers; older people who walk to their appointments every day stay healthier and independent longer than do their car-dependent suburban counterparts. The GDP per capita of densely populated areas is much higher than that of rural areas, suggesting a powerful economic advantage in urban life. But density also imposes costs that send people toward the suburbs: People used to leave the big cities because of concerns about sanitation and hygiene, a tendency that had just about disappeared until Covid-19 but that has returned with a little bit of a vengeance; densely populated cities tend to have more crime and noise; apartments and rowhouses offer less privacy than do detached single-family homes. Cities generally offer a more immediate experience of diversity, while suburbs enable a higher degree of social sorting and insularity — considerations that may be positives or negatives depending on your own tastes and desires. In many suburban situations, people find it easier to access certain kinds of community life (church, school groups, etc.) and a style of social life that is centered on the home rather than on public spaces such as restaurants or theaters.

There isn’t any point in telling people that they should prefer one or the other, or in trying to argue people out of their preferences. One of those abovementioned Austrian economists, Ludwig von Mises, is very eloquent in his Human Action, observing that different people follow different ends in different ways, and that one of the great beauties of human life is its genuine diversity, even if the ends of our fellow men sometimes are mysterious and inexplicable to us.

If you have looked at one of those ghastly red-and-blue maps they publish after every election, you’ll notice that the great political divide in American life isn’t nearly as much racial or economic as it is geographic: The big cities are Democratic and left-leaning, the rural areas are Republican and right-leaning, and the battlegrounds are in the suburbs. (That the rural countryside would one day be almost uniformly Republican would have come as a shock to Depression-era American farmers, who thought of the GOP as a big-city party for robber barons. That Wall Street and the other commanding heights of American business should be so strongly associated with the Democratic Party would have seemed unlikely as recently as the 1980s. Things do change.) Cause and effect get pretty mixed up in all that: There probably is something about city life that brings out tendencies that align with what we call (often inaccurately) progressivism, but it also is the case that the sort of people who already lean to the left often prefer city life and seek it out. Likewise, rurality encourages conservatism, and many (though by no means all) people with a conservative temperament (especially the kind of conservative temperament that comes along with five or six children) are more comfortable in rural or semi-rural suburban situations.

In the community where I grew up, people talk about gasoline prices the way other people talk about the weather or sports — you drive a lot in West Texas, and most people there are not rich. But other people live differently: One affluent person of my acquaintance reports never even looking at gasoline prices: “What am I going to do? Not fill up my car?” That’s an interesting aspect of class in the United States: I used to work at 7-Eleven, and, in my experience, there is an enormous difference between the customers who just fill up their cars until the pump clicks off and the ones who put in exactly $9.42 worth of gas and pay in cash.

Malinvestment breeds more malinvestment. The assumption of cheap gasoline affects much, much more than the household budgets of people who live in the suburbs and have long commutes. A great deal of American economic life — from the kinds of houses that are built and where they are built to the rise of big-box stores, the location of airports, the logistics of everything from small-shop retail to Amazon Prime, and much more — is to some considerable extent built atop that residential distribution. If Joe Suburbia’s economic model doesn’t work anymore, then neither does Walmart’s.

Of course, the basic economic issue can be solved with cheap gasoline — which is something you can have if your country happens to be the world’s largest producer of oil. That isn’t necessarily an easy public-policy fix (oil prices are global, not local) but it is far from an impossibility.

What complicates this a little more is the issue of the externalities associated with living life at the automotive scale. Some of those are the ones mentioned above — air pollution, climate concerns, etc. — and some are pretty obvious: traffic congestion, which eats up a lot of man-hours and which also has less obvious social and environmental effects; the heavy public expenses associated with maintaining our vast roadway network; the considerable transportation and logistical costs imposed by sprawl. Some of the externalities are less obvious: Progressives, urbanists, and cranky haters of the Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways (guilty!) have long pointed out that the pattern of road development, especially at the federal level, has been warped by politics and special-interest business patronage, and that many freeways were constructed in such a way as to flatten or fence off poor and minority communities, and that highways continue to operate in many urban areas as socioeconomic Berlin Walls, delineating the modern version of the “wrong side of the tracks.”

These are real costs. As the urban-affairs analyst Michael Corleone put it: “That’s the price you pay for the life you choose.”

This is the point at which some readers will ask, “Okay, but what is to be done?” But there isn’t anything to be done — not really: It is not as though we are going to unbuild the suburbs and roll up the sidewalks. (And a lot of them don’t have any sidewalks!) And it isn’t even the case that our progressive friends are going to let high gasoline prices act as economic incentives to force people to reevaluate sprawl: Democrats may talk a good game on everything from urban renewal to climate change, but ain’t no way Joe Biden & Co. are going to stick their necks out and take the political hit from $5 or $6 gas — or $8 or $11 gas. It is a mark of Democratic political cowardice that they don’t even want to collect the federal gasoline tax if it means losing a couple of votes in the suburbs. If you think these are the people who are going to turn the world upside-down to fight climate change, think again.

On the Republican side, all of the incentives are pretty well united behind working toward cheap gas (just as soon as the Democratic Party is done self-immolating with the expensive stuff) rather than taking on such long-term (and, from the Republican point of view, icky) projects as improving mass transit or opening up residential development in the cities and inner suburbs, mostly ignoring the externalities of sprawl and propping up the malinvestment, mitigating its effects as best as they can.

It is interesting, as a thought experiment, to consider what the United States might have looked like if we had followed a different course of development, one in which the cities are cities and the countryside is countryside and there isn’t very much sprawl between them – something like what might have happened if we had, among other things, continued to rely largely on our perfectly serviceable railroad network rather than building a subsidized competitor to it in the form of the interstate-highway system. Not that that was ever going to happen: You tell a car where to go, but a train tells you where you are going. That’s why progressives love trains — they fit perfectly into the progressive conception of the world as a vast Erector Set to be tinkered with by social engineers until utopia has been built. Americans are culturally (if not always politically) far too libertarian for that to have been the way things shook out in the 1950s and thereafter.

But there are always trade-offs, and a price to pay for everything — something to think about the next time you are putting $100 into the F-150.

Words About Words

Q: “There is an expression that I find puzzling: ‘It comes highly recommended.’ Does this imply that royalty likes it?”

A: I think Taco Bell must often come highly recommended, especially in college towns around 3 a.m.

Q: “I know Jay Nordlinger is a dear friend of yours, and I have admired your work and his for many years. But for the first time, I couldn’t help noticing that your tone resembled his in today’s the Tuesday. Even before you mentioned his name, I said to myself, ‘This reminds me of Jay Nordlinger’s style, &c.”

A: Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.

Jay Nordlinger and Ramesh Ponnuru are very good writers and very different writers, but one thing they have in common is a very natural, unaffected style — the kind of effortlessness that takes a great deal of hard work. My writing is . . . not usually like that. As I may have mentioned before, one of the best insults I have ever received came from Mike Potemra, our late literary editor, who said in response to an unusually plain piece of mine: “Even Tom Wolfe doesn’t try to write like Tom Wolfe all the time.”

I like Jay’s “&c.” especially. The ampersand (&) is a stylized writing of the Latin word et, meaning and. So: et cetera = &c.

(Taking the example of ampersand, some people call the @ the ampersat. I approve.)

Being a conservative, I enjoy survivals, such as the New Yorker’s continued use of élite for elite and coördinate for coordinate. That makes me smile. I am still campaigning for the British “per cent.” over the American percent, though the evolution of the percent and permille signs is an interesting little story of its own.

Rampant Prescriptivism

We have talked about this one before, but it keeps coming up, and so I will revisit — even though it is a losing fight and possibly a lost cause. Forte the noun, meaning a thing at which you excel, is a different word from forte the adverb or adjective, the musical term meaning loud, the antonym of piano. The first word, the noun, comes to English via French and is pronounced exactly like the English word fort, which comes from the same root. The musical term is Italian and is pronounced “for-TAY.”

“English pronunciation is not my for-TAY” is wrong, wrong, wrong. The thing you are good at is your /fort/, not your /for-TAY/.

People have been saying this one the wrong way long enough that most of the dictionaries list that pronunciation either as an acceptable variation or even as the correct pronunciation. It isn’t. Keep your rampant descriptivism to yourself, Sunshine: There have been times in human history when cannibalism was the norm, too, and I am willing to acknowledge the fact — but I am not going to consult their goddamned cookbooks.

Don’t let the family resemblance fool you: If your name is Jim, and you have a cousin named Jim who looks a lot like you, you still aren’t the same person — you just have the same grandparents.

Different words for different things — it’s what makes language work.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

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

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.

Beastly News

Aggressive napping in progress:

Recommended

I think you might enjoy The Books of Jacob.

In Closing


 “As we learned from his relatives, our friend Boris Romanchenko, who survived the Nazi camps #Buchenwald, # Peenemünde, #Dora and #BergenBelsen, died last Friday in a bomb blast at his home in Kharkiv. We are deeply saddened.”

World

Russia, Alone

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A person is carried as people flee near a destroyed bridge to cross Irpin River in Irpin, outside Kyiv, Ukraine, March 9, 2022. (Mikhail Palinchak/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about denazification, antidisestablishmentarianism, and perverse polysyllabic pursuits. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

‘We Are All Ukrainians Now’

“The woman’s pelvis had been crushed and her hip detached.”

I don’t even know what that last part means. I suppose I can imagine a crushed pelvis easily enough. I can’t imagine what a detached hip looks like or feels like.

The woman in question was famous for a minute. She was a Ukrainian mother who appeared in a famous news photograph. She is dead now. So is the child she was carrying. She was photographed being carried out of that Mariupol maternity hospital that was bombed by Russian troops in Ukraine, one of many examples of the savagery in which the Russians have been engaged. It is tempting to write “sub-human” savagery, but savagery is entirely human. Nobody talks about rattlesnakes or scorpions behaving in a savage fashion — nobody expects them to be anything other than what they are. But we expect more of H. sap. — God knows why.

“Unidentified bloodied pregnant woman,” one headline called her. She must have had a name.

We know the name of Tatiana Perebeinis, 43, and her children, Nikita, 18, and Alise, 9. They were killed running for their lives when they were fired on by Russian artillery. Another famous photo. She was an accountant for a Silicon Valley tech company, working out of Irpin. “Photos of Tatiana Perebeinis and her kids lying in a gutter, surrounded by suitcases and pet carriers, ran on the front page of The New York Times on Tuesday and reverberated around the world,” reports the Daily Beast. I suppose they did.

Here is another family being wiped out, this time caught on video. There are more like it than you want to see.

“We are all Ukrainians now,” says the headline over a Wall Street Journal column. The sentiment is a humane one. But it is a lie. We are not all Ukrainians. Most of us are far removed from anything like that kind of danger or that kind of suffering. The worst we have felt is higher gasoline prices and more expensive groceries. These matter, of course, and they matter a great deal to the poor, for whom these additional financial burdens are very heavy. But that is not the same.

It is not easy to be brave, and it is not easy to suffer. But how much easier it must be to suffer oneself than to watch one’s children suffer, to be cold and hungry, to die, blown to pieces in the womb before taking their first breath. How many Ukrainian mothers and fathers would happily — joyfully — give their own lives if it meant that their children could have a decent dinner and a safe, warm place to sleep — i.e., if they could have what my dogs have? Millions, I imagine.

No, we are not all Ukrainians now. Not by a damned sight.

We are not all Russians either. I do not flatter myself that the Russian people have been waiting for my advice, but I will offer it, anyway: You have to act. You must. This is your country, your army, your government, your tax dollars, your flag, your name. Vladimir Putin is not a superman, and he cannot act alone. What is being done by your government is not going to be forgiven. You, and your children, and your grandchildren will bear the shame of this. Things are never going to go back to normal for you. I don’t know if you have noticed, but, to put it in popular terms, the civilized world has got together, and we have voted you off the island. The ties between you and the civilized world that have been cut in recent weeks are not going to be restored quickly, and many of them will never be restored at all. You are not part of the civilized world anymore. We are not going to forget what you have been party to, what so many of you have stood by and accepted.

What makes it worse, if that is possible, and certainly more asinine: You have already lost, in that what your government had hoped to achieve will not be achieved. You can murder as many expectant mothers and children as you like, bomb them until you run out of munitions, burn down the hospitals and the libraries, execute all the mayors, and you will still have lost. And when you are gone, the civilized people of this world are going to help to rebuild Ukraine, and you will be — what? Praying for high gas prices?

‘Denazification’

When Vladimir Putin launched his campaign of mass murder in Ukraine, one of the pretexts he cited was “denazification.” Putin’s propaganda machine has for years been retailing the absurd fiction that Ukraine is a country dominated by vicious neo-Nazis, presumably the very strange kind of neo-Nazis who choose to rally behind Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the country’s Jewish president. Putin is fortunate to have cretins such as Representative Madison Cawthorn (R., N.C.) to aid in the effort.

About denazification . . .

For those who remember just how brutal the 20th century could be, it is remarkable how forbearing the denazification of Germany was. As the tide of the war began to turn and it was clear that the Allies would prevail, Winston Churchill dreamt of dragging Adolf Hitler, whom he considered to be little more than a jumped-up gangster, to England to be executed, quipping that the Americans might make an electric chair available via lend-lease. Churchill opposed the Nuremberg trials, not because he thought they were unjust but because he wanted the Nazi leadership executed without trial. There are competing accounts of the conversations at Yalta and elsewhere, but one version has Joseph Stalin proposing to execute every German officer above the rank of captain. Dwight Eisenhower is quoted in a report to the Senate suggesting that the “ringleaders and SS troops should be given the death penalty, without question. But the punishment should not stop there.” It is unlikely that Eisenhower meant to execute every German belonging to the SS — 800,000 men by the end of the war — but he did apparently favor keeping the German people in punitive poverty for some indefinite period of time.

As it turned out, the business of reforming Germany — West Germany at first, and then unified Germany — did not require such drastic and bloody measures. Or, rather, it did not require those measures precisely, though Soviet domination of East Germany was vicious enough. The reconstruction of post-war Japan involved quite radical measures, including intervening in the nation’s religious life, but it was accomplished without very much open violence.

I do wonder what it would take to turn Russia around. I suppose it would start with a Russia that wanted to be turned around, or at least a critical mass of Russians who want that. I don’t think there is one. Jay Nordlinger is right to say that the Russians who protest Putin’s junta are some of the bravest people in the world. But I do not think there are enough of them.

Words About Words

The occupation and reconstruction of Japan by American forces provides one of the few opportunities to use the word antidisestablishmentarianism. It is a cool-sounding word that people sometimes use without knowing what it means, e.g., Ice-T’s describing himself as the “epitome of antidisestablishmentarianism.” Americans who have bothered to learn anything about their Bill of Rights know what an “established” religion is — a state church — and from that might guess that the disestablishmentarian position is the program of those who call for an established church to be disestablished, as we have seen in some (but by no means all) European countries and in the individual U.S. states, some of which maintained established churches well into the 19th century. (Massachusetts was the last to disestablish, in 1833.) But there are those who oppose this sort of thing, and they are the antidisestablishmentarians. Ice-T and others who like the sound of antidisestablishmentarianism tend to use it as though it meant “anti-establishment” or “radical,” but, of course, it means the opposite of that. Antidisestablishmentarianism is in most cases a conservative disposition, a positively reactionary one.

We need a word for our so-called Catholic Integralist friends, who seek to use the power of the American state to effectively establish a church that more than a few in the Founding generation were not sure should even be tolerated. Neo-establishmentarian? Novoestablishmentarian?

Dorks?

I am a conservative in these matters: I like having the First Amendment in the United States, but I also tend to want to see countries with established churches keep them. The evangelical atheists talk about the prospect of having an established church as though it were the stuff of neo-medieval nightmares, but Denmark, Sweden, and the United Kingdom are not exactly unlivable hellholes. Neither is Malta. Monaco is pretty nice.

Scotland would have to build a lot of gulags before it caught up with the officially atheist states of recent history.

Rampant Prescriptivism

That thing most of us endured last weekend — with the exception of our faithful readers in Scottsdale, Honolulu, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, Singapore, Dubai, Cape Town, Seoul, New Delhi, and a few other enlightened locales — is Daylight Saving Time, not Daylight Savings Time.

It is the one weekend of the year that has us all à la recherche du temps perdu.

Daylight Saving Time is a great example of the progressive imagination, forever at odds with the organic cycles and natural variation in human life, insistent that no aspect of that life — down to the time on the clock — is beyond regimentation and rationalization. Inconvenient. Irritating. Arrogant. And, in spite of the connotations of the word “progressive,” absolutely stuck in the past.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

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

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.

Beastly News . . .

This looks like Katy is being very sweet, but I guarantee you she is just checking to see if Pancake got some yogurt without sharing.

Recommended

Vinson Cunningham interviews Cornel West in the New Yorker. It is a very interesting interview, and Professor West is as charming as ever. One almost has to be in awe of the effort it must take for such a brilliant mind to argue itself into such asinine, predictable, and at times genuinely stupid conclusions.

In Closing

We are about two weeks into Lent, the Christian season of penance and preparation for Easter. In my neighborhood, there were Mardi Gras decorations up for six weeks before the day itself, but I think that has something to do with there being a lot of New Orleans Saints fans around here. But no one decorates his house for Lent. (I wonder what that would even look like.) Lent comes from the Old English word for spring, and Easter is far from being the only resurrection festival celebrated at that time of year. There are many things I like about Lent, and many things about it for which I am grateful, and one of them is the way the season discomfits my secular friends. They don’t quite know what to say: “Uh . . . happy? . . . Ash Wednesday.” “Good . . . Good Friday.” We haven’t forgotten how to do penance — that’s what all our insane dietary fads are about, mostly — but we have forgotten why. To understand why we must do penance is to understand a great many things that affluent modern people spend a great deal of time and energy working to not understand. It is to remember something that many of us would rather forget and to know something that many of us wish we didn’t.

If you think Lent is about giving up beer or chocolate bars for 40 days, you don’t understand anything about it at all.

To subscribe to the Tuesday, follow this link.

Media

The Cable-News Bubble

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Tucker Carlson at the 2021 AmericaFest in Phoenix, Ariz., December 18, 2021. (Gage Skidmore)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about aggravated asininity, total tomfoolery, and assorted acts of assonance and alliteration. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

The Man in the Box

Two facts that seem contradictory but are both true: (1) Tucker Carlson has the most-watched cable-news show in the country, and (2) basically nobody watches Tucker Carlson.

Last year, Carlson’s Fox News program averaged 3.2 million viewers a night, making it an absolute ratings juggernaut by current cable-news standards but reaching fewer than 1 percent of our nation’s 330 million people. Going by that 2021 average, Carlson has a far smaller audience than does, say, Judge Steve Harvey (4.5 million) or reruns of Young Sheldon (4.3 million).

Reruns of Young Sheldon do pretty big numbers, but new episodes of that comedy typically outperform the top three programs on Fox News combined.

None of this is to piss on Carlson’s show or on Fox News — Carlson leads the list, and seven of the top ten cable-news programs in 2021 were Fox offerings. (The other three of the top ten were on MSNBC.) The channel and its most popular host clearly know what they are doing. But we live in a very fractured media landscape, and the most widely shared points of cultural reference are not the cable-news mouthholes.

Without passing any judgment on the artistic merits of Young Sheldon, that is probably a good thing. People who spend a lot of time in front of Fox News or MSNBC are not in the main what you’d call happy and well-adjusted people. But they do have a relatively big footprint in our politics.

In 1983, ABC broadcast a made-for-television movie about nuclear war called The Day After. It was watched by something between 77 million and 100 million people, depending on which estimate you accept. (I watched it, and so did the two little kids I was babysitting that evening; they had nightmares for weeks.) The same year, 106 million people tuned in to watch the last episode of M*A*S*H*; by way of comparison, only 19 million people watched the final episode of Game of Thrones. Other than Super Bowls and the 2016 presidential debates, you won’t see very many broadcasts that have the kind of wide viewership that makes them genuinely national experiences.

We’ve been talking about that “fractured media landscape” for a few decades now. But the fractures seem to be getting deeper. The news environment in 2004 was not very much like what it was in the heyday for the Big Three networks, when the national news conversation was dominated by (that seething crackpot) Walter Cronkite, but Dan Rather was still a big enough cultural presence at that time that his fraudulent report on George W. Bush’s military service — a pre-election hit piece — became a momentary national obsession. That episode was, among other things, the launchpad of modern right-wing Internet journalism as we know it.

But Dan Rather today — 90 years old and bonkers as he is — probably remains more widely known than most of the leading television-news figures of our time. My media friends were very interested in the Chris Cuomo story, but when I asked my non-media friends about that teapot tempest, the almost universal response was: “Who?

Over the weekend, Saturday Night Live opened its show with a parody of Laura Ingraham (played by Kate McKinnon) and Tucker Carlson (Alex Moffat), who were shown hosting a gala fundraiser for poor, suffering Russian oligarchs. The point was a serious one, but I did find myself wondering how something like that would really land with the general population. The media care intensely about the media, which is why Fox News figures figure so prominently in SNL sketches and why right-wing talk radio spends about 75 percent of its oxygen denouncing the so-called mainstream media. Jon Stewart cares a great deal about Tucker Carlson. But I doubt that very much of SNL’s audience knows Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham well enough even to know whether the impressions of them were any good. (Yes for McKinnon’s Ingraham, no for Moffat’s Carlson; Moffat would be closer to the mark if he simply remained in his “Guy Who Just Bought a Boat” character.) I suppose it is enough for SNL’s purposes that its audience is made up mostly of people who know that Tucker Carlson exists and that they are expected to hate him, that Fox News is a thing and that they are expected to hate it.

(I wonder how many people who watched Watchmen realized that the pundit-show parody in the opening scene was supposed to be The McLaughlin Group, once an inescapable cultural presence for a certain kind of American and another favorite SNL target; I wonder how many people watching Aladdin get the William F. Buckley Jr. impersonation or know that there was such a thing as Firing Line. Damned few, I’d bet.)

We hear a great deal of worry about people living in “bubbles,” with highly partisan broadcast programs and social media combining to sort Americans into silos in which most of their information and their social interactions all have the same political and cultural stamp. I suppose that is a problem for the general electorate, though I am not entirely convinced that it is a very large problem. (More precisely, I believe it is more of an effect than a cause.) Some Americans may live in a Tucker Carlson bubble while others live in a Rachel Maddow bubble, but those aren’t the only kinds of bubbles. If you have spent very much time around media figures and politicians, then you will understand that however their respective audiences are sorted, Rachel Maddow and Tucker Carlson live in the same bubble.

Top-shelf Fox News hosts and their MSNBC counterparts are all multimillionaire employees of multinational media conglomerates, they typically work one block away from each other at their respective studios in Manhattan, they live in the same neighborhoods if not in the same buildings, their children go to the same schools, etc. — and they have a lot more in common with one another than either has in common with the shmucks who compose their audiences, in the same way two competing dairymen have more in common with one another than either has in common with the herds of cows they milk. The chief of staff for a Democratic senator has more in common with the chief of staff of a Republican senator than either has in common with most of the people who elect those senators. Etc.

I can’t help thinking that there is a lost political opportunity in all of this. I recently had a conversation with an elected official who is a frequent target of cable-news and talk-radio ire, and that media attention was pretty low on his list of things to worry about — he rarely if ever hears anything about that kind of stuff from any of the people who elect him. Apparently, nobody back home cares as much about Tucker Carlson as SNL does. And that is to be expected.

But acting on that knowledge is not a simple thing. For one thing, Tucker Carlson’s 1 percent may not look like much, but the number of people who are willing to spend an hour watching Fox News still is much larger than the number of people who are willing to spend an hour listening to a serious conversation about tax reform or unfunded mandates. It is many multiples of the circulation of this magazine or any other American political magazine. Carlson’s nightly audience is considerably larger than the number of people who bought the best-selling book of 2021. (It was a graphic novel.) The best-selling political book of that year, Mark Levin’s American Marxism, sold just over 1 million copies in 2021; the second-best-selling political book didn’t move enough units to make the overall top-25 list.

In the most recent Gallup poll of issues that Americans care most about, only 1 percent said taxes were their top concern, 1 percent said wages, 1 percent said foreign policy, 1 percent said education. If we set aside the vague (“the government”) and the unusual (Covid), the leading issue, far and away, was inflation — and that concern led the list for only 8 percent of those polled. Joe Biden was elected president by only 24.6 percent of all Americans, and he won the Democratic nomination on an even smaller number of votes — 19 million, or about 5.8 percent of all Americans.

Small, highly motivated groups of people can wield tremendous power at certain democratic bottlenecks, such as primary elections, and broadcast activism of the cable-news and talk-radio variety may have an outsized influence for that reason. But that influence should not be exaggerated: Even the most energetic partisan media is not reliably all that good at selling crazy, even in Texas — ask Don Huffines, the talk-radio hero who got massacred in the Texas GOP gubernatorial primary, or Representative Louie Gohmert, a gadfly on the nut circuit who finished fourth in the AG primary with only 17 percent of the vote.

I don’t know anybody who does a good Greg Abbott impersonation, on Saturday Night Live or anywhere else. But he sure gets a lot of votes.

As a practical matter, what Tucker Carlson thinks about U.S.–Russia relations and the situation in Ukraine has not mattered very much, except maybe to Jon Stewart and SNL and other media figures and media obsessives. And maybe it should matter even less. Republican candidates spend a great deal of time obsessing about the wrongs inflicted on them by left-leaning media and absolutely cowering from right-wing media, fearing criticism on Fox News or AM radio more than they fear almost anything else. There is reason to believe that their resentment of the one is largely profitless and their fear of the other largely baseless.

I wonder who will bell that cat.

Words About Words

A reader asks: “What is the most appropriate ‘rule by’ word to describe today’s system? Are we in an ochlocracy or a gerontocracy or a kakistocracy?”

When it comes to rule-by words, you’re mostly talking -ocracy and -archy.

There are some funny and obscure ones: Unlike that “true socialism” we’ve heard so much about for all these years, geniocracy — rule by the intelligent — really never has been tried. Neither has the variant noocrazy, rule by the wise, nor timocracy, rule by the honorable. In Starship Troopers, there was a form of stratocracy, in which all political power is held by the military itself or by those who have completed military service. I wrote a book dealing in part with the power of ochlocracy, or mob rule. Demarchy is rule by randomly selected people, which maybe isn’t the worst of all possible options.

Where are we now? Only Dr. Lexus knows for sure.

Dr. Lexus (Justin Long) in Idiocracy.

Rampant Prescriptivism

A reader asks: Holistic or wholistic? “Seems to me wholistic refers to the entirety of a subject, and holistic refers to a spiritual subject.”

I suspect that the suggestion of holy in holistic is what gives that word its vaguely spiritual flavor. To be honest, I’d never even seen wholistic used anywhere, though some dictionaries do note it as an alternative spelling of holistic.

Whole and holistic both are derived from the same Greek root; as far as I can tell, there is no separate sense described by wholistic. I don’t think there is any reason to use wholistic rather than the standard spelling. It is helpful to have different words for different things (forte = FORT vs. forte = for-TAY) but not at all helpful to have separate but similar words for the same thing.

The word holistic was coined in 1926 by General Jan Smuts of South Africa, who would go on to become prime minister. Smuts was a man of letters as well as a man of war and of politics, a statesman with a decidedly mixed record, who helped to create both the United Nations and apartheid. He wrote on a broad range of subjects, including a book on Walt Whitman and a book on evolution, Holism and Evolution, in which the word holism seems to have been first put into print.

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Home and Away

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

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

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

To support National Review Institute, go here.

In Other News . . .

Muppet News Flash: America’s most incompetent businessman remains incompetent.

Patricia Arquette reminds us why actors need writers by demanding that we “kick Russia out of NATO.”

Nuclear submarines vs. the “arc of autocracy.”

In Closing

I cannot help noticing that many of the same people who expected us to regard Donald Trump as a great Christian leader say the same thing about Vladimir Putin, or did until five minutes ago. Some things never change. “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil . . . which justify the wicked for reward.”

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World

The End of Whig History

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Shipping containers at the Yangshan Deep Water Port in Shanghai, China, August 6, 2019. (Aly Song/Reuters)

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The End of Whig History

Wandel durch Handel” — “Change through trade” — wasn’t the worst idea in history. There was a time when it made good sense, and there remain some contexts in which it still does.

It was an idea that grew out of optimism and error, a species of “Whig history,” the belief that the world is carried by natural social and economic forces ever in the direction of enlightenment and liberty. Vladimir Putin is many things, but he is not a Whig.

I come from a Whiggish generation.

History cannot be condensed into discrete single events, but there are moments that become a kind of psychological shorthand for a generation: If you are an O.G. Baby Boomer such as Oliver Stone, born 1946, it is the assassination of President Kennedy, the event that produced the distinctive undercurrent of paranoia and terror in the 1960s, the poisoned soil in which Flower Power was planted. For first-wave Millennials such as Pete Buttigieg, an Afghanistan veteran born in 1982, it was 9/11, a terrorist attack that succeeded in at least one of its aims: making ours a fearful society.

For my generation, the defining event was a happy occasion: the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Contrary to Generation X’s famously cynical reputation, coming of age at the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the tech boom (was there a better year to graduate from college than 1997?) arguably left us mentally disfigured by excessive optimism. Kurt Cobain may be the poster boy for Generation X, but we produced a bumper crop of optimistic globalists and techno-utopians: Elon Musk, Satya Nadella, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Emmanuel Macron, Charles Michel, Jack Dorsey, Michael Dell, etc.

(Of course, we also produced a few techno-pessimists such as Peter Thiel, along with a raft of cartwheeling imbeciles such as Beto O’Rourke and Justin Trudeau. Generalities cannot be avoided.)

Some of those Generation X optimists have had their fingers burned a little bit, too: Mark Leonard (born 1974) of the European Council on Foreign Relations published Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century in 2005; this year, he’s published The Age of Unpeace and is doing a podcast series called “Therapy for Internationalists.” Leonard’s thesis is that the very same connectivity that inspired so much optimism in the immediate post–Cold War era has been weaponized in our time, not only in the digital realm but across many points of contact, from trade to immigration. The result is a world that is not quite at war — or wasn’t, until last week — but not at peace, either.

The case for optimism after the fall of the Berlin Wall is expressed in the German slogan Wandel durch Handel, the belief that the world’s closed societies and their repressive governments could be improved, if not necessarily brought all the way around to Western-style liberal democracy, by trade, which would bring both cultural contact and economic development. The theory holds that as societies become more affluent and engage in more market activity, the newly empowered bourgeoisie will feel more urgently the need to protect property rights and personal choice; that contact with the United States, Europe, and Japan will make them want the openness and individual liberty those nations have; and that this situation will push the influential classes in those societies inexorably in the direction of liberal democracy, with the state either being dragged along unwillingly or being entirely transformed, as in post-war Japan. Liberal democracy would be spread by affluence like a happy infection.

Where there are property rights, there will be human rights — so we thought.

Optimism is a powerful force, but it is not the only force at work — profit is another. Wandel durch Handel was a powerful idea because it joined the ruling class’s heartfelt idealism to its economic self-interest. In that sense, it is as much an American school of thought as a German one, but the dynamic is particularly evident in Germany’s relations with China and Russia, in which commercial considerations have been excessively prioritized.

The German situation is politically complex: Because Germany’s exports are well-diversified, its exports to China — its No. 2 export market — amount to only 7.4 percent of total exports. But while China may not account for a very large share of overall German exports, it accounts for a large share of the sales of several politically influential firms — China is the largest market for Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen Group (which includes Audi, Porsche, Bentley, Lamborghini, and other automotive marques, along with Ducati motorcycles), and BMW, along with a number of other leading manufacturers and industrial concerns. And manufacturers do not only have customers in China — they have factories there, too, and very large investments in those factories.

The United States has a relatively competitive and confrontational form of politics, and its government is one of checks and balances; Angela Merkel, in comparison, held power for 16 years and enjoyed legislative prerogatives that a U.S. president could only envy. This has the effect of making the corporatist tendency a little less powerful in the United States than in Germany and most of the rest of the European Union.

But if Berlin’s policy-makers have been far too easily captured by commercial calculation, there are nonetheless many of us in the United States and elsewhere who must confess: “Ich bin ein Berliner, too, damn it.” In the United States, we see commercial capture in matters great and small, from heavy industry seeking protectionist tariffs to Senator Elizabeth Warren’s desire to raise taxes on everybody except medical-device manufacturers in the state she represents.

In the United States, foreign policy is almost completely dominated by domestic commercial concerns, such as protecting profits and jobs in uncompetitive firms, along with symbolic tribal gestures — e.g., Barack Obama’s signing the Paris Agreement while knowing it would never be implemented and making no effort even to get the Senate to approve it. As with most areas of government policy, foreign policy is too easily shaped by a relatively small number of highly motivated parties who have an intense interest in one or two issues while the average president or senator — to say nothing of the average voter — must divide his attention among a bewildering array of issues, none of which is of urgent personal interest to him. That is our old friend, “concentrated benefits vs. dispersed costs,” the reason American taxpayers are forced to fund billions of dollars in agricultural subsidies designed to make our groceries more expensive.

Many of those to whom the nature of such problems has long been perfectly obvious in domestic affairs nonetheless maintained excessively high hopes about the power of business activities to reshape political cultures or to harmonize international relations. Trade, investment, exchange, and shared economic interests are important and valuable, but we have had too much confidence in them. That has been obvious for some time: The strongest and most utopian version of that idea died with George W. Bush’s democracy project in the Middle East.

At the conclusion of the 1994 debate about the Clinton administration’s decision to grant China “most-favored nation” trading status — the beginning of the modern U.S.–China economic relationship — our friends at the Heritage Foundation asserted: “By increasing prosperity in China through greater trade, the U.S. can help to create the economic freedoms that are the foundation upon which political freedom will someday emerge.” That is not what came to pass in the following decades. But if Wandel durch Handel is a dead letter, no credible alternative has yet been developed. Instead, what we mostly have seen is a deepening and widening of corporatist rent-seeking behavior, with tariffs and other sanctions designed not to produce changes in the policies of governments abroad but simply to benefit domestic business interests. That sort of neo-mercantilism has a great deal of attraction to populists on the right and on the left, but it does not provide a real basis — neither a moral basis nor a practical basis — for a new and relevant policy approach. It is only another way of saying, “What’s good for GM is good for America,” something most of us stopped believing back in 2008.

Beijing’s repression and abuses are not news, and neither are Putin’s rapacity and brutality. Neither is the willingness of German manufacturers and American investors to turn a blind eye to such abuses when the money is right. But the world has been changed in the past few years: in a profound way by the trauma of the Covid-19 epidemic, and in ways that will not be digested for some time by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We are presented with a window for meaningful change.

Whatever form that change takes, it will probably have to begin with deeper, richer, and more structured cooperation among the world’s liberal democracies with the specific intent of preventing Sino-Russian dominance — of the world or of their corners of it. For the United States, that means more engagement — simultaneously realistic and openhanded — with our European allies and with the other democracies around the world, especially in Asia and Eastern Europe.

A place for Americans to begin might be acknowledging our own recent democracy deficit and taking steps to repair the damage that has been done to our democratic institutions.

In Other News . . .

The Ukrainian border guard’s taunt of defiance on Snake Island — “Russian warship, go f*** yourself” — deserves a place in history beside μολὼν λαβέ and, “Give me liberty or give me death.” I think that the paperwork enacting the various sanctions being put forward around the world should be headlined: “Russian bank, go f*** yourself,” “Russian oligarch, go f*** yourself,” “Russian soccer team, go f*** yourself,” and, for our friends at CPAC, “Russian stooge, go f*** yourself.”

Words About Words

Two quotations referenced above — “Ich bin ein Berliner” and “What’s good for GM is good for America” — have entered into legend, the kind of legend that utterly displaces the truth. It is entirely a myth that John Kennedy’s poor German left his audience thinking he said, “I am a jelly donut,” that his meaning was not understood, and that the audience laughed. Didn’t happen.

Charles Erwin Wilson — “Engine Charlie” — was the CEO of General Motors and served as secretary of defense in the Eisenhower administration. He oversaw a project that Americans today might not believe to be possible: cutting the defense budget without leaving the United States less secure. During his confirmation hearings, he was pressed about his large holdings of GM stock — senators wanted to know whether he could be counted on to put the country’s interests over those of GM when there was a conflict. His reported response — “What’s good for GM is good for the country” — was taken as an expression of corporate hubris. But that is not what he actually said, and his meaning was different: that there was no way for GM to thrive if the country didn’t.

Asked about that conflict of interest, what he actually said was, “I cannot conceive of one, because for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors and vice versa. The difference did not exist. Our company is too big. It goes with the welfare of the country.”

He spent some time trying to correct the misquotation, but it stuck. The misquote was too good to be true, while the actual quotation was too true to be good.

Don’t get me started on “Let them eat cake.” Marie Antoinette got a raw deal.

Rampant Prescriptivism

A reader asks: “What’s the rule for using ‘a’ or ‘an’ with an acronym whose pronunciation begins with a vowel sound, but whose word components begin with a consonant sound? Does Mitt Romney hold an MBA or a MBA? Is it time for an EU army or a EU army?”

First thing: Those aren’t acronyms. Those are initialisms. An acronym spells out a word or a pronounceable pseudo-word, like PATRIOT Act or NAFTA. Cutesy acronyms attached to legislation are, in my view, an impeachable offense.

Back to MBA and FBI: Pronunciation is your guide here. The only purpose of “an” is getting around the fact that it is hard to say “a apple.” If the starting sound is a vowel, then you use an. “An MBA” = “an em-bee-ay,” “an FBI agent” = “an eff-bee-eye agent,” etc. For the sake of consistency, this holds true even in work that is not meant to be read aloud.

There is a kind of near-acronym for FBI: Some people in law enforcement call it “the feeb” or FBI agents “feebs,” which doesn’t sound very nice. I suppose the opposite of that is a spelling that looks like an initialism but is pronounced like a full word, as in “Rizza” for RZA.

Pronunciations change with time and place, which is why “an historic happening” or “an historian” makes sense with certain British accents but not with how most Americans speak today. That one looks pretentious to me, though I suppose that in speaking it does prevent the possible conflation of “a historical” and “ahistorical.” I can’t really think of a situation in which that might be a problem, though.

So: Pronunciation trumps orthography. “An EU army,” “a European army.”

Speaking of the EU, I never have had a good answer for why we write “the U.S. government” with periods but “the EU agreement” without them, why the U.S.A. has an FBI and a CIA, not an F.B.I. or a C.I.A. British and European publications tend to omit the periods, and the stylebooks generally advise that you can dispense with the periods where the initialism is well-known and doesn’t require spelling out — you can use FBI on first reference without writing “Federal Bureau of Investigation” — but, surely, everybody everywhere in the English-speaking world knows what “U.S.” means.

With all due respect to the University of Saskatchewan.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

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

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 would characterize the free world’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine as less than what’s needed but more than I expected. But even as we follow a course of action that will necessarily hurt the Russian people as a whole, we should keep in mind — and in our hearts — the fact that many Russians are as unhappy to live under Putin’s bootheel as the Ukrainians would be.

Russia is not jam-packed with wall-to-wall Putinists. Not even close — this isn’t CPAC we’re talking about.

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National Security & Defense

Taft’s Revenge

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Ohio Senator Robert Taft speaks at Arlington National Cemetery in 1939. (Library of Congress)

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Thirtysomething

It’s always 1933 in American politics: The Left always thinks we are in the Great Depression and in need of a new New Deal, and the hawks always see a seedling Adolf Hitler who must be uprooted or at least pruned. And so it is today.

To complete the 1930s scene, right-wing anti-hawks (it would not quite do to call them “doves” and they are not quite “non-interventionists,” even if they sometimes describe themselves that way) today have a stronger voice in the Republican Party than they have since the days of Senator Robert Taft (R., Ohio), the anti-war conservative stalwart who served in the Senate in the critical years of 1939–53. While in the Senate, Taft opposed efforts to help the British and other nations fighting off the Nazis, insisted that there was no vital U.S. interest at play in Europe and that this would not change even if Hitler conquered the entire continent, and believed that the United States, being protected by its oceans and keeping its armies ready at home, could endure and thrive as a kind of fortress state. He was mostly wrong about that, but he was not careless or unthinking.

Senator Taft is an important figure for the Old Right and for a certain kind of modern libertarian, and, whether you call it “principle” or call it “fanaticism,” there was a consistent line of thinking that ran through his politics: He opposed entering the war until Pearl Harbor, took a narrow view of U.S. interests during the war, opposed the creation of NATO after the war, opposed the Nuremberg trials, etc., but also was practically alone in the Senate in speaking against the internment of Japanese Americans. “Libertarian McCarthyite” may sound a little weird to the modern ear, but that is what Senator Taft was, and he spoke for a tendency within the Republican Party that was old and established by his time and still endures today.

(The Republican Stupidity Constant at work: As Taft’s power increased in Washington, he was occasionally denounced by other Republicans as a “socialist” — the more things change, etc.)

I do not think that much, if any, of the current Republican criticism of U.S. efforts to bolster Ukraine against the predation of Vladimir Putin could be called principled opposition — in 2022 Anno Domini, I find it difficult to write the words “principled” and “Republican” in the same sentence without pausing. There are many Republicans experiencing bouts of sudden-onset pacifism. But principled opposition is nonetheless possible, in theory if not on Fox News or in the Ohio primary election. Because this sort of thinking is now a real force in the Republican Party, we ought to try to understand it.

And we ought to understand that this school of thought is not without some genuine virtues, even if it is insufficient to the current challenge from Moscow. Its virtues are easy to miss because they are distorted by the usual “All of A or All of B” approach to political questions, a product of the low-rent tribalism that has entirely swallowed our domestic politics and with it our foreign policy, in the manner of a big fish that swallows a smaller fish that has already swallowed an even smaller fish. (The metaphor of Russian matryoshka dolls will not suit my purposes here!) You know how that goes:

“The United States has too many troops overseas and too many bases in too many countries around the world, and is much too involved in the affairs of other countries.”

“Yes, I agree.”

“And, therefore, we have no business telling Putin that he cannot invade Ukraine and enjoy veto power over the foreign policies of Russia’s neighboring countries.”

“Well, no, that doesn’t necessarily follow.”

“Neocon shill!”

Etc.

Much of the current effort on the neo-Taftian and effectively — sometimes explicitly — pro-Putin Right is directed at talking down the moral standing of Ukraine, insisting that it is backward, corrupt, and undemocratic. The criticism often is exaggerated — often on behalf of Putin — but it is not wildly off-base, either. On the democracy and corruption fronts, Ukraine is Denmark compared with Russia, but even the friends of Ukraine will admit that is suffers from what is politely termed a “democracy deficit” and that it is plagued by deep and wide corruption — these are, in fact, among the main reasons that Ukraine is not already a member of the European Union or of NATO. But what is at issue here is not the moral standing of Ukraine, any more than the 1991 Gulf War was about the moral standing of the government of Kuwait, which we might have generously characterized as a family business. Imperfect nations have a right to exist, too, and the United States has an interest in the defense of that right. Operation Desert Storm was not a defense of hereditary monarchy — it was a U.S.-led project carried out to secure U.S. interests. The difference between George H. W. Bush and his neo-Taftian critics (Pat Buchanan prominent among them) is that Bush represented a school of thought that defines U.S. interests much more broadly than the anti-hawks would if they were in power. Which they weren’t, and aren’t. But if they are not quite in power today, they are closer to it now than they were in Cold War and immediate post–Cold War era, and closer to it than they have been since the 1930s.

Putin’s apologists (and a somewhat smaller number of honest critics) will sometimes say that the United States can hardly complain about Moscow’s taking a proprietary interest in the affairs of nearby states — what is Russia’s position vis-à-vis Ukraine, Belarus, et al., if not the Monroe Doctrine transplanted? Why ought Putin to think any differently about the possibility of NATO forces and matériel in Ukraine than President Kennedy thought about Russian missiles in Cuba? That begs any number of questions. The Soviet Union was an expansionist police state that murdered some tens of millions of people — including, let us never forget, 3.5 million Ukrainians intentionally starved to death for political purposes in the Holodomor. The United States, as noted earlier, has a very large number of troops and bases in countries around the world, but the American troops in Germany and the Republic of Korea differ from the Russian troops in Ukraine (and now we can at least dispense with the fiction that there are no Russian troops yet in Ukraine) in many important ways: For example, the American troops would leave if asked. U.S. foreign policy is often boneheaded and sometimes atrocious, but the United States is a funny kind of imperial power, one that reverses the usual direction of cash flow in imperial relationships, providing aid and investment rather than demanding tribute.

U.S. forces in Europe are not an occupying army. But the current crisis must force us to consider that they are a crutch, and to think through what that means. At the recently concluded Munich Security Conference, the Europeans were obviously relieved that with Putin rattling his saber, the United States is once again coming to their rescue — not to the rescue of Ukraine, in all likelihood, but to fortify and reinvigorate the fundamental NATO mission. Ukraine is, as noted, not a NATO member, but it is on track to become a NATO member and already is party to an association agreement with the European Union; abandoning Ukraine to Putin would make a mockery of the idea of collective European self-defense, and it would also bring the Russian forces that currently are on the Ukrainian border to the borders of Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania — NATO members all. One of the many problems with Putin’s version of the Monroe Doctrine is that his backyard is expanding. The complaints that Putin has about NATO forces in Poland today would only be transferred to the Czech Republic and Germany. It is worth remembering that the original Monroe Doctrine was a hemispheric claim.

NATO will always be understood in Moscow as a cat’s-paw for Washington, and not without some reason. But there are particular European interests in play here, too — Putin’s forces in Belarus are as close to Prague as Washington is to Charleston, S.C. Many European leaders, Emmanuel Macron prominent among them, would like to see the European Union build a European army rather than rely on the EU mutual-defense policy — and on American allies they have come to regard as only periodically reliable — to ensure the sovereignty of EU member states. This is part of a broader push for more effective European sovereignty in matters ranging from the military to the digital. The United States should encourage these efforts, which would be more productive than our current non-strategy of bitching about whether this or that NATO member is spending at least 2 percent of GDP on defense. As Washington’s focus shifts from the Western world to the Indo-Pacific and China, building up European defense capabilities independent of NATO would accord with the new geopolitical reality and would help to bring about a situation in which every European conflict is not necessarily an American conflict. It may not satisfy orthodox neo-Taftians, but it is possible to secure U.S. interests in Europe — including our interest in liberating both ourselves and our European allies from their learned helplessness — through addition rather than through subtraction.

But that is decades away at best, even if we were to imagine that such a project had been agreed upon by the Europeans, which it hasn’t and may not be. And that leaves us to face the crisis in the here and now. Donald Rumsfeld famously observed: “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish you had at a later time.” That is true for averting wars, too: You conduct diplomacy with the army you have, and with the allies you have, and with the armies and capabilities they have. A forward-looking statesman might look to change some or all of those in his nation’s favor, but we Americans do not have very many of those in our employ just at the moment. And with the neo-Taftian tendency ascendent in the Republican Party (and to a lesser extent in the Democratic Party), it is likely that our alliances will be weaker in the near future — meaning in our short-term confrontation with Russia and our long-term competition with China — than they were during the Cold War. The less our allies can rely on us, the less we can rely on them, and a general retreat on Washington’s part will be mirrored in capitals around the world.

President Macron has proposed to host a summit meeting between Biden and Putin to discuss the situation in Ukraine. Biden has agreed, in principle, to attend, as long as Russia does not launch a full-scale invasion — which is what apparently is under way as of this writing. It does not seem to have occurred either to Macron or to Biden that any such meeting must include Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whose country is, after all, the one being disintegrated. As Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) observes: “Any Biden-Putin-Macron summit that sidelines 44 million Ukrainians would stink like Yalta.” His advice: “Give Zelensky a seat at the table or don’t go.”

Ukraine need not be governed by angels nor situated on the border of the United States to have a legitimate claim on Washington’s attention — as I argued last week, this is a Putin crisis, not a Ukraine crisis: There was no precipitating event in Ukraine that has brought the two countries to the brink of war. Our neo-Taftians may envy Swiss neutrality, but the United States is not Switzerland and cannot conduct itself in the world as though we were. Our national interests encompass many factors that our borders do not. But I fear that we have lost the ability to comprehend our national interests in anything but economic measures — and crude and short-term economic measures at that, as though our real problem with Beijing were jobs in carpet factories. Americans at large, and President Biden in particular, would think differently about what Putin is up to if factory payrolls in Ohio were directly implicated. But they aren’t, and so Washington has no good answer when Americans ask: “What’s in it for us?”

Somewhere, Senator Taft is smiling about that.

And Furthermore . . .

One question that always arises with neo-Taftism is its relationship to antisemitism.

Neo-Taftism has been most prominent in recent decades in discussions of U.S. policy in the Middle East. The crackpot Left and the crackpot Right are alike in that they both attract antisemites, and figures as notionally different as Representative Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) and David Duke (R., some distant sewer) have insisted that Washington, ensorcelled by Jewish money, acts as a puppet of Jerusalem. The situation in Ukraine does not push those buttons in quite the same way.

I do not think that antisemitic sentiment per se is a supremely important force in contemporary neo-Taftism (it accounts for maybe 10 percent of the gas in the tank) but Old Right types and associated libertarians have for a long time not taken antisemitism (and racism) very seriously, hence the creepy elements of the Ron Paul movement and the efforts of Murray Rothbard, himself the son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, to reach out to David Duke and his ilk to forge a “hippie-redneck” alliance that would unite the far Left and the far Right in a joint effort against “corporate liberals” and the dreaded “establishment.” If you suspect I am being uncharitable in my characterization, do read Rothbard for yourself.

I believe that if you affixed a blood-pressure cuff to the typical neo-Taftian and showed him a photograph of Bill Kristol, he’d hit Stage 2 hypertension in about 11 seconds, but that isn’t only Jew-hating — it is also resentment at the relatively low status and effect of neo-Taftian ideas in the Republican Party from the Eisenhower years (when they were only Taftian ideas, no prefix needed) until about five minutes ago. It is common among dissatisfied people without power to believe that their unhappy situation is of exterior rather than interior origin, and the neo-Taftians and Buchananites and Paulites have long proceeded as though they would be sitting in the seats of power if not for those who were already in them. That isn’t true, of course — and never mind, for the moment, that they have a very fanciful view of how much power magazine editors and TV pundits actually have.

Where antisemitism has been a factor, what is at work is a combination of old-fashioned antisemitism and jockeying for power within the Republican Party and the conservative movement by people who are not very particular about their allies. It can be difficult to sort that out, and it may not be worth the work, but it is self-deluding to believe that those who disagree with us must always do so out of covert, discrediting motives.

Words About Words

I know someone who thinks libertarian is effectively a synonym for conspiracy kook. Alas, that does not come out of nowhere.

The word libertarian has had several different meanings and connotations in its history.

Its first use was philosophical rather than political: as the antonym to necessitarian. Necessitarians were people who believed that human behavior is determined by environment and circumstance, that we do what we do (and think what we think) because it is the only possibility open to us, given a certain set of circumstances; libertarians, in contrast, were partisans of free will. In my 1841 Webster’s, that is the only sense of libertarian included: the political use had not yet arrived. Libertarian was also used in a specifically religious sense at that time, also touching questions of free will.

It was a natural evolution from the descriptive philosophical libertarian (man is free to act) to the prescriptive political libertarian (man should be free to act), which appears in the late 19th century, first as a noun and then as an adjective.

Our use of the word is complicated by the fact that there are small-l libertarians as well as a capital-L Libertarian Party. Small-l libertarians in the United States have mostly been associated with the Republican Party and, to a lesser extent, the Libertarian Party, though there is a strain of libertarian who feels more at home with the Democrats.

The libertarian intellectual David Friedman once commented: “There may be two libertarians who agree with each other on everything, but I am not one of them.” David Friedman, who is associated with the radical “anarcho-capitalist” model of libertarianism, is the son of Milton and Rose Friedman, who are associated with the Republican-leaning kind of libertarianism. There is a lot of diversity within the libertarian family. F. A. Hayek, a hero to many libertarians, rejected the word libertarian in favor of liberal, and Ayn Rand, another hero to a certain kind of libertarian, hated the word libertarian — and the people, too, whom she regarded as morally degenerate, making common cause with “religionists, anarchists, and every intellectual misfit and scum they can find.” Rand’s denunciation reminds me of George Orwell’s similar feelings about his allies on the left: “One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.”

I sometimes describe myself as a libertarian, and William F. Buckley Jr. subtitled one of his books “Reflections of a Libertarian Journalist,” though many orthodox libertarians would disclaim him (and me). The closer you look at libertarian, and other words of that kind — liberal, conservative, etc. — the less useful they will seem. Bill Buckley was a conservative, George Will is a conservative, and people keep telling me that Donald Trump is a conservative, and many people who have called themselves conservative for a long time define their politics as opposition to George Will’s most recent column, or Bill Kristol’s, or Jay Nordlinger’s. So it is fair to wonder if conservative actually means anything — which is a separate question from what it should mean. Hayek called himself a liberal, and in Europe the sort of people we call libertarians are called liberals, as they are in some English-language political writing, including in the United States. Some of our newly minted nationalist-populists have picked up liberal in that sense, and they deploy it as a term of abuse for free-trade, market-oriented conservatives. At least they are using the word more or less correctly, so they have that going for them.

To make things even more confusing, what American conservatives mean to conserve are the principles of the American founding, which was an exercise in liberalism, albeit 18th-century Anglo-Protestant liberalism. We often append the word classical to liberal so that people will know we are talking about Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson rather than Edward Kennedy and Bernie Sanders. I will use the word liberal by itself when addressing people who will know what I mean, and it is kind of a relief to do so. I’ll use libertarian when liberal would be confusing, even though libertarian is vague, too.

A good way to think about libertarianism is as a starting point. “What we value is liberty” is a good place to start, but it doesn’t settle every question. For example, there is a good libertarian case to be made for abortion rights (freedom is served by maximizing women’s bodily autonomy) and a libertarian case against abortion rights (the right to life does not suddenly descend from the heavens at the moment of birth), and libertarianism itself can’t really answer that question, or many others like it. At its worst, libertarianism is an ideology — rigid, stultified, dusty. At its best, it is what George Will calls conservatism: a sensibility. And maybe libertarianism and conservatism in the United States are not quite the same sensibility, but they are near relations, branches of the family tree of liberty.

Rampant Prescriptivism

It’s all of a sudden, not all of the sudden.

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Home and Away

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

My National Review archive can be found here.

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My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

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Beastly News

A state of high alert:

A state of considerably less high alert:

In Closing

Tomorrow is the feast day of Polycarp, an early martyr, who was the bishop of Smyrna and a disciple of John the Evangelist. But today is the commemoration of Blessed Stefan Wincenty Frelichowski, a Polish priest who died at Dachau in 1945. When I think of the martyrs, I think of their depictions in Renaissance paintings, but martyrdom is part of the age of photography and video, too, as well as the age of social media. Almost 1,800 years passed between the martyrdom of Polycarp and that of Stefan, but history nonetheless is very short, from a certain point of view.

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Politics & Policy

The Forever Emergency

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President Joe Biden prepares to remove his face mask as he arrives to sign the Accelerating Access to Critical Therapies for ALS Act at tthe White House in Washington, D.C., December 23, 2021. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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‘The Life That We Have Known, with Modifications’

Some of us, it seems, are positively going to miss the Covid-19 epidemic.

If there is a sense of impending post-pandemic lamentation from some of our progressive friends, it is because they believe that, contrary to the advice of bottom-feeding Chicago demagogue Rahm Emanuel, they have let a good crisis go to waste.

The other Emanuel brother prominent in our public life, former Obama administration adviser Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel of the University of Pennsylvania, seems ready to let the Covid crisis go. In a conversation hosted by the Journal of the American Medical Association in January, he argued that while there remained work to be done in reducing Covid incidence and transmission, the emergency is coming to a close. “Covid should begin looking like a flu,” he said. “You get it, and you stay home so you don’t infect other people. When you’re feeling better, you can go into work, probably wearing a mask for a few days to reduce the chance of infection. We’re simply going to get back to the life that we’ve known, with some modifications.”

Congressional Republicans have called on the Biden administration to declare an end to the official designation of Covid-19 as a public-health emergency, and, while the Republican argument is not entirely correct in every jot and tittle, the statement spearheaded by Republican Representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), Brett Guthrie (Ky.), and Morgan Griffith (Va.) is in its general thrust both true and useful: The emergency is over, but the Biden administration is hesitant to give up its emergency powers. Some Democratic governors and mayors also are looking for a return to normalcy (not “normality”) and would like to see an end to crisis measures and crisis rhetoric.

Joe Biden is in a political pickle. As I argued on Sunday, masking and other anti-Covid measures have for a certain kind of American progressive become a matter of culture and identity, with the mask — they prefer them to be mandatory — playing for many Democrats the same role that ritual face coverings and head coverings have played in other religions across millennia. Those of you who are nerdy enough to personalize the emojis on your smartphones may have noticed that you have the option of adding a facemask to your image, e.g.:

Why do you imagine that is? Somebody went to some considerable trouble to make that possible.

We have all seen some way-out-there ridiculousness when it comes to masking: Some people wear masks while walking by themselves on Colorado hiking trails — and grow enraged when they see someone who hikes barefaced — and some people wear them by themselves inside their cars. But surely putting one on a digital image of yourself takes that particular cake. Whatever this is about, it is not about stopping the transmission of a coronavirus.

But even as President Biden has to consider one quasi-religious aspect of Covid culture, if we may call it that, there is another, generally incompatible quasi-religious aspect of Covid culture that torments him. As a candidate, Joe Biden acted in accordance with the superstitious belief, very common among Democrats, that Covid-19 is a matter of corporate sin, that it was a kind of divine judgment on Donald Trump and his administration and would persist as long as that administration remained in place. If you do not believe that our progressive friends believe Covid to be a question of moral failing, consider how gleeful they can be when anti-vaxxers die of Covid, or the fact that Twitter at one point felt obliged to come up with a policy on users sharing their hopes that Trump would die of Covid.

The belief that plagues are a judgment upon impious kings and sinful chieftains is a truly ancient strain of religious thought, stretching all the way back into the darkness of prehistory. It figures very prominently in Judeo-Christian mythology, which made Biden a kind of Moses to Donald Trump’s pharaoh. But Moses never made it to the Promised Land, and neither has Joe Biden. Biden as a candidate promised to “shut down the virus” if elected president, and millions of Americans believed that he would. But Biden did not have very many policy proposals that were both specific and dramatically different from what the Trump administration already was doing, and, indeed, the most important work — developing the vaccines — mostly had been done by the time Biden assumed the office.

The generally (though not always) unspoken proposition was that if the country were freed from the moral burden of having Donald Trump in the White House, then the epidemic would subside. But the viruses that cause respiratory infections are not, as it turns out, morally sensitive. Rather than succeeding in his promise to “shut down the virus,” President Biden had to endure waves of new infections and new variants, and stood by helplessly as the body count ticked upward and upward until the number of deaths on his watch exceeded those on Trump’s. Of course that is a dumb metric from a rationalistic point of view, but what matters in politics is not epidemiology but mythology. We live by the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.

The most powerful force in American life today is not the Covid-19 epidemic. It is neither populism nor globalization nor white supremacy nor capitalism nor critical race theory nor technology nor any of the other forces we point to as explanations for our unhappiness. The most powerful force in American life today is the ravenous, unsatisfied hunger for community. The frustrated desire for community is what has made social media and other related technologies such a titanic and baleful force in our public life, what drives identity politics and neo-racism, what causes people to seek personal meaning in cults, conspiracy theories, and mobs. Black masks vs. red caps, this chant vs. that chant, this meaningless jargon vs. that meaningless jargon — the fight for community is often vicious.

There was a sense among some Americans that the Covid-19 epidemic would be this generation’s Great Depression and its World War II — trauma transfigured by triumph. Communities founded in shared trauma are some of the most intimate and most enduring ones, which is one reason that Americans living in this age of peace and plenty expend so much effort inventing fanciful new traumas for themselves. Masks are for some Americans a sign of community, an exterior marker of shared values. And they will hold on to those — at the grocery store, in their emojis, in their hearts — because they do not have anything else to hold on to. For President Biden, the political dilemma is the choice between satisfying the relatively apathetic majority that is ready to move on from the emergency mentality and responding to the highly motivated minority that wishes to cling to this moment in the belief that it still has some mojo, that there remains alive some hope, however faint, for transfiguration.

But the kind of wounds we have as Americans are not the kind that can be healed by shared trauma or shared grief, or by political factionalism based on these. Covid-19 did not make us one and whole any more than 9/11 did 20 years before. War with the Russians or the Chinese is not going to do it, either. Our Republican–Democrat split is no more about political policies than Northern Ireland’s Catholic–Protestant troubles were about theology, and, as such, there is no political solution possible. Partisan rage gushing through digital channels creates a momentary feeling of community, but not the real thing. Shared hatred is not enough.

When faced with a national emergency, Americans often speak in hopeful terms about the possibility of achieving “unity.” We believe that we will find contentedness in unity, that if there is unity of national purpose then our many disagreements and divisions will be able to be set aside, along with any unpleasant or inconvenient necessity for compromise or reconciliation. But it is not unity we are after — it is domination, the “unity” that comes after our enemies and rivals have submitted to us. Politicians from Franklin Roosevelt to Indira Gandhi have invoked the rhetoric of unity while relying on emergency powers to crush their opponents and attempt to impose their will on the whole of society. That is what is meant by, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

And that is why it is always so difficult to get a politician to relinquish emergency powers, and so necessary that we force the issue.

Words About Words

A reader flags Michael Brendan Dougherty’s use of the phrase “return to normality”: Isn’t it normalcy?

This is a golden oldie.

When he was running for president in 1920, Republican Warren G. Harding promised a “return to normalcy.” He had good reason to offer such a promise: Between the autocratic innovations of Woodrow Wilson, the world war, and the Spanish flu epidemic, life had been turned upside-down for many in these United States, and Americans were not altogether happy about it. A little over 100 years later, and we are in a very similar situation.

Harding’s use of the word normalcy was derided as illiterate by many journalists and public intellectuals, but Harding had the standard references on his side: “I have looked for ‘normality’ in my dictionary, and I did not find it there,” he said. “‘Normalcy,’ however, I did find, and it is a good word.” One columnist described Harding’s usage as jackasstical, which I quite like.

As our friends at Merriam-Webster note, there is a persistent unfounded belief that Harding coined the word normalcy. He did not. The word was commonly used in mathematics, where it had a particular technical meaning, but was also used popularly in the sense Harding used it, i.e., denotating the normal state of affairs. As Merriam-Webster points out, the folk belief that Harding made up the word has appeared in formal published literature as recently as 2016, when Joshua Kastenberg and Eric Merriam repeated the claim in their In a Time of Total War.

I myself prefer a return to normalcy — both the word and the state of affairs.

Rampant Prescriptivism

In the Sunday column referenced above, I wrote: “From thence, the theory goes, the covered head came to be a sign of physical cleanliness, and, by extension, moral purity.” A reader asks whether the from is redundant there — doesn’t thence mean “from there”?

Yes, it does.

In fact, thence is used in place of a few similar words that have gone out of fashion, including therefrom and thenceforth. Thence means “from that place” or “from that condition,” the latter having been once denoted with therefrom.

From thence is, strictly speaking, redundant, but pretty common. Our old friend Hannibal Lecter throws in the extraneous from: “The significance of the moth is change: caterpillar into chrysalis or pupa, and from thence into beauty.”

Thenceforth, meaning “from that time,” also has been supplanted by thence, commonly in the phrase “thence afterward,” which I suppose is redundant, too.

So, thence, not from thence.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

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

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

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

To support National Review Institute, go here.

In Other News . . .

Is it me, or did YouTube for some reason just get like 500 times dumber than it was? (No mean feat.) The landing page and suggestions I get seem to have become radically stupid over a very short period of time. I know this is driven by user behavior — maybe I Googled something weird? Anybody else ever experience anything like this?

In Closing

I think what C. S. Lewis wrote about individual men is also true of nations: “When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less.”

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World

The Limits of ‘No’

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi meets with Qatar’s Foreign Minister in Tehran, Iran, January 27, 2022. (Iranian Presidency Office/Handout via Reuters)

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The Part That Comes After ‘No’

In Vienna, representatives from the parties to the U.S.–Iran nuclear deal — which is either dead or dying — have convened to jaw-jaw. Harold MacMillan once said (and Winston Churchill did not) that jaw, jaw is better than war, war, which it is — until it isn’t.

Under the Barack Obama administration, the United States, Iran, and several other interested parties — Russia, China, Germany, France, the European Union, and the United Kingdom — came to an agreement that bore the simultaneously sterile and pretentious name “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” five words that give the impression of saying something without quite doing so. Under the JCPOA, Iran agreed to some limitations on its nuclear-development program, but not to the abandonment of the program; in return, Iran was to receive relief from sanctions imposed variously by the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations. Like many of the big projects of the Obama administration, the JCPOA looked better on paper than it turned out in practice.

Not that critics, especially on the right, were especially impressed with the plan on paper. National Review writers railed against it, and, as a presidential candidate, Donald Trump in his usual maximalist style called it the “worst deal ever negotiated.” But as president, Trump had some trouble getting out of JCPOA. Writing in National Review in 2017, John Bolton, who would later serve as Trump’s national security adviser, asked some uncomfortable questions:

Although candidate Donald Trump repeatedly criticized Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear agreement, his administration has twice decided to remain in the deal. It so certified to Congress, most recently in July, as required by law. Before the second certification, Trump asked repeatedly for alternatives to acquiescing yet again in a policy he clearly abhorred. But no such options were forthcoming, despite “a sharp series of exchanges” between the president and his advisers, as the New York Times and similar press reports characterized it.

Many outside the administration wondered how this was possible: Was Trump in control, or were his advisers?

At Steve Bannon’s request, Bolton drew up a proposal for getting out of the JCPOA. The Trump administration, in response, gave its usual kind of performance: a tantrum and a convulsion with very little follow-up. Trump pulled out of the JCPOA, but left the hard work undone. In his memo, Bolton had prescribed a program of sustained diplomacy (“Early, quiet consultations with key players such as the U.K., France, Germany, Israel, and Saudi Arabia” . . . “Prepare the documented strategic case for withdrawal” . . . “A greatly expanded diplomatic campaign should immediately follow the announcement, especially in Europe and the Middle East” . . . “Develop and execute Congressional and public diplomacy efforts to build domestic and foreign support,” etc.) but very little of that happened at all, and practically none of it was executed with any competence. Trump insisted that he had consulted extensively with U.S. allies and that the United States and its critical partners were “unified in our understanding of the threat,” which was obviously and transparently false. The leaders of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom put out a joint statement of their “regret and concern,” insisting that the JCPOA had been effective and that “the world is a safer place as a result,” which was also obviously and transparently false. In the end, our European allies, along with China and Russia, stuck with the JCPOA, though without the participation of the United States this was effectively an almost purely formal matter.

About the JCPOA, the Europeans were wrong on the substance, with Bolton having the better case:

The JCPOA’s vague and ambiguous wording; its manifest imbalance in Iran’s direction; Iran’s significant violations; and its continued, indeed, increasingly, unacceptable conduct at the strategic level internationally demonstrate convincingly that the JCPOA is not in the national-security interests of the United States. . .

Even the previous Administration knew the JCPOA was so disadvantageous to the United States that it feared to submit the agreement for Senate ratification. Moreover, key American allies in the Middle East directly affected by this agreement, especially Israel and the Gulf states, did not have their legitimate interests adequately taken into account.

But walking away — simply blowing up the deal, denouncing it as a misadventure of the Obama administration, and then reimposing sanctions — was not enough, in Bolton’s view:

U.S. leadership here is critical especially through a diplomatic and public education effort to explain a decision not to certify and to abrogate the JCPOA. Like any global campaign, it must be persuasive, thorough, and accurate. Opponents, particularly those who participated in drafting and implementing the JCPOA, will argue strongly against such a decision, contending that it is reckless, ill-advised, and will have negative economic and security consequences. . . . We will need to assure the international community that the U.S. decision will in fact enhance international peace and security. . . .

There were many directions that the United States might have gone after leaving the JCPOA. David French and Eli Lake each argued for regime change in Tehran, with the United States assisting and encouraging liberal-democratic opponents of the ayatollahs’ regime. “The most urgent task now for Trump is increasing the odds of success for Iran’s democracy movement,” Lake wrote. “We must beat Iran on the battlefield,” French insisted, “not by invading or declaring war but instead by ensuring the endurance and ultimate victory of our allies in the proxy conflicts raging across the Middle East. We must not abandon our allies in Syria, and we must not cede even an additional inch of territory to the combined Iranian/Russian/Assad forces in that country’s northeast. We should provide prudent and proper aid to Israeli efforts to weaken Iranian-backed forces in Syria and Lebanon. And we must work to curb Iranian influence in Iraq.”

That was excellent advice, which the Trump administration mostly ignored, abandoning our Kurdish allies in Syria. The Biden administration, which is much closer to the Trump administration on key issues such as national security and international relations than either camp would care to admit (this should not surprise us — Trump is very much a man of Biden’s generation and spent much of his adult life as a big-city Democrat), continued the policy of general retreat, abandoning Afghanistan to the Taliban. Biden makes the necessary conventional Atlanticist noises about diplomacy and multilateralism and such, but, like Trump, he views U.S. global security leadership mainly as a heavy national burden for which Americans go unrecompensed. (If you think American leadership costs us too much, wait until you see how much Chinese leadership costs us.) We could say with charity that he does not bring quite as much passion or ambition to the issue of Iranian nuclear ambitions as he does to the project of putting money into the pockets of his labor-union cronies.

The Obama-Trump-Biden progression contains many similar sequences. Take the so-called Affordable Care Act, another Obama project that, like the JCPOA, was a sloppily built and poorly conceived program that would have required something close to perfect execution to produce something like a reasonably successful result. Republicans would have liked to have done the same thing with ACA as they did with JCPOA: repeal it and walk away without providing a better way forward. The Trump administration spent four years being two weeks away from announcing its big health-care proposal (Kubla Khan kept 5,000 mastiffs, and he still didn’t have enough dogs to eat all that homework), but Republicans could never really build any consensus behind anything except repealing the ACA, and they lacked the political will even to do that.

There is a lot to be said for Republicans’ being the Party of “No.” (Sometimes, there’s a case for being the Party of “Hell, No!” but there is also a time to be the Party of “No, Thank You.”) “No” is the most important thing for conservatives to say. But it isn’t enough. Consider another Obama administration initiative, the illegal and unconstitutional Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The Trump administration rescinded that one, too, and was right to do so. But, then . . . what? Programs such as DACA create their own constituencies, and these do not simply evaporate when one presidential action is negated by a subsequent one. As with the JCPOA, there were many ways that we might have gone after DACA, but what happened in fact was that we ended the program and then did approximately squat.

The Obama administration cooked up JCPOA. The Trump administration killed it. The Biden administration is working halfheartedly to revive it or something like it. And the result is that Iran is today a much more advanced and capable nuclear power than it was in 2015 when JCPOA was signed. Among other things, Iran has produced a substantial amount of 60-percent-enriched uranium, which has no civilian purpose and serves only as a marker on the road to a nuclear weapon. “In other words,” as Senator Bob Menendez put it, “Iran has already done most of the heavy lifting.”

It is good and necessary to say “No” in both domestic and foreign affairs. It is the part after “No” that is giving us some trouble. Sanctions are not entirely useless, but the examples of Cuba, North Korea, and Iran must force us to conclude that they are not the economic or diplomatic equivalent of bunker-busting weapons. Echoing earlier bombastic rhetoric, Senator Menendez threatens Russia with “the mother of all sanctions” instead of the “mother of all bombs,” and it is not quite the same thing. But there is a great deal of diplomatic territory between sanctions and bombs. Unfortunately, it requires sustained effort and offers very little near-term political reward.

And if you will forgive me for closing with the repetition of two things I keep coming back to, we have trouble with the part after “No” for two main reasons: The first is that our foreign policy is comprehensively dominated by domestic politics; it is healthy and normal that domestic politics should influence foreign policy to some considerable extent, but there must be something left over that is still foreign policy itself unless our foreign affairs are to be completely absorbed by the totemic contests of our ongoing domestic tribal rivalry. The second is that the United States does not seem to know what it wants — from Iran, from Russia, from China, from any other international relationship. We are like the decadent Romans denounced by Coriolanus, citizens “that like nor peace nor war.” But our relationship with Iran is at the moment neither peace nor war, and that not-peace/not-war is going to be even uglier, more complicated, and more dangerous if Tehran acquires nuclear weapons. We do not have very many attractive options right now, and we will have even fewer against a nuclear Iran.

The Redemption of Mike Pence

Writing under the headline “Good for Mike Pence,” my colleague Phil Klein observes: “It has become all too common for Republicans, confronted with obviously false and reckless statements by Donald Trump, to either defend him or look the other way. So it’s good to see that Mike Pence has criticized Trump — forcefully and by name — for claiming that as vice president, he had the authority to overturn the election.” A subsequent National Review editorial bearing the headline “RNC Should Take a Lesson from Mike Pence” adds: “We commend the example of Mike Pence.”

I do not disagree with my colleagues in their general assessment, but I am not ready to hold up Mike Pence as a commendable example. It is not as though January 6 came out of nowhere. Mike Pence was an enthusiastic and exceptionally sycophantic servant of one of the worst administrations this country has ever suffered under, and he spent four years making excuses for the dishonesty, immorality, and incompetence of the administration — and the man — he served. That kind of stink does not wash away easily.

The state of Mike Pence’s soul is between him and his God. The state of his judgment is between him and us. And Pence has shown himself to have extraordinarily poor judgment. As Donald Trump comes unraveled in his enforced retirement, a great many of his oxpeckers and apologists are rat-paddling away from that sinking ship as fast as their little rat feet will take them, and I find it impossible to admire Pence, at this late hour, for the grace and urgency of his rat-stroke.

So, yeah, good for Mike Pence for clearing the lowest possible bar in Republican politics. Hooray.

Words About Words

Marc Short, formerly chief of staff to Mike Pence, laments that President Trump was surrounded by “snake-oil salesmen.” Which is true in the sense that Bozo was surrounded by clowns. But, that notwithstanding, how is it that “snake oil” came to take on its current meaning?

Snake oil was, in fact, an actual folk remedy in the United States dating back for many years. It may have been brought to the United States by railroad workers from China, where snake oil still is used as an arthritis remedy. Snake oil was offered as a cure for everything from hearing loss to toothaches. Professional physicians came to be vocal critics of the snake-oil salesmen — not because snake oil is snake oil, but because products advertised as snake oil often contained no snake oil at all. In fact, the makers of Clark Stanley’s Snake Oil Liniment were fined — $20! — under the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 for mislabeling their product, which was made from beef fat. Publicity surrounding that case probably was the origin of snake oil’s gradual transformation into a term of abuse.

I get the feeling that this will be a history that continues to be worth knowing.

Rampant Prescriptivism

Today, I will turn this feature over entirely to a reader, who observes:

I’m listening to you and Charlie discuss the lack of political diversity within the parties, and you keep referring to them as homogenous. I believe the word you want is homogeneousHomogenous is a technical term the biologists came up with to talk about tissues that had common origin (or purpose or some such), which goes beyond merely being similar like the prior term homogeneous. Apparently, they confused even themselves so they invented yet another word — homologous — to replace it, and now we’re almost never correct to use homogenous. I first discovered this once upon a time when writing about homogeneous transforms and coordinate systems to characterize robotic control systems. I realized I didn’t know why they were called that. I investigated to make sure I used the right version of the term. Interestingly, homogeneous comes from the Greek suffix genos so I’m not sure where the extra “e” comes from, anyway. My Latin is not good enough to know whether to blame the early scientists’ Latin for it. I’ve noticed a trend toward dropping the last “e” in recent years that I assume is because we all grew up with homogenized milk in our school lunches, and that sounds like such a better syllabic pairing with homogenous than with homogeneous. But what kind of prescriptivists would we be if we went with what sounds better instead of with how some 17th-century scientist butchered a Greek neologism in a Latin text?

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

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

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.

Guest Beast

Necropug is a hungry demon.

In Closing

Apparently, we live in a time in which Americans need it explained to them that the way you treat a peer-reviewed scientific journal is not the way you treat a podcast from the guy who used to eat bugs on Fear Factor. It is almost as if this is not about what everybody is saying it’s about!

To subscribe to the Tuesday, follow this link.

Economy & Business

Fire the Statisticians!

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks during a news conference discussing the introduction of rent legislation outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., September 21, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about inflated currencies, inflated rhetoric, and inflated expectations. To subscribe to the Tuesday — and, if you don’t, I will fire this newsletter’s chief statistician — please follow this link.

Liars, Damned Liars, and Statisticians

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish caudillo, is surely a typical politician of our times — our very, very, very stupid times. Faced with high inflation caused in part by his illiterate crackpot regime’s loosey-goosey monetary policy, he ordered an even loosier-goosier policy, cutting interest rates even further on the theory that high interest rates are just a bankers’ plot against him — and by “bankers” you can go ahead and just say “Jews,” which is what the Erdogan regime habitually does.

The unsurprising result is record-high inflation. And when his government’s chief statistician produced statistics attesting to the collapse of the Turkish lira, Erdogan — who has the heart of a tyrant and the brain of a not especially bright wombat — responded by firing the statistician.

That’ll show ’em!

That’s the great magical thinking of our time — that every fact of every case is subject to infinite revision as long as you can find lackeys and sycophant lickspittles who are debased enough to swallow their pride, take the paycheck, and repeat whatever bullsh** story you tell them to.

As of this writing, inflation in Turkey is — according to the kind of calculation that will get a minor bureaucratic henchman fired from his job — running just a bit under 40 percent. The people who don’t work for Erdogan’s ghastly little junta estimate the inflation rate at just above 80 percent.

If this were Washington, then Jen Psaki would be advising everybody to have a margarita. But having a margarita is not the kind of advice that the pious Turkish dictator typically gives.

(My colleague Alexandra DeSanctis writes that Psaki hawks cocktails as though the country were full of nothing but callow Cosmopolitan readers, but I think Cosmopolitan readers drink more cosmopolitans than margaritas.)

But, of course, this sort of thing is not unknown in Washington. As I will explore at some length in the forthcoming issue of National Review, the United States has an inflation problem, too, though it is not so bad as Turkey’s situation. As with Turkey, the American inflation problem is caused in part by bad public policy. And as with Turkey, such powers as be in our country refuse to accept the facts of the case because doing so would oblige them to admit, if only tacitly, that they are to some extent to blame for the higher prices Americans are paying at the grocery store and the gasoline station.

Unlike their Turkish counterparts, our Democrats do not typically blame Jews corporately for the nation’s political woes. Not typically, I repeat: From time to time, Ilhan Omar will say the quiet part out loud or Barack Obama will be photographed cavorting with a Jew-hating weirdo such as Louis Farrakhan (a photograph buried by a friendly news media), but old-fashioned Jew-hating is a distinctly minority position (though not an extinct one) within the Democratic Party, mostly associated with a dying school of black urban politics in cities such as Philadelphia and Chicago.

(The new antisemitism is anti-Zionism, which is a lot like the old antisemitism except that these Jews are despised on political rather than ethnic grounds — progress! In a similar way, old-fashioned Holocaust denial has been supplanted by a strategy of dilution and distraction, for example by larding up Holocaust remembrances with references to every act of oppression, including those well short of attempted genocide, and every injustice suffered by any people anywhere in the world, as is now commonly the case in European commemorations of the Nazi atrocities against the Jewish people. This is done not out of overflowing compassion but to erase the particularities of the Holocaust, a particular atrocity done to a particular people at a particular time and worth remembering and understanding on those terms rather than merely as an exemplary episode in a general trend.)

The American Left is not beyond practicing race hatred, religious hatred, national hatred, or any other kind of hatred, but it prefers class hatred, as, indeed, does the American Right at the moment. Class hatred is useful because class in the American context is infinitely plastic. That isn’t the case everywhere else in the world: In England, for example, class lines are as plain to most people as racial differences are in the United States — no Englishman has any more trouble seeing that Boris Johnson is posh than any American would have had seeing that George Plimpton was white. (George Plimpton was the second-whitest American of the 20th century, after Thacher Longstreth. Readers of this magazine will be surprised to learn that William F. Buckley Jr. was only No. 71.) But because the United States has such a weak sense of class — patrimony and provenance do not matter nearly as much to us as plain old crass gobs of money do — we can get away with abusing the notion.

That is the origin of our strange little gold-plated haters of “elites,” the peculiar situation in which American “elites” are denounced by private-jet hectomillionaires such as Sean Hannity, sneered at by Ivy League–educated rich men such as Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, lectured by Enron advisers such as Paul Krugman or by Walmart board members such as Hillary Rodham Clinton, howled at by Yale deans and MacArthur fellows, while “the Real America” is represented by Manhattan-based employees of multi-gazillion-dollar global media conglomerates, salt-of-the-earth-type figures such as Laura Ingraham of Dartmouth and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, a white-shoe law firm with a name Charles Dickens would have blushed to invent.

Among the greatest and saltiest of these anti-elitists is Senator Elizabeth Warren, the phony Cherokee princess who holds forth on the plight of the dispossessed from her Cambridge manor while negotiating tax cuts for rich metropolitan property owners such as herself. Do you know the expression, “That’s the least you could do!” That was Professor Warren’s job description at Harvard: She did the least she could do, teaching only one class and collecting a paycheck in excess of $400,000 for doing so. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is who is here to tell us that the problem with inflation isn’t daft Democratic policies but — angels and ministers of grace defend us! — greed, in the form of “price gouging” enabled by “concentrated corporate power.”

What is happening in the economy? For one thing, the people who work the late shift at McDonald’s are getting paid more, as are delivery-truck drivers and warehouse workers, and hooray for them — but concentrated corporate power should be made of sterner stuff: McDonald’s, to take one big example, just missed its quarterly earnings targets while the bosses were handing out raises to the fry guys. (Don’t worry, the shareholders are going to be okay.) Denounce “elites” all you like, but the suits who run McDonald’s do business in the same economy as their customers do, and they have to deal with economic reality as they encounter it. McDonald’s isn’t paying workers in Austin twice the minimum wage out of the goodness of its plaque-clogged heart — no matter what Senator Warren or Boss Erdogan or Comrade Grumpy Muppet or Subcomandante Malarkey or any of the effusive recta of the cable-news world tell you, the economy is not run by a secret committee operating out of some smoke-filled back room. The villains change from generation to generation — Freemasons, Illuminati, the Elders of Zion, “international capital,” “globalists,” etc. — but the story is always the same.

And it is always wrong.

Of course, Senator Warren knows that it is not “concentrated corporate power” that is causing the price of bread to go up in Seekonk or Shutesbury — or in Istanbul: She may not be as smart as she thinks she is, but she isn’t as dumb as she seems, either. Elizabeth Warren knows what Joe Biden knows and what Recep Tayyip Erdogan knows: That they can defeat almost any political enemy except the truth.

Four hundred years ago, they burned heretics. Three hundred years ago, they hanged witches. Two hundred years ago, some of our ancestors still lived in abject terror of fairies. One hundred years ago, the leading lights of the Left were executing “reactionaries” and “Cossacks” by the hundreds of thousands.

Next time around, it may well be statisticians.

Words About Words

The word inflation is related to the words flatulent and blasé — which is appropriate given the usual tenor of conversations about inflation.

Inflation in the monetary sense dates only from the 19th century. At that time, inflation denoted an increase in the money supply — which is what some of us still mean by the word. The effect of such inflation — a general rise in prices — is what most people mean by inflation today.

But I think this is a distinction worth preserving. One can (and often does) have inflation in the first sense without having much or any inflation in the second sense. Often, we fail to take account of inflation in the second sense, partly because of our bias toward the present. If the price of a gallon of gas is x today and x tomorrow, then we assume that any inflation there has been in the first sense (expanding the money supply) has not produced inflation in the second sense (higher prices), but we do not really know that, because we do not know what the price of gasoline would have been absent the change in the money supply. Which is to say, we think there has been no inflation when prices remain the same, because we expect prices to remain the same rather than to go down. But prices go down all the time: The typical American family spends radically less on groceries than it did a generation ago, restaurant food costs less, televisions cost less, computers cost less, etc. Cars and houses don’t seem to cost less, until you consider what it could have cost you to have a car or a house something like the one you have today in 1960 — you couldn’t get a car or a house like the ones we have now back then, but the closest substitutes you could have found would have been impossibly expensive. Clothes are less expensive (a well-off society lady in my grandmother’s generation might have owned three good dresses, and a middle-class high-school student in the 1970s might have owned only two or three pair of jeans and one pair of sneakers), travel is less expensive, etc.

If you really want to get mad about something, think about how much richer you — and almost everybody else — would be if not for destructive government policies that have prevented the natural emergence of prosperity. Think about the smart phone in your pocket vs. the semi-mobile phones that were the toys of Wall Street millionaires a generation ago. Many of the things you own and use get better and cheaper every year, but some things — some heavily regulated, government-dominated things — get more expensive every generation, while the quality stagnates or declines. Prominent among these are education and health care. I am not one of those libertarians who just says, “The free market will take care of it!” as though that were an answer to every question. But imagine if the evolution of health care or higher education looked more like the evolution of the personal computer or the mobile phone and think about what that would have meant for the world. Capitalism does amazing things when we let it.

One of the reasons we don’t let capitalism do its thing is that we let our words confuse us. Inflation is one of those words. So is greed. So are profit, competition, compassion, cooperation, and capitalism itself.

We cannot think clearly until we can speak and write clearly.

Rampant Prescriptivism

When you are in a state of stressful suspense, you are on tenterhooks, not tender hooks.

A tenter is a wooden frame used for stretching and drying cloth. Think of a tent: cloth stretched over a frame. To be anxious about future developments was figuratively, at one time, to be on tenters, and later, on tenterhooks. One can see the general outline of how on tenterhooks might have evolved — stretched, taut, suspended, awaiting completion — but none of the sources I have seen gives a really persuasive account of precisely how that etymological evolution went.

But you are on tenterhooks, not tender hooks — though maybe you are on Tinder hooks, if that is your thing.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can buy my most recent book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. “And when will there be a new ‘most recent book?’” some of you have asked. Answer: about six months after I finish writing 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 Other News . . .

After a hard day’s beastliness . . .

Recommended

I have been enjoying Daniel Mark Epstein’s The Loyal Son: The War in Ben Franklin’s House. Did you know that Ben Franklin’s bastard son, William, was one of the leading Loyalists during the American Revolution? Now, that is a complicated family.

In Closing

Today is the feast day of St. Brigid, who is one of the patrons of Ireland and a great favorite of the pooh-poohers and would-be sophisticates, who revel in the fact that St. Brigid is a pretty clearly mythological figure, the pre-Christian pagan goddess Brigid swallowed whole by Catholic hagiography in the early days of Irish Christianity. This would not have come as a surprise to early Irish Christians, at least some of whom seem to have been well aware that the saint was none other than the goddess in minimal disguise and put that observation into writing more than 1,000 years ago. The church has long experience with this kind of thing: St. Christopher medals remain popular devotional items, but there isn’t much reason to suppose that the story about his carrying Jesus across a river on his back is anything other than a “charming legend,” to use a frequently recurring phrase in the Catholic literature. I would think that people who cannot quite agree about what happened in the last election — or what is happening right now with Covid or Russia or the economy — would understand that any enterprise that is still going after 2,000 years is going to have some stories attached to it, some legends, and some myths — and some outright fabrications, too.

The Catholic writer Hilaire Belloc once observed: “The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine — no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.” It is a great big vineyard, one that happily makes room for such knaves as us.

To subscribe to the Tuesday, follow this link.

Politics & Policy

Against Covid Theater, for Vaccine Pressure

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A sign displays mask-wearing information at Penn Station in New York City, August 2, 2021. (Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about politics, language, culture, and sundry additional considerations. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

A Few More Steps toward Normal

Come for the pancakes, stay for the Covid theater.

You probably have endured, and rolled your eyes at, the ridiculous experience of being made to wear a mask when walking into a restaurant, and then being permitted to remove it once you are seated. The silliness of this protocol intensifies in direct proportion to the crowdedness of the restaurant. Over the weekend, we went out for breakfast (we are traveling for a short vacation) at one of those very popular restaurants where patrons are seated very nearly shoulder-to-shoulder, and, because we are in a ski town, the waiters were obliged to step over and around all sorts of jackets and hats and sporting goods, with all the inevitable bumping into and brushing up against that goes along with that. Imagine boarding one of those insanely crowded Indian passenger trains but being required to wear a face mask while walking across the platform.

I tend toward the conservative and risk-averse side when it comes to anti-Covid measures, but this sort of thing is thoroughly asinine. I can buy a story in which at certain times public places have to be closed for reasons of public health, but it is very difficult to accept as convincing a story in which unmasked diners who are practically sitting in one another’s laps have to be defended from the threat of potential Covid carriers walking from the door to a table who are if anything farther away from the other diners when crossing the room than they are when seated. The same holds true of air travel: The mask-up/mask-down routine is largely ceremonial. I could accept the claim that it is too dangerous to fly at all or that it is too dangerous to allow passengers to be unmasked in the cabin, but I cannot take seriously the claim that it is too dangerous to allow passengers to be unmasked in the cabin unless there is a Bloody Mary involved, or one of those little Biscoff cookies.

On the other hand, I believe we should keep up the pressure on vaccination. The Biden administration was right to extend the vaccine requirement for air travelers to noncitizens arriving by land and by sea, a small but intelligent step. I believe that there is a reasonable case for requiring vaccination for domestic air and train travel; among other considerations, vaccinated people who suffer from breakthrough infections are less infectious than non-vaccinated people are. A highly vaccinated population is a textbook public good (non-rivalrous and non-excludable in consumption), and the creation of that public good is a legitimate use of federal power in air travel, which is subject to extensive federal oversight, and in train travel, which is mostly provided by Amtrak, a quasi-public corporation.

There are hotels and restaurants that require proof of vaccination for entry in jurisdictions where this is not required, acting on their own initiative. They are, in my view, within their rights to insist on this, and they are probably doing a public service in terms of contributing to norms and expectations. I do not like being asked to show my card, just as I do not like being asked for any other kind of personal information when engaged in an ordinary commercial exchange. (No, you may not have my telephone number, Cabela’s. I’m just not that into you.) But the epidemic has caused inconveniences for all of us, and has caused much worse than inconvenience for about 900,000 of us so far, a figure that continues to climb.

In the United States, there is talk of “discriminating against” unvaccinated people, and European cities — Athens, Helsinki, London, Paris, Stockholm — have seen rowdy protests against “vaccine passports,” which in some countries are required for access to many public spaces, from cafés to gyms. In both cases, the complaint is that the unvaccinated are being treated as “second-class citizens.”

To my mind, that is not really a complaint at all — it is a solution, or at least part of one. Vaccines are not magic, and they have proved more effective at preventing hospitalization and death than they have at preventing transmission of the virus per se. But relieving pressure on health systems and reducing transmission, even modestly, is a very great benefit. It is also the most that most of us can do to help to mitigate the effects of the epidemic short of becoming hermits. The anti-vaccine stuff is pure superstition, tribalism, and performative self-harm. Its place in our public life should be down there with astrology and Tarot readings.

It is not as though such modest measures would be unprecedented in the American experience. When I was in college, young men could not apply for financial aid if they had not met their Selective Service requirement, i.e., registering for the draft. The requirement was enforced in other similar ways, a combination of nagging and disadvantage. I have never fought in a war, but my veteran friends assure me it is much more disruptive and unpleasant than receiving a free, safe, effective vaccination against a potentially deadly infection.

Allowing life to return to something like normal for the vaccinated while continuing to pressure and inconvenience the unvaccinated is probably the best and most reasonable step toward normalcy we can take at this time.

Gestures toward Beijing

The so-called diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics is pretty weak tea, though Americans should be grateful that we are joined in this effort by a few stalwart allies — Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia — as well as by our friends in Lithuania, Belgium, Denmark, and Estonia. A few other allies — the Kiwis, the Dutch, the Swedes — are staying home, too, but citing Covid restrictions rather than taking a political stand. NBC is not sending reporters to the Olympics but will cover the games remotely while adding “geopolitical context,” as the broadcaster put it.

The Olympics are, of course, the great globalist booby prize, a dog-and-pony show that almost always ends up being more trouble than it was worth. Xi Jinping et al. can afford to take a loss on the Olympics and have reserved the option of running tanks over any feisty critics, and so Beijing intends to use the games for propaganda purposes. The propaganda value of the Olympics is overrated — the 1936 summer games did not do much for Adolf Hitler’s reputation — but Xi will take any opportunity that comes his way.

What I wonder is: Why participate at all?

If trying to organize world opinion against Beijing’s abuses at home and ambitions abroad is a project worth keeping a few diplomats at home for — diplomats whose absence never would have been noticed if the White House hadn’t sent out a press release — then maybe it is worth keeping the ice-dancing squad at home, too. The usual argument one hears against this is that it would be unfair to the athletes, who have spent so much time and effort preparing for the games, and who have given up so much in the service of their sport. I think of this a little bit like the way I think of vaccinations: A lot of the boys who died at Normandy and Huế probably didn’t think it was fair that they were there while other young men were safe and comfortable elsewhere. We aren’t asking that much of Americans right now. But you don’t change the world with painless little gestures that don’t cost anybody anything.

Are we serious about China or aren’t we?

For years, the German attitude toward authoritarian powers such as China was expressed in the phrase “Wandel durch Handel,” “change through trade.” The American position since the end of the Cold War has been very similar. Assessing the failures of that policy is politically difficult, because so much of the American populist interest in China has nothing to do with Wandel and everything to do with Handel — Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Joe Biden, and many other like-minded politicians saw our problems with Beijing in primarily economic terms, a matter of the balance of trade and much more urgently a matter of job-protection.

But our real problem with Beijing is not mainly economic. Our problem with China is that, like Russia and most other autocracies, its foreign policy is informed by the lessons it has learned from practicing tyranny and brutality at home. And our response has been incoherent because Americans know that they don’t like seeing “Made in China” on so much of the stuff they buy at Home Depot but aren’t really sure whether they care enough about the oppression of the Uyghurs to make the national bobsled team sit one out.

Until we figure out what we want out of our relationship with China, we aren’t going to get it.

Words About Words

In a recent radio conversation with Michael Medved (I do not have a link), I digressed a little on the subject of “red states,” a term — and a concept — that needs some scrutiny.

In most of the political world, especially in the West, the color blue is associated with conservative parties and the color red is associated — much more strongly, for obvious reasons — with parties of the Left. In the United States, we have that reversed, all because of one stupid television election map that became inescapable in the contested aftermath of the 2000 presidential election. (Donald Trump was not the first political failure to refuse to accept the outcome of the vote.) And so the “red states” are Republican states.

But, not so fast.

Mississippi is sometimes held up by progressive critics as the typical red state, for obviously cynical reasons: Mississippi is a relatively poor state (relative to other U.S. states, not relative to, say, France) and it has many of the social problems that go along with that poverty. I like Mississippi — it is an underrated state, I think — but it is not without its troubles. But the progressive argument — that Mississippi’s troubles are typical of the troubles of Republican states and the product of Republican governance — does not fly.

It is true that if you are a Republican presidential candidate, then you can be pretty confident in winning Mississippi’s votes in the Electoral College. The last Democrat to win Mississippi’s votes was Jimmy Carter — and the gentleman from Georgia’s performance in office was an excellent argument for never voting Democratic in a presidential election again.

But Mississippi remained a Democratic state, in terms of its own governance, until very recently. Mississippi had precisely one Republican governor in the course of the 20th century. The majority of its delegation to the U.S. House was Democratic as recently as 2010. Its state house was under Democratic control until only ten years ago. It seems to me very likely that Mississippi has been much more thoroughly shaped by its nearly 200 years of Democratic rule than by ten years of GOP control of the state government.

Democrats ran Mississippi from 1817 until 2012, effectively as a single-party state for much of that time. The term “red state” is used — intentionally, I think — to conflate how a state votes in presidential elections with how the state is governed, and by whom.

With all due consideration to my friends who have invested a great deal in the term “red state,” I think it is time to retire this misleading formulation.

Rampant Prescriptivism

On Sunday, I wrote that the most powerful and influential Americans are anxious to see talented young people such as Amanda Gorman succeed. A reader asks whether I really mean eager to see them succeed, rather than anxious.

As the reader suggests, the word anxious really wants an about rather than a to. (Some people reject that on “Good Enough for Jane Austen” grounds.”) Eager and anxious have very similar dictionary definitions (the words “wanting something very much” appear in both) but different connotations, with anxious naturally involving anxiety, fear or dread regarding something uncertain. As James Kilpatrick wrote in The Writer’s Art, “The distinction is worth preserving.”

There is anxiety in what I was writing about, but it would have been better to write: “eager to see them succeed and anxious that they will not.”

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com 

Home and Away

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

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

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

To support National Review Institute, go here.

In Other News . . .

The New York Times has a very long article on its libel of Sarah Palin, in which it explores many possible reasons why its libel of Sarah Palin should not be treated like a libel of Sarah Palin.

Recommended

I have been rereading some old Mickey Spillane novels: I, the Jury, Vengeance Is Mine, etc. They would probably be unpublishable if they were written today, and that is a shame — they are worth reading. Ayn Rand once said that the only writers who mattered were Ayn Rand and Mickey Spillane. As was so often the case, she was half-right.

In Closing

Today is the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. Tradition has it that he was among those who conspired to murder Saint Stephen, whose martyrdom is celebrated on December 26. (You know: “Good King Wenceslas looked out / On the Feast of Stephen.”) He is a very difficult character for me — the man who comes across in his letters is not especially likeable, and sometimes is so unlikeable that you want to join the other side. But, then, I sometimes feel the same way reading my own work. And there is the beginning — and the end — of my resemblance to the great apostle.

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U.S.

In Defense of Wealth, and the Wealthy

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Luxury boats at the Monaco Yacht Show in the port of Monaco, September 22, 2021. (Eric Gaillard/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about language, culture, politics, and other things that the late Terry Teachout wrote about with great intelligence and grace and charm that were an example to which the rest of us might aspire. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

Extreme Wealth Is Not a Problem

Item A: A friend in Florida recently noted the very expensive new townhouses that are going up in his neighborhood, new homes with a starting price of about $20 million. How is that even possible? he wondered. Who is buying these? Where do they come from? And why are they coming here? He concluded that eventually he would no longer be able to comfortably afford to live in the community where he has long resided. I listened with sympathy, even though it was a little peculiar to hear a resident of Fisher Island — the single-wealthiest community in the United States — complaining about gentrification.

Item B: Gentrification at the expense of the gentry is hardly limited to private islands in the United States. Rich Londoners are finding it difficult to afford London. In Zurich — which runs neck-and-neck with Hong Kong, Paris, and Singapore for the title of world’s most-expensive city — they were a little worried about becoming London, a city where the price of housing in the central part of the city was driven to astronomical heights in large part by foreigners (mostly from countries where politics is a lot more exciting than it is in the United Kingdom) who were in effect using the properties as depository banks, resulting in the odd situation of blocks of generally empty flats where no one could afford to live. Londoners worried about being priced out — as with Fisher Island, it was odd to hear the ladies and gentlemen of Knightsbridge and Kensington complaining of gentrification, but, there it was. Switzerland, being much smaller and therefore more sensitive to the flow of fast foreign money, didn’t want to see that happen in Zurich and its other major cities, so the Swiss passed a law that makes it very nearly impossible for a foreigner, no matter how wealthy, to buy a home in Zurich, Geneva, or Basel. And, playing against the exaggerated legend of Swiss financial secrecy, they forbid purchasing a house in the name of a company, meaning that Russian oligarchs and Chinese party bosses looking to sink their funds into a Swiss ski chalet (foreigners can still buy properties in designated resort areas) will have to explain where those funds came from, which might prove uncomfortable. Thus the struggling homeowners of Zurich (median home price $3 million) were protected from the dire threat of foreign money.

Item C: Many Americans are finding it difficult to buy a new car. The current wait to buy a Toyota Tundra pickup truck in Southern California is between nine months and 18 months. Some people who went onto waiting lists to buy 2021 cars never got them — and won’t. Jeep Wranglers are as scarce as hens’ teeth: A woman trading in a two-year-old Wrangler in Ohio over the summer was paid more for the trade-in than the car had cost new. (That’s bad news if you want to buy a Jeep, but great news if you want to sell one.) But do you know who is fulfilling their orders? Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Porsche, and, for the most part, BMW. As the Wall Street Journal explains, shortages of computer chips and other components caused big automotive conglomerates (Bentley and Porsche are Volkswagen products, Rolls-Royce is owned by BMW) to prioritize their highest-margin automobiles over other products. (By the way, if you are feeling like an underachiever, consider that the average age of a Rolls-Royce buyer today is a youthful 43 years old.) Rolls-Royce had a record year, in fact, selling 5,586 automobiles, half again as many as the prior year. Where is that money coming from? A booming stock market and cryptocurrency speculation, the Journal reports.

Item D: Supply-chain disruptions — ranging from complex global logistics challenges to the simple lack of output at factories shuttered because of the Covid-19 epidemic — have made it difficult to find many very different products at very different points across the price spectrum: As noted here at National Review, one restaurant menu inspired mirthful attention by advertising chicken wings at “Market Price,” a designation more often seen with lobster or other more rarefied protein.

(I do not recall ever having seen anything sold at “Market Price” at a vegetarian restaurant, though it may happen.)

But one product that currently stands out as extraordinarily difficult to find: the high-end wristwatches favored by the sort of people who are driving up Rolls-Royce sales. Rolex boutiques are almost entirely empty around the world, while the even more expensive brands have waiting lists that range from the long to the indefinite, and only favored customers can get on the waiting list. A couple of months ago, I walked past an Audemars Piguet boutique that was for some reason paying for retail space and staff in spite of the fact that the shop had not a single item for sale in it. This is a place at which you could expect to pay $25,000 for a basic steel watch (and well into the six figures for something more elevated), and the inventory was gone. Other high-end makers (Patek, Vacheron Constantin, etc.) are in similar situations. Who on earth is buying these? Some of it is tulip mania: As new watches became more difficult to find, “flipping” timepieces became more attractive (at the moment, a highly desirable Rolex Daytona sold at the authorized-dealer’s price of $12,550 might go for $40,000 on the secondary market), which led to speculators snatching up what inventory remained, creating a kind of vicious circle. Some of it is that the fine Swiss watch is the (relatively) poor man’s London flat: As one cynical Chinese businessman put it, it is nice to have on your person at all times something that could plausibly be traded for a flight to anywhere in the world, if it should come to that. Some of it is just the same great sloshing torrent of gains accruing to stock investors and financial speculators.

Item E: In October, somebody paid $2.33 million for a 1991 cask of Macallan whiskey that came with a specially commissioned NFT — the digital tulip of our time.

These news items, and others like them, have the usual people making the usual complaints about the usual villains: the world’s wealthy. Of course, now we call them “super-wealthy” or “ultra-wealthy,” partly because almost everybody is so much wealthier than he was a generation ago, partly because we are stupidly addicted to pseudo-intensifiers (which is why so many presumably literate professional writers insist on wrongly calling the center of something the “epicenter,” a word that means — notice, now — “not the actual center”), and partly because it is natural to mob politics that the smallest available minority (say, the “1 percent”) is the preferred enemy of the People. If some people are having a hard time of it, then it must be because some other people are having a very good time of it — so the dumb thinking of our time goes.

We keep failing to learn the lesson of the Battle of the Yacht Tax — one of the many lessons of the 1990s that we should have taken to heart by now but have not.

Toward the end of his presidency, George H. W. Bush did something that helped ensure that it was the end of his presidency: cutting a budget deal with congressional Democrats that raised taxes in spite of his famous 1988 pledge: “Read my lips: No new taxes!” One of the new taxes instituted in 1990 was a 10-percent luxury tax on certain targeted rich-guy (and rich-lady) indulgences such as yachts and furs. You can see the populist argument: Why raise taxes on regular people who count on a paycheck every two weeks, or cut spending that benefits them, when you could just make a wildly expensive yacht a little more expensive? There were a couple of errors baked into that tax-policy cake: One was the assumption that yacht buyers are not very price-sensitive, but they are — price-sensitivity tends to go along with the other qualities of mind that cause people to end up with enough money to buy yachts and the like. The second error was completely ignoring the supply side of the equation: Yes, the people who buy yachts are rich as Croesus, but the people who make yachts aren’t — they are blue-collar workers and craftsmen. Some of the people who sell yachts end up pretty rich, but most of them are salesmen and managers with pretty ordinary incomes. And the luxury tax on yachts pummeled their livelihoods. Overall boat sales fell by almost half, and the sales of the big boats that would have produced big tax liabilities fell by 80 percent. Thousands of jobs were lost, many of them in the states of tax-the-rich Democrats such as Ben Cardin of Maryland, now a senator but a member of the House at that time.

Just as Senator Elizabeth Warren wants to pillage the rich except for the ones who make their money manufacturing high-margin medical devices in Massachusetts, and Democrats at large want to soak all the millionaires except the ones that have shockingly high property-tax bills in San Francisco and Greenwich, Democrats who had supported the yacht tax discovered the hard way that tax policy implicates everybody, that taxes aimed at the rich hit ordinary workers and middle-class people rather than just a few Thurston Howell III types.

In contrast, the sale of luxury goods is a pretty effective way to transfer income from the wealthy to less-wealthy people who manufacture, sell, maintain, design, market, ship, package, finance, and insure the things they buy, from the well-off engineer in California who designs the product to the hourly worker who hauls it up the stairs of the buyer’s mansion. I recently spoke with the manager of a high-end watch boutique, an immigrant who studied at the famous Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, which sounds pretty fancy but which is, in reality, the Harvard of hospitality schools, a place where students learn to do the unglamorous work behind the scenes in glamorous enterprises. Would that manager be better off if there weren’t people willing and able to pay $50,000 for a watch? I would imagine that selling $10 plastic watches at Walmart is more work and pays a good deal less.

The silly thinking of class-war politics is at odds with the fundamental facts: Boat-builders would be a lot worse off, and certainly no better off, if confiscatory taxes prevented anybody from becoming wealthy enough to buy a yacht. A lot of people with very modest incomes would be desperately poor — or dependents — if we all started cleaning our own houses and cutting our own grass like good egalitarians, if we all started eating home-cooked beans instead of going out for the occasional ribeye — or even wings at “Market Price.”

Today’s staple was yesterday’s luxury: Jane Austen did not live in a cave, but she wrote at a time when beef was a luxury or near-luxury often out of the reach of the poor, and now it is something to be had on the McDonald’s dollar menu. How did that come to pass? It is not as though some new kind of cow were invented in 1817 that solved the problem of beef scarcity. The consumption enjoyed by wealthy people spurs investment in the goods and services the wealthy demand, and markets are often — though by no means always — pretty good at democratizing consumption. Some of that is pretty straightforward manufacturing economics: producing the first widget is pretty expensive but, once you have set up the widget factory, producing the 10-millionth widget is radically less expensive. Research and development targeted at high-margin products for the wealthy ends up enabling consumption of the same goods by less-wealthy people, which is why damned few Millennials have ever rolled down a car window, and no teenager today knows what to do with a telephone that plugs into the wall and has a rotary dial. Jamie Dimon may fly around on JPMorgan’s private jet, but J. P. Morgan himself never hopped on an airplane for a three-day weekend in Las Vegas the way a lot of ordinary schmucks can afford to do today. The glamorous connotations of the term “jet set” may sound faintly ridiculous in a world in which Spirit Airlines exists, but we have jet service for ordinary people because we had it for wealthy people first. And if the wealthy in our time prefer to fly private, that is about $5,000 an hour out of their pockets into the pockets of the people who make that rarefied luxury possible.

The United States does not suffer from having too many billionaires. If it suffers from anything, it is from having too many poor people, which, for some reason, we insist on importing in considerable numbers — and the Chamber of Commerce now proposes doubling immigration to solve the “labor crisis.” I am not sure there is a labor crisis. I am very sure that the labor market has changed in dramatic ways in the Covid-19 era, and that it is much more expensive to fill many kinds of jobs than it was a few years ago. Some of that is organic and some of it the result of public policy, including some not very intelligent public policy discouraging work. (But refusing to police the border and declining to enforce employment-eligibility rules are policy decisions, too. So is driving the interest rates on regular savings accounts down to approximately 0.00 percent while subsidizing the interest rates Oberlin graduates pay on their student loans. I could go on.) If the changed economic landscape means that wages for certain labor-intensive jobs goes up, even at the expense of business profits, then nobody will be better pleased than I.

But it isn’t just Covid and extended unemployment benefits: As many economists and business leaders have observed, firms looking to reduce costs by substituting capital for labor (through automation and such) already have gathered much of the low-hanging fruit, and workers, especially those in service, are starting to discover that they are not as easily replaceable by robots as some had imagined. DIY ordering on a touchscreen may work just fine at a burger joint, but it is not going to fly in places with white tablecloths and $60 entrees. Self-checkout is great for cranky misanthropes who would pay 5 percent extra not to talk to a cashier at Home Depot or Whole Foods (guilty!) but the people at Neiman Marcus are going to want some human attention.

When it comes to transferring income from capital to labor, a tight labor market is the best social-welfare program there is.

Words About Words

In spite of the occasional folk etymologies claiming otherwise, the word crass is derived neither from the famously wealthy Lydian king Croesus (usually pronounced KREE-sus) nor from the famously wealthy Roman triumvir Marcus Licinius Crassus, with whom he often is confused. Croesus is a kind of Solomon-Midas figure (according to a BBC history feature, Midas was believed to have rid himself of his golden curse by bathing in the Lydian river from which the nation’s gold was extracted) whose name has been used in English as a byword for wealth since the 14th century. Crassus, on the other hand, has been associated with avarice and licentiousness since Plutarch wrote about him in the first century Anno Domini. It wouldn’t be wrong to compare a rich man’s wealth to that of the man said to be the richest Roman, but it is the Greek you usually want when you say: “Richer than Croesus.”

The Latin crassus means physically dense or thick, but its English cognate has been used to mean mentally dense or thick, and then more commonly to mean socially inelegant or awkwardly grasping, as in a “crass opportunist.”

Also from above: While it might be tempting to write that the yacht tax decimated the boat-building industry, it was, as noted, far worse than that, reducing yacht sales by 80 percent. To decimate something is, as the word suggests, to reduce it by one-tenth. Decimation — killing every tenth member of the group — was a collective punishment inflicted on soldiers for mutiny or desertion. It sounds really bad — so bad that is it very often wrongly used to describe something that was, in numerical terms, much worse.

Rampant Prescriptivism

A reader wants to know: Can an inanimate object boast?

I say: no. Not really.

You will sometimes see sentences such as: “The home boasts five en-suite bedrooms.” (Yes, you want the hyphen there, when en-suite functions as a compound modifier; but you don’t require it if you write: “Each bedroom has a bathroom en suite.”) But a house (it’s always a home when somebody is trying to sell you something) does not boast, or brag, or rejoice, or anything of the sort. This is marketing language at work, and marketing language should always be regarded with contempt.

Boast may legitimately be used to mean “possess something that is a point of pride,” but this should be used for people, who feel pride, or for organizations, which are made of people: “Apple boasts the highest sales of any company in its industry.” In the same way, you might write: “Ferrari rejoices in its 238 Grand Prix victories,” but not “The SF90 Spider rejoices in its 986 horsepower.”

(It occurs to me that this week’s newsletter makes it sound like I have won the Powerball. I haven’t.)

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

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

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Beastly Happenings

Pope Francis criticizes people in the rich world who have substituted pets for children. His Holiness is not wrong to do so, but I am pretty sure that Pancake has become a Lutheran.

In Closing

The treatment of Novak Djokovic enraged Serbian nationalists, who have taken the great athlete as a mascot. But the hero of Serbian nationalism is at last safe back at home — in Monte Carlo. Or was it Marbella? Or Manhattan? Or Miami? These modern nationalists are damned hard for a rootless cosmopolitan to keep up with.

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Energy & Environment

The Nuclear Option

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Workers on a natural gas drilling platform in the Barnett Shale in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2008. (Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about language, politics, and thermonuclear reactions. To subscribe to the Tuesday — and please do! — follow this link.

Which Externalities?

The most important question in almost every public-policy debate is: Compared to what? And so it is with nuclear energy and, to a lesser extent, with natural gas, both of which are likely to receive more liberal regulatory and financial treatment in the European Union under a recently proposed policy change. This raises important questions for the European Union, of course, but also for the United States, India, and even China, all of which have growing power needs that come with environmental complications attached.

One of the concepts that comes up often in the discussion of environmental policy is externalities. An externality is an effect created by some economic activity, one that is incidental to the activity itself and that has some consequence for a third party that is not accounted for in the price of the good or service. There are both positive and negative externalities, but, when it comes to regulation, we usually are worried about negative externalities. Externalities often involve damage to public goods, and the textbook case is air pollution. None of the parties involved in producing and consuming diesel pays in a direct way for the air pollution caused by diesel engines and, because in most circumstances nobody has a property right in ambient air quality, nobody has standing to sue or to demand relief, even assuming that a meaningfully responsible party could be identified. (Some very cranky libertarians will tell you that there is no such thing as an externality, only a problem of insufficiently defined property rights, which may be a valid philosophical point but one that is of very little practical use in policy-making.) We can’t say, “Let the market take care of it,” because there is no market mechanism for taking care of it (though it is possible to create market mechanisms through regulation, as in cap-and-trade schemes), we can’t let the courts sort the question out as a policy dispute, and so we turn to lawmakers and regulators to address the issue.

Often, they fail to do so. Many of our progressive friends who are quick to point to a lack of market incentives to address environmental problems neglect the fact that the political incentives often are stacked against environmental action, too. There is, for example, the familiar phenomenon of “concentrated benefits and dispersed costs”; everybody knows that burning coal causes air pollution, and nobody is in favor of air pollution, but people in coal-mining areas care a great deal more about their jobs than they do about whether the air quality in some faraway city gets 0.005 percent better or 0.005 percent worse next year. Christopher Buckley’s “Yuppie Nuremberg Defense” — “I was only paying the mortgage!” — is not reserved exclusively to highly paid metropolitan professionals but informs blue-collar politics and farm-town politics to a considerable extent, too.

Using nuclear power to produce electricity comes with externalities, and using coal to produce electricity comes with externalities — but they are not the same externalities. Different externalities can be weighted differently. At the moment, the environmental externality that most concerns the majority of the world’s policy-makers is, rightly or wrongly, the greenhouse-gas emissions associated with climate change. Operating a coal-fired power plant, even a very sophisticated modern one, produces a lot of greenhouse-gas emissions; operating a gas-fired plant produces only half as much, and less in some circumstances; operating a nuclear plant produces none at all. The common estimates of the admittedly slippery issue of “embedded carbon” — meaning the total greenhouse-gas emissions associated with building facilities, transporting fuel to them, disposing of them when they have completed their periods of operation, etc. — find nuclear to be not only less carbon-intensive (as measured by emissions per unit of electricity) than coal and gas but also a better performer than solar (the manufacture and maintenance of which is more complicated than is widely understood), which produces about twice as much in the way of greenhouse gases as nuclear. On that score, nuclear runs neck-and-neck with wind but offers one important and obvious benefit that wind does not and cannot: reliable 24-hour power on tap irrespective of the weather.

The European Union takes, at least as a matter of rhetoric and aspiration, a much stronger line on climate change than does the United States, where the issue is much more wrapped up in the tribal-partisan divide; but Europe also is looking at a cold winter with high energy prices, probably headed higher, and low fuel supplies. The Germans have some reason to suspect that Putin Inc. may not be the best or most reliable fuel supplier but have put themselves in an unnecessarily difficult position by nuking their nuclear-energy industry, with the last of Germany’s nuclear plants scheduled to cease operations this year. (The French, showing their too-rarely-seen sensible side, produce more than 70 percent of their electricity with nuclear power and have very little trouble doing it.) And so it is not entirely surprising that the European Commission (the European Union’s executive arm, in effect) has come up with a proposal that would reclassify nuclear power as officially green — or green enough, anyway, “sustainable” — while taking a gentler line on natural gas, too, labeling it a tolerable “transitional” fuel source. The European Union being the European Union, it also is not a surprise that this proposal comes with enough caveats and qualifiers that, even if enacted without further amendment, it could very well end up having no practical effect on investment and development.

Germany is the world’s fourth-largest consumer of coal, behind China, India, and the United States (the least-populous of which has four times as many people as Germany) and relies on coal for more than a fourth of its electricity. Switching Germany’s coal-powered generation to nuclear- or gas-fired generation would, ceteris paribus (though it ain’t never paribus) reduce worldwide coal consumption by about 3 percent — a significant sum, though doing the same in China and India would reduce worldwide coal consumption by almost two-thirds. Germany also has a new coalition government in which Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats are allied with the Greens and the Free Democrats. The Greens, who are the senior junior partner in the coalition (the libertarian Free Democrats hold only 92 of the 416 seats that make up the coalition, compared with 118 Greens) are, for reasons of history and ideological inertia, bitterly opposed to nuclear power, and for years called for the immediate closure of all German nuclear-power plants. But the Greens also insist that climate change must be at the top of the agenda for Germany, for the European Union, and for the world. Traumatic memories of the Cold War notwithstanding, nuclear power is the most direct and prudent means of decarbonizing electricity production.

And because the German debate is happening in a wider European context, it is necessary to keep in mind that other European Union members are at the moment heavily reliant on coal for electricity: Coal produces 40 percent of the power in the Czech Republic and 70 percent of the power in Poland. Switching to natural gas would cut the associated emissions roughly in half; switching to nuclear would as a practical matter eliminate them entirely.

The European Union might consider the recent history of the U.S. energy industry for an example. The United States has not implemented any very ambitious national policy to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, but the United States has seen a steady improvement in its emissions thanks to the market-driven substitution of natural gas for coal in electricity generation. That cheap gas came onto the market largely thanks to hydraulic fracturing — “fracking” — which comes with environmental challenges of its own, the most important one being the handling and disposal of toxic wastewater from wells. That is a real problem, in that toxic wastewater can, if improperly handled, do all sorts of damage to life and health. What it does not do is contribute to global warming. Natural gas is not anything like 100 percent in the clear when it comes to greenhouse-gas emissions; it is simply better — much — than coal on that front. To the extent that natural gas does exacerbate climate concerns, some of that is a matter of deficient drilling and storage practices (methane “flaring,” for example) but some of it is simply a consequence of burning natural gas for energy. The immediate relevant question for those who put climate change at the top of their agenda is whether they would like large improvements related to changing coal for gas now or wait for the possibility of larger improvements at some point in the future reliant on technologies that have not yet been developed. (Yes, wind and solar exist; wind and solar that can reliably and efficiently replace existing generating capacity without the support of an independent source of baseload production do not yet exist.) Toxic drilling wastewater is an environmental externality that can be intelligently and responsibly managed.

And, more relevant from a climate-change point of view, so can the waste from nuclear-power facilities. We do not have to pretend that it is not a tricky business or that there are no risks involved; but if those who say that climate change should be our No. 1 consideration in these matters really mean it, then taking on the relatively straightforward problem of handling nuclear waste in exchange for the very complex problem of trying to reduce emissions in some other way would be a very good trade, accepting a small and manageable externality in place of a big, hairy, and complicated one.

Of course, generating electricity is only one of the relevant sectors: Other industrial processes, agriculture, and — especially — transportation all have pretty big emissions footprints, too. But it is foolish to try to put together a single plan of action that would address each of these at the same time under the same program, and to allow radical improvements that can be made relatively easily in the here and now to be held hostage to utopian fantasy. Anybody who tells you that you can swap an energy industry with lots of externalities for one with no externalities (or only a few) is either ignorant or delusional or willfully misleading you; the real question is: Which externalities do you prefer?

Europe could do itself a considerable environmental favor — and an even bigger geopolitical favor — by ramping up its own natural-gas production; the continent is blessed with a considerable supply of the stuff, which sits in the ground unused because of political opposition to hydraulic fracturing and other modern modes of development. Another option would be for Europeans to do in a bigger way what they already are doing: turning to imports of natural gas from the United States. We Americans are, uncharacteristically, missing an opportunity to profit from this: Our capacity for processing natural gas into LNG (liquified natural gas) for export to Europe and points east is limited, and new facilities have been kept in bureaucratic limbo for months and years — there wasn’t a single new North American LNG project approved in 2021. Only one broke ground in 2020.

While our progressive friends dream of Green New Deals and modern economies powered by good intentions, wishful thinking, and unicorn flatulence, about 40 percent of the world’s electricity at this moment still comes from coal. Left-wing populists in the United States worry about the trade deficit as much as right-wing populists do, but they also stand in the way of developing the infrastructure that would make it easier and more profitable to export the fuels we already make. Displacing some great share of that coal with natural gas would be an environmental win and, if the United States could manage to be halfway smart about it, an economic win, too. Forgoing these advantages is foolish, and it is at least as foolish for the nations with the ability to avail themselves of the benefits of nuclear power to fail to do so — to refuse to do so for reasons that amount to superstition.

The European Union is ready to take a baby step in the right direction. The United States needs to take practical and realistic steps in the same direction but remains at least as paralyzed and sclerotic as the European Union, if not more so, and finds itself in that sorry situation for similar reasons. Cutting greenhouse-gas emissions, reducing the efficacy of economic coercion from Russia and other gangster states, supporting new export-driven industrial jobs in the United States and in friendly countries — you could call that a Green New Deal, if you liked, and it would be a great deal more sensible and effective than anything else currently marketed under that name.

Words About Words

Jay Nordlinger writes about Nashville:

There is also a memorial to fallen police officers. I don’t really like that word “fallen” — sounds too pretty, almost. Poetic. “Killed” may be better. As far as I’m concerned, police officers are, in a sense, at war every day, in behalf of all of us.

I used to proof-read Jay’s magazine galleys. I found a typo, once (once), but never a mistake as such. And I haven’t found one here, either, though the last sentence does raise an issue. (No, it does not beg the question.) And that issue is: in behalf of vs. on behalf of.

Most of us are more used to reading on behalf of. To act or to speak on behalf of someone else is to act as their representative: “I attended the conference in Arizona on behalf of ACME Rocket Skates Inc.” “I am speaking on behalf of those who cannot be here to speak for themselves.” “His proxy voted on his behalf.”

In behalf of means in the best interest of someone else. That is a similar but not identical qualifier. William F. Buckley Jr.: “I’ve always believed that conservatism is the politics of reality, and that reality ultimately asserts itself in a reasonably free society, in behalf of the conservative position.” W. H. Conant: “Perhaps we need an Anti-License League to resist the encroachments on our freedom to have our own offspring educated as we desire. Let us hope it will not require a great hue and cry of propaganda in behalf of Parental Freedom.”

Of course, it is possible to act simultaneously in someone’s behalf and on his behalf, as lawyers often do. But it is important to understand which is which.

In other wordly news, here is a CNN headline that makes no damned sense at all:

‘America’s Dad’ Bob Saget also loved dirty jokes. He mastered both.

Both what? As written, it sounds like there are only two dirty jokes in existence. That is not the case, as Bob Saget was well aware. And to what does that also refer?

Picture Samuel L. Jackson here demanding: “English, motherf***er — do you speak it?”

Also: I’ve noticed that more than one English-speaking German broadcaster pronounces nuclear Bush-style, “NUKE-u-lar.” My theory here is that this pronunciation is in fact more a variation on the first syllable than on the second; if you pronounce the first syllable of the word “nu,” then the following “cl” sound is an easy transition; but if you pronounce the first syllable of the word “nuke,” then it feels more natural to make the transition to the second “u” sound rather than the “l.” I would guess, then, that the “NUKE-u-lar” pronunciation is most common where the slang “nuke” is used. But that’s just a guess.

Rampant Prescriptivism

Reticent does not mean hesitant.

The words almost rhyme, and reticent suggests a flavor of hesitation in that it describes a disinclination to act by speaking, but there the similarities end. Consider this from Reuters:

“We’re setting up for a structural shortage of LNG capacity,” said Reid Morrison, global energy advisory leader at PwC in Houston. “There is reticence to taking a long-term position in natural gas given the net zero commitments that different governments are making.”

To be reticent is to be disinclined to speak; the word has nothing to do with other kinds of non-communicative actions, such as making long-term investments in this or that. Morrison might have said that there is hesitation or hesitancy (or, if you must, hesitance) about or resistance to those investments, or reluctance, but not reticence.

That being written, reticence is an excellent quality, one that our world could use much more of.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

I didn’t think much of Sam Quinones’s latest book, The Least of Us.

Both men would probably loathe the comparison, but Quinones is in a sense a version of Tucker Carlson, another child of the old California aristocracy. Quinones is the son of a Harvard-educated Claremont professor, [one who was] a former president of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics later appointed to the board of the National Council for the Humanities by George W. Bush — but one who offers himself as a journalistic tribune of the plebs, a voice for a marginalized underclass he knows in an essentially anthropological way, who are not his people but his profession. I do not fault Quinones for being born to privilege; I blame him only for his failure to overcome the difficulties imposed by such an upbringing.

More in Commentary.

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In Other News . . .

Even in winter, Texas is not without sunny spots.

Recommended

I’ve recently reread Hilaire Belloc’s The Great Heresies. It is bracing. You might enjoy it, provided you are not the sort of person who is easily offended, in which case, you might really, really not enjoy it at all.

In Closing

Today is the feast day of Blessed William Carter, a printer and publisher who was imprisoned, tortured, and, finally, drawn and quartered by the government of Queen Elizabeth I for printing things the Crown did not wish to see printed. Tyrants and fanatics have always had a special place in their hearts — and their dungeons — for dissident printers and publishers, and they always will. Carter should remind us that to run a press with the courage of one’s convictions has at many times in history been as dangerous as fighting in a war. In many places in our unhappy world, it still is.

On a lighter note, he is the only Billy Carter anybody is likely ever to call blessed.

World

Free Speech, America-Style

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(Niyazz/iStock/Getty Images)

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Free-Speech Lessons from Abroad

It is not the case that Canada, Western Europe, and Australia are authoritarian hellholes where illiberal rulers trample mercilessly upon the civil rights of their hapless subjects. But it is the case that American-style free-speech protections, as enshrined in the First Amendment, do not exist in these places. And that matters. It matters in those countries, and it matters in the United States, where the legal protection of free speech faces the threat of being suffocated by social pressure on both private and public actors to suppress speech that is deemed — almost always opportunistically and vindictively — dangerous.

It is likely that, as a matter of global consensus, one set of rules is going to prevail: the American model or the European model — or, rather than “European,” the model that more closely resembles the narrower practices in most of the liberal democracies outside the United States.

Consider the case of Australia, where courts have ruled that there is no personal right to free speech, in spite of the country’s notional protections for freedom of political communication. In one important case, a worker in the national government’s immigration agency was fired for criticizing the agency’s performance in the matter of offshore immigration-detention facilities. She used a pseudonym, did not advertise her connection to the agency, made the posts on her own time from a personal device, etc. There was no real employment issue — she was simply fired for saying what she thinks, in private life. In another high-profile case, a high-court judge described free-speech rights as “still not yet settled law.” No doubt the judge is correct — but such rights should be settled law. These are fundamental things.

Australia’s laws are much more like those that apply in Europe than they are like our own. Australian law varies by jurisdiction, but there are sanctions on so-called hate speech (and other kinds of speech) everywhere in the country, and, in some instances, those penalties are criminal rather than merely civil. As we have seen in both the English-speaking countries and in Europe, what counts as hate speech is easily expanded, meaning that the real scope of free speech is easily narrowed. In Germany, Christian pastors have been arrested for preaching against homosexuality. The same is true in Sweden. And England. And in the United States, too — even constitutional protection will not avail against committed institutional opposition.

Of course, there is always some pretext, some argument that free speech does not apply in this case because the speakers are not really speaking but inciting, creating some kind of real and present danger. There may be some merit to some of those arguments in some circumstances, but they are quickly and easily perverted. For example, the fact that trans people have a relatively high rate of suicide has been (cynically and opportunistically) taken to mean that criticism of trans-related political stances and ideologies are literal violence against trans people, who, being traumatized by political disagreement, presumably will jump off the nearest bridge. That isn’t much of an exaggeration.

The countries that have the most compelling argument for exceptions to free political speech are, for obvious reasons, German-speaking. In Austria, for example, the law allows for imprisoning people — for years — for the crime of selling certain books. (You can guess which ones.) Germany, guided by the doctrine of streitbare Demokratie — “militant democracy,” the notion that liberal democracies must sometimes act in illiberal and antidemocratic ways to defend the fundamental elements of liberalism and democracy — gives the state the power to prohibit not only books and films but also to ban political parties that are deemed hostile to the German constitutional order. To American ears, this sounds shocking — or, it once did: Increasingly, Americans, especially younger Americans, sympathize with such limitations on freedom of speech and freedom of political action.

Given the current character of American political life, what should interest us more than how they handle nationalist literature in Vienna is the question of how they use Covid-era anti-disinformation laws in Ankara — and how the Turkish government does it under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is pretty much how you would expect: Critics of the government’s response to the epidemic were rounded up on charges of sowing panic and spreading disinformation, for the crime of suggesting “that officials had taken insufficient measures,” as Reuters put it. In December, Erdoğan announced that social media had “turned into one of the main sources of threats to today’s democracy” and that his government would pursue measures to criminalize “misinformation.” The first bit of information to respond to there is pretending that the biggest threat to democracy in Turkey is someone other than Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. But that is not how this will go.

The coronavirus epidemic has provided cover for authoritarian regimes around the world looking to crack down on dissidents. As Foreign Policy reported, by April of 2020 at least 17 people had been arrested on “fake news” charge in Cambodia; Thailand labeled most criticism of the regime’s coronavirus program as “misinformation” and arrested critics; the predictably thuggish regimes of Egypt, Russia, Hungary, Iran, the Philippines, Honduras, and Azerbaijan behaved exactly as expected, while the governments of Singapore and South Africa both reverted to their illiberal instincts.

Do not think, for a second, that it couldn’t happen here. These same illiberal instincts are ascendant in the United States, as well. But, for the moment, they are constrained by the Bill of Rights. And that is to be celebrated and cherished. But protecting American rights in American law is not enough. Law can put the brakes on the worst impulse in the culture, but culture always wins.

And there is more than American culture and American law in play here.

As I have argued for some time, Americans should keep an eye on speech regulations abroad, because these are likely to provide the model for the de facto regulation of free speech in the United States by social-media platforms. In much the same way that California’s more stringent statewide environmental rules end up becoming in effect a national standard for many industries, it is likely the case that relatively illiberal European speech rules will become the consensus global standard absent some real leadership on that issue from the United States — which is nowhere to be seen. The reason for this is not mainly political or ideological but managerial: Mark Zuckerberg, among others, has forthrightly called for a “more standardized approach” to regulation. Market incumbents always prefer standardization. Regulatory compliance is a cost center, not a profit center, and it is much less expensive and less cumbrous to comply with a single body of regulation than with hundreds or thousands of them.

I am a believer in a rules-based international order and understand that such systems require consensus and compromise. But in the matter of free speech, we should expend at least some effort to ensure that the rules that emerge are rules that reflect American values, which are, in this case at least, the ones that most deserve to prevail. There is much to admire about governance in Germany or New Zealand, but their milk-and-water approach to free speech is not one of them.

Words About Words

One comes across all sorts of inexplicable usages on the Internet. Last week, in response to my New Year’s column about the virtues of going to bed at 9 p.m., a reader affirmed that he was “gonna have to Rolex to 22:00,” meaning 10 p.m. I do not recall ever having seen “to Rolex” used as a verb, and cannot begin to guess what it hopes to mean.

But the brand name is kind of an interesting story. There is no Mr. Rolex — there was a Mr. Wilsdorf, Hans, a German-born entrepreneur who started the London-based watchmaker Wilsdorf & Davis in 1905. Very likely owing to the unpleasantness transpiring between Great Britain and Germany at the time, Wilsdorf changed the name of his company to “Rolex” in 1914. There is a story, never confirmed by anyone with direct knowledge of the issue, that “Rolex” is a loose portmanteau of the French words “horlogerie exquise,” or “exquisite watchmaking,” but Wilsdorf always said the name just came to him, ex nihilo. It does seem to be the case that, contrary to current tastes, neither obviously French nor obviously German names carried any great cachet in the market at the time, and Rolex, which along with Nestlé must be one of the best-known Swiss brands in the world, was still an English company. Swiss watches did not enjoy the lofty position they occupy today, and both English and American watches were very popular at the time. There was no particular value in a Swiss-sounding name.

“Rolex” is an example of canned cosmopolitanism in branding, a word with no particular national or cultural connotations and meaning — precisely — nothing. Corporate marketing monkeys work hard coming up with that sort of thing, especially in our time. Pharmaceutical companies (and their products) are famous for having hilariously vague, meaningless names, but other examples include brand names such as Lexus, a name that vaguely references “luxury” and takes a perfectly globalist pseudo-Latin form. (The legend that Lexus is Toyota’s in-house acronym for “Luxury Exports to the United States” is amusing, but without basis.) Similarly, there was no Mr. Kodak — the syllables are meaningless, but easy to pronounce and memorable. Xerox has a similar paternity.

The opposite phenomenon is “foreign branding.” The textbook example of this is Häagen-Dazs, a company started in the South Bronx by Reuben and Rose Mattus, Polish Jewish immigrants who chose the nonsense name because they thought it sounded Danish and associated Denmark with high-quality dairy products. Other examples include Pret a Manger (British), Giordano (Hong Kong), Frusen Glädjé (a Kraft brand of American origin), New Yorker (a German clothier), etc. Alcott Los Angeles, an Italian brand, would more accurately be called Alcott Milan. Both Miniso of Guangzhou and Superdry of Cheltenham play at being Japanese companies, a remarkable testament to how quickly “Made in Japan” went from being the mark of cheap imports to a badge of high quality and high style. The electric-guitar maker Ibanez was named in honor of the luthier Salvador Ibáñez at a time when Japanese manufacturers did not always emphasize their Japanese origins. Today, Ibanez’s most expensive instruments are very prominently advertised as “Made in Japan” and given the designation “J Custom,” J for Japan.

Back to the beginning: Rolex may be one of the great symbols of capitalism, and may even be taken in some quarters as a symbol of greed, but the watchmaker in fact is entirely owned by a charitable nonprofit, the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation, in much the same way that the charitable Hershey Trust owns a big chunk (but not the whole) of the chocolatier.

Rampant Prescriptivism

A note to our friends in broadcasting: The Covid variant currently in the news is designated “omicron,” after the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet. And though it may sometimes seem omnipresent and even omnivorous, it is not the “omni-cron” variant, as one hears it often called on television and radio. The omniscious will know this already.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

Do you know who could help Bill de Blasio become New York’s next governor? Satan. More in the New York Post.

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

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 a whole graveyard of bones to pick with Dennis Prager these days, and there is one that is (to extend and possibly to mix the metaphor) stuck in my craw. Prager, in the course of defending himself from some uncomfortable criticism, felt the need to flesh out his views on the Bible, a subject he takes seriously. (Seriously enough to have written several books interpreting the books of the Bible in his “Rational Bible” series, as well as a book on the Ten Commandments.) Prager was being lambasted for a 2006 column in which he bitterly criticized Keith Ellison, a Muslim elected to the House of Representatives, for taking his oath of office on a Koran rather than on a Bible. Prager argued that the issue is not that he thinks poorly of Muslims or their holy book, but that the Bible — the Christian Bible, Old and New Testaments — is a national symbol.

The Bible is, of course, no such thing. It is holy scripture, and it is a particularly Christian possession, not the property of politics, politicians, or political pundits. Contrary to Prager’s insistence, there no such thing as an “American Bible.” Christianity is not a matter subordinate to national culture or to political sensibility. It is answerable to no party and to no state. The Bible long precedes the establishment of these United States and it will, if it comes to that, outlast them, too.

To treat the Bible as a mere national symbol is not, whatever Prager’s good intentions, to elevate it — it is to denigrate it, to make it something less than what it is, while improperly elevating the political pageant to the realm of the sacred, to liturgy. From Pharoah’s domain to Adolf Hitler’s, the road that begins at nationalism always ends at idolatry, the paganism of the state, its princes, and their rituals.

Perhaps it would be better to take the advice of the Gospel according to Matthew and to take no oaths at all, to instead speak plainly and let your good word, your “Yes” or “No,” stand for itself. “I say unto you, swear not at all. . . but let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”

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National Security & Defense

Stick It to Vlad

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (center), Chief of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov (left), and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu arrive to oversee the Kavkaz 2020 multinational military exercises in Astrakhan Region, Russia, September 25, 2020. (Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via Reuters)

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Expand NATO?

Just as the family budget is not really a very good model of the national economy, schoolyard rules are not normally the best guide for international relations. That being said, sometimes the best thing for a bully is giving him a bloody nose.

With China having comprehensively eclipsed Russia as the baddest bad actor among nation-states on the world stage, Vladimir Putin is begging for attention from the West. Perhaps it is time to give him some.

Putin, already having invaded and annexed part of Ukraine in 2014, has threatened further war on Ukraine and attempted to intimidate the country and its Western allies with a massive troop buildup throughout December. Now, he demands that the United States and its allies promise that there will be no expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), ever, as the price of peace with Russia.

NATO has been slow-walking Ukraine’s membership since the 1990s. But the country is, at least formally, on track to become a full NATO member. In 2008, NATO and Ukraine agreed to an accession plan, with NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg specifically affirming that Russia would not be permitted to veto Ukraine’s membership. As recently as June of this year, NATO reiterated its commitment to Ukraine. And now Putin demands that which NATO has specifically denied him: veto power over NATO membership decisions.

Because we are so accustomed to outrages from Russia, we do not seem to really appreciate how outrageous this is. Ukraine is a sovereign nation that can decide for itself which international organizations to join; NATO is an organization of sovereign states, including the United States, that can decide for itself what its policies will be and to whom it will offer membership. Russia is a third-rate gangster state whose idiotic policies have immiserated its people. In spite of its petroleum wealth, Russia’s GDP/capita is half of Lithuania’s, Latvia’s, or Slovakia’s, a third less than Poland’s, and below that of China, Panama, or Costa Rica. Its record of barbarism and inhumanity at home is well-attested, and its penchant for violating the sovereignty not only of its near neighbors but also that of countries such as the United Kingdom (where it has carried out assassinations) and the United States (where it has attempted to monkey with elections) marks it as a particularly egregious malefactor.

The Biden administration talks a good game about strengthening the trans-Atlantic alliance, but it has, in fact, done at least as much to aggregate U.S.-European alienation as the Trump administration did, confusing — and endangering — our allies with its headlong and unilateral evacuation from Afghanistan and insulting them with its clumsy and undiplomatic rollout of AUKUS. It is, for this and other reasons, in a poor position to do what it needs to do, which is to convene an extraordinary NATO summit and begin the process of formally admitting Ukraine to the alliance.

And maybe someone over in Antony Blinken’s shop could remind the boss that Poland is a full NATO member, one that currently is being subjected to a destabilization campaign by Belarus, where the regime of Putin dependent Alexander Lukashenko is recruiting refugees and immigrants from the Middle East and Africa to come to his country and then marching them illegally into Poland. This is if not quite an act of war in the conventional sense then an act of Mark Leonard’s “unpeace,” weaponizing refugees and immigrants in a campaign of soft social warfare. This ought to be understood — and responded to — as an act of military aggression against a NATO member.

The Europeans understand that they need to develop a more robust and unified foreign policy and a more credible self-defense capability. But they currently view the United States as an erratic and unreliable partner — at best. Repairing and reinvigorating that relationship is the work of years and decades, not something that can be accomplished at a single summit or with a few conciliatory speeches.

A cursory telephone call to Olaf Scholz, the new German chancellor, is not going to get it done. The Biden administration needs to get serious — and get serious now — about rebuilding the Atlantic alliance, with an eye not only toward Russian shenanigans in the here and now but also toward the imminent confrontation with China. That is, unless we are to conclude that all that happy talk about diplomacy and responsible internationalism was just a campaign talking point.

Words About Words

Because it contains the word bomb, bombastic is often treated as though it means rhetorically violent or aggressive. Donald Trump’s rhetoric was consistently described as bombastic, when, in fact, his style of speech was the opposite. Not artificially elevated, but programmatically coarse. Think Jesse Jackson, not Tucker Carlson.

Bombastic speech is pompous speech, often exaggeratedly formal or intellectual (or at least intellectual-sounding), or self-consciously literary speech that is full of fluff and filler, which is what bombast literally is: “raw cotton used as padding,” as Merriam-Webster has it. The word bomb is of entirely separate origin, having its roots in a Greek onomatopoeia, bombos. Bombast, on the other hand, comes from the Latin word for silkworm, bombyx.

Rampant Prescriptivism

The textbook example of bombastic speech is the nonsense word thusly, which seems to have been invented to satirize the oratory of uneducated people attempting to sound more refined and formal. The first recorded use of the word was in Harper’s in 1865, and it was deployed for comic effect.

But satire has a way of creeping into real life (see the recent history of the Republican Party), and so it has been with thusly. From a recent New York Times review:

Wary and self-protective, Lucille was always suspicious of strangers and their motives, a trait that intensified after her fame exploded. Her son-in-law, the actor Laurence Luckinbill, once aptly described her reaction to new people thusly: “Halt! Who goes there?” As he put it, “Lucille was a sentry in her own life.”

The problem (or the joke) in thusly is that thus already is an adverb — “Thus the day was won,” “He did it thus,” “The story was thus disproved,” etc. — so sticking an -ly on the end is an illiterate attempt to make an adverb out of a word that already is an adverb.

’Twas always thus, and never thusly.

 Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

If you dislike New Year’s Eve pseudo-festivities as much as I do, you may enjoy my essay on the holiday, “Sinners in the Hands of an Indifferent God.” As Jay Nordlinger often points out, the daily nature of journalism is right there in the name (from the Latin diuranalis, meaning “of a day”) and most of what I write I forget as soon as I start the next piece, which usually is immediately. But I like this one and think it is one of the ten or twelve best things I have written for National Review.

A smidgen:

There is another, less enigmatic, less mysterious god (and capital letters are not his thing) who reminds us of his austere presence during these abbreviated days of winter: the god of passing time. New Year’s is his Christmas, Lent, and Easter all at once, but he is undemanding when it comes to the rituals practiced in his honor. He requires no priest or intermediary. His law is inscribed not on our souls but on our cells. His church is every place where we are laid prone with our names written at our heads: every nursery ward, every graveyard. There is an old joke about two men who as newborns were laid side by side in the nursery, and who, at impossible odds, end up side by side in the same hospital room at the ends of their lives; one asks the other: “So, how was it for you?” You can make jokes about the god of passing time — he does not laugh, he is not offended, he is comprehensively indifferent, as cold and remote as the star over Bethlehem. If we make jokes about him, we make them for ourselves. The proverb tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. But nobody needs convincing when it comes to the god of passing time: We are born terrified of him and of the darkness of his eternal shadow.

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In Closing

It has been — another — vexing and disappointing year, from the eternal clown-show in Washington to the persistent problems associated with Covid-19. I am more thankful than I can say to the readers and supporters who have stood by us in these difficult times, most often with good cheer, grace, and courage — because it does take courage to continue to believe, and to act on the belief, that ideas and facts and arguments, and traditions and institutions, are part of what must save human civilization from human nature. For your time, your help, and your friendship, I remain sincerely grateful. National Review is a magazine, but it also a cause and a sensibility, and I wish all of our friends and allies the best in the coming year.

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Politics & Policy

The System Worked

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Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.) talks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., November 1, 2021. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a post-Monday/pre-Wednesday newsletter about language, culture, and eating your political enemies. To subscribe to the Tuesday, follow this link.

BBB Failure Is How American Government Is Supposed to Work

The Left loves “the masses” — at least, in theory. As a matter of historical fact, leftist regimes around the world spent most of the 20th century putting “the masses” into camps or intentionally starving them to death or, from time to time, eating them (“The incidents reported from Guangxi were apparently the most extensive episodes of cannibalism in the world in the last century or more”) to make a political point, and they have not done a hell of a lot better in the 21st century.

(“Te Occidere Possunt Sed Te Edere Non Possunt Nefas Est.” Nobody told the Red Guards.)

But there are no “masses.”

Not in the United States, anyway. The American people are not an undifferentiated blob of interchangeable individuals or interchangeable communities. Time, mass media, and mobility have ensured that the states are not as different today as they were when the Constitution was drafted, but life in rural West Virginia really is quite different from life on the Upper West Side or life in Echo Park or life in Bountiful, Utah. I am not sure that there are “masses” in Mexico, India, or China, either, however much politicians of a certain demagogic sort may like to appeal to the masses and their grievances.

There is genuine diversity in American life, and the splendid array of American communities and their particular interests matter, irrespective of whether 50 percent plus 1 of the total American voting population says otherwise. Everybody understands this when it is his own interest on the line, and everybody pretends not to understand this when it is some rivalrous interest in question. “Black Lives Matter” is a meaningful statement because black Americans have particular interests, particular experiences, and particular histories all their own; whatever the misdeeds of the organization calling itself Black Lives Matter, the sentiment itself is no more exclusionary than the idea that we should maintain such organizations as the League of Women Voters, the Texas Asian Republican Club, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, or Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership.

Our law recognizes these particularities in many different ways, some prudent and some less so. We have civil-rights laws that were intended mainly to help African Americans secure their basic rights and interests in practical ways that probably would have been impossible without federal intervention; we maintain a contingency plan for conscripting men into military service but not women; farmers receive tax exemptions not available to other businesses; churches receive exemptions from certain employment laws; we offer many different kinds of benefits and subsidies to small businesses that are denied to large ones. We have both urban-development and rural-development programs in government because these communities do not have identical interests or identical needs.

Protection for this diversity is written into our Constitution, and it informs the fundamental shape and organization of the federal government. No majority, no matter how large, gets to tell you what to teach in your church or what to publish in your newspaper. No majority gets to use the law to single you out because you are black or an immigrant. Our system is by no means perfect: Well-intentioned civil-rights practices are why we now have men competing in women’s college sports, for example, and equally well-intentioned accommodations such as bilingual-education mandates have blunted valuable spurs to immigrant assimilation. (Diversity is not the only value.) Passing civil-rights laws has not as a practical matter solved the problems those laws were meant to address. God knows we have problems. But the American approach has proved extraordinarily resilient, strong and flexible at the same time.

The United States and Switzerland — the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s second-oldest democracy, respectively — have very different governments and very different political cultures, but they have one important thing in common: federalism. Switzerland’s “double majority” system requires that big social changes move forward only when there is substantial consensus, as indicated by winning the votes of a majority of the people as a whole and a majority of the votes in a majority of the cantons. The U.S. Electoral College works on the same principle: To be elected president, a candidate needs to win not simply a majority of the entire voting population but a majority of the votes in a certain number of states, weighted by population. This means not only that a handful of big states cannot simply sweep aside the votes of the smaller states but also that a candidate who does not appeal to a sufficient diversity of constituencies in the various states will not win in some circumstances even when he secures a majority of the total vote. American federalism and Swiss federalism even produce many of the same complaints, e.g., that the system amplifies the power of people in less densely populated rural areas, who tend to be conservative, at the expense of people in the big cities, who tend to be more progressive.

(Similar procedures and institutions exist on a more limited scale in a few other countries, such as Germany and Australia.)

Which brings us to Joe Manchin and the grievously misnamed Build Back Better bill.

As my friend Charles C. W. Cooke points out, Senator Bernie Sanders’s constant whining that “one senator” or two should not be able to put a halt to the president’s legislative agenda is pure illiteracy, beginning with the fact that it is not one senator blocking Build Back Better — it is 51 senators, at least. Cooke writes:

In a 50/50 Senate, the “problem” that “one senator is able to hold up what the president wants!” can only be “fixed” by (a) passing bills with a minority of senators, (b) allowing only majority party to vote, (c) forcing senators to vote with their party — all of which are crazy.

As I am sure Charlie and I will have a chance to discuss on our Mad Dogs & Englishmen podcast, what Senator Sanders is up to here is not really constitutional analysis — it is base demagoguery. (And a bit of “mood affiliation,” which I will get to in a minute.) But Senator Sanders does have a point, albeit a point he does not quite understand: The Senate is, in an important way, not only undemocratic but antidemocratic. That is how it is meant to be — and we would be better off, both as a country and as a people trying to practice an intelligent form of liberal democracy, if the Senate were even more undemocratic and antidemocratic than it is.

Build Back Better would be a bad piece of legislation in the best of times. But these are not the best of times: We are a country that is facing a genuine inflation crisis — not of Argentine or Zimbabwean proportions, at least not yet, but a crisis nonetheless — and a country that is dancing on the precipice of a sovereign-debt crisis, as well. This isn’t Chicken Little stuff, and I don’t want you to think that the country is going to look like The Walking Dead the day after tomorrow. But here are the facts: Inflation is at a 40-year high, and interest payments on the debt already take up 15 percent of all federal tax revenues. Interest rates are very low by historic standards, and the main way you work to control inflation is by raising them. And, ultimately, interest rates are not under government control — they are under the control of investors in the debt market, who decide what rates they will lend at and what rates they won’t. Interest rates could easily be three to four times what they are today in a few years, meaning that interest payments could consume somewhere between half and two-thirds of all federal tax revenue, necessitating a radical and immediate restructuring of the federal government and its finances — that is the risk we are faced with.

A gigantic spending binge such as Build Back Better would tend to make both inflation and the debt situation worse. It would raise inflation by flooding the economy with more money (mostly put indirectly into the pockets of well-connected political constituencies), and it would worsen the debt because much of that money would be borrowed. The rosy projection is that BBB would add hundreds of billions of dollars to the debt, and the more realistic projections have it in the trillions.

Senator Manchin has been inundated with claims, many of them suspect, that BBB is overwhelmingly popular with the American people. It may be. But even if it were, it would still be a terrible piece of legislation — and, sometimes, political leaders are called upon to lead rather than act as their voters’ factota. And however BBB stands with the public in general, it is not especially popular with the people of West Virginia, and it is to them — not “the masses” — that Senator Manchin is ultimately accountable.

One way of thinking about the apparent failure of BBB is that it could not pass the double-majority test. The proposal had substantial general support but also inspired many pockets of urgent and persistent opposition from communities who were not willing to have this imposed on them by a group of senators who are, as Charlie notes, a minority, even if they are a majority of the majority party. There simply is not the wide and deep consensus that should be present when advancing wide-ranging legislation of this kind. The president, of course, has very little role in the crafting of legislation and no vote in Congress — but he does have the ability, and at times the obligation, to work toward building the consensus necessary for major reforms and important pieces of legislation. President Biden can criticize Fox News and talk radio and implacable Republicans, and he wouldn’t be wrong about any of that, but he would be admitting that he simply isn’t an effective enough leader to show himself more than the equal of Tucker Carlson or Madison Cawthorn. I am all for a smaller presidency, but a smaller president should have smaller ambitions — he should make some effort to accommodate the reality of his situation.

President Biden and other Democrats are always looking wistfully for the second coming of Franklin Roosevelt. But what Democrats really need is someone more along the lines of Lyndon Johnson, who was gross and venal but who had a real gift for plumbing the outer limits of what was politically possible and then getting Congress to meet him there. (That he sometimes did this in the service of unwise legislation does not in any way diminish the gift.) And President Johnson did bigger things than BBB. Much bigger.

If your whole political agenda goes off the rails because you cannot bring around one mulish senator from your own party, then perhaps you need to rethink your political agenda. You might even think about how you might win the support of six or seven senators from the other party. Don’t tell me they can’t be had — Ted Cruz came around to champion the cause of a guy who called his wife ugly and suggested that his father had been involved in assassinating President Kennedy. Lindsey Graham is . . . Lindsey Graham. These aren’t exactly Doric columns of unmovable moral commitment we’re talking about here.

These are politicians, and the game is politics. If you can’t politics your way into getting something done in this Senate, that’s on you, Democrats — not the Constitution.

Words about Words

Ten years ago, the economist and polymath Tyler Cowen described the “fallacy of mood affiliation.” Mood affiliation distorts our reasoning by subordinating facts and logic to moods, sometimes vague, that impose a kind of psychological meta-narrative on our understanding of events. An example from Cowen: “People who see a lot of net environmental progress (air and water are cleaner, for instance) and thus dismiss or downgrade well-grounded accounts of particular environmental problems. There’s simply an urgent feeling that any ‘pessimistic’ view needs to be countered.” Another, more familiar example: “People who see raising or lowering the relative status of Republicans (or some other group) as the main purpose of analysis, and thus who judge the dispassionate analysis of others, or for that matter the partisan analysis of others, by this standard. There’s simply an urgent feeling that any positive or optimistic or deserving view of the Republicans needs to be countered.” Etc. “In the blogosphere,” Cowen writes, “the fallacy of mood affiliation is common.”

What has changed since Cowen first wrote this is that writers for major publications and, increasingly, political figures now simply lead with the mood. I think this is an example of the prose style, and the cognitive style, of social media infiltrating print journalism, political rhetoric, and the rest of discursive life.

An example: Charles M. Blow writes in the New York Times: “I’m Furious at the Unvaccinated.” That’s the headline. In the column, Blow recounts his failed effort to nag a friend of his into getting vaccinated. “I am disappointed, and I am angry, not just with my friend but with all the people who are choosing not to get vaccinated.”

What I take from this is that Charles Blow and the people who write his headlines believe that Charles Blow is a very big deal, indeed, such that his internal emotional situation is the stuff of New York Times headlines. “Journalist Is Angry and Disappointed.” Well. I suppose there are insurance agents and farmers and elderly men in rocking chairs who are angry and disappointed about all sorts of things. But nobody would think that makes for headlines.

Is there really no more to the horrible Omicron news than how Charles Blow feels about it? I think there is. But journalists increasingly act like they are running for office, asking their constituents to resonate with their moods and prejudices. It is a ritual of hating together. Hence the headline.

In other language news . . .

A headline from the Wall Street Journal reads: “We’re Cursing More. Blame the #%$ Pandemic.”

That “#%$” is what is known as a “grawlix,” a nonsense word coined in the 1960s by Beetle Bailey creator Mort Walker. It is amusing and, I suppose, useful, though most publications, including the one in which that grawlix appears, don’t use it, preferring instead to simply delete parts of offending words. It is of some interest what words editors choose to censor: The Wall Street Journal uses “f***” but writes in full a few other words that National Review would not print.

A particular word that many people will not even say aloud, even when they are talking about the word itself, its history and its usage, is described by one dictionary as “probably the most offensive word in English.” But it is not at all an unusual word to hear.

Dave Chappelle tells a story about being asked by a television executive not to use a common slur for homosexuals. Chappelle responded that he used [“most offensive word in English”] all the time, so why couldn’t he use that other slur? “You’re not gay!” came the answer.

Chappelle’s reply: “I’m not a [‘probably the most offensive word in English’], either.”

If there were a grawlix for that most offensive word in English, people probably wouldn’t write the grawlix. I don’t care for the juvenile business of grown men and women saying “the n-word” to talk around what they are saying, but it does speak well of us that the word has become, at least in some contexts, unspeakable.

Rampant Prescriptivism

To insure something is to enter into a financial arrangement in which you pay premiums in exchange for a future payment in case of the loss of or damage to the thing insured. If you are making sure that something is going to happen, you ensure it. Different words, different meanings. 

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@nationalreview.com

Home and Away

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

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

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

To support National Review Institute, go here.

Beast News

We have to give Pancake the Destroyer things to destroy, or she will destroy other things not of my choosing. Yes, I am paying the danegeld to a dachshund — don’t tell me it doesn’t work, Rudy.

In Closing 

Christians are right to insist on the Christian character of Christmas — it is not just about gifts and festivity. But it is also a holiday about kindness, generosity, and looking after one another. Have you ever noticed how many Christmas songs are about loneliness? Sometimes, life gives you “Silent Night.” Sometimes, life gives you “If We Make It through December.” Most of us have known both at different times. “He hath exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things.” Go and do likewise.

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U.S.

The American State Cult

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Dr. Mehmet Oz at the Forbes Healthcare Summit in New York City, December 5, 2019. (Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about the strange things people believe. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

Cult Figures

Conservatives used to say: “America is a Christian nation.” Everybody knows what they meant by that, even if many people pretended not to understand. We are not a country with a national church or a national faith. We are — or were — a “Christian nation” in the sense that the United States grew out of a Christian civilization and found its political basis in Anglo-Protestant liberalism. The Founding Fathers and the influential men of the Founding generation were — like almost everybody else in the colonial era — almost exclusively Protestant Christians, albeit Protestant Christians of varying degrees of orthodoxy and observance. Thomas Jefferson’s religious eccentricities are well-known, and George Washington, a parish vestryman, rarely entered a church once his public career no longer required it of him. Back when the states had established churches, there was never any practical possibility that any of them would have been anything other than Christian. None of this necessarily argues that Christianity should have some special place in American political life beyond the predominance that comes naturally to a religion that still speaks, at least notionally, for two out of three American adults. In that sense, to say that America is a Christian nation should be no more controversial than to say that France is a European nation. Japan is Japanese, even though not everyone who lives in Japan is ethnically Japanese, of Japanese origin, born in Japan, or even a Japanese citizen.

But even though 65 percent of U.S. adults identify themselves as Christian, I am no longer convinced that Christianity is the dominant religious faith of the United States. What most of us profess may be Christianity, but what Americans corporately practice is an imperial cult, a religion that puts the state and its officers at the center not only of national political life but national moral and spiritual life. I do not know many Americans, including very devout Christians, who are losing any sleep about the filioque or transubstantiation, and nobody who is much interested in dispensationalism other than those with a professional interest in the subject.

But there are millions of Americans, tens of millions and maybe more than 100 million, who grieve, lament, and despair when they believe that the wrong man has become president of these United States. Just at the moment, many of those many grieving millions are people who believe themselves to be devout Christians. You’d think that these Bible-reading people would know a golden calf when they see one.

Here is an example of the sort of thing I am talking about, from Dr. Mehmet Oz, the celebrity physician who is going to run for a Senate seat from Pennsylvania, a state with which he has only the lightest of connections. The good doctor spells out his political agenda thus: “I’m here to promise you one thing: I am going to help reignite the divine spark inside every American and empower us to live better lives.”

Set aside the comical notion of this ridiculous dork taking over for Pat Toomey — what in hell does that gibberish even hope to mean?

Dr. Oz is a fairly interesting figure on the religion front. He is a Muslim of Turkish background, and served in the Turkish army. There was a split in his family between the more traditionalist Islam practiced on his father’s side and the more secular attitude of his mother’s family. He married into a family of Swedenborgians — more on them in a second — and his mother-in-law is a minister in a Swedenborgian sect. When Dr. Oz decided to run for the Pennsylvania seat, he needed an address in Pennsylvania, and the one he chose is in the town of Bryn Athyn, which is the center of  the Swedenborgian church. That is probably a matter of pure convenience — Dr. Oz’s address in Pennsylvania is his in-laws’ home — but his association with the Swedenborgian church (or cult, as many Christians would have it) is more than a matter of convenience. He has spoken in interviews about his embrace of Swedenborgian beliefs and his incorporation of what he describes as a Swedenborgian approach to patient relations in his medical practice.

The main contemporary organ of Swedenborgianism is the Bryn Athyn–based General Church of the New Jerusalem, which operates Bryn Athyn College. (Bryn is Welsh for “hill,” as in nearby Bryn Mawr.) Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) was a mystic who claimed to have special revelations and a unique personal commission from Jesus Christ to reform Christian doctrine. He published an influential book called Heaven and Hell (which is not just a great Ronnie James Dio song!) in 1758. The Swedenborgian churches established in the United States (the General Church of the New Jerusalem is an offshoot from an earlier sect) were part of that great 19th-century burst of religious entrepreneurialism in the United States, which gave us everything from Mormons to Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Adventists, Disciples of Christ/Church of Christ, and the Southern Baptist Convention. (The late-18th-century split of the Methodists from the Church of England was a portent of this effervescence.) The spirit of capitalism was very much at work in the church-planting sector in those years. The United States is still probably the best place in the world to start a technology company or a cult.

(The word cult, as Cultish author Amanda Montell reminds us, comes with heavy emotional baggage and no generally agreed-upon definition. I don’t intend to use it here in a derogatory way. There’s an old joke that a religion is a cult plus time and money. I’m sure the Swedenborgians are very nice people. Similarly, I can’t see joining the Mormon church, but I want to have Mormon neighbors.)

Why did Americans start all those churches? The New World was vast beyond the comprehension of the first pilgrims who landed in New England, and Americans were very far removed from Canterbury — to say nothing of Rome or Jerusalem. As waves of revivalism and awakenings convulsed North America beginning in the early 18th century, it was only natural that believers would start looking for local seats of power and meaning — the First Great Awakening was arguably the first truly “national” experience of the American colonies and an important factor leading to the American Revolution. Here, we can blame the Puritans, at least a little bit: By rejecting church hierarchy and episcopal authority, insisting upon the ability of every properly educated believer to interpret Scripture for himself, they created cultural conditions that almost guaranteed the kind of religious innovation — the start-up mentality — that would lead to the vast multiplication of what they would have recoiled from in horror as heresies. This is deeply embedded in American culture: Our first public-education law, which bears the splendid name of the Old Deluder Satan Act, was written with a mind toward educating Christians up to a level that would allow them to engage directly with Scripture, thereby (the thinking went) giving them an intellectual inoculation against European popery and Anglican crypto-popery. The Puritan enthusiasm for Hebrew came from the same source — not, alas, from any particular tender feeling toward Jews, and Puritan clergy were educated in Greek, where possible, for the same reason.

Armed with literacy and a smattering of theology, looking upon the vastness of America, culturally alienated and physically distant from the institutions of British and European Christianity, Americans looked for spiritual anchors. And unlike their British and European cousins, those Americans did not have monarchies and other ancient institutions to which they might cling. Having ceased to think of themselves as essentially British, they were not part of an ancient nation with a deep foundation in blood and soil. Americans are a particular people — much more so than we often appreciate — but they are not a particular people defined by a shared ethnic history, which is why a Korean can become American but an American cannot become Korean, even if he moves to Korea, speaks Korean, takes Korean citizenship, etc. A big piece of our national identity is a set of generally shared political beliefs (incorporating a religious premise: that men are endowed with their unalienable rights not by the state but by God) and political documents (the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence) which have for us a totemic character as well as legal and political significance.

And so, from the very beginning, we were in a peculiar position: that of a nation founded in religious ferment but having political documents and a shared political faith as central elements in our national character. France is on its Fifth Republic, there was an England long before there existed what we now call the United Kingdom, there was an Italian nation long before there was an Italian state, the Chinese people have had many different forms of governmental organization, etc., but the United States isn’t really the United States without the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Politics in the United States is culture war — inevitably.

Depending on how you count, the United States has either a few hundred or several thousand Christian denominations — and there are millions of self-professed American Christians who are associated with no particular church, practicing their own eccentric choose-your-own-adventure models of Christianity, and, beyond there, is the one-third of Americans profess either some other religion or no religion. What that means (among other things) is that Americans looking for a national basis of spiritual and ceremonial life cannot find one in any particular religious mode except one: the imperial cult. Of course, we don’t call our state cult that (or even generally acknowledge the imperialistic and sacramental qualities of the state), and we don’t acknowledge it directly the way the Romans do or even indirectly the way the English do by making their monarch the head of their national church. (National churches are always and everywhere in the Christian world the spiritual wreckage of earlier efforts to reconstitute pagan imperial cults.) But if you doubt that we have a genuine state cult, ask yourself how it is that a man running for a Senate seat from Pennsylvania can launch his campaign by promising to “reignite the divine spark” without getting laughed across the river back to Delaware?

Instead of laughing at this sort of thing, it is precisely what Americans expect of Senate candidates, House candidates, gubernatorial candidates, and, above all, would-be presidents. Joel Osteen and David Remnick both have written about the “Joshua Generation”; Osteen’s sermon was about Christian devotion, while the Reverend Remnick’s New Yorker homily was about Barack Obama.

Every presidential candidate has, for years, promised that his election would lead to a national spiritual revival. Sometimes, the restorationist thinking it put into obvious language (“Make America Great Again”) and sometimes it is part of an explicitly messianic campaign (looking at you, Barack Obama), but it is an element even of the campaigns of such modest republicans as the late Bob Dole, who, no less than Barack Obama or Donald Trump, sought moral histrionics from the American people, demanding “Where’s the outrage?” and offering himself as the necessary instrument (and personification) of their righteous wrath.

(This is not a slight to Bob Dole: The debased Republican Party of 2021 would have to hike up a very steep and difficult hill to look him in the eye. Bob Dole may have ended his days selling credit cards and erection pills, but next to Lindsey Graham he looks like Abraham Lincoln.)

My friend and colleague Jay Nordlinger, reading Dr. Oz’s “divine spark” nonsense, did a very fine job suppressing an eye-roll that no doubt would have seemed like a bit much if Linda Blair had done it in The Exorcist. “Isn’t anyone willing to balance the budget?” he asked.

The difference between a Republican who says that he is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and a Republican who says that he’s going to balance the budget is that somebody might believe the first guy.

A nation that looks to its politicians to provide spiritual nourishment needs that nourishment badly — and it is going to starve.

It is also going to face endless political disappointment and misgovernment. It is important to bring the right tool to the job: Bananas are great, but you can’t hammer in a nail with one.

Words About Words

Peter Lake, the chairman of the Texas Public Utilities Commission, tried to reassure Texans that there would be no repeat of last winter’s catastrophic power-grid failure, saying: “It’s hard to understate how much reform we have implemented in such a short amount of time.”

I do hope that he did not mean what he said.

What Lake meant to say — I hope! — is that it would be hard to overstate how much reform Texas has implemented since last winter. But what he actually said is that it would be hard to understate that, meaning that it would be difficult to describe the PUC’s progress as less than it actually is, implying that not very much had been done. (The question of how much actually has been done is beyond my scope here, though I will say I am skeptical of Lake’s claims.)

This is one of those things that we often get backward, probably because the word cannot mixes us up. Writing in That August Journalistic Institution some years ago, Barbara Wallraff suggested:

Cannot understate and cannot overstate are like architectural elements in an M.C. Escher drawing: if you like, you can flip-flop them in your mind. The trick is done by cannot, which has two meanings. Think of Parson Weems’s tale in which the young George Washington declared, “I can’t tell a lie.” Of course Washington was physically capable of uttering a false statement; by can’t, he meant he chose not to. Can’t, or cannot, can mean something very much like must notand if it means that, cannot understate the importance of makes sense.

For comparison, consider: You can’t take it for granted or You can’t pretend you don’t see it. Of course you can — what’s being said is you shouldn’t.

The opposite of this is at work in phrases such as can’t be too careful, which means, “You should be extraordinarily cautious” rather than, “You should not go overboard with the caution.” Can’t be too in that case means that excess is practically impossible. The same holds for You can’t be too rich or too thin.

I do hope that, come February, I am not reporting to you that Peter Lake was more right than he knew.

Some more words about words . . .

In the film Carrington, the screenwriter Christopher Hampton had the difficult task of writing dialogue for the famously sharp Lytton Strachey, author of Eminent Victorians. One of the most memorable lines comes when Strachey is lamenting his lack of achievement in life: “I’m obscure, decrepit, terrified, ill-favored, penniless, and fond of adjectives.”

Rampant Prescriptivism

A while back, I was watching the (very enjoyable) new film The Harder They Fall, and I found myself wondering how old the great British-born actor Delroy Lindo is. He is a sprightly 69, as it turns out, but he is one of those actors who seems to have looked approximately the same age for a very long time. (The qualifiers can get a little complicated: Lindo was born in the United Kingdom to parents from Jamaica. He is a black Anglo American in the same sense that Elon Musk is a white African American.) He is a great talent, one of those guys who plays a lot of very different characters but makes each of those characters feel like the role was written for him. Which, I imagine, in at least some cases, it is.

Anyway, I was thinking of another Delroy Lindo role, that of the entrepreneurial mob enforcer in Get Shorty, who has this to say about Rampant Prescriptivism as applied to screenwriting:

There’s nothin’ to know. You have an idea, you write down what you wanna say. Then you get somebody to add in the commas and sh** where they belong, if you aren’t positive yourself. Maybe fix up the spelling where you have some tricky words, although I’ve seen scripts where I know words weren’t spelled right and there was hardly any commas in it at all. So I don’t think it’s too important. Anyway, you come to the last page you write in ‘Fade out’ and that’s the end. You’re done.

I am always a little surprised by how many intelligent and well-educated people — including graduates of Ivy League colleges — have trouble with precisely that question: where to put the commas.

One of the rules of grammar you surely have heard repeating a million times is: Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction joining two independent clauses. The simpler way of saying that is: Use a comma before “and” or another conjunction where you have the makings of a complete sentence on both sides. E.g.: “He asked for a favor, and I was happy to help.” “It was cold outside, so I put on a coat.” “Jerry ran, and Tom chased him.” Etc. You don’t use a comma when you don’t have the makings of a complete sentence on both sides, as when you have two verbs sharing the same subject: “I got up early and went for a hike,” not “I got up early, and went for a hike.”

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. It has been at the top of this section for a while; I’ll get you another one soon, I hope.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

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

To support National Review Institute, go here.

Recommended

Amanda Montell, the linguist mentioned above, has a podcast called Sounds Like a Cult. You might enjoy it.

Beast News

Waiting in ambush:

 

In Closing

During the 2008–09 financial crisis, I generally opposed the bailouts, and many New York financial types who disagreed with me insisted that, without intervention, the financial-services sector would more or less cease to exist. I didn’t believe that and still don’t. As I told my Wall Street friends at the time, I am confident that moneylending will always be with us, because anything old enough to be the subject of an Old Testament prohibition is built to last. Every time I write about our weird idolatrous attitude toward presidents and other politicians, I can’t help but think the same thing.

If a progressive is someone who believes that there is no such thing as human nature, maybe a conservative is someone who believes that there is really no such thing as human progress — that, in spite of our technological wonders and vast abundance, we are basically the same savages we have always been, barely improved monkeys requiring education and civilization anew every generation. As Hannah Arendt once put it: “Every generation, civilization is invaded by barbarians — we call them ‘children’.”

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