The Tuesday

Politics & Policy

What the Republican Party Needs vs. What It Wants

Texas 6th Congressional District candidate Michael Wood (Campaign ad image via YouTube)
A failed congressional candidate in Texas told Republicans truths they needed to hear, but didn’t want to.

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The Unmaking of a Congressman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Not Quarantine?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Merchandise of Believers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Words About Words

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

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

Why behead?

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

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

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

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

Rampant Prescriptivism

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

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Home and Away

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

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

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

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

In Closing

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

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

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