The Tuesday

Politics & Policy

You’re Either with Maduro, or You’re against Him

Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro speaks during a ceremony in Caracas, January 22, 2021. (Manaure Quintero/Reuters)

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A Question of Standards

To what standard should Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her socialist colleagues in the Democratic Party be held when it comes to the matter of the Democratic Socialists of America and its unwavering support for the brutal dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela?

A word about these socialists: There’s a certain kind of talk-radio knucklehead who insists that every member of the Democratic Party — and about 80 percent of Republicans — is a socialist or a Marxist or a communist. That is nonsense. I am not even convinced that all of the Democrats who call themselves “socialists” are socialists. But we are not in this case talking about a subjective evaluation: We are talking about people who are members of a particular organization, the Democratic Socialists of America, who support that organization and who are supported by it in their pursuit of political power. And, as it happens, the DSA has for a long time — and quite recently — reiterated its support for the Maduro dictatorship, under which the people of Venezuela have been reduced to eating zoo animals and worse. Before that, the DSA supported his predecessor, the murderer and torturer Hugo Chávez, who bought progressive Democrats such as Chaka Fattah on the cheap, with a few stirring words and a couple of barrels of heating oil.

So, what standard applies?

Should we apply the Ibram X. Kendi standard? Kendi, who in our irredeemably racist society makes a pretty good living as a professional anti-racist, insists that it is not enough for people of goodwill to be non-racist — in order to cut the moral mustard, they must be actively anti-racist. From this point of view, everybody is either an activist — an activist who supports Kendi’s work and his agenda — or a collaborator: It’s Team Ibram Kendi or Team David Duke. Racism is morally repugnant and it is a terrible way to organize a society — and surely the same can be said of dictatorship. Surely the same can be said of starving people for political purposes, locking up political prisoners, murdering political dissidents, etc. So if we embrace the Kendi standard, then it is not enough to simply forgo the practice of dictatorship oneself or to oppose it in principle. Given the opportunity to oppose a savage dictatorship in a practical way, it would follow, one has a moral obligation to do so. So when Representative Ocasio-Cortez can manage nothing more than “it’s a complex issue” in the face of Maduro’s murder and torture and repression, and when she remains in good standing with the DSA and its constant support of Maduro, then, surely, according to this standard, she must be condemned as well.

But the Kendi standard isn’t the only possible standard. There is the Democratic Party standard, under which any number of workaday conservative congressional Republicans have been condemned for having “voted with Trump” in some large share of their votes. This line of criticism has been applied even to such unrelenting Trump critics as Senator Mitt Romney (R., Utah by way of La Jolla). This is, by any intelligent standard, a nonsensical way of evaluating a member of Congress — there were many Republicans who were going to vote for tax cuts and Amy Coney Barrett even if Donald Trump had remained a second-rate game-show host — but Democrats invoke it constantly in their rhetoric and campaign ads. Relying on the Democratic standard is going to be hard on so-called moderate Democrats such as Elissa Slotkin (D., Mich.), who, according to ProPublica, has voted with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a little more often than Nancy Pelosi has: 89 percent of the time, in fact — that’s more than Republican leader Kevin McCarthy has voted with Matt Gaetz.

By the standard of her party, Representative Slotkin must be considered an adjunct to the Venezuelan junta and its apologists. So must Representative Colin Allred, who must positively rejoice in that surname, given the fact that he has voted with the dictator-enabling Representative Ocasio-Cortez 93 percent of the time. There are more than 10,000 Venezuelans living in and around Representative Allred’s north Texas district, many because they have been obliged to flee their homeland. I’m sure they’ll understand.

Maybe we should apply the Twitter-Peon standard. This is the standard under which every member of an institution is held personally responsible for every opinion held by every other member of that institution. We get this a lot around National Review. Often, it is framed as an opportunistic change of heart: “Well, here’s National Review saying x, and here, just a few months later, is National Review arguing not-x! Harrumph!” National Review of course publishes a great many writers who disagree about a great many things: I could spend a month doing nothing but relitigating my many disagreements with Charlie Cooke, Michael Brendan Dougherty, or Ramesh Ponnuru. I even disagree with Jay Nordlinger sometimes: He is way more liberal on the question of James Taylor than I think is defensible! There isn’t a party-line imposed.

I assume there is similar internal disagreement in the DSA. But if we take this as our standard — and it is a standard applied to all sorts of institutions and individuals — then we have to assume that Representatives Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Cori Bush, and Jamaal Bowman are all hunky-dory with the dictatorship in Venezuela, as indeed must be such lesser-known figures as state senators Julie Gonzales of Colorado and Sam Bell of Rhode Island, state house member Mike Connolly of Massachusetts, mayor-elect India Walton of Buffalo, etc. If any of them takes a dissenting view, they are keeping quiet about it.

So, what’s it going to be, progressives? Democracy or dictatorship? Are you with Maduro or against him?

Words About Words

“Massachusetts Police Arrest 11 Heavily Armed Militia Members After Bizarre Hours-Long Standoff,” reads the Slate headline.

“Militia members,” eh?

The Islamic State is a militia, as are Boko Haram and the so-called Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq. But you will not often see a news story that generically characterizes these as “militias.” You’ll get at least a little more, because “militia member” in the United States, particularly in the context of police encounters, usually means white-guy Mossy Oak mall-ninjas up in Idaho (or their spiritual offspring elsewhere) getting ready to take on the New World Order, or whatever they’re calling it this season.

Amazing that Slate can publish a lengthy report about a bonkers black-nationalist sect without ever mentioning that that is what is being written about.

The Moorish “sovereign” movement, the “militia” mentioned above, is the Frankenstein’s monster created by stitching together the crackpot teachings of the Moorish Science Temple with those of the Sovereign Citizens movement. The Moorish Science Temple, which has been around since the early 20th century, is something like the Black Hebrew Israelites reimagined as a Masonic lodge with a Muslim theme rather than a Hebrew one. The Sovereign Citizens movement bubbled up from the same ferment that produced the so-called patriot and militia movements, and though its ideas once were associated with white-power knuckleheads, they have been taken up by other groups, including certain African-American subcultures, with some zeal.

Who says the melting pot is over?

There are the obvious terrifying aspects to these groups, but the optimist in me sees old-fashioned American blending in action. In the same way Elijah Muhammad’s so-called Nation of Islam created an alternative communal history for black radicals in search of one, the past several decades have seen the spread of purportedly Nordic variations on that theme, with Odinism and “Ásatrú,” which sometimes goes by the bracingly forthright name “Heathenry,” among white lowlifes, particularly those in prison, as well as among some bourgeois whites in search of a mythology around which to construct an artificial identity more attractive than the one they have in real life. This being America, all of that silly neo-paganism can be absorbed and reordered by capitalism, hence the plethora of Viking-themed beard-grooming products in recent years.

In a similar way, “Sovereign Citizens” thinking has spread from the jacked-up F-350 set to a whole rainbow of American nuttiness.

Speaking of Moors: How weird is it that Amazon is suppressing books taking a dissident view of transsexual questions while still happily taking in money generated by Anthony Hopkins in blackface as Othello?

Funny old world.

In Other Language-related News . . .

Shame on those sissies at LVMH. The European luxury-goods titan (“LV” for Louis Vuitton, “M” for Moët, “H” for Hennessy) is Europe’s most valuable company (having overtaken Nestlé), and its chairman, Bernard Arnault, is, depending on what the markets are doing on any given day, either the wealthiest man in Europe or the wealthiest man in the world. His company owns everything from Château d’Yquem to Dior to Loro Piana to Princess Yachts. Like that other sometimes-richest-man-in-the-world, Jeff Bezos, M. Arnault has shown that he is the kind of guy who can be pushed around without too much effort.

As you know, the French have fought for years to defend the exclusive right of vintners in Champagne to call their bubbly wines “Champagne,” a legal convention internationally recognized since the 19th century. It is an indication of how much the French care about this that the appellation rule gets a line in the Treaty of Versailles. There are many makers that produce a Champagne-style fizzy wine, everywhere from Albuquerque to South Africa, and they generally describe themselves as “sparkling,” méthode Champenoise, or something like that. If it doesn’t come from Champagne, you can’t call it “Champagne.” Everybody knows the rules.

Except for Vladimir Putin.

Russian wines — and who hasn’t asked the sommelier at a fine restaurant, “Don’t you have anything Russian in the cellar?” — have long, brazenly appropriated the name Champagne, or “Shampanskoe,” in Russian. Under a new law, only Russian wines will be labeled “Champagne” in Russia, meaning that it will be illegal to sell Champagne as “Champagne.”

LVMH originally put out word that it would pull out of the Russian market in protest, but, apparently, that is not to be. Instead, it will knuckle under and start calling Moët (and, presumably, its other Champagnes) “sparkling wine” in order to keep access to the Russian market.

What’s the point of being the richest guy in the world if you can’t stand up for yourself? Or, as Donald Regan might have put it: What’s the point in having f***-you money if you don’t, from time to time, say, “F*** you!”?

It’s been a few years since the world has seen a Frenchman surrender that fast.

Congratulations, Bernard Arnault: You are now the John Cena of fine wine.

Rampant Prescriptivism

From the Context Desk: There’s a time to use the word “fallout” when it comes to U.S.-Russia relations, and this isn’t it: “Biden warns Putin of ‘devastating’ fallout if activist Navalny dies in jail.” “Fallout” from Brexit might be a diplomatic brouhaha – fallout from a U.S.-Russia confrontation is the nuclear kind.

From the Fact-Checking Desk: My fancy-pants East Coast–elitist friends over at the Wall Street Journal apparently don’t know what a “flatbed” is. I guess Matt Murray has never seen his 1986 Ford Escort being hauled away on one.

From the Not-a-Typo desk: A reader asks about “cereal rituals,” from last week. “Perhaps I’m Froot Loops with this observation, but don’t you mean ‘serial rituals’?” Nope. I meant the sacrum cereale, a ritual meant to ensure the health of crops, so named for the goddess Ceres. Though I think it is more often written “cereal rites.”

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Home and Away

My thanks to the “Politics and Media 101” guys for hosting an interesting and wonderfully non-hysterical Clubhouse discussion on “cancel culture” and related themes. It is refreshing to be able to have a real conversation.

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. Not currently for sale under any appellation in Russia.

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Michael Novak’s Choosing Our King touches on a theme that is very much on my mind these days — the ceremonial and symbolic functions of the American presidency. He wrote this book in the wake of Watergate, which gives it a very interesting vintage flavor.

In Closing

Obviously, we take the Champagne issue seriously around Chez Williamson:


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