The Weekend Jolt

National Review

Pete and RePete Were Sitting on a Fence . . .

Dear Weekend Jolter,

The sawed-off résumé from South Bend is giving the Vermont Socialist a run for his rubles. More on the race below.

Now before this gig enters the on-ramp, you have to know something: National Review has a new show, titled The Victor Davis Hanson Podcast, which counts two episodes under its straining belt. You will find its happy home right here. Recorded and uploaded into (or is it onto?) the interwebs every Tuesday (set your Google Calendars appropriately), it’s nothing less than 40 minutes of bountiful VDH wisdom, on four or so carefully selected topics, with Yours Truly, the co-host offering interspersed bumptious mumblings.

That’s got to be the most ridiculous use of “co-” in the history of the English language. Anyway, do listen, and do rate it on iTunes if you are so inclined.

If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be . . . Williamson

Wait! The week’s often-underlooked third day will now also boast a new weekly email newsletter dubbed “The Tuesday.” Well, if the titling ain’t that inspired, surely the content will be. What awaits? Explains KDW:

In it you will find a weekly column exclusive to the newsletter along with some commentary on language, culture, and other subjects of interest. I will also include links to my non-NR work from around the web, advance looks at my forthcoming books, correspondence with readers, and more. I hope you enjoy it.

You want it? Sure you do. Sign up here.

Editorials

1. Bill Barr is right: Trump tweeting on criminal cases undermines the AG. It should cease (fat chance). From the editorial:

Attorney General Bill Barr rightly and understandably rebuked government by presidential tweet in a notable ABC News interview on Thursday.

The attorney general said that President Trump was making his job “impossible” by constantly commenting on an ongoing criminal case, and one involving Trump’s longtime associate Roger Stone.

The latest Trump melodrama involves the DOJ’s sentencing recommendation in the Stone case. On Monday, prosecutors recommended a harsh seven-to-nine-year sentence after Stone’s conviction for lying to Congress and obstructing justice.

There is often an equity issue in who gets caught up in special-counsel probes — and nailed to the wall for offenses that others get away with — and who does not. In the case of Stone, Robert Mueller had a particular interest in the gadfly as a possible instrument of collusion with the Russians and, though that obviously didn’t pan out, threw the book at him for his dishonesty and shady maneuverings. There is no doubt that Stone is guilty of what he’s accused of — indeed, since he committed some of the offenses in writing, it is simply a matter of the record.

2. The Sandernistas have taken over the Democratic Party. Talk about Socialization. From the editorial:

Sanders has for decades praised left-wing authoritarian dictators, especially in Latin America, so much so that it is fair to question the importance of the adjective in his label of “democratic socialism.” His agenda involves federal spending increases of a fantastic $100 trillion, according to a critic who, unlike the senator, has thought it worthwhile to add it all up. And he has the ideologue’s habit of wishing away aspects of reality that are inconvenient for him. Thus our economy, with falling poverty rates and rising wages, is in his mind failing; and the country will save money by giving more lavish health benefits to a larger number of people.

The Sanders phenomenon thus raises two urgent questions: Will the Democratic Party decide to walk off a cliff? And will it manage to get Americans to come along for the trip?

About Bernie and His Ideology . . .

National Review has launched a mini-webathon, seeking to raise $25,000 to combat the menace of Socialism that has invaded the American bodies politic and culture. Kindly donate here. Charlie Cooke has this to say about the reality of Communism’s kid brother:

Death, taxes, false prophets selling socialism as a panacea — these are the inevitabilities of human life. No matter the scale of its most recent failure, or the number of people who, chastened, insist that the End of History is nigh, socialism always seems to return for more. There is no such thing on earth as a lesson permanently learned, or an argument perennially won. As night follows day, so the past’s most disastrous ideas come back to seduce and insinuate. Our era is not exempt from these rules. No era is. Once again, we are charged with fighting off the menace.

This time, the wolf has shown up in wolf’s clothing. As I write, the Democratic Party’s primary season is being dominated by a man who, far from rejecting the socialist label, has proudly embraced it. And why wouldn’t he? In poll after poll, the members of his adoptive Democratic Party have expressed more-positive views toward socialism than toward capitalism. Those who object to Bernie Sanders’s rise have proposed that he is staging a hostile takeover of the party. But that, alas, is not quite right. Bernie has made his arguments, and his arguments have been well received. Americans are forgetting what they had learned.

As part of our effort to focus on the combat, we’ve gone back into the NR archives to republish just some of the thousands of pieces we have run attacking socialism since NR commenced standing athwart history and yelling STOP in 1955. Here are three:

1. Who better than Whittaker Chambers to convey, as he did in this 1957 NR article, the mindset of the socialist Left. From the end of the piece:

We live and learn, especially if we have been to Mrs. Khrushchev’s. After his Russian visit, Mr. Bevan reversed his field to such effect that a motion putting the Labor Party on record against thermonuclear development was voted down 5 to 1 at the Party’s latest Congress, with Mr. Bevan himself steering the steamroller amidst shouts of: “Turncoat,” “Traitor,” from that plangent minority which never learns that to gain power is what political parties first of all exist for. Why this turnabout? Well, you can scarcely expect an average Briton to vote for you as Socialist if, by doing so, he must also vote against his own thermonuclear self-defense. We are also told that, in Russia, Khrushchev gave Britain’s presumptive foreign minister some specific Socialist advice: “Don’t give up your Bomb and leave a vacuum,” A vacuum? That is to say: Don’t leave the United States, the one great power uncommitted to socialism, as the one thermonuclear power in the West.

Beyond that, what does this mean? I can only tell you what I think it means. Around 1951, one of the British Socialist leaders — Mr. Hugh Dalton, if I remember rightly — was urging on a Labor Party gathering a more conciliatory line toward the Soviet Union. In clinching his plea, he said: “The Left understands the Left.” Yes, that is the crux of the matter. It is to say that, in the showdown, despite all brotherly invective and despite all brotherly arm-twisting, socialism still has more in common with Communism than either of these two has with conservatism. “Do not give up your Bomb and leave a vacuum.” How that might work out with Mr. Bevan as foreign minister, in some tearing crisis of the East–West conflict, none of us knows. Neither is it at all difficult to imagine how it might work in terms of a Britain disposed by a justifiable self-interest to neutrality, and disposed by a Socialist government to conciliate Communism. The Left understands the Left.

2. Even if sugar-coated with Christian lingo, a la Jimmy Carter, as the great Clare Booth Luce warned at the cusp of the 1976 elections, Socialism is anything but holy. From her classic NR essay:

What if Carter proves to be not only a man of the political Left — a believer in the economic nostrums of socialism under unlimited government — but also a religious reformer who — in his own words — sees political and social programs “as an extension of the Gospel — problem solving combined with Christian charity?”

What happens then is the coming of Christian Socialism to America.

The fusing of Christian doctrine with political power in the name of morality and social justice is not a new phenomenon in our century. The Christian Socialists and religious activists in Italy and Germany were the earliest supporters of Mussolini’s and Hitler’s National Socialism. In the 1920s, German and Italian Protestants and Catholics wanted to believe that one man, given enough political power, could restore both morality and prosperity to their unhappy countries. What they got, in the end, was something horrendously different.

I do not for a moment suggest that Mr. Carter is even a potential dictator, much less a dictator of the monstrous stripe of Hitler or Mussolini. What I do say is that a religious leader should be a religious leader, and a political leader should be a political leader, and that whoever has attempted to combine these roles has — throughout history — failed badly at one or the other, and usually both.

3. The great Frank Meyer made this critical 1958 call to arms to conservatives. From his acclaimed Principles and Heresies column:

What is not true is that, given the historical conditions of the abundance made possible by capitalism, welfarism is certain to collapse in the short or medium run. Welfarism, or any form of socialism not dependent on terror, can survive as long as the fat inherited from capitalism lasts. But even this is not the end. When the fat rims out and the incentives to productivity have been drowned beneath the sea of leveling social policy, the methods of Communism still remain: Coercion and the threat of coercion can be substituted for the lost incentives of a free society. In the long, long run, the human spirit will indeed rebel against the lowering of the skies. But this is a far cry from depending upon immediate collapse of a welfarist economy as the decisive argument against welfarism.

No, the only ground on which conservatives have to stand is a moral and spiritual criticism of the essential inhumanity of socialism and welfarism: the leveling that, by reducing the person to a statistical number, degrades all men, whatever their capacity or position; the ignominious removal of responsibility for his future and his family from the hands of individual man into the hands of an all-probing bureaucracy; the steady attrition of all separate and rooted centers of power and the massive growth of a single bureaucratic center of state power which from day to day gains more and more control over all the avenues of thought and life.

Upon a platform of opposition to these, the true evils of welfarism, conservatives can firmly stand. To such a platform men of spirit will rally. And if men of spirit do not outnumber those to whom the ballot is a weapon for self-aggrandizement, they overweigh them in will, in intellect and in influence. Once united, they would have the capacity to save the Republic.

In Your St. Valentine’s Day Afterglow, Enjoy 16 Arrows of Sharp Conservative Wisdom – They Won’t Hurt! But They Will Leave an Intellectual Mark.

1. Can you stand more about Bernie’s ascendency? El Jefe Rich Lowry hears the international echoes. From the new column:

Sound familiar? Sanders bears the closest resemblance to his equally aged and disheveled ideological cousin from the United Kingdom, Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn crashed the gates of the Labour Party as, essentially, an outsider. He rose on the strength of a left-wing grassroots movement and won Labour’s leadership contest in 2015, thanks to newcomers who could vote in such a contest for the first time. An unlikely icon for younger voters, he drew enormous crowds and, unavoidably himself, had a distinctive charm for his supporters.

Like Sanders, he also had a history of sympathy for left-wing thugs, hostility toward Western power, a motley collection of kooky allies, and an utterly fantastical domestic program.

After losing two elections, Corbyn is back in the dustbin of history, while Brother Sanders may be tracing his ascent on a larger scale.

A major commonality with the European experience is young voters who are disenchanted with the institutions of Western capitalism, worried about affording a house and paying off student debt. They have no experience with or attachment to old party loyalties and are drawn to exhilaratingly radical and simple ideas.

2. With the impeachment nonsense in the rear-view mirror, Andrew McCarthy takes a moment to note the affair’s backdrop of amnesia. From the analysis:

Do Democrats really think the president and his supporters, or any fair-minded Americans for that matter, are not going to notice that the “how dare you invite foreign interference in our elections” storyline has been concocted by the party that recruited a foreign spy to dig up high-level Russian-government dirt on Trump? Dirt that was often absurd on its face? Dirt that could easily have been discredited if the Obama-era FBI had chosen to investigate it, and yet was mendaciously supplied under oath to the FISA court again and again?

Did Democrats figure we’d all quietly abide their puling about “foreign interference in our elections” after the Obama administration collaborated with foreign intelligence services to run informants at Trump campaign officials . . . and then withheld from the FISA court the exculpatory evidence those contacts generated? Did Democrats think we’d forget that even the now-sainted Fiona Hill acknowledges that Ukrainian officials labored to wound Trump’s campaign? And that they did so while Democrats were collaborating with Kyiv to target Paul Manafort? Do Democrats suppose it has slipped our minds that they wove a collusion fairy tale against Trump out of unverifiable foreign-intelligence streams, and demanded the appointment of a special counsel to pursue the fairy tale even as it was palpably collapsing — seven months after the Obama administration began seeking FISA court warrants under false pretenses?

And obstruction? We’re going to be lectured to about obstruction by the people who defended to the hilt Hillary Clinton’s private email server? You remember: The destruction of tens of thousands of emails despite congressional preservation demands, the hammers and Bleach Bit, the serial lying about not hoarding classified information and not withholding official-business emails from the State Department. The sealing and burial of the Clinton–Obama emails, and the studious purging of any reference to President Obama in the description of Clinton’s misconduct.

3. Victor Davis Hanson recounts a disastrous week for Democrats, and the abyss ahead. From the column:

When the impeachment inquiry started in September based on a “whistleblower” complaint, Trump’s approval rating was about eight points lower than it is now. The efforts of the impeachment triad of Representatives Pelosi (D., Calif.), Jerrold Nadler (D., N.Y.), and Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) proved an unmitigated political disaster for their party. It’s no wonder, given that the partisan impeachment effort never won bipartisan or public support.

The Democrats did not offer a special-counsel report or draw on an independent investigation. By the time the partisan spectacle was over, a terrible precedent had been set of turning impeachment into just another crass political tool. From now on, if sitting presidents lose their House majorities after their first midterm elections, will they inevitably be impeached by the opposition?

Finally, the Democratic debate on February 7 confirmed opinions that the party is heading over the cliff. All seven candidates — six of them white — pilloried the United States as an inherently racist society. If so, then why didn’t the debaters invite on stage the Democratic candidates of color who dropped out of the race earlier?

4. Michael Brendan Dougherty looks at Pete Buttigieg and sees something . . . creepy. From the piece:

This is a man from nowhere who seems to have spent a great deal of time in the last few years managing his own Wikipedia page. His popularity is widely attributed to the work of a single media genius, Lis Smith. And as he was declaring himself the winner, a flurry of reports were being filed that there were some questionable financial connections between the developer of the Iowa vote-counting app and the Pete Buttigieg campaign.

Doesn’t that fact pattern make your skin crawl? Just a little? But it wasn’t just that a man no one had heard of a few months ago was now a self-authenticating leader of the Democratic field. It was the way he became that leader. “Tonight, an improbable hope became an undeniable reality,” he said, introducing himself.

What could he mean by that? In fact, with zero tabulated results, the improbable hope was quite deniable. Now with 100 percent of results in, it looks like Bernie Sanders won the most votes, but somehow Pete Buttigieg obtained more delegates owing to the Iowa Caucus terms of service — which seems to run hundreds of pages long in describing how tiebreaks and rounding works, and happens to have worked almost entirely in Pete Buttigieg’s favor.

5. More MBD: He is a lock for a nostalgia show, or maybe being president of Antenna TV, but Joe Biden is unfit to be the Democratic Party’s prexy nominee. From the piece:

But if they do win the White House, I highly doubt it will be behind Biden. All he’s shown so far in this race is his age. There is a revealing pattern in which he comes out of the gate looking sharp in debates, but then within 30 minutes his speech patterns degrade. He leaves half his thoughts unfinished, and his sentences become messier until he starts shouting at the end of them, as if that constitutes a recovery. He’s rambling and uncontrolled in his town-hall appearances. He’s irritable and not infrequently makes headlines for yelling at audience members.

What’s more, Biden is an even worse fit for the Democratic-primary electorate of 2020 than we thought. What are younger Democrats supposed to think of a man who called a woman a “lying dog-faced pony soldier” when she said at a New Hampshire event that she has participated in a caucus? Why in his right mind would any presidential candidate do something so weird? Anyone living in New Hampshire now who lived in Maine previously might have participated in a caucus. (Biden claims the insult is a reference to a John Wayne movie, but this has been disputed. And either way, it is very difficult to parse for anyone below the age of 60, which is to say, most Democratic primary voters.)

Now, you might think to yourself, Trump is no great shakes in the anger department himself, and you wouldn’t exactly be wrong. But Trump’s supporters and many reporters think that he is in control of his anger, or at least makes good use of it. Since at least the era of George H. W. Bush’s reelection, Democrats have sought the mantle of youth, energy, preparedness, and coolness under pressure. They portrayed Bush as baffled at bar-code scanners and themselves as burning the midnight oil to craft policy proposals over boxes of takeout. Biden has instead been making the kind of experience-centric pitch we’ve traditionally seen from Republican presidential candidates. It’s Bob Dole’s case from 1996, and it isn’t appealing to Democrats so far.

6. WARNING: Prepare the Fainting Couches. Andrew Walker explains why many Christian conservatives vote for Trump. From the piece:

But an event on October 10, 2019 explains the odd-couple relationship of religious conservatives and Donald Trump. That evening, during a CNN townhall on LGBTQ issues, the now-former Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke proclaimed that churches failing to toe the line on gay and transgender rights would lose their tax-exempt status in his administration. O’Rourke’s comments represented a high-water mark of a culture that has jettisoned anything resembling a Christian moral ecology. Never mind that O’Rourke’s candidacy is over. It was an Overton Window–shifting moment.

O’Rourke’s comments reminded religious conservatives why so many of them voted for Trump in 2016, even if doing so felt hypocritical and seemed like a betrayal of their principles — and why they will likely do so again in 2020, despite their realism about his character. O’Rourke’s promise to remove tax exemptions only reinforced the embattled mentality of most religious conservatives, which mobilizes them as voters. The problem was not only with O’Rourke’s tax policy, however. It’s also that the rhetoric of progressives around sexual orientation and gender identity logically leads to the conclusion that O’Rourke simply dared to state honestly: It is illogical to say that Christianity is “harmful” to gay and transgender persons and then not to want it somehow punished. For years, religious conservatives predicted that the sexual revolution would eventually affect government policy and directly threaten churches. They can now point to O’Rourke and other examples as evidence of a massive cultural shift that has realized their predictions. Even the most convinced progressive should sympathize with religious conservatives who are concerned about federal law possibly turning against them.

While Christians must cast off both unwarranted fear and moral panic, rejecting both does not remove the real concerns that persist among religious conservatives. Most criticisms of how religious conservatives understand the world miss the mark. They fail to capture fully the moral landscape and moral contrasts that are formed by believing in a world richly enchanted with divine order. Christians who refract cultural disputes through sexuality and gender do so not because they are obsessed with either, but because the two reflect larger debates about morality, human nature, authority, the role of government, and the nature of justice. Our moral debates are not ephemeral; they are, rather, metaphysical and cosmological. Thus, when religious conservatives of the Reluctant Trump variety vote, they are not thinking merely about one man, even if he has reconfigured the relationship between character and electability and defined both the presidency and elections as character tests downward. They are thinking about the larger moral worldview to which the party is committed.

7. Matthew Continetti says we have been living in the Limbaugh Era of conservatism. May it not pass. From the column:

Limbaugh did not mock Trump when the businessman announced his presidential campaign in June 2015. “This is going to resonate with a lot of people, I guarantee you, and the Drive-Bys are going to pooh-pooh it,” he said. He spent the primary reminding listeners of the importance of defeating Hillary Clinton. Trump was not an ideological candidate, he said. Trump was a missile aimed at the establishment. If ideology matters, then you should vote for Ted Cruz. “If conservatism is your bag, if conservatism is the dominating factor in how you vote,” Limbaugh said in February 2016, “there is no other choice for you in this campaign than Ted Cruz, because you are exactly right: This is the closest in our lifetimes we have ever been to Ronald Reagan.” But, Limbaugh added, the feeling in the country might be so anti-establishment that Trump’s unusual coalition could win the presidency. It did.

To say that Limbaugh supports the president would be an understatement. Last December he introduced the president at a Turning Point USA summit. He mentioned a recent encounter on a golf course. Someone told him it is hard to defend President Trump. “I said, ‘What? Hard to defend the president? It’s one of the easiest things in the world to do.’ President Trump does not need to be defended.” The crowd cheered. A few seconds later Limbaugh said, “How do you defend Donald Trump? You attack the people who are attempting to destroy him. They’re trying to destroy you. They’re trying to transform this country into something that it was not founded to be.”

Bold, brash, divisive, funny, and amped up, President Trump’s style is similar to a shock jockey’s. His presidency is another reminder of Limbaugh’s staying power. The American right has been molded in his anti-elitist, grassroots, demotic, irreverent, patriotic, hard-charging image. Rush Limbaugh is not just a talk show host. He defines an era.

8. Samuel James lambasts the “party of science” canard, and jabs at the parishioners of scientism. From the piece:

The inconvenient truth is that there is no “party of science,” just as there is no “right side of history.” All ideological tribes use scientific research when the result supports their priors and downplay it when it doesn’t.

There is a meaningful difference, though, between cultural conservatives and progressives. Conservatives, at least historically, have been willing to take their ideas above the rim of materialism, to argue against scientism and emphasize the transcendent and spiritual. For almost a century, arguably dating back to the Scopes trial, progressives have taken the opposite approach, forming an unwritten alliance with irreligious partisans of higher ed and instinctively deferring to science when it collides with faith or tradition. It’s not that one party believes in science and one party disbelieves it. It’s that only one party claims that’s the case.

In asserting themselves as people of rationality and objective facts (as opposed to people of “blind” faith), secular progressives intend to seal away their ideological opponents. That strategy arguably peaked with the so-called New Atheism movement, which now feels every bit as distant and irrelevant as the mid-20th-century fundamentalism it so often mimicked. Once a darling of the anti-Bush Left, Sam Harris now finds himself a lead character in the “intellectual dark web,” a vaguely libertarian, right-leaning coalition of free-speech advocates and critics of political correctness. It turns out that when you make a lot of money from telling people that Christianity is a plague on civilization, they might come to agree with you and then reach for as strong an anti-Christian repellant as they can find (namely, authoritarianism).

9. As Kevin Williamson makes clear, Socialism that calls itself Democratic Socialism is still . . . Socialism. From the essay:

The problems of socialism are problems of socialism — problems related to the absence of markets, innovation, and free enterprise and, principally, problems related to the epistemic impossibility of the socialist promise: rational central planning of economic activity. The problems of socialism are not the problems of authoritarianism and will not be cured by democracy. Socialism and authoritarianism often go hand in hand (almost always, in fact), but socialism on its own, even when it is the result of democratic elections and genuinely democratic processes, is a bottomless well of misery. The Soviet gulags and hunger-genocide, the Chinese prison camps, and the psychosis of Pyongyang are not the only exhibits in the case against socialism, and the case against socialism is also the case against democratic socialism, as the experience of the United Kingdom attests.

Murray, talking about his forthcoming book The Socialist Temptation at a CEI event in New Orleans, describes the inherent tension within democratic socialism. “The tyranny of the majority means you have no rights,” he says. “Early democratic societies realized that you had to have rights; how extensive those rights are is normally determined by how powerful the democracy is — one reason why the United States had such an extensive bill of rights so early is because the democracy was quite powerful. Socialists coopt the language of rights by introducing positive rights rather than negative rights — they will speak of the right to a job or the right to housing — but not the right to be left alone, which inherently contradicts democratic socialism.”

The destructive nature of socialism comes not from its tendency to trample on democracy (though socialism often does trample on democracy) but from its total disregard for rights — rights that are, in the context of the United States and other liberal-democratic systems, beyond the reach of mere majorities. We have the Bill of Rights to protect freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the free exercise of religion, etc., not because we expect that majorities will reliably support and protect these rights but because we expect that majorities will be hostile to them.

10. This trans madness, reports Madeleine Kearns, has exposed some big-time GOP gutlessness. From the report:

For proof that Republicans can be just as lazy, self-serving, and cowardly as Democrats, look no farther than the South Dakota Senate.

As reported by my colleague Tobias Hoonhout, this week Republican senators Duhamel, Rusch, Steinhauer, and Soholt of the Health and Human Services Committee all joined the 5–2 majority that effectively killed a bill designed to make it easier for gender-confused minors to attain financial compensation later in life — should they realize, before age 38, that the doctors who stunted their puberty, destroyed their fertility, and permanently impaired their sexual function had failed to meet the acceptable standards of (what are we calling it these days?) health care.

Listening to the two-and-a-half-hour hearing, as those pathetically useless Republicans did (and as you, too, can do here), it is impossible to come to any other conclusion: When faced with one of the greatest scandals in modern medicine, Republican officials stuck their fat heads between their legs and — well, you know what.

Lest you think I’m being overly harsh, allow me to summarize.

The Vulnerable Child Protection Act, introduced in the South Dakota House of Representatives by Republican Fred Deutsch, would deter doctors from experimenting on gender-confused minors with hormones and surgeries by forcing them to consider the long-term consequences — if not for their patients, then for themselves. It passed the House of Representatives by a 46–23 vote last month and was later amended to remove criminal penalties for doctors, inserting a civil cause of action instead. It was a significant bill, not only in the context of South Dakota but nationwide, as part of the coordinated resistance to medical experiments on gender-confused children.

11. Kyle Smith watched the Oscars, which continue their annual decline, heading toward Twitter hissy-fitness. From the piece:

To sing “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” associated with the extremely white man Fred Rogers, the Oscars rolled out Janelle Monáe, who paused in mid-song to say, “We celebrate all the women who directed phenomenal films,” as the broadcast cut accusingly to Little Women director Greta Gerwig, who didn’t get nominated because Little Women is not a phenomenal film. (She was nominated for two Oscars just two years ago by the same group of people for the far better Lady Bird, which tends to undermine any suggestion that the Academy is insufficiently respectful to her). Monáe added, “I’m proud to be standing here as a black, queer artist,” and shared the number with Billy Porter, another gay black performer, who was on hand to do a song by the very white Elton John.

The Academy torches its mystique and glamour when it comes across, as it did last night, as more like a haunted associate professor in Dockers who is desperate to stave off student ire by assuring the glowering undergraduates that he thinks everything they think, only more so. The Oscars’ theme was Please don’t think we’re racist, please don’t think we’re racist, interrupted by moments of Please don’t think we’re sexist, please don’t think we’re sexist.

Steve Martin sarcastically noted that, the first year the Oscars were given out, there were no black acting nominees, and this year there was only one—“Amazing growth,” he said. So what? One in 20 is 5 percent. Last year there were two (10 percent). The year before, four (20 percent). So, over the past three years, the percentage of black nominees (11.7 percent) is almost exactly the black proportion of the population is (12.6 percent). Three years ago there were six black acting nominees, or 30 percent, meaning blacks are overrepresented among acting Oscar nominees over the past four years. Over those past several years, by the way, the Academy has been rushing to offer membership to black film professionals, and as a result, the voting membership has a much larger proportion of voters of color than it did five years ago. If a much more diverse membership didn’t award lots of acting nominations to black performers this year, maybe there . . . just weren’t a lot of great black performances this year.

12. So did Armond White. He found anti-Americanism exalted. From the piece:

Conservatives should learn that the Academy Awards cannot be taken seriously, despite the nagging desire to participate in the cool-kids’-fun aspect of popular culture even when it goes against good taste and particularly offends everything they claim to believe in. This year’s big winner, Parasite, confirms that the Academy’s basic history of film-industry acclamation has always been a matter of celebrityhood, mitigated by the memory of real glamour, and combined with airhead simple-mindedness.

But Hollywood’s historic liberal tendencies lean even more to the left now. This became especially apparent in the Academy’s recent reorganization of its membership rolls and categories around race and gender equity, a purge that resulted in new political-correctness statutes such as the one that renamed its former Best Foreign Language Film category as Best International Film. That decision obliges Academy voters to march to the faint melody of the Communist Party anthem “The Internationale.” It contradicted itself embarrassingly when Parasite, a South Korean import, took that specialized category as well as the overall Best Picture prize.

I’m reminded of the year the New York Film Critics Circle initiated its Best First Film prize with Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V and then went on to the give its Best Film prize to My Left Foot, which was Jim Sheridan’s first film. These inconsistencies are the quirks of democratic participation when it replaces scholarly discrimination. Reason has little to do with the Oscars; they are essentially a popularity contest under the guise of artistic consideration. Anyone who cares about cinematic art knows that Oscar judgments are officially unofficial and to be trusted only as a bellwether of the industry’s liberal sentiment, a confirmation of group consensus — the 99 percent assuming the authority of the 1 percent.

13. More Armond: He catches Downhill and sees an artistic white-out. From the beginning of the review:

Television comedians Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Farrell have remade the Swedish art film Force Majeure as Downhill. It twists Ruben Östlund’s 2014 existential domestic drama into a horror-comedy about an already broken marriage that falls apart during a family vacation in the Swiss Alps. The couple’s fraught tensions illustrate problems in the no-hope marital institution. Look closely and there’s the deep spiritual collapse of American relations.

But if you are accustomed to callow TV sitcoms, the irresolvable discord in Downhill might seem smart, funny, and hip. (I observed a curly-haired Millennial dude laughing at the shenanigans from beginning to end.) The film’s hipness reduces Östlund’s tragedy to a psychological Punch & Judy show: Farrell’s Pete is a dissatisfied, cowardly husband and father of two sons, while Louis-Dreyfus’s Billie is a smart, strong-willed, protective, underserved mother and wife. Toxic masculinity vs. female superiority.

Downhill epitomizes how television has usurped cinema’s influence — particularly the mainstreaming of social attitudes and emotional perspectives. Östlund’s film was distinguished by cinematic methods; meaning came from crafty visual presentation. In Force Majeure’s signature scene of an avalanche approaching the inhabitants of a ski lodge, Östlund used space and momentum to create cosmic apprehension and suspense. That terror lingered throughout the movie. But Downhill’s TV-trained American directors, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, present the avalanche as merely the setup to the film’s running joke. They have no visual skill other than sitcom closeups and medium shots. They settle on a give-and-take emotional battle that goes back to TV’s All in the Family (as well as the 1940s radio show The Bickersons), but with contemporary sarcasm.

14. Helen Raleigh considers whether the coverup-crazed ChiCom handling of the Coronavirus outbreak is damaging Xi’s dictatorial sway and the Commie Party’s standing with the country’s beleaguered billions. From the piece:

Then came the news of the coronavirus outbreak. There was no lack of effort on the Chinese government’s part to cover it up from the beginning. Chinese authorities waited a full month before informing the World Health Organization and waited until late January to notify the Chinese public. In the meantime, the authorities arrested whistleblowers, warned doctors and nurses to keep their mouth shut, kept the infected number artificially low, and sent an army of censors to scrub the internet clean from coronavirus related images, discussions and messages. Still, the outbreak is not something the Chinese government can easily censor away. It took place right in the heartland of the country, at a time when the majority of the 1.4 billion Chinese were on a long break and supposed to celebrate the nation’s most important holiday with their families and relatives.

The virus has claimed over 720 lives and infected over 35,000 people worldwide, with the vast majority in China. Even though the Chinese government took draconian steps to lock down 60 million people — including Wuhan, a city of 11 million residents and the epicenter of the outbreak —the virus has spread to all corners of China. Unlike the imprisonment of the Uyghurs or Christians, this outbreak hits close to home. Everyone is impacted in one way or another. China is known as the factory of the world, but it is now struggling to provide a sufficient number of face masks. China’s biotech industry has had double-digit growth in the last two decades, yet there is a shortage of coronavirus testing kits. The government-run healthcare system is overwhelmed by patients and people who want to get tested. It often ends up turning away sick patients who should be treated and quarantined. Social media now is full of images of desperate Chinese people asking for outside help, such as this. Here is a heartbreaking video of a mother who was begging guards to let her and her leukemia-stricken daughter pass so they could go to a different hospital for her daughter’s treatment.

15. Brian Allen is in Paris catching the El Greco show. He advises you to do the same if you’re in town. From the review:

I liked the fine section on El Greco’s portraits. The portrait of Fray Hortensio Félix Paravicino from 1609, owned by Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, is worth walking barefoot on molten glass to see. That’s in the show. Paravicino looks ascetic enough, with his pale, thin face and basic black and white Trinitarian habit, but he carries it all off snappily. He came from a rich family and served as Philip III’s private preacher, hence the élan, but it’s élan with nerves. He’s poised but can’t seem to wait before jumping out of his seat and turning Billy Graham.

It was good to learn that El Greco, as frustrated and disappointed as he was in Rome, did manage to develop a good portrait business. He saw it as hack work, though, and wanted to paint grand religious scenes. As a measure of his knack for irritating people, he told everyone who would listen to him in Rome that he thought Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel work was tacky and flashy. He’d happily paint it over, he said, and do something better. Get Dale Carnegie on speed dial.

The show ends on a high note: four of El Greco’s six renditions of Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, displayed together. They date from 1568, 1570, 1600, and between 1610 and 1614. It’s a joy to see them. Each is a fine picture, and they’re the best way to see his evolution from his days in Venice to his career in Rome to his late work. It’s here that the exhibition finally lands on a theme. The Gospel story of Jesus tossing merchants — money grubbing, moneylending, trade -0 from the Temple was a Counter-Reformation favorite.

With vigor, El Greco proclaims, “Toss the bums out” or “A new broom sweeps clean” or “There’s a new sheriff in town.” Keeping God’s house unsullied is a universal must. Reforming bad practices was a must after the bad old days of indulgences, randy cardinals, and flaccid, rotely mumbled liturgy. There’s a personal message, too. The exhibition speculates at the end that El Greco fundamentally, all his life, saw himself as an outsider and renegade. He was a Cretan prodigy, then an Italian interloper, and then a big-fish-in-a-middling-sea Spaniard, expelled from the royal court. His style was flamboyant, mystical, other-worldly, and, above all, unique. Others might have seen him as disputatious and rude, but he saw himself as one man against the world. He knew he was right.

16. David Harsanyi ain’t surprised: The UN remains anti-Semitic. From the commentary:

The depraved totalitarians, nefarious barbarians, two-bit gangsters, odious scoundrels, and bigoted scum who run the United Nations recently set up a new “database” to help anti-Semites around the world target Jewish businesses in the disputed territories of Judaea and Samaria — businesses that offer economic opportunities for Palestinians that pay higher than most other jobs in the West Bank.

In no other international dispute — and there are hundreds of them — does the United Nations target peaceful civilians or institutions. Certainly in no place do they work to destroy the businesses of noncombatants based on their ethnicity or religion. The 112 companies on the U.N.’s list are run and staffed, no doubt, by people with diverse viewpoints, at least some of whom likely support the creation of a Palestinian state. All of them create jobs, products, and services that foster cooperation.

None of this matters to the U.N. The “boycott, divestment, and sanctions” (BDS) campaign, now supported by the U.N., is a coordinated international effort committed to the elimination of the Jewish state, bringing together dictators, theocrats, terrorist organizations, Communists, the “international community,” and at least one of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’s top surrogates. The movement targets Jews under the guise of anti-Zionism, which remains the predominant justification for violence, murder, and hatred against Jews in Europe and the Middle East.

The First Rule of Fight House Is You Have to Buy a Copy

Our beloved amigo Tevi Troy, who has penned a number of White House-related popular books in the last few years, has a new one, formally out this week: Fight House: Rivalries in the White House from Truman to Trump. Use that link to buy a copy. Now, imagine if some massive brain, say, Yuval Levin, of all people, praised this book. Well — he did! The deserved lauding was sung on The Corner, and began thusly:

In the Trump era, everything somehow feels unprecedented. Various kinds of presidential misbehavior, bureaucratic machinations, congressional dereliction, political hysterias, and White House dissension all seem singularly bizarre.

Some of what we’re seeing really is very unusual, of course. But some just isn’t, and a little historical perspective can help us better understand it. Intense White House in-fighting surely falls into that category. To appreciate that, I very highly recommend a new book by the great presidential historian Tevi Troy. Fight House: Rivalries in the White House from Truman to Trump, which is just out this week, is packed with fascinating tales of mind-boggling bickering in the highest reaches of the executive branch.

Troy is more than a historian, he’s also a former senior White House official himself (in the George W. Bush years), so he brings to bear a particularly informed and subtle sense of how the White House works and fails.

As Yuval concluded: “This book really helps put the Trump era in perspective, which is one thing we badly need now. And if you like politics, it’s just great fun to read. Well worth your while.” Amen!

The Six

1. At The Spectator / USA, Daniel McCarthy says good riddance to Democrat prexy wannabes Andrew Yang and Joseph Biden. From the commentary:

My August 2019 prediction that Biden won’t win the nomination, let alone the presidency, is looking pretty good. Like everyone else, though, I was taken in for a time by the meaningless national polls that showed Biden continually leading the field. Well, of course he was: he was the only candidate with national name recognition, perhaps with Sanders. This is a dark night for Bernie as well, as his record-breaking win over Hillary Clinton in the Granite State four years ago turns into a slender victory over his 2020 rivals.

The Democratic Party is indeed more the party of Biden than the party of Sanders. But Biden is a lousy, uninspiring, backward-looking leader for a party that mostly thinks as he does. So the party is looking for a younger, more charismatic centrist—Mayor Pete, plain but young, cynically centrist yet not yet pruney and withered; or Amy Klobuchar, who always seems like she’s having fun on the campaign trail despite her reputation for throwing temper-tantrums at her Senate staff.

Waiting in the wings, of course, is a centrist—i.e., establishment— authoritarian billionaire ready to buy the nomination outright. Will Mayor Bloomberg, Mayor Pete, and Amiable-or-Angry Amy commit middle-of-the-road fratricide, clearing the way for Bernie Sanders to win the nomination after all? I’m not quite betting on it: in fact, there could be a rebellion against Bernie at the convention in Milwaukee of the sort that commentators imagined would happen against Trump at the GOP convention in Cleveland four years ago. The old and exhausted neoliberal center of the Democratic Party doesn’t want to go any more quietly into that good night than the neoconservatives of the Republican Party did. But they’re already functionally extinct—the last members of a species that, Buttigieg notwithstanding, has failed to reproduce. The big number for the night is not Bernie’s slim margin of victory overall, but his titanic margin of victory among young Democrats. The Democratic future is already written. Democrats have long enjoyed gloating that Republicans would be eradicated by demographic change, but you better be careful what curses you draw down on your enemy lest they bounce back on you. American demographics are changing, but American ideologies are changing faster, and the youth are not multi-hued neoliberals, a rainbow in which every color is really a Clinton. They are hungry for hope (and change), which they tried to find in Obama’s person and now they find in Sanders’s radical politics. The young Sanders supporter is never going to be a Buttigieg or Klobuchar voter, no more than African-American were going to turn out for Hillary Clinton in the numbers they showed up for Obama.

2. A most interesting piece in Quillette by Gerfried Ambrosch, former radical, as to why he was a radical. From the piece:

From the Bolsheviks’ Red Terror to Germany’s murderous Red Army Faction (RAF), the radical Left has a long and bloody history of justifying violence and inhumanity. Even today, many radical leftists and anarchists condone violence as a political tool. They consider themselves to be at war with the capitalist system and, as Saul Alinsky wrote in Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals, “in war the end justifies almost any means.” This dangerous mindset makes radicals prone to another pernicious fallacy—that their enemy’s enemy is their friend.

Initially, the September 11th attacks, which killed 2977 people, elicited in me a feeling not of horror but of excitement. After all, a devastating blow had been dealt to American hegemony. My moral compass was completely thrown off by the notion that the terrorists’ jihad was best understood as a liberation movement against Western capitalist imperialism—the chickens had come home to roost. This view was quite common among radicals. A friend of mine even got a tattoo of the burning World Trade Center captioned “FWT”: Fuck World Trade. At the time, this didn’t strike me as particularly obscene.

When it finally dawned on me that the jihadists’ goal was diametrically opposed to my own idealistic vision, I briefly endorsed the then-fashionable conspiracy theory that 9/11 was an “inside job” executed to provide a pretext for the suspension of civil liberties and the waging of wars. This sentiment was captured in slogans like “Bush is a Nazi,” which implied that American democracy under George W. Bush was tantamount to fascism. False equivalencies of this kind allow radical leftists and anarchists to hide behind the guise of antifascism. I participated in a number of “antifascist” protests myself, some of which escalated into riots and violent confrontations with law enforcement. Often, however, the targets of these protests weren’t fascists as commonly defined, but political adversaries who had simply been branded as fascists. This meant that they were fair game. As Mark Twain said, “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

3. At The College Fix, Isaac Cross zeros in on Bucknell University Marxist Michael Drexler, tweeting his wish for the death of Rush Limbaugh. It’s not his first extremist rodeo. From the report

Last year, Drexler invited Miko Peled to speak at Bucknell University. The decision was deemed “controversial,” as the Bucknellian reported at the time, noting “Peled’s arrival sparked controversy among the student body. Peled is an outspoken critic of the Israeli government and has been accused of characterizing Israel through anti-Semitic tropes and rhetoric.”

Drexler himself is a member of the Academic Advisory Council for the Jewish Voice for Peace, or JVP, which is described by the Anti-Defamation League as “a radical anti-Israel activist group.”

In contrast to the Peled controversy, Drexler was openly critical when the Bucknell Program for American Leadership and Citizenship hosted conservative speaker Heather Mac Donald for a guest lecture in November 2019.

He told the Bucknellian: “I don’t see how her presence here makes campus better. But if there are people who wish to give her a platform, let them take responsibility for paying for it themselves. And don’t expect the campus not to react negatively.”

4. Is the Coronavirus destabilizing the ChiCom politburo? At Gatestone Institute, Gordon Chang sees signs. From the analysis:

Some say that as memory of the disease wilts in the heat of the upcoming summer, the Chinese political system will be able to resist change. On the contrary, the disease ravaging the country could be, as is now said, China’s “Chernobyl,” the cover up of a disaster eventually leading to the downfall of the regime.

Firmly in the no-Chernobyl camp is former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. “Xi wields near-absolute political power over China’s Marxist-Leninist state,” he wrote in a February 8 column. It is “certain,” he assures us, “that the crisis, once resolved, will not change how China is governed in the future.”

Rudd’s argument is that Xi’s priorities, which he calls “ten sets of concentric circles emanating from the party center,” will remain the same. Foremost among those priorities is maintaining the country’s political system. As Rudd, now president of the Asia Society Policy Institute, notes, “Since coming to power in 2012, Xi has strengthened the Communist Party’s hold on power and developed a comprehensive national agenda from which all else — including domestic crisis management — must follow.”

Is Xi that strong? He has defied expectations and accumulated power not seen since the days of Deng Xiaoping, Mao’s crafty successor. Some analysts compare his position to that of Mao himself. Politically, Xi seems to have “nine lives.”

He is almost certainly laying the groundwork for having his adversary, Premier Li Keqiang, take the blame when things go wrong. Li, most notably, has been put in charge of coordinating Beijing’s response to the disease.

5. The Pope has responded to the recent nutty “Amazon Synod,” affirming the Church’s traditional stand against married priests — or did he? At National Catholic Register, Fr. Raymond D’Souza sees a lot of papal muddling in a pronouncement that merited clarity. The trouble-makers will see opportunities and have a field day. From the article:

What, then, is the answer to the question? Has the Holy Father decide to permit the ordination of married deacons as priests for the Amazon? The synod recommended it. Does the Holy Father approve?

The answer is ambiguous. Pope Francis hinted in both directions without offering a clear answer.

“The way of shaping priestly life and ministry is not monolithic; it develops distinctive traits in different parts of the world,” he wrote, seemingly in support of an exception to the rules for the Amazon (87).

“In the specific circumstances of the Amazon region, particularly in its forests and more remote places, a way must be found to ensure this priestly ministry,” he added (89). “Every effort should be made to ensure that the Amazonian peoples do not lack this food of new life and the sacrament of forgiveness.”

On the other hand, Pope Francis seemed to suggest that the solution to a lack of priests in the Amazon was not the ordination of married men, but a renewed missionary zeal.

“This urgent need leads me to urge all bishops, especially those in Latin America, not only to promote prayer for priestly vocations, but also to be more generous in encouraging those who display a missionary vocation to opt for the Amazon region,” he wrote (90).

The Holy Father then added this stinging rebuke to Latin American clergy in this footnote:

“It is noteworthy that, in some countries of the Amazon Basin, more missionaries go to Europe or the United States than remain to assist their own Vicariates in the Amazon region” (132).

Comfort abroad is apparently preferred to the difficulties of pastoral care at home.

The Holy Father left it at that, not offering a clear endorsement of the synod proposal.

6. UPenn’s embattled Amy Wax takes to Law & Liberty to decry “woke lawyering.” From the beginning of the essay:

What is a cult? It is a religion without god, or with false gods. To borrow Molly McGrath’s formulation, it is a “fake religion.” On that criterion, today’s brand of progressive politics, known as “wokeness,” is the most influential cult of our age, favored by powerful and well-heeled elites.

Molly McGrath provides an insightful indictment of this pernicious simulacrum of real religion, which has marched through our opinion-making institutions with relentless ferocity. At its center, suggests McGrath, is the concept of the sacred, designating that which possesses “a qualitatively, incomparably higher mode of being.” Sacredness is attained by suffering, sacrifice, and victimhood – in short, by oppression. In assigning this vaunted status, the cult of progressivism focuses on groups, not individuals, and confers incomparable power and authority on favored groups. In McGrath’s words, oppression is “taken to be identity-shaping, authority-bestowing, and sacred-making for members of oppressed categories.”

As with any religious movement, the orthodoxy of progressivism McGrath describes settles moral fundamentals and determines the landscape of good and evil. Consequently, key questions of social order and belief, including those relating to the identity and status of victims and oppressors, of who suffers and who causes them to suffer, are placed at the center of the dogmatic creed. They are thereby elevated beyond legitimate debate and removed from the realm of ordinary politics. Violating the imperatives of that dogma and its elevation has consequences, and they are dire. According to McGrath, those who dare to question or contradict the basic moral tenets of the cult must be harshly punished. They are the scapegoats and sacrificial lambs, made to stand for our sins against the sacred. They are “our blasphemers,” who are “publicly shamed, deplatformed, ostracized, slandered, and (if possible) fired.” There is no mercy, “no rites of forgiveness. . . no statute of limitations” for sins against the creed. Blasphemers must be ejected from polite society, canceled, or destroyed.

That this ideology is destructive to a democratic system of governance should be obvious. But there is one aspect of our democracy to which it poses a particularly powerful threat. That is our system of laws. “No one is above the law” is an oft-repeated principle in the Anglo-American legal world, but universal submission to that precept depends on the law’s fairness, integrity, legitimacy, and proper functioning within a democratic system of government.

Baseballery

Well, the author of this epistle said some weeks back that this feature would become intermittent. It has yet to take a sabbatical. Today’s edition is a bit of a respite though. Pinch-hitting, John Hirschauer writes that MLB commissioner and innovation junkie Rob Manfred is ruining the National Pastime. (Moi: It can’t be ruined any more than was done when the Yankees threw Kate Smith under the bus last year!) From the end of the piece:

He changed the rules about hard slides into second-base to break up potential double-plays, effectively removing one the sport’s precious few contact plays. He recently signed a deal with the umpire’s union that lays the foundation for the dawn of “robot umpires,” a change that would neuter the human element of the game. He pressured the Cleveland Indians to get rid of their beloved Chief Wahoo logo, and looks askance at the Atlanta Braves’s “Tomahawk Chop.” In the name of improving the pace of play, he nixed the traditional four-pitch intentional walk — which sometimes produced unforgettable moments — and replaced it with a simple hand signal from the dugout. An impending rule change will force relief pitchers to face a minimum of three batters or finish a half-inning before teams make a pitching change, removing key strategic decisions from the game.

In short, from the moment Manfred assumed the commissionership, he has time and again imposed novelty upon a fan base that did not, and does not, want it.

Aggregate ticket sales and television ratings have seen minor declines over the past few seasons, sure. But MLB’s 162-game regular season means it still sells more tickets than the other three major sports leagues, and it enjoys the devotion of local markets across the country. Manfred thinks he’s the captain of a sinking ship, free to do whatever he deems necessary to rescue the vessel from its ultimate demise. In fact, he stands on the shoulders of giants, men who built the sport of baseball into America’s pastime over the last 150 years. He ought to be more careful about changing it.

Listener Comments

The iTunes reviews for The Victor Davis Hanson Podcast are starting to come in, and they are all five stars. Maybe that’s to be expected. Anyway, here’s one:

VDH is one of the greatest minds among American discourse. I always look forward to his Classicist Podcast from Hoover, but at 20 minutes usually, the new VDH Podcast from National Review is a long-awaited addition their ever-improving offering of shows. Thanks for investing in Victor, particularly as we enter the brunt of election season and beyond.

Many thanks! Keep listening and tell your friends. I would . . . if only I had some.

A Dios

As bemoaned before, please do not drive in the left lane unless you are passing. “I’ll show them whippersnappers what the speed limit is!” cannot be your mission in life. Or can it? I will pray for you if that is the case. Meanwhile, do consider helping out by donating to NR’s Battle Bernie’s Socialism webathon.

Wishing that God’s Copious Graces and Blessings Will Wash Over You and Those You Love,

Jack Fowler

Who can be admonished for not getting his wife better Valentine’s Day presents at jfowler@nationalreview.com.

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