The Fox Fix

People pass by a promo of Fox News host Tucker Carlson on the News Corporation building in New York, March 13, 2019. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

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Fox News Refugees

If you’ll forgive a little inside-baseball media stuff . . .

My friend Jonah Goldberg has just quit Fox News in response to Tucker Carlson’s Patriot Purge pseudo-documentary — not the event in isolation, but more of a straw-and-camel situation. I have some other friends who still work at Fox News and who are going to keep right on working there.

What to think about these situations?

In one sense, these questions are obvious: If a gig isn’t giving you what you need, then you quit. We’re all adults, and most of us have quit a job before — some of us have even been fired once or twice. I have a great deal more respect for Jonah Goldberg and his colleague Steve Hayes, who also resigned from Fox News, than I do for the cancel-culture types who spend their time trying to get other people fired. People who are willing to pay some personal price for their choices rather than trying to impose costs on others (often to their own personal benefit) are the people who have something to say that is worth listening to.

But there isn’t any particular obligation to quit, either. Journalism (and I suppose that we must consider cable-news punditry a mutant species of journalism) isn’t a preschool sandbox, and you don’t get cooties from playing with the wrong people. If you want to persuade people, then you will just have to grow up and suffer the indignity of being around people who see the world in a way that is at odds with your own views. Horrors.

Sometimes, the other side even does . . . good work. During my recent visit to the United Kingdom, I read a couple of issues of the New Statesman, which you might think of as a British socialist version of National Review. There was a good deal of interesting and entertaining work therein — better, I think, than any left-wing magazine in the United States, and better than most of the right-wing magazines, too. I don’t think you have to be a socialist to understand that. But I wonder how many on the right would be scandalized if I subscribed? Some people would see this as supporting socialism, rather than what it is, i.e., paying for a magazine I want to read. Socialist cooties — beware!

In reality, the politics of cooties has hurt both our journalism and our politics, and hurt them in precisely the same way. Instead of initiating conversations with people who disagree with us with an eye toward persuading them, we spend most of our time talking to like-minded people. As a practical matter, politicians in our time get more juice out of rallying their partisans, inflaming their grievances and valorizing every prejudice, no matter how petty, than they do out of giving speeches to skeptical or disagreeing audiences; in precisely the same way, much of our contemporary journalism is oriented toward flattering readers and listeners rather than challenging them, reassuring them that they hate the right people for the right reasons, and that their hatred is not only justified but sanctified. And if Fox News is a gigantic corporate grievance farm, MSNBC is no less so, and neither is National Public Radio or, angels and ministers of grace defend us, Teen Vogue. There is a reason no beat reporter in this country doing real journalism earns a tenth of what a marquee cable-news mouth-hole does.

(Never mind, for now, the absolute phoniness of these champagne populists presenting themselves as the tribunes of the working classes of the “Real American” heartland against the predation of “coastal elites” or “oligarchs.” Almost every one of them lives in Manhattan, the D.C. metro, or that New York City suburb known as Palm Beach, Fla. None of them chose to make a living or a life in Oklahoma, a Spanish-speaking border enclave, or some economically dead mill town in Ohio. Rush Limbaugh could have landed his Gulfstream G550 back home in Cape Girardeau any time he liked, and Rachel Maddow spent years opining about the plight of the poor while going home to a West Village loft she bought from a rock star. The tribunes of the plebs don’t so much as get downwind from actual poor people or poor communities, unlike, say, your favorite evil elitist correspondent.)

I’ve written for the New York Times and the Washington Post, among others. I did a piece for Playboy back when that was a magazine that sometimes published interesting political writing, and I even had an article in the Atlantic once. That doesn’t mean I love everything on the Times op-ed pages or the Post’s, or everything that Playboy or the Atlantic ever did. It doesn’t even mean that I think those pages are particularly good. (The Times is a hell of a lot better at covering real news than it is at curating opinion columns.) I write for them because sometimes I have something that I want to say for a readership that isn’t National Review’s. That’s the same reason you have seen me on MSNBC or CNN or heard me on left-wing podcasts and whatnot. I don’t want to sound cynical, but journalism is a product that gets moved like any other product, and I’m interested in shelf space. I don’t shop at Walmart very often, but, if I were in the business of selling peanut butter or flipflops, I’d want to be on those shelves, irrespective of what I think about Walmart’s corporate politics, its management, or the other products for sale there. Fox News is still pretty good shelf space for people in the television business, and I don’t blame people for continuing to work there, even if it is something that I myself would not choose to be closely associated with.

I have worked for a number of very different journalistic institutions in my life, and all of them at some point or another made editorial decisions with which I disagreed. That includes — definitely — the ones where I was in charge. Everybody makes mistakes, everybody has blind spots, and — one hopes — everybody learns. You never step into the same river twice, and the news is one of those rivers. If I refused to work for any outlet that had ever made an editorial decision with which I disagreed, I would have nowhere to work. I’d have had to quit (or, I suppose, fire myself) in protest a hundred times.

It is a superstition — and a very stupid one — that to work at a newspaper, magazine, news channel, or book publisher is to endorse everything that it puts out. This is absolute nonsense. The populist, middle-American pretensions of its hosts notwithstanding, Fox News is part of a vast, sprawling multinational media conglomerate. Fox News and its corporate sibling, News Corp, have an interest in everything from book publishing (HarperCollins) to the Wall Street Journal to British tabloids to the New York Post. Sean Hannity and Bart Simpson are fruit of the same orchard (the family resemblance is impossible to miss, even if Disney now owns the smarter show) as are books by Quentin Tarantino, Dave Grohl, and Lebron James, among others. I very much doubt that any one person, Rupert Murdoch included, even knows what the editorial output of that machine looks like in toto. Nobody has enough time to keep up with the antics of both Tucker Carlson and Nigella Lawson.

(Disclosure stuff: I’ve appeared on Fox News from time to time, along with many other cable-news channels, but have never been a paid contributor. In the wider Murdoch orbit: I write regularly for the New York Post, have written for the Wall Street Journal, and published a book with HarperCollins a few years ago. There may be other connections that I’m not remembering. I fill out a lot of W-9s.)

In some contexts, publishing work you disagree with — even work to which you object — is a positive good. That’s what book publishers and magazines are there for. And, at some level, they still know this: Ronan Farrow made a show out of walking away from Hachette over the publisher’s professional relationship with Woody Allen, but — for Pete’s sake! — Hachette publishes Adolf Hitler, having brought out a new edition of Mein Kampf in 2017. And that is a worthwhile project — somebody should keep Mein Kampf in print. Ignorance is not bliss. Simon & Schuster publishes Albert Speer, among other distasteful figures, and Penguin keeps the Marquis de Sade in print. We have a First Amendment to ensure freedom of speech and of the press precisely in order to protect the publication of material to which people object, that they find wicked, unpatriotic, dangerous, or obscene. Everybody who celebrates the work of Galileo should bless the memory of Lodewijk Elzevir, the Amsterdam publisher who brought out his books after smuggling the manuscripts out of Italy at considerable risk. Margaret Caroline Anderson and Jane Heap went to jail for publishing James Joyce in the Little Review, work that was judged obscene by American censors high on Comstockery.

None of this is to say that Fox News and Tucker Carlson are the House of Elzevir and Galileo or the Little Review and Ulysses. Far from it. Fox News’s problem isn’t ground-breaking literature — it is irresponsible horsesh**. I know Tucker a little, and I couldn’t tell you why he does what he does. I don’t think it’s the money, which he doesn’t need, and it isn’t because he is stupid, which he is anything but. He is, among other things, a very fine writer. Tucker Carlson has genuine gifts, but so did Elmer Gantry.

From my point of view, the case against Fox News isn’t that it is dangerous or that Tucker Carlson’s work is likely to incite anybody to violence. (Maybe it will, but I doubt it. This country may generate a few school-shooters every year, but I don’t think it has the energy for a sustained intifada.) The case against Fox News is that it is tedious, repetitive, and lurid. Aesthetically and emotionally, it more often resembles pornography than it does, say, the commentary of Paul Harvey. One Fox insider says that some had stuck it out until the end of the Trump administration, confident that the network would make a return to something more like normal. That hasn’t happened. But for shareholders and on-air talent alike, the money is hard to walk away from.

Here’s a case for comparison. My friend and National Review colleague Andrew C. McCarthy spent a considerable part of the post-9/11 years articulating a view of presidential power that is, in my view, bananas. Not only bananas, but positively dangerous if extended to its logical conclusion. This isn’t from malice — this is McCarthy’s good-faith reading of the law. Would the world have been better off if National Review hadn’t published this work? I don’t think so. I disagree with McCarthy on many issues, but he publishes interesting work on important subjects. And he isn’t the only one who believes what he believes — it is not as though these ideas would simply go away if National Review hadn’t published them. (This is broadly the same reason I am happy to see National Review publish work I disagree with from figures I don’t particularly admire, such as Senator Josh Hawley.) We are better off when ideas are contested among intelligent and responsible parties rather than left to irresponsible demagogues. (If you doubt that, consider the likelihood that Donald Trump would be a retired game-show host, and not an ex-president, if Republicans had bothered to take immigration issues halfway seriously.) And I have always hesitated to set myself up as a censor because there exists the possibility that, in any given case, I might be wrong. I have been wrong before, and I expect to be wrong again.

I don’t imagine that in 100 years, anybody will be saying, “Thank goodness Fox News put out that Tucker Carlson video!” I don’t think that people will have opinions about Tucker Carlson at all in 100 years.

(As Jay Nordlinger points out, journalism is a thing for a day, not a thing for eternity — daily is right there in the name: journalism, from the Latin diurnalis, “daily,” cf. diurnal, Old French jornel, Italian giornalismo, Portuguese jornalismo, etc.)

These controversies focus on figures such as Tucker Carlson because they are famous. It is easy to get people to pay attention to celebrities and, as a business proposition, attention pays. But Fox News demagogues are more a symptom than a disease — as with the case of our vast and popular pornography industry, the social problem is not that the providers exist but that there exists such a large, slavering, rapacious market for the goods they are selling. I suppose I was a little ahead of Jonah Goldberg in this: I started turning down Fox News invitations when Sean Hannity began willfully misrepresenting National Review. I still have some funny emails to Fox News producers in my “Sent” box (I’d set myself on fire in Times Square before appearing on anything associated with Laura Ingraham”) but there never was a dramatic public break. There was never really a call for one, and I don’t think very many people would have cared if there had been. I’m a print dinosaur, an Eisenhower man, and an anti-populist — not exactly the stuff of which modern cable-news punditry is made. I don’t want to be associated with Hannity et al. for the same reason I wouldn’t market my work on PornHub. Donald Trump, it is worth remembering, appeared in a handful of porn films: He knows his audience, and he always has. I know mine, too.

Understandably, people care a great deal more about Jonah Goldberg’s exit from Fox News. You can tell that Tucker Carlson and others care about it by how much, how loudly, and how bitterly they are talking about how much they don’t care. That’s familiar stuff, too: Every sub-Fox News nobody over at has written 500 blog posts and tweets about how “irrelevant” National Review is, and they’ll write 500 more this year. As the philosopher said, “Ob-la-di, ob-la-da.”

“This is war,” they tell us. It isn’t, of course, not by a damned sight, and thank God for it. But if you want to think of our recent national convulsions as war, then you should think of the cable-news gang as war profiteers. They have convinced millions of Americans that they are part of a great crusade, without quite disclosing that they are part of a great crusade to make sure that Sean Hannity never has to fly commercial and that Rachel Maddow can afford sustainably grown cedar planks for her weekend retreat in Massachusetts. And don’t think for a second that Hannity and Maddow aren’t in the same business and on the same team — if you believe otherwise, you are a sucker and a mark.

I don’t blame people for wanting to make money — I do my best to make some, too — but there are times when I think I might respect these entrepreneurs a little more if they just sold heroin.

Milton Friedman’s left-wing critics denounced him for having advised the government of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Friedman’s response was, in my view, persuasive: He said he gave the Chilean government good advice, and that the Chilean people would have been better off if the Pinochet regime had followed Friedman’s advice more closely. I have friends who worked for the Trump administration, and they gave the administration good advice, making it less destructive than it might otherwise have been. (Do I need to explain to anybody that these cases are not exactly equivalent or precisely parallel? I hope not.) Fox News in its current configuration is best understood as the Trump administration in exile. Part of me wants to take my own advice, elaborated above, on the understanding that there are no perfect institutions, that we have to work with what we have, that we are better off with decent and intelligent voices being heard in those rooms and around those tables. Another part of me questions whether it is possible for an honorable man to continue to be associated with something like Fox News — or, more consequentially, with the Republican Party. Of course, they need good advice. Of course, the American people will be better off if they listen to that good advice. Are they inclined to listen? Are they even able to act on good advice? About that, I have my doubts.

Jonah Goldberg has raised a question. It is a question worth asking, and it will be worth remembering who answers it and how.

Words About Words

Journalism is a word with some poetic resonance, because it derives from words that originally meant “to keep an account,” as in a business ledger. Indeed, it should not surprise us that the businesslike word ledger appears on the flags of many newspapers: the Patriot Ledger of Quincy, Mass.; the Ledger-Transcript of Monadnock, N.H.; the Ledger of Lakeland, Fla.; etc. Journalism is, in that sense, a way of keeping an account — or a way of keeping score. I think of journalists as the people who film football games and historians as the people who study the films. The skills involved — and the point — of filming a single game, or of filming games one at a time, is different from the necessary skills and goals associated with studying dozens or hundreds of game films. They say “journalism is the first draft of history,” but it is more like the raw material of history — or one of the many raw materials.

The original jurnal (Anglo-French) was the book of daily church services. (The modern English language attests to a time when the church was much more central to the life of the community than it is today.) From there, the word took on the meaning of a daily record of business accounts or a daily record of official actions. The leap from there to what we now call journalism was easy enough to understand, though journal meaning “a daily publication” doesn’t appear in English until the 18th century.

The root Latin word diurnalis is derived from an ancient word meaning “to shine,” making journalism a cousin of the gods (Zeus and deus come from the same root) and a relative of such words as diet, sojourn, and Tuesday — and the French adieu and the Spanish adios.

And if you’ve ever wondered about the ledger of patriots in Quincy, the town’s namesake, John Quincy, was the grandfather of Abigail Adams. Both John Adams and John Quincy Adams were born in Quincy.

Last week, I raised the subject of aptronyms, and readers sent me some good ones.

I particularly enjoyed the case of a man accused of “larceny over $1,200 by false pretense, attempted larceny by check, larceny by false pretense in a consumer transaction, and being a common and notorious thief.”

The name of this common and notorious swindler? Jeffrey S. Windle.

Rampant Prescriptivism

A reader asks about the “modern travesty of Thomas Jefferson’s political organization” — isn’t it the Democrat Party, not the Democratic Party? Isn’t Democratic Party just a way of stealing a base, rhetorically, as though the other parties were not democratic?

The name of the party to which Joe Biden belongs is the Democratic Party. You may not think that’s a good name for it, but that’s the name. Democrat Party is sometimes seen as a slightly demeaning way of saying the name, and the more Democrats have complained about it, the more Republicans have used it.

As with most things involving American politics parties, it’s a little complicated. There were no formal political parties in the earliest days of the republic — faction was a constant concern among the Founding Fathers — but parties soon emerged, and the one associated with Thomas Jefferson came to be known — this is unhelpful! — as the Democratic-Republican Party. The Federalists were conventionally denounced as closet monarchists, and so Jefferson’s faction emphasized their identity as democrats and republicans. The Democratic-Republican Party fractured and formed new partisan alliances over the years, some of which were known at times as Republicans. Elbridge Gerry, mentioned last week, was one of these “Republicans,” i.e., a member of the parent party of the modern Democratic Party rather than a member of what we now call the Republican Party, which was not formed until 1854, long after Gerry and other Founding-era “Republicans” were dead and gone.

The words democratic and democracy come with warm fuzzies attached in our time, but it wasn’t always so. The Founders routinely denounced democracy, and the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, often described the Democratic Party as the “corrupt Democracy.” This was not an eccentricity of Lincoln’s. In an 1864 report on state elections, the New York Times lamented: “Nobody dreamed that the hills of Vermont, which have always withstood like adamant the highest floods of the corrupt Democracy, would now topple over into all the abominable vileness and venomousness of its dregs.”

Words have amazing powers. We are so attached to the word democracy, so convinced that it is a synonym for goodness and decency, that we have a hard time understanding democracy’s many longstanding critics, including those who maintain that democracy is “two wolves and a lamb voting about what to have for dinner,” as Ben Franklin never said.

So, you would be correct in calling it the Democratic Party. But consider the Corrupt Democracy, too. It was good enough for Lincoln.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

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In Other News . . .

We have requests for dog art. I swear, I don’t pose them like this. They just do it on their own.

In Closing

The Book of Numbers is excellent Thanksgiving reading. Moses leads the people to the land of milk and honey, but, when they learn that they will have to fight for it, they propose to return to Egypt and to slavery. “Wherefore hath the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? Were it not better for us to return into Egypt?” Moses tells the people to take courage, that God will see to their victory. And their response? They proposed to have Moses stoned to death. God, understandably, decides that He has had enough: “I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.” But Moses intercedes for the people, with words that should speak to us still: “Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.”

From Egypt — even until now.

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Gerrymandering Is Normal

Voters line up to cast their ballots on Super Tuesday in Fort Worth, Texas, March 1, 2016. (Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

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Two Cheers for the Ghost of Elbridge Gerry

The Democrats invented gerrymandering — the Republicans have come close to perfecting it.

Among the Founding Fathers, the name of Elbridge Gerry does not exactly ring out. He was vice president under James Madison and died in office. He was a member of the Democratic-Republican Party, the forerunner of what we now call the Democratic Party. When Thaddeus Stevens spits fire at the “modern travesty of Thomas Jefferson’s political organization [that] has the effrontery to call itself the Democratic Party,” he is referring to Gerry’s gang.

And what Gerry is mainly remembered for is lending his surname to the word “gerrymander.” When Gerry was governor of Massachusetts, the legislature drew up new state senate districts and did so in a cynically partisan manner. The Boston Gazette, a Federalist newspaper, published a cartoon in which one amphibian-shaped district was christened the “Gerry-mander,” and the name stuck. Gerry, according to people close to him, actually opposed the partisan redistricting, but was persuaded to go along with it. Like Neville Chamberlain, a patriot and a capable statesman who made one infamous error in judgment, his name and his reputation will be forever linked to and blackened by a single distasteful episode.

When I was young and ignorant, I had the same dumb opinion about gerrymandering as almost everybody else does: I was shocked by it. The process was politicized, and I was scandalized. As a veteran state legislator in Texas explained it to me, redistricting isn’t politicized — it is political per se, “the most political thing a legislature does,” as he put it. It does not have to be politicized because it is political by nature, and to “depoliticize” it, as some self-serving Democrats and a few callow idealists suggest, would be to change its nature and its character. The Democrats who lecture us about the will of the people would, in this matter, deprive the people’s elected representatives of one of their natural powers.

The gerrymander — like the filibuster, the earmark, the debt ceiling, and other procedural instruments of power — is something that people complain about only when it is being used against them. The Democrats were perfectly happy with gerrymandering for the better part of 200 years, understanding it to be an utterly normal part of the political process. They began to object to it when Republicans got good at it. And, in a refreshing bit of candor, their argument against partisan redistricting is that Republicans are too good at it.

Seriously — that is the Democrats’ argument: that gerrymandering was all good and fine until Republicans figured out how to make the most of it. Republicans, in clear violation of the ancient Republican Party tradition, embraced cutting-edge technology and availed themselves of the best experts’ help in order to methodically and intelligently conduct a long-term program of serious and profitable political action. “Never before have party strategists been armed with sophisticated computer software that can help them carve districts down to the individual street and home,” Hedrick Smith wailed in a 2015 essay.

Detail-oriented Republicans with an attention span exceeding that of a meth-addicted goldfish — angels and ministers of grace, defend us!

This follows a familiar pattern for the Democrats: They discover ways to maximize the political advantages that may be had from applying pressure to sensitive procedural points — or invent new political weapons outright — and then cry foul when Republicans figure out a way to use the same tools, or even to improve on them. When the Democrats began working to turn the Supreme Court confirmation process to their own advantage — a campaign that has been characterized by vicious and often transparent lies about Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, and others — they did not imagine that Republicans, dunderheaded as they are, would learn to play the same game, or that such a coldblooded figure as Mitch McConnell would simply drop a Supreme Court nominee into the nearest oubliette, as he did with Merrick Garland. Democrats load left-wing priorities into “must-pass” legislation and then complain when Republicans decline to be buffaloed by the parliamentary maneuver, going as far as temporarily shutting down the federal government when they deem it necessary.

Gerrymandering is the ur-case of this. Go look at an old district map of Texas during that state’s 130 years of Democratic legislative control, and what you will see is not exactly a hard-edged display of Euclidean regularity. Democrats made the most of their redistricting power in the Texas legislature and — bear this in mind, Republicans — it wasn’t enough to save them. Not nearly enough. Once Texans decided they were no longer buying what Democrats were selling, there was no procedural shenanigan that was going to save the “modern travesty of Thomas Jefferson’s political organization that has the effrontery to call itself the Democratic Party.”

Sometimes, when an electorate swings, it swings hard. Consider the history of Texas gubernatorial races. Unlike legislative races, there are no districts for governors — the district is the whole state. And though Texas Democrats were gerrymandering the hell out of the state’s legislative districts, they also enjoyed a nearly unbroken run of power in the governor’s office, which suggests that Democratic support in the state was broad-based and reasonably deep rather than the result of legislative-district manipulation. Excepting the two Republicans who served as governors during Reconstruction, Texas went for all of the 19th century and almost all of the 20th century without electing a Republican governor: Before George W. Bush, only one Republican had held the office of governor since the 1870s. (Republican Bill Clements was elected to two separate terms with a Democrat in the middle.) Greg Abbott is only the sixth Republican governor in the whole of Texas’s history, including Reconstruction.

In those years, Texas was pretty solidly Democratic in presidential elections, too, breaking Democratic ranks only rarely (Hoover in 1928; Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956; and Nixon’s reelection in 1972, after having backed Hubert Humphrey over the Republican in 1968) before settling firmly on the GOP from 1980 onward.

No Democrat has even come close to winning the governorship since Bush defeated the charismatic and cartoonish Ann Richards. Wendy Davis, the last great Democratic hope in Texas, didn’t even break 40 percent in her 2014 race against Abbott. Likewise, no Democratic presidential candidate has come close to winning Texas since Ronald Reagan put his long-lasting stamp on American politics in 1980. Bill Clinton, riding high in 1996, got trounced by Bob Dole; neither Al Gore nor John Kerry broke 40 percent in their respective races against Bush; both Mitt Romney and John McCain easily bested Barack Obama. But Republicans ought to be watching the count: Joe Biden did better in Texas than has any Democratic presidential contender since Jimmy Carter, who beat Gerald Ford 51 percent to 48 percent for Texas’s electoral votes in 1976. And Robert Francis O’Rourke, hero of a million bumper-stickers, came closer than Republicans would like to taking out Ted Cruz.

No amount of artful pie-slicing is going to turn a blueberry pie into a cherry pie.

A party can get a lot of juice out of procedural maximalism — gerrymandering, taking frequent recourse to the filibuster, standing in legislative bottlenecks and grandstanding at confirmations. But if that were enough to keep a party in power, then Texas would be a Democratic state. It isn’t. The Democrats must have felt at one time as though Texas were their citadel — back around the same time that California was a nursery of Republican presidents. Things change. In politics as in many other things, all victories are temporary, as are all defeats: This, too, shall pass.

The New York Times has this headline on its front page today: “Republicans Gain Heavy House Edge in 2022 as Gerrymandered Maps Emerge: On a highly distorted congressional map that is still taking shape, the party has added enough safe House districts to capture control of the chamber based on its redistricting edge alone.” I don’t doubt the accuracy of the psephological analysis, but the Democrats’ real problem right now isn’t Republican cleverness in map-making.

It is high levels of inflation, high levels of crime, and high levels of Kamala Harris.

It is also the residue of Barack Obama. Perhaps because he believed his own messianic press clippings, Barack Obama turned out to be the greatest leader Republicans ever had in their quest to control state legislatures and governorships. During Obama’s presidency, Democrats gave up twelve governorships and nearly 1,000 seats in state legislatures, along with 62 U.S. House seats and 11 senators — “a mind-bogglingly large number of races across the country,” as Vox put it. That created a great many opportunities for Republican gerrymandering. But, in spite of Republican manipulation of House districts, the Democrats quickly rebuilt their congressional majorities with the assistance of Donald Trump. They have found it harder going in state legislatures and now face strong headwinds in congressional races, too. It seems likely that this situation will persist for some time.


High levels of inflation, high levels of crime, and high levels of Kamala Harris.

Legislatures draw up legislative districts. If you don’t like the way your legislature does its work, then take Barack Obama’s advice and try winning an election.

In Other News . . .

Over the weekend, NPR ran a long story on union-organizing campaigns. There wasn’t anything inherently wrong with Michel Martin’s report, but the questions all came from the same direction; i.e., what will it take for union-organizing drives to be “successful”? There were many questions that Martin might have asked that she didn’t. For example, only one in ten Americans belongs to a labor union, and those are overwhelmingly concentrated in the public sector. Why? Why do so many Americans — from Amazon workers to autoworkers in the “transplant” facilities — actively reject labor unions? What good reasons do employers have for preferring not to do business with unions? What role has union corruption played in the rejection of unions by workers and employers alike?

At NPR, it apparently never even occurs to anybody to ask what downsides there are to unionization, what tradeoffs might come into play, etc.

When we talk about media bias, that’s what we are talking about.

Words About Words

Gerrymander, as mentioned above, is an eponym, meaning a word derived from a proper name. Other examples are boycott, from Charles C. Boycott, an English land agent ostracized by his Irish neighbors; saxophone, from musical innovator Adolphe Sax; chauvinist, from Nicholas Chauvin, a possibly fictitious Napoleonic nationalist; nicotine, silhouette, and stentorian are others. And Bluetooth is not a name cooked up by a tech-nerd marketing department — Harald Bluetooth was a king of Denmark.

Another word on my mind: lilt. The Wall Street Journal this week mentions pronouncing a certain Italian word with a “flat American lilt.” But that doesn’t really make sense: A lilt by its nature is a pattern of speech that rises and falls — a lilt is anything but flat.

English has a collection of –ilt words, not obviously related, that all have something to do with lifting or leaning: lilt, meaning to lift up, the origin of which is unknown; tilt, from an Old English word meaning “unsteady”; stilt, a cousin of stall; kilter, originally meaning “good order,” also of unknown origin, but now used almost exclusively in the term “off-kilter,” meaning wobbly.

Since I’ve just been in Scotland, an old joke:

“Why do they call it a kilt?”

“Because that’s what happened to the last man to call one a skirt.”

And Furthermore . . .

Memo to Barack Obama: There is no such place as the “Emerald Isles.” There is the “Emerald Isle,” and that is Ireland, not Scotland — something you might want to get clear on before your next speech in Glasgow.

Rampant Prescriptivism

A reader asks about obviate: “Isn’t ‘obviated the need for’ redundant? Shouldn’t it be, “Venetian blinds obviated curtains”?

Put another way: Doesn’t obviate obviate “the need for”?


There are similar instances where this is true. “Advocate for,” for example, is an inescapable illiteracy. Advocate, from ad vocatus, means “speak for.” The “for” is already in there. So the current issue of National Review does not advocate for overturning Roe v. Wade, it advocates overturning Roe v. Wade.

Obviate means remove. It means to clear away that which is in front of you — and that which is in front of you is obvious. Both words come from the Latin obvius, which is not an eponym, unless there is a forgotten centurion called Dux Obvius, which would be great.

So, Venetian blinds do not obviate curtains — what they remove is the need for them.

Common uses of obviate include “obviate the necessity” and “obviate the risk.” An act of obviating is an obviation, a seldom-seen word.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

Is politicized the dumbest word in politics? I once argued that it is.

Here is my contribution to National Review’s Roe v. Wade issue.

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. Buying the book does not obviate the necessity of subscribing to the magazine.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

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You know what is impossible to recommend right now? International air travel. Being a squishy Eisenhower Republican type, I am pretty pliant when it comes to social distancing, vaccination, and the like. If you ask me to wear a mask in your shop, I will, even if I think it is stupid and ritualistic. It’s your shop, after all. But eight hours in an N95 is a long time — long enough to make you order airline food and pretend to be eating it from Newfoundland to Galway.

Also — and I’ll bring this up with Charlie on our next podcast — I was irritated to learn that having eight COVID-19 tests in seven days is not enough to get you onto an airplane from Heathrow to DFW. Madness.

In Closing

Speaking of Scotland, today is the feast day of St. Margaret of Scotland, who was from the part of Scotland called Hungary. She came from one of those eras of great names: Her father was Edward the Exile (Edward Ætheling) and her grandfather was King Edmund Ironside. Here’s a rather nice stained-glass window depicting her. She was famed for her charity and humility — the saintly basics, as it were. But the basics are worth some attention, too. With Thanksgiving close at hand, we who have been so abundantly blessed, in no small part by lucky accident of the time and place of our birth, should keep both of those in mind. Our charity should be less than exacting — we should be happy to give people not what they deserve but much more than they deserve, mindful that our own blessings so often exceed our own merits.

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Barack Obama Graces Glasgow

Former President Barack Obama gives a speech during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), in Glasgow, Scotland, November 8, 2021. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

Kevin Williamson is reporting this week from the U.N. climate-change conference. In case you missed it, here’s his latest column from Glasgow, in lieu of his regularly scheduled Tuesday newsletter.

Glasgow, U.K. — The Biden show came. The Biden show went.

One indicator of how nonseriously the world takes the Biden administration: President Biden himself came to Glasgow to address COP26, the U.N. climate-change convention/trade show, and the result was — not much. John Kerry, the Biden administration’s special envoy for climate (and that’s how you can tell the Biden administration isn’t serious about climate change) was here, too, and nobody cared, because the big swingin’ Democrat in town was Barack Obama.

Obama got a rock-star welcome, even if he pouted a little about having to wait in traffic like a pleb and about the fact that “music doesn’t play when I walk into the room.” He also repeatedly mispronounced the name of the city in which this show was happening, as though “Glasgow” rhymed with “cow.” The locals here get irritated by that, a little like residents of Nevada who claim never to have heard of “Ne-VAH-duh.”

(I know this because I have mispronounced both Glasgow and Nevada.)

Obama was in his familiar archbishop mode, preaching against the sins of the people — “still falling short, collectively and individually,” he said. When he spoke bitterly of his “successor,” the unholy name did not escape his lips.

Obama did what Obama does — his ritualistic approach to the presidency has been followed by an equally ritualistic approach to the post-presidency. He was introduced by Representative Sheila Jack Babauta of the Northern Mariana Islands, who wore a floral coronet and insisted that global warming was the result of “climate colonialism” and could be solved through the application of indigenous folkways: “Our traditional knowledge can guide the way,” she said. This is the sort of thing that would be laughed at if we were talking about the “traditional knowledge” of Quakers in Pennsylvania or Southern Methodists in Michigan. She framed the issue in the by-now familiar neo-pagan terms — “healing Mother Earth” and all that business — and identified Barack Obama as a “son of the Asia-Pacific,” which is a grandiose way of thinking about a guy who is as much a son of Kansas as he is a prep-school punk from the Punahou School.

Like almost everyone else here in Glasgow, Obama spoke about “ambition” and an “ambitious” climate program. Ambition is taken as a good in and of itself here at the commanding heights of global do-goodery, and it is easy to appreciate the attraction for the politician — ambition isn’t subject to hard-and-fast measurement, it doesn’t actually impose any actual obligations, and it doesn’t come with any meaningful deliverables. Obama still believes in “ambition” even as he noted, rightly, that a lot of “ambitious” promises were solemnly exchanged at an earlier COP in Paris, with basically nobody making good on those stated ambitions.

He might as well have said: “Go forth and sin no more.”

And there is no better example of the hollowness of such “ambition” than Barack Obama himself. He signed on to the Paris agreement but did not have the ambition — or, in spite of his considerable political skill, the juice — to actually commit the United States to it by means of a Senate-ratified treaty. Of course, in order to be ratified by the Senate, any climate treaty would have had to have been a good deal less ambitious than the Paris agreement — and so we got an unratified commitment to the more ambitious deal instead of a ratified commitment to a less ambitious deal, which, of course, went right out the window as soon as there was a change in administration. All that unilateral executive-action stuff that seems so sexy in the moment gets changed with the drapes every time there’s a new president.

It is impossible not to read this in religious or quasi-religious terms. What is good is a good intention, “ambition,” the desire to turn away from sin and the occasion of sin. But the climate scientists assure us that a ton of CO2 in the atmosphere is a ton of CO2 in the atmosphere, whether it was produced by a charity soup kitchen or the massive amounts of electricity needed to power the world’s digital-pornography infrastructure. Physics is no respecter of ambition.

Obama has always had a gift for going on the offensive, morally. When he was criticized for his association with racist crackpot Jeremiah Wright, he responded by lecturing Americans at large on their racial shortcomings, as though these were somehow in question. A masterly speech, everyone said, hardly noting that it was a cynical attempt to change the subject. You — you, pilgrim! — need to be more ambitious.

So says Barack Obama, private citizen and private-jet enthusiast, paying a pastoral visit to Glasgow.

Politics & Policy

Vax, Quacks, and ‘Respectability Politics’

A man wears an anti-vaccine button as people protest against New York City’s mandated COVID vaccines in front of the United States Court in New York City, October 12, 2021. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter that comes out on Tuesdays, because we believe in truth in advertising. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which is a thing you should do, please follow this link.

The Politics of Vax and Quacks

A request from the vast, endless digital peanut gallery: “I’d love to see a National Review contributor try to explain why it is that for 15 years the stereotypical anti-vaxxer was a progressive suburban mom in an ultra-blue district but at no point did any major Democratic politician try to court their support the way Republicans have.”

That’s a fair question, and the answer, in a word, is: respectability.

The Democrats have won it and weaponized it, and the Republicans have consequently rejected it.

The Democrats have successfully aligned themselves with the most prestigious and powerful social institutions — Silicon Valley, Wall Street, the Ivy League, the New York Times — and they have, in turn, aligned these institutions with themselves and their ambitions. Republicans, for their part, have largely rejected these elite institutions (you can smell the sour grapes from here) along with the entire notion that such elite institutions should enjoy any special status or deference, adopting instead a countercultural politics that is, in spite of its right-wing character, a great deal like the left-wing countercultural politics of the 1960s. The student radicals who occupied the university administration offices would have loved to have done what that rabble did on January 6, but they did not have sufficient strength to occupy the Capitol — only the Lincoln Memorial, where they were visited by a solicitous Richard Nixon.

The hippies and their political allies were neck-deep in filth and dysfunction, high on radicalism, and up to their eyeballs in various kinds of antiscientific quackery. The Democratic Party, at the time, made some considerable room for this, having no other practical choice.

But that was then. The Democratic Party is well on the other side of its “Sistah Souljah moment.”

In their current configuration, the Democrats and their progressive leaders practice respectability politics, a politics of in-group affiliation expressed mainly through etiquette and socially necessary gestures of loyalty. Their main — and sometimes, their only — political strategy is based on status games, working to humiliate (and thereby effectively discredit) their opponents and rivals by associating them with low-status people and low-status ways of life rather than trying to persuade them or best them in argument.

That’s useful to the Left, which isn’t going to win a lot of intellectual arguments because its only big idea, socialism, has been thoroughly discredited by historical experience, while most of the successor ideas are either transparent adaptations of socialism (greenwashed radical anti-capitalism, etc.) or too narrow and boutique-y and bourgeois (intersectionality, neo-Maoist corporate struggle sessions, etc.) to provide the basis for a robust popular political movement.

But you don’t really need ideas or good arguments to build a political party or a political movement — you only need enemies. And your enemies should be people of low status. (That doesn’t necessarily mean poor or powerless — wealthy business leaders may be denounced as “unpatriotic,” as moral degenerates, or as “enemies of the people” in order to lower their moral status, and whatever financial success they have achieved may be discredited by claiming that they got ahead through corruption, cheating, and a “rigged economy.”) If they do not already have low status, then you work to lower their status. Donald Trump, kept on the outside by elite institutions, had to rely on sneering Twitter nicknames and such to do that. Democrats, in contrast, have a generous selection of prestigious institutions to deputize for their dirty work.

Our friends on the left routinely admit as much. From time to time, someone will demand of me: “Why should the New York Times publish conservatives? National Review doesn’t publish progressives!” Setting aside for the moment the fact that National Review has published many progressive writers over the years when they have something to say that conservatives might be interested in reading, National Review is an explicitly conservative magazine, one that exists mainly to give a voice to conservative views for the benefit of conservative readers. That line of criticism is persuasive only if the New York Times is precisely what the New York Times insists it is not: a progressive cultural possession, rather than what it pretends to be: a general-purpose newspaper without an enforced orthodoxy. Because of the prestige enjoyed by such institutions, the orthodoxy they enforce becomes nearly synonymous with respectability itself.

The point of policing the borders of respectability (which is what social-media “social justice” warriors spend their days doing) is to draw the lines in such a way as to put your enemies outside of them. It doesn’t have to make sense morally or politically, which is why the Taliban is welcome on Twitter while Donald Trump isn’t. The Taliban doesn’t matter to progressives, and Donald Trump does. In a period when all policy, including foreign policy, is held hostage to parochial domestic politics, that sort of bizarre outcome is inevitable. This is politics-as-consumerism: Not, “What do I want the government to do?” but, “What do my political affiliations say about me as a person, and how do they affect my social standing?”

Democrats and their allies now control most of the high-status institutions. And that is a lot more valuable in terms of practical political power than is ginning up a few votes from cranks — especially when those cranks are probably going to vote for you, anyway, irrespective of whether you indulge their crankiness. To take one ugly example: There is a good deal of anti-Semitism among left-leaning African Americans, and it is particularly visible in the Democratic machine politics of cities with large black populations, such as Philadelphia. And while the Democratic Party may not be as assertive as it could be in counteracting the anti-Semitism of elected Democrats such as Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, it isn’t going to take up anti-Semitism, and it wouldn’t even if there weren’t a lot of decent Democrats out there with strong moral objections to it. That’s because Democratic vote counters know that anti-Semites of the Ilhan Omar variety are going to vote for them, anyway, whereas embracing anti-Semitism would cost them many votes, not only among Jews but among non-Jewish people who would not want to be associated with an anti-Semitic party.

Democrats work tirelessly to paint the Republican Party as racist for the same reason: not to deprive the GOP of its black support, which is practically nonexistent, but to make the GOP socially repugnant to white suburbanites and professionals who might agree with Republicans about taxes or foreign policy but who would not want to be associated with a disreputable social group or to be seen being associated with such a group. And in spite of all you hear about “white supremacy,” there is nothing as disreputable in the United States as naked racism. To be a declared racist is to be cut off from polite society.

But status games go in two directions.

The Democratic Party is full of people who couldn’t pass a sophomore astronomy class but proclaim themselves the votaries of “science!” because “science!” enjoys a great deal of prestige, and that prestige is transferable: “Science! says we should be adopting these tax policies and manufacturing regulations.” This is also a useful way of ending unwelcome debate (“Science! has spoken!”) or pretending that questions involving competing social priorities and economic tradeoffs can be settled empirically and objectively.

To put it another way: The Democrats, including prominent figures such as former senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, may be indulgent of some pretty crackpot stuff from time to time (the so-called Affordable Care Act gives official blessing to a lot of indefensible pseudoscience, such as homeopathic medicine), but they didn’t do much to court pre-COVID anti-vaxxers because there wasn’t anything in it for them. Contemporary Republicans go out of their way to accommodate COVID-era anti-vaxxers (and please do spare me the BS about being only “anti-mandate”) and Ivermectin cranks and iodine-gargling crackpots for the same reason: because it is, for the moment, good politics.

Ritual humiliation is the foundation of our politics on both sides, but the Democrats and the Republicans go at it in different ways: the Democrats from a position of institutional power, the Republicans from the position of a marginalized group.

Allow me to change the scene, briefly.

There is a line that runs through conventional politics, fringe politics, conspiracy theories, and quackery — all of them begin with the idea that there is something wrong with the world, and that it is related to the wrong people having power, which is another way of saying “high status.” People often make the journey across that spectrum, from one end to the other: Cranks sometimes become mainstream politicians, and mainstream politicians (and, especially, writers and activists) very often end up as cranks. Professional success and failure are key players here: Celebrity neutered the radical Slavoj Žižek, while failure made a good and true crackpot out of Robert Kennedy Jr., one of those formerly prominent Democratic anti-vaxxers whose existence now is studiously ignored by his fellow partisans.

Medical quackery and political activism are longtime intimates. Consider the political career of Mohandas K. Gandhi — and here I mean the actual Indian activist, not the numinous saint Ben Kingsley played in that inspiring Richard Attenborough movie.

Gandhi’s first real interest in public affairs was not Indian political independence or the injustice suffered by Indians in South Africa (let us charitably pass over, for the moment, the fact that he was not very much interested in the treatment of black South Africans, and that his main complaint was that Indians were being treated like blacks, which he thought unjust), or anything that conventionally political: It was diet.

As attested to in his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, dietary-reform programs were the principal fascination of the young Gandhi, and the fervor never left him. But his program at first was the opposite of what you might expect: He meant to convert vegetarian Hindus into meat-eaters, believing that doing so would make them stronger and more assertive, both individually and nationally. He soon changed his mind about that, and his first foray into political organization was with English vegetarian clubs during his student days.

Gandhi’s first real participation in a public political conflict came while he was serving on the executive committee of the Vegetarian Society, whose president and principal financial backer proposed to expel committee member Thomas Allinson, a physician, journalist, and prominent vegetarian activist, because Allinson also supported the birth-control movement, which was considered by many people, including many vegetarian activists, to be immoral. Allinson was in fact prosecuted under English obscenity laws for his tracts on contraception. Gandhi was keenly interested in the question, and ultimately came down on Allinson’s side, thinking it wrong to exclude him from the Vegetarian Society because of a political position not related to its dietary-reform mission. Cancel culture was a thing in the 19th century, too, it turns out, but Gandhi was on the right side of it.

The coincidence of political radicalism with vegetarianism and other dietary and fitness fads was an irritation to George Orwell, who observed: “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.” Revisiting the theme: “I do not think the Socialist need make any sacrifice of essentials, but certainly he will have to make a great sacrifice of externals. It would help enormously, for instance, if the smell of crankishness which still clings to the Socialist movement could be dispelled. If only the sandals and the pistachio-coloured shirts could be put in a pile and burnt, and every vegetarian, teetotaller and creeping Jesus sent home to Welwyn Garden City to do his yoga exercises quietly!”

(You can now purchase George Orwell-themed yoga mats — hurray, capitalism.)

In The Comedians, Graham Greene contrasted the utopianism of a failed U.S. presidential candidate who had run on a “vegetarian ticket” with the brutal political reality of life in Haiti under François Duvalier. As the title suggests, such utopianism is difficult to take seriously.

But people do take it seriously. There is a reason the odious neologism lifestyle has taken root. Lifestyle is the main battlefield of politics on the 364 days of the year that are not Election Day.

Gandhi as a young man was an emphatic disciple of the very “Nature Cure” quackery that so bothered Orwell. Like many before him and after, he believed that much of modern science, and especially modern medicine, was an alien imposition standing between him and the blessings of the indigenous wisdom of his people. He would later amend these views somewhat, although his low opinion of Western medicine remained to some degree — he admired its analytic rigor but sniffed at its “methods conducing to the merely material advancement of its clientele.”

(That is a complaint that should be familiar to modern ears. “Sure, capitalism has given us Teslas and iPhones instead of widespread famine, but are we truly happier?”)

Under the Raj, that which was British had all the standing and all the power, while that which was native to India was held in relatively low regard. This is the common colonial experience. Gandhi’s initial resistance to British power was much less conventionally political than it was a resistance to the British mode of life, and lowering the status of the British (and, more generally Western) cultural elite was to be a kind of prologue not only to formal independence but also to national self-purification and transformation. This presented some difficult negotiations: It was, after all, access to elite institutions that had enabled Gandhi — an English-speaking lawyer who had spent much of his life abroad — to become a major national leader. In his view, the Indian elite was as much to blame for India’s subjugation as the British were: “It is we, the English-knowing Indians, that have enslaved India,” he said. He came to believe that liberty was to be found in renunciation — of Western goods, Western clothing, Western political ideas, Western languages, Western religion. Not that he was exactly a bigot or a chauvinist, but he believed that an authentic national politics could be built only on an authentic national mode of life.

That isn’t at all alien to the American experience. Our first public-education law, the wonderfully named Old Deluder Satan Act of 1647, was aimed at countering Catholic or crypto-Catholic influence in the American colonies, in order to secure the central national standing of the Puritan religion and thereby make the people fit for the exercise of political liberty. Prohibition and other moral-improvement programs were similarly aimed at elevating the political health of the republic by reforming the lives of the people. Rum was understood not only as a danger to your liver but as a danger to American democracy. Only by reforming ourselves and our pattern of living could we come into the enjoyment of our authentic national life.

Authenticity is, inevitably, a contested line.

In our contemporary context, we are told by veterans of our elite institutions that “real Americans” don’t need to be lectured to — or led by — “elites.” So says Ted Cruz of Princeton and Harvard Law, so says Laura Ingraham of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom (a name that no satirist would dare invent), so says Swiss boarding-school refugee Tucker Carlson, etc. Of course, the Ivy League has been on the Right’s watchlist since the days of God and Man at Yale, but even institutions formerly admired by conservatives and right-wing populists are getting the hairy eyeball: You can turn on your favorite AM-radio station and hear Dana Loesch expound on why she would discourage her children from joining the military, which is, in the right-populist estimate, just another corrupt elitist institution. Just as the English-speaking Gandhi blamed his English-speaking class for India’s agonies, our elite-educated and elite-employed populists blame their class — if not exactly themselves! — for our national pain and frustration.

And if the Marine Corps is on the outs, what chance could the Centers for Disease Control have with Republican populists?

I have touched on Republicans, Democrats, and respectability politics from time to time in the past, but I think it remains an underappreciated factor in our politics — which isn’t really politics at all but a general social confrontation, a tribal war that is fought on every front, from where we live to where we worship to where we work, from the entertainment we consume to, somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of importance, how we vote.

Democratic politics in the United States has of course always had an inevitable social component, as politics does in most other liberal democracies. For example, you’ll notice that in societies with socially distinct ethnic or religious minorities, voters in the minority group often are strongly associated with one party. Voters in the majority may be generally associated with one party, too (if only the votes of white Americans were counted, the last Democratic president would have been Lyndon Johnson) but usually not as lopsidedly. And, of course, these things can change over time: In the United Kingdom, Jewish voters once preferred Labour but have shifted toward the Conservatives, partly in response to the open anti-Semitism of some British Labour leaders; Muslims in India tended to vote against the Hindu-chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party for obvious reasons, but a substantial number of Muslim voters (about 20 percent in one recent election) have begun to pull the BJP lever as the party evolves from its foundation in religious communal politics to become something more like a right-wing populist party. In the United States, African-American voters overwhelmingly favored Republicans until the Great Depression and the New Deal, at which point black voters switched to the Democratic Party.

(There is much to criticize in the Republican record on civil rights, but, contrary to the Democrats’ preferred potted history, the GOP had lost the majority of black voters by 1946, long before the convulsions over the Civil Rights Act of 1964.)

That is a two-way relationship: Voters will be attracted to parties that welcome them and work to further their interests, but parties also react to who is in them already: Lyndon Johnson’s cynical and patronizing attitude regarding what he called “uppity” black voters (“We’ve got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down,” etc.) was not part of an effort to recruit black voters into the Democratic Party but a reaction to the prior movement of black voters into the Democratic Party, which already had been accomplished a generation before his presidency. The Republican Party’s newfound solicitousness for what is described, not entirely accurately, as the “white working class” is not in the main an effort to reach new voters but a recognition of who already is in the Republican Party.

The Republican Party has adopted a countercultural politics because it represents countercultural voters. As one critic observes, visiting American nationalists are charmed by Budapest, but Hungarian nationalists hate that city for its liberalism and cosmopolitanism, just as American nationalists hate Wall Street, Silicon Valley, the Ivy League, Hollywood, New York City, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and the entire state of California except for the Central Valley, the universities, the most successful business enterprises, and most of the parts of the country where the people and the money are. They have given up conservatism as such because they believe that our institutions are irredeemably corrupt and hence not worth conserving.

The day before yesterday, things were the other way around. Republicans and conservatives had power, or believed they had power, in the institutions, and in much of the country the GOP was associated with local economic and cultural elites, from business executives and entrepreneurs to university administrators, church leaders, newspaper editors, etc. The Republican Party was the party of educated, relatively high-income suburban professionals. The significant points on the Republican curve were Nelson Rockefeller (at the leftward boundary), Dwight Eisenhower, the Chamber of Commerce, the mainline Protestant churches, and the William F. Buckley/Barry Goldwater/Ronald Reagan faction at the rightward edge of the mainstream. In the 1980s, the stereotypical Republican was Alex P. Keaton — today, it is People of Walmart.

The Democratic Party had its aristocrats, but by the 1950s and 1960s it was very strongly associated with groups that did not enjoy a great deal of power within elite institutions: poor white farmers attracted by the New Deal but unenthusiastic about racial integration; Catholic “white ethnics”; urban minority groups, mostly poor black and brown people in poor black and brown neighborhoods; left-wing radicals and communists, who had an influence on Democratic politics disproportionate to their numbers; etc. The midcentury Democratic Party was in many ways like today’s Republican Party: dominated by rich people in the poor states and courting the votes of relatively poor people in the rich states.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the Republican Party’s evolution in the Dionysian direction — prone to ecstasies, histrionics, ritual violations of social norms, and ritual self-harm — but it is worth paying some attention to the Democrats’ evolution in the Apollonian direction. The practice of respectability politics does not sit equally easily on every Democratic constituency. The project of imposing an Ozzy-and-Harriet sensibility on gay Americans has been prosecuted with great energy but not without resistance. Andrew Kelly writes in the Bay Area Reporter:

Recently, the topic of kink- and fetish-related exhibits at Pride parades has become a flashpoint within the culture war. Proponents of kink at Pride argue that the marches came out of a place of rejecting straight society’s conventions on what is an “allowed” expression of sexuality, and that many of the organizers of early Pride events were also active in the kink and leather communities. Those arguing against the inclusion of kink at Pride often argue that it may alienate straight allies and make them feel uncomfortable, as well as make such events unsafe for children.

The perceived need to make gay-pride parades safe for children is, needless to say, a relatively recent development. But the gay-rights movement is in many ways an example of respectability politics undertaken successfully: When “gay” meant the Village People, men parading in leather chaps, and bathhouses, gay was kept at the margins; when “gay” meant Will & Grace and McKinsey consultants, that was something else. Gay politics became aligned with power and with powerful institutions rather than opposed to them. That has not pleased everybody involved, but what are the holdouts going to do — vote Republican? Not very damned likely.

(And conservative gatherings and protests where people are screaming obscenities or chanting them in quasi-religious display — good for children?)

So, congratulations to the Trump-era Republicans — you’re the gay people now: hated, generally unwelcome at the commanding heights of business and cultural life, possibly considered unfit for government work, denounced as moral degenerates, and loathed especially as an affront to public health and hygiene. There really is nothing new under the sun.

Before the era of respectability, some gay men at the fringes reacted to efforts to force them into conventional models of masculinity (or to punish them for failing to follow the associated rules) with exaggeration in both directions: If not the cartoon masculinity of all that 20th-century leather-and-bikers stuff, then the cartoon femininity of drag. Right-populism incorporates a similar kind of exaggeration. Fox News on most nights is a kind of right-wing drag show, in which the Upper East Side–dwelling multimillionaire employees of a global multinational media conglomerate pretend to be . . . something they are not.

They are not the boot-scootin’ honky-tonk aficionados they pretend to be. In truth, they are for the most part not even as dumb as they pretend to be.

The anti-vaxxer tendency on the populist right is a variation on the practice of what I have in the past called “acting white,” embracing the dysfunction and bumptiousness of the white underclass as signs of authenticity. Donald Trump is a guy who adores the music from Cats but made a political career performing a kind of white minstrel show for people who think they are characters from Jason Aldean songs. Never mind that the leaders and practitioners thereof mostly don’t know much about the white underclass they claim to champion and identify with, any more than it mattered that the gangsta rappers of the 1990s were not really very representative of the experience of most black Americans or that the Village People didn’t really represent the aspirations of many gay people in the 1970s. Write down the lyrics to your favorite pop song and read them aloud — they are invariably stupid and often illiterate, but what matters is how they make you feel. Political speeches may be a little more organized and grammatical (or not!) but they work according to the same principles.

The anti-vaxxer stuff on the right is best understood not as a medical controversy in any genuine sense but as a ritual of disaffiliation. “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” The response to COVID-19 — the lockdowns, the mandates, the government action on a vast and practically unprecedented scale — was a sobering display of power, and that power is very much on the minds of millions of Americans who seem to have quite suddenly realized that they don’t have any.

I hope that answers the question.

Words About Words

A reader is annoyed by the overuse of the word “cute.”

It seems anything that is pleasant to look at or experience is now “cute.” Fredericksburg is a “cute” town. A new Tesla is a “cute” automobile. No! Cars, towns, buildings, etc., are not cute! Babies are cute. Puppies are cute. Girls and children can be “cute.” But inanimate objects are not cute.”

(For the sake of sanity, I have removed some exclamation points and ALL-CAPS EMPHASIS above.)

Is it true that inanimate objects cannot be cute? What of, to take the most obvious idiomatic counterexample, “cute as a button”?

In fact, cute was for much of its career applied mainly to inanimate objects. A “cute knife” was one with a sharp blade, not one with pink Hello Kitty scales. (The scales are the grippy part of a knife handle outboard of the tang.) A needle might be cute. Cute originally meant fine or sharp. It probably is an abbreviation of acute, but may have evolved independently from the same Latin root, acutus, meaning sharp or pointed. By analogy, that which is acute is also keen, penetrating, clever, sudden, insightful, etc.

Clever and cute have gone together for a long time, and covered a lot of the same territory. A knife described as cute might also be described as clever, as in:

Next comes a skipper bold,
He’ll do his part right weel —
A clever blade I’m told
As ever pozed a keel.

Also in this group of adjectives is pretty, also originally have the sense of clever, artfully made, sharp, or cunning. The modern sense of cute, meaning adorable in the way babies and puppies are adorable, dates back to only the 19th century.

A note about my correspondent’s formulation “girls and children.” Girl is another one of those words that has undergone a curious evolution — originally, it referred to a prepubescent child of either sex.

Fredericksburg is, indeed, a cute town — that is ungainsayable, as Jay Nordlinger might put it.

Rampant Prescriptivism

One of my least favorite journalistic conventions is repackaging statements of moral urgency into statements of necessary fact. E.g., “The United States cannot abandon Taiwan.” No, what you meant is: “The United States should not abandon Taiwan,” or, “The United States cannot in good conscience abandon Taiwan.” Because, in reality, the United States can abandon Taiwan, probably will, and, to some extent, already has.

We see a similar pattern with “tolerated,” as in: “This kind of abuse cannot be tolerated,” or, “My administration will not tolerate such actions,” invariably said about things that we are, in fact, tolerating. For example, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito says: “Sexual abuse cannot be tolerated in any setting, including in prisons and jails.” A worthy sentiment, but such abuse obviously can be tolerated — we tolerate it right now.

We are getting Kant all wrong: “Should” may imply “can,” but “should not” is not the same thing as “cannot.”

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

The current attack on Facebook isn’t about “safety” — it’s about working the social-media refs before the midterm elections. More in the New York Post, an Alexander Hamilton joint.

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. Lots more on the origin of the weird cultural politics described above.

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 . . .

There may not be a newsletter next week. I’ll be traveling for work. But I hope the eventual story will make up for it.


The aforementioned Mohandas K. Gandhi autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, is mandatory reading.

In Closing

I am writing this on All-Saints Day. The Catholic devotion to the saints scandalizes some of my Protestant friends, but I never have understood why — I mean, I have never understood how it is that people who think nothing of asking their friends on Facebook to pray for them think it wrong to ask their friends in heaven to pray for them.

If you’ve ever lost all your money or been the subject of a scandal, the lesson you usually learn is that you have fewer friends than you thought you did. But there are other trials, other kinds of trials, some of which may lead you to discover that you have more friends than you thought you did — and that they are not the friends you expected. I myself need all the friends I have — none is superfluous.

Padre Pio, the famous confessor, is said to have sworn not to enter the gates of heaven until the last of his friends — the people he adopted as his “spiritual children” — was safely inside. I am not sure that is how it works, but who could fail to admire the gesture?

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Our Narcissistic Politics

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks to reporters outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., October 19, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about major issues and minor irritations. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

His Majesty, the Baby

One of the many awful things about our tax debate  — and our tax system — is its infantilization of the American people and its degradation of citizenship. A tax system that is designed to fund the needful things the federal government does — from making roads to making war — is a tax system pure and simple, the goal of which is to collect sufficient revenue while doing a minimum of violence to the economy, private enterprise, and private fortunes. It is those private fortunes that arouse the moralists. And a tax system or a tax-policy debate that is primarily moralistic in character is an invitation to grubbiness: “How much of the wealth of those people we don’t like very much can we pry away for people like us?”

King Baby has only one law: “I want!”

It surely is the case that, as a scientist, Sigmund Freud was a man whose name was one vowel away from being the perfect aptronym, but he was a pretty good literary critic, and some of his diagnoses are dead wrong as medicine but dead on as politics. Please forgive a long quotation:

If we look at the attitude of affectionate parents towards their children, we have to recognize that it is a revival and reproduction of their own narcissism, which they have long since abandoned. . . . They are under a compulsion to ascribe every perfection to the child — which sober observation would find no occasion to do — and to conceal and forget all his shortcomings. . . . Moreover, they are inclined to suspend in the child’s favour the operation of all the cultural acquisitions which their own narcissism has been forced to respect, and to renew on his behalf the claims to privileges which were long ago given up by themselves. The child shall have a better time than his parents; he shall not be subject to the necessities which they have recognized as paramount in life. Illness, death, renunciation of enjoyment, restrictions on his own will, shall not touch him; the laws of nature and of society shall be abrogated in his favour; he shall once more really be the centre and core of creation — ‘His Majesty the Baby’, as we once fancied ourselves.

Narcissism — by which I do not mean a specific psychiatric diagnosis but the bundle of attitudes and behaviors to which the diagnosis refers, the common moral failings that are magically transmuted into a medical condition — is a basic ingredient in democracy. You can’t make a democracy without narcissism for the same reason you can’t make banana pudding without bananas — it’s not the only ingredient, but it’s the ingredient that makes the thing exactly what it is. Freud’s detection of a father’s own dormant ambitions and latent desires in his hope for his children is confirmed by commonplace (though by no means universal) experience: If you have in your circle of friends a former quarterback whose life peaked on the varsity football team with a teenage son who also plays football, then you have seen this at work. (My Manhattan readers may think of stage mothers, with “mothers” in that expression having embraced members of both sexes long before it was fashionable to do so.) That is a situation which has only two possible outcomes, neither of them desirable: failure and disappointment or success and envy.

A politics of narcissism is a politics of envy. Narcissism and envy are not the same thing, but each is mixed up in the other. But the Freudian point absolutely stands here: When such specimens as Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lament “inequality” and spend their days dreaming up ways to make the wealthy less wealthy, they do not really do so on behalf of the class of people who work as waitresses at Denny’s or stock Walmart warehouses — they do so on behalf of the class of people who make comfortable six-figure salaries teaching at Harvard or park their Teslas in front of the Whole Foods while on one of those endless errands of “public service.” As Megan McArdle once put it, in Washington, “very rich” means “just above the level a top-notch journalist in a two-earner couple could be expected to pull down.” Barack Obama, one in a long line of Rolex-wearing class warriors, once promised not to raise taxes on people making $200,000 a year or less. Joe Biden, his senescent epigone (and another Rolex aficionado), has raised that to $400,000 a year — times are very good, indeed, for the power-adjacent class.

Senator Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) has offered to support a wealth tax as part of his horse-trading strategy for the Democrats’ big, insane spending bill. Senator Manchin is not a very serious man in most ways — the best way to think of him is as a kind of congressional TSA agent: He doesn’t have to be all that sharp to stand between you and where you are trying to go, and so you have to deal with him. (I would prefer to see all Senate standoffs settled by a series of spelling contests between Ben Sasse and Patty Murray.) A tax on wealth probably doesn’t sound like a very big deal to a senator representing the second-poorest state in the Union. (Oh, Mississippi, the federal statisticians will all be jumping out of windows if you ever get your act together!) Senator Manchin’s big idea for making West Virginia better off is not helping the proud citizens of the Mountain State make the most of their own labor, creativity, and resources — it’s just taking money from somebody else and dumping it on them. That’s been the West Virginia way for a long time, which is why every third pile of rocks in the state is named after the late Senator Robert Byrd.

(Or, as Bill Clinton called him, “the other Exalted Cyclops.”)

There are many good arguments against a wealth tax. For one, it is unconstitutional. (Yeah, Sunshine, I hear you, and you may think the apportionment clause is dumb, but it’s not imaginary. And the 16th Amendment gives Congress only the “power to lay and collect taxes on incomes,” not wealth.) It would be impossible to efficiently administer (even Switzerland got rid of its federal wealth tax, though there is one at the local level, and, in any case, we are not Switzerland), which is why most of the European countries that have had one have abandoned it. The most obvious problem (though there are many more) is that shares and other financial instruments can fluctuate substantially by the second — Virgin Galactic shares, for example, went from $15.50 to $56 over the summer, which makes establishing a sensible tax valuation difficult. Wealth taxes are redundant in that we already tax income derived from wealth (that’s what a capital-gains tax does), which is much easier to pin down. Wealth taxes penalize saving and reward consumption. Wealth taxes will make housing more expensive, especially for renters — that is, the people who actually pay the taxes on their landlords’ portfolios.

But the biggest problem with a wealth tax is that it entrenches King Baby politics. It is a great bawling cry of “I want!” A wealth tax is only an invitation for the majority of the population to put its hand into a minority’s pocket. And that is straight-up looting. If we were going to have a wealth tax, then we should do it the way the Swiss do: Instead of starting it at $50 million in wealth, as Senator Warren proposes, we should start it at $250,000. Our progressive friends say that taxes are a way of showing that we are all in this together. But they are always eager to put somebody else’s money where their mouth is.

Words About Words

Of course Hertz prefers electricity. The car-rental company has ordered 100,000 new Teslas.

It was similarly inevitable that the telephone would be invented by a man named “Bell.”

An aptronym is a name that is amusingly appropriate: The beef-association spokesman named John Hamburger, sanitary engineer Thomas Crapper, Fox News meteorologist Amy Freeze. Dennis Rodman’s father, who had 26 children by 16 mothers, is the late Philander Rodman. (Dennis Rodman says he is one of 47, but, really, can you take Dennis Rodman at his word?) A food charity accused of corruption was run by Robin Mahfood.

There are inaptronyms, too: Philadelphia’s new police commissioner is Danielle Outlaw. The chief Catholic clergyman in the Philippines for many years was Cardinal Sin. Frank Beard was for years the only clean-shaven member of ZZ Top, though lately he’s been sporting a modestly manful growth.

Rampant Prescriptivism

A reader is irritated with the Wall Street Journal editorial board, whose august members write:

That’s good to hear. But the reason that clarification was necessary is because the Oct. 4 memo he issued calling for federal involvement followed a letter to President Biden from the National School Boards Association (NSBA) describing school-board protests as possible terrorism.

Do not write, “the reason is because.” Just write, “the reason is.”

Because is a conjunction. As a conjunction, it joins parts of a sentence. That sentence can be simple or compound: “The game was canceled because of the rain,” or “We could not finish the game, because it was raining.” The Wall Street Journal editors could have written: “The clarification was necessary because the Oct. 4 memo . . . ” or “The reason the clarification was necessary was that the Oct. 4 memo . . . .” Writing “the reason is because” is not exactly ungrammatical, but it is redundant and clumsy.

Because often functions as an adverb, an “adverb of cause and effect.” It wants to expand on the verb or adjective that precedes it: “I tripped because I’m clumsy, and I’m clumsy because I’m distracted.”

Why follow this rule?

Because — that’s why!

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.

My National Review archive can be found here.

From the week: Yes to nuclear. No to phony-baloney politicians. Yes . . . but, to drug legalization.

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.

Donald Trump Is a Hilariously Incompetent Thief

Sometimes, Donald Trump’s boundless dishonesty collides with his bottomless stupidity in a particularly amusing way. Tell me: What kind of genius steals something that is given away for free?

Trump, as you may have heard, is making a second go at starting a social-media company, having failed once already with his Twitteresque “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump” microblog. You can see the attraction of such a play for Trump: He almost certainly needs money, and a tech startup is a good way to attract some; he has been kicked off Twitter and Facebook and is desperate to get back in the game; right-populists hate Silicon Valley, and they would be pleased to see Trump put a dent in Big Tech’s collective arrogance, if not its profits.

The problem comes, unsurprisingly, when you put Donald Trump, arguably America’s least-competent businessman, in charge of something.

Trump’s new social-media product is based on code stolen from Mastodon. We know this because the theft was so ham-fisted and incompetent that Mastodon’s logo displays on one of the first pages users of the Trump app are likely to see: its error page. Mastodon is also mentioned right there in the code, which was plain as soon as anybody bothered to look.

The funny thing is: Mastodon’s code is open-source. If Trump wanted to use it, all he had to do was copy it, acknowledge the copying, and leave that code open to the public on the same terms. Instead, he slapped a “proprietary” label on somebody else’s work, turning him from an open-source collaborator into a thief. But Donald Trump has made his living by putting his name on other people’s work for so long that it just comes naturally to him.

But it gets better. (Of course it does!) Trump is threatening to sue another social-media startup, one that advertises itself as “uncensored” and charges users $5 a week. The app makers use Donald Trump’s image to advertise their product, highlighting the fact that he is banned on many social-media platforms. Trump is, of course, furious. Cease and desist, the lawyers say.

But, at the same time, his own social-media app is circulating marketing materials made up to look as though Variety and the New York Times have signed on as users — which, of course, they haven’t. TechCrunch is depicted as a user, too: “The headline displayed next to our logo has never appeared on this site,” the company says, “and TechCrunch does not have an account on” Trump’s platform.

Variety and the New York Times — that is who Trump really cares about, as much as he may protest to the contrary. When he wants to phony up some credibility for himself, he doesn’t recruit OANN or Newsmax — he pretends to be working with the New York Times.

As he used to say on Twitter but can’t anymore: Sad!

The last time we saw a criminal mastermind this incompetent, he was thwarted by a talking moose and a squirrel.

Beast News

We had some friends in town staying with us, and Katy and Pancake kept a careful eye on them. Well, maybe “careful” is not exactly the right word.

I like that our software now generates suggested captions, in this case: “Two dogs lying on a couch.” I should put that on my door instead of the house number. Truth in advertising and all that.

In Closing

Last week, the National Review Institute held its annual William F. Buckley Jr. Prize Dinner, honoring the big brains behind the Federalist Society, Leonard Leo and Eugene Meyer, and the tireless man behind the Philanthropy Roundtable, Adam Meyerson. It was one of our first in-person events in some time, and it was good to see old friends in their tuxedos and gowns. The Federalist Society was founded in 1982, when Ronald Reagan was on the ropes early in his presidency and the success of his program far from certain. The Philanthropy Roundtable was founded just a few years later. Conservatism is by nature a sensibility and a project rather than a discrete contest; I am in the habit of repeating T. S. Eliot’s observation that there are no lost causes because there are no gained causes. The world is always falling apart and always being rebuilt. Today, the Federalist Society enjoys real influence, and it has seen some of its program come to pass. It took decades — liberty is a long game, and, as Leo and Meyer and Meyerson all were at pains to point out, no part of its success is the work of one man. It is fashionable to sneer at committee meetings, panel discussions, and chicken dinners, but the real work of citizenship is rarely exciting or dramatic.

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Politics & Policy

The Pillage Party and the Freakshow Party

President Joe Biden speaks to reporters before boarding Air Force One at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn., October 15, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

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

The Two Democratic Parties

Gather ’round, progressive friends, sit down here with the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, and let us speak the truth to one another, for at least a moment: Take a look, if you will, into President Biden’s eyes — those flat, terrified, watery, senescent eyes that could very well have been plucked from the skull of Robert Byrd or Strom Thurmond, those dull cow eyes that have been misapprehending the comings and goings of life on this earth since the Andrews Sisters were topping the charts with “Pennsylvania Polka,” those filmy orbs going blank as they fix absently upon the backend of everything from the first-class compartment on Amtrak — and tell me: Are you looking into the eyes of a man who gives even one half of a rat’s furry patootie about your pronouns?

No. Whatever he pretends, no.

There are two Democratic parties, and Joe Biden belongs to the older one: the Pillage Party. Thank God for small favors.

The Pillage Party goes all the way back to Andrew Jackson, and its platform has always been precisely the same: transfer as much money as possible to constituents from non-constituents. Old Hickory and Lyndon Johnson would tell you that was all about helping out the poor folks down on the farm and in the forgotten corners of America, but you and I know that is pure bullsh**. Democrats are perfectly happy to run with something you might think of as a more naturally Republican position if it puts money in the pockets of their partisans: Removing the cap on state and local tax deductions is a Democratic issue, not a Republican one, even though it means tax cuts for the rich, and especially for rich people with expensive houses in expensive neighborhoods. Silicon Valley and Wall Street may vote for Democrats for largely cultural reasons, but Elizabeth Warren’s nice progressive neighbors up in Cambridge are feeling the pinch of paying for all that progressivism out of their own progressive pockets. College-loan forgiveness is not exactly No. 1 on the agenda of desperately poor Americans in Democrat-run cities such as St. Louis or Cleveland, where the put-upon proletariat is worried about keeping the heat on this winter, not paying off the tab at Oberlin. Social Security, that epitome of the New Deal, transfers wealth from African Americans and Latinos to whites and, especially, from unmarried African Americans and Latinos to married whites — because Ward and June always get theirs.

Franklin Roosevelt very cannily ensured that his New Deal was heavy on middle-class and upper-middle-class benefits, funded through payroll taxes that would remove the stigma of the “relief attitude,” as he told Luther Gulick of the American Society for Public Administration. “With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my Social Security program,” Roosevelt said. “Those taxes aren’t a matter of economics, they’re straight politics.”

Understanding the character of the Pillage Party makes some aspects of our contemporary politics more comprehensible.

On the matter of the social-spending bill, the Biden administration and its congressional allies have followed a very old negotiating strategy: Demand the redonkulous and accept the merely ridiculous as a compromise, trimming a trillion or so off the top. But they will fight for those dollars and that spending, just as Barack Obama was willing to throw away much of the rest of his presidency in order to sign new health-care benefits into law. We should expect like-minded Democrats to be relatively energetic in the pursuit of middle-class benefits such as child-care subsidies and “free” college educations.

At the same time, the Biden administration has chosen to punt on certain progressive priorities, such as the court-packing scheme that has fueled so many left-wing daydreams. Left-wingers in Congress introduced a bill to expand the Supreme Court from nine to 13 members in order to provide the administration an opportunity to pack the court with politically reliable progressives, but the Biden administration handed the question over to one of those goofy presidential commissions, which will produce recommendations that will be hotly debated and fought over — two conservatives recently resigned from the commission in protest — but which will produce, in all likelihood, squat in terms of actual change. An administration that wanted to overturn the constitutional order in the pursuit of abortion or gun-control goals would not have handed this off to a blue-ribbon committee. We should not misread what that means: It isn’t that the Biden administration gives a fig about the constitutional order; it’s just that it doesn’t care nearly as much about the so-called social issues or gun control as it does about moving money from Smith (R) to Jones (D), and chose not to invest very much political capital in the proposal.

The main political function of the commission is giving conservatives another squirrel to chase, and one suspects that the Biden administration would much prefer to have a culture-war battle over the Supreme Court than to have conservatives instead bothering the president about his involvement in any of his son’s shady shenanigans or discovering what personal benefit he may have derived from them. If you are Joe Biden, you don’t want to see Hunter on the news — not if you could instead have Ted Cruz on there trying to explain originalism to Americans.

Joe Biden belongs to the Pillage Party. And he does not have to negotiate with Republicans nearly as carefully as he must deal with the other Democratic Party: the Freakshow Party. The Freakshow Party has been on the progressive scene for a long time, and if the Pillage Party is The Grapes of Wrath, the Freakshow Party is Last Exit to Brooklyn. It’s the “Shout Your Abortion and Show Me Your Pronouns!” party. The three legs of that wobbly stool are the Jew-Hating Weirdo Left (Sharpton, Farrakhan, Omar, Occupy types, etc.), the Loopy White People Left (NPR, vegan bakeries, college towns — everywhere you see a Subaru covered in bumper stickers), and 2SLGTBQIA+ (which I really hope is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s email password). Its natural occupation is that of hall monitor.

Consider this from one of Slate’s increasingly pornographic (and, apparently, fictitious) advice columns:

We do not allow our children to have their own computers to prevent the risk of them being radicalized by alt-right websites, so our kids share a laptop that we monitor and control access to. We found an excel spreadsheet in Jack’s folder that listed the names of all of his classmates, as well as dates and descriptions of their problematic behavior. Some of the descriptions I saw include “has a mom who is a cop,” “no pronouns in insta bio,” “laughed at a fat joke,” “lists problematic show as one of their favorites,” “mimicked a foreign accent,” and “used cis-normative language.”

Maybe that’s the work of some right-wing satirist sneaking one in on Slate. But, in any case, the spectacle of some progressive punk kid making a list of pronoun transgressions while getting ready to go all We Need to Talk about Kevin on his classmates — that’s a pretty good window into the soul of the Freakshow Party. You will never see so much intolerance in the service of “tolerance,” so much hatred in the service of “love,” so much ruthlessly enforced conformism in the service of “diversity.”

They are vicious and petty, but they do not actually matter all that much. What they are is useful. Have you ever used a fan or a loud air conditioner to help you sleep in a noisy environment? The constant, regular, low drone isn’t enough to keep you awake, but it is enough to drown out the noises that might keep you up: a dripping faucet, a hotel elevator located a little too close to your room, raccoons on the roof of the cabin, whatever. That’s what the Kulturkampf stuff really is: noise, just enough to keep us from being awakened by the things going bump in the night. This is not to say that culture doesn’t matter — it does. In fact, it certainly matters more than any other single factor. But the outrage-of-the-day stuff on Twitter and talk radio doesn’t really touch or move the culture all that much. It’s just churn, white political noise. Partisan-outrage media on the left and partisan-outrage media on the right traffic in the same commodity: disgust. Disgust is the easiest way to produce emotional engagement, slightly edging out fear. But the so-called culture warriors who spend their days advertising new reasons for their audiences to hate people they already hate are — at best — self-deluding. They aren’t fighting any kind of culture war — in that war, they are not the soldiers but profiteers.

In the context of Texas, I have often said that I worry about Houston more than I worry about Austin. That’s another way of saying that I worry more about the Pillage Party than the Freakshow Party. Freakshow politics is, by its nature, less serious. Its interests are less enduring, its attention span is shorter, and its adolescent motives wear out pretty quickly. That is why you see so many Freakshow partisans graduate to the Pillage Party once they have secured real power. Bill Clinton spent about 10 minutes in the 1960s counterculture before he figured out what real power looks like. Barack Obama could not have been more pleased to move on from the Reverend Jeremiah Wright to Warren Buffett. Hillary Rodham did not grow up to join the Marxist vanguard — she joined the board of Walmart. The demands of wokeness change from day to day: One day, it’s engaging in Maoist self-criticism sessions and denouncing ourselves for our “privilege,” the next day, it’s pretending to believe that Bruce Jenner is a woman named Caitlyn. That sort of thing has been keeping conservatives hopping from one foot to the other since about 1968, but the Left was never really able to build a stable political movement on top of that: 1968 gave us Richard Nixon, the radicalism of the 1970s gave us Ronald Reagan, the 1990s gave us Newt Gingrich and the real beginnings of what would later become Tea Party Republicanism, and the turn of the century was dominated by George W. Bush and the foreign-policy agenda he never wanted to be the centerpiece of his presidency.

It wasn’t until Barack Obama that the American Left started to figure out how to make it work: While Donald Trump and other jibbering jackasses of that kidney were going nuts about Obama’s birth certificate and the Freakshow Party was pitching a circus tent in lower Manhattan, Obama was busy pillaging: creating expensive new health-care benefits that served to entrench his own personal power even as it decimated (more than decimated, in fact) his party in the states, working through “green energy” programs and the like to help ensure that Wall Street and Silicon Valley saw their financial interests aligned with the Democrats as much as their cultural interests are, etc. As a candidate, Obama fumed to his New York City moneymen buddies that he was fed up with the teachers’ unions and their cynical rent-seeking, which was a message very much tailored for an audience whose own children would never see the inside of a public school; once he had their money and their votes, he forgot all about that, because the teachers’ unions are, in fact, the textbook case of Pillage Party politics: You get a few million people relying on you for oversized salaries and generous benefits, and they volunteer as your foot soldiers.

Obama was, of course, Freakshow-adjacent, and he surely is a freak at heart, but he didn’t actually practice very much in the way of Freakshow politics: sharp words for the Cambridge, Mass., police, that sort of thing, most of it pretty low-cost for him, politically. But his opponents wanted to chase the Freakshow, and he was clever to let them, and to occasionally goad them. Meanwhile, it was pillage, pillage, pillage.

Biden may have learned a little something from that. He’s got trillions going out the door, and his colleagues’ “moderate” position is giving a trillion or two back in negotiations. The Right, meanwhile, is chasing its tail: Masks! Mandates! Iodine! Ivermectin!

You might think that Republicans could make that strategy work, too. For years, the Left offered much the same analysis of the GOP that I offer of Democrats: that the social conservatives were basically running interference for the tax-cutters and business-deregulators. And there may have been something to that, once. But while we still have two Democratic parties, there’s only the one Republican Party still standing: the Putz Party.

The GOP — Gaggle of Putzes.

Which Brings Us To . . .

There has been some interesting back-and-forth — and some positively tedious back-and-forth! — about the proposal from various anti-Trump/anti-Trumpism conservatives to set up a new political party so that Reaganite ideas might have a political home. I don’t think very much of the idea of a new party, because I do not think that there are enough anti-Trump conservatives to make much difference as an electoral matter, even as spoilers, though some of my more psephologically inclined colleagues believe otherwise.

But, if you’ll allow me, I think I can clarify the terms of the debate: On one side, we have people who think that the most important thing for the long-term good of the country is to keep Democrats from holding power for the next ten or 20 years, and, on the other side, we have people who believe that the most important thing for the long-term good of the country is to keep Trumpists from holding power for the next ten or 20 years. I think there are good-faith arguments for both positions, and I have even seen one or two of those increasingly rare specimens.

What conservatives are likely to end up with, in any case, is a worst-of-both-worlds outcome: Trumpists do not have the necessary attention span to hold power nationally on anything but a sporadic basis, and they lack the kind of positive policy agenda that would help them to organize themselves into a genuine political movement instead of the personality cult that they are today. At the same time, the economic incentives of right-wing media more or less ensure that Trumpism will remain enough of a force within the Republican Party for long enough to cripple it for a generation. Donald Trump was for many years a generous donor to Democratic campaigns, from Hillary Rodham Clinton to Chuck Schumer, but his deformation of the GOP will be his lasting gift to the Democrats.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the Republicans have a very good midterm election. But there is a difference between having power and deserving power — and an even vaster gap between having power and knowing what to do with it. Still, there may be some electoral victory, but I do not think that that will change the fact that the GOP is now simply too damaged and disreputable to provide a useful channel for the conservative electoral project. There are a few good men left in the Republican Party, but they mostly are there out of mere sloth. And, if there’s an argument for a new party, that’s really it: Conservative ideas and policies need some electoral instrument, and the Republican Party is no longer that.

In a sense, conservatives are still struggling with the question of 2016: Who deserves to lose more?

You may as well ask whether it’s better to have testicular cancer on the left side or on the right side. Cancer is cancer.

Words About Words

Pronouns matter. A reader shares this from a news report: “A driver has died after striking two deer in the road, which caused them to veer and roll into an oncoming vehicle.” What the sentence says is that the deer swerved into the path of an oncoming vehicle; what it means is that the driver swerved into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

A New York Times headline reads, badly: “It Wasn’t Just My Life on That Stage. So Was My Purpose.” There are a couple of ways to write that to avoid the awkwardness: “My Life Was on That Stage — So Was My Purpose,” or, “It Wasn’t Just My Life on That Stage — It Was My Purpose.” You want the parallel construction rather than the train wreck. One of the things that I noticed when teaching writing is that inexperienced writers often forget what they have just written once they move on to a new sentence. For that reason, they don’t do certain things that would improve their prose, such as varying the length and structure of sentences within a paragraph or building toward a conclusion. There isn’t anything grammatically wrong with either of those sentences, in the same way that there isn’t anything wrong with either Irish Spring Deodorant Soap or a blueberry pie. The trouble comes from trying to combine them.

A couple of readers write to share that they have gone through life thinking the opening line of that Fugazi song is not “ahistorical” but “hey, sorta cool.”

Rampant Prescriptivism

What about people who use “try and” when they mean “try to”? Should we send them all to go live in a colony somewhere?

There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with “try and.” This is a matter of writing what you mean: “The most likely outcome is that we will try and fail to pass the bill,” or, “We will try and hope for the best.” These do not mean the same thing as: “We will try to fail to pass the bill,” or “We will try to hope for the best.”

The best way to avoid trouble is to think about what the words you are writing actually mean, not what it is that you are trying to say. If you do that, you will try and write what you mean.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

Inflation causes higher Social Security spending, and higher Social Security spending causes inflation. Welcome to the vicious circle. More in the New York Post, which is, as far as I know, the only newspaper to have an entire Public Enemy song dedicated to denouncing it.

The Marquis de Sade wrote about La philosophie dans le boudoir — “politics in the bedroom.” In our time, it’s straight to the toilet. More from National Review, which is, as some of you apparently need to be reminded, a fortnightly magazine, which means that it comes out every two weeks.

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’s the sort of thing that gets you called an “elitist” by people who think this is a put-down even though they are fully aware that you work at a magazine founded by a guy who installed a harpsichord on his yacht.

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.


Last week I mentioned, but hardly did justice to, Mark Leonard’s new book, The Age of Unpeace: How Connectivity Causes Conflict. From trade to immigration to social media, the book covers a lot of ground, but covers it very intelligently.

In Closing

Part of me hopes that my friend Kathryn Lopez will write a novel. Her observations about “medical waste” are the sort of thing that a modern American Dickens might make something of.

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Law & the Courts

Criminal-Justice-System Error

A guard escorts inmates at San Quentin state prison in San Quentin, Calif., in 2012. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about language and politics, and sometimes about how they relate to one another. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

What Happened in St. Paul
The late Mike Quinn knew something about killers with three names — you can see his Dallas Morning News coverage of the Kennedy assassination at the Smithsonian. But Quinn, who later in life became that most unusual of creatures — a useful professor of journalism — had some less-famous stories about three-named criminals.

Some notorious criminals used their middle names habitually — Lee Harvey Oswald was one, and John Wilkes Booth was another. Also James Earl Ray and Sara Jane Moore, the failed assassin of Gerald Ford. But mostly, we know infamous criminals by three names because of a newspaper convention. There are lots of John Smiths in the world, and even people with unusual names often have name-twins and name-triplets out there. Sometimes, that’s because the name is only locally uncommon: If there is a Muhammad al-Muhammad in Muleshoe, Texas, he’s probably the only one, but there are lots of Muhammad al-Muhammads in the world. And if one of them does something awful, you want to be as clear as possible about which one it was. Hence the old print-journalism formula: “Police arrested 55-year-old Michael Ray Collins of the 4300 block of 75th Street in Mulberry, Ala.” You want to do that in order to spare the innocent: I just made up the name “Michael Ray Collins,” but Google it and I guarantee you will find dozens of people with that name.

(There is no 4300 block of 75th Street in Mulberry, Ala.)

Quinn liked to tell two stories about double names, both involving college newspapers. In the 1950s, the Daily Texan at the University of Texas reported that a socially prominent young woman on campus with the memorable name Barbara Booze was in some minor trouble with the Austin police (unpaid parking tickets or something like that) and made a gentle joke about it. Wrong Barbara Booze, as it turned out — and Papa Booze, a politically connected lawyer, was not amused. In a less funny story, another college newspaper at a different school learned that a convicted sex offender with an unusual foreign name had been hired to work in a women’s dormitory, and its editors ran with the story. They had the wrong guy: The dorm worker had the same unusual name as the sex offender, but wasn’t him. Imagine being that man seeing the newspaper first thing in the morning, and having to explain to your family and friends that what’s in the newspaper, identifying you by your unusual name, is not true. This was back when people mostly believed what was in the newspaper. The lawyer’s advice in that case: “If he asks for anything less than $1 million, just give it to him.” There followed the issuance of a sincere apology and the cutting of a large check.

With that in mind, I was not at all surprised to find that two out of the three men named as suspects in that horrible Minnesota bar shooting had exact three-name matches for men convicted in prior violent crimes. I don’t imagine that I am the only person whose first reaction to a story like this is to Google the suspects. At the time of this writing, the St. Paul police have not shared any specifics about their cases, but the department did confirm to me that the suspects have “extensive criminal histories.”

(But these are not necessarily the crimes that turn up on Google: Thanks to National Review’s news desk, I can pass on that one of the St. Paul suspects shares three names with a man charged in a violent crime in Florida but is not the same man — the two were born about a decade apart. First, middle, and last name sometimes isn’t enough.)

The journalistic language in the coverage of the St. Paul shooting was tediously familiar: “Gunfire broke out,” reported the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “This is an issue of gun violence,” declared local do-gooder Molly Jalma. They write and speak as though those triggers just pulled themselves.

But we know that isn’t the case.

A New York Times survey of police records found that the vast majority — and here I mean more than 90 percent — of the homicides in New York were committed by people with prior criminal records. In Baltimore, the police find that both homicide perpetrators and victims overwhelmingly have criminal records, mostly for violent crimes. It’s 85 percent in Milwaukee. The situation is the same in most other cities.

Nationally, more than a third of violent felons have an “active criminal-justice status” — meaning they are on probation, parole, or awaiting trial on another charge — at the time of their most recent offense. The great majority (more than 70 percent) of violent felons have a prior arrest record, the majority of them have been convicted of a crime, and more than a third of them already have been convicted of another felony. Two out of three murderers have a prior criminal history. So reports the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

You may know the Fugazi song “Bulldog Front,” which begins, “Ahistorical, you think this sh** just dropped right out of the sky.” I think hearing that song was the first time I encountered the word ahistorical. (You could get a fair bit of vocabulary from 1980s and 1990s punk music, especially if you were a fan of Bad Religion. And I remember seeing the Dissent record “Epitome of Democracy” and pronouncing the first word “eppy-toam” the first time, until it occurred to me what it said. Usually, I have the opposite issue: knowing words that I have seen in print but being unsure of how they are pronounced.) Our discussion about crimes such as the one in St. Paul tend to be ahistorical. But we have a lot of history, and a lot of data, when it comes to violent crime. We just do not desire to acknowledge it.

In his famous essay “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell observes:

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, ‘I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so’. Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

While freely conceding that the Soviet régime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigours which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.

The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.

As I have argued elsewhere (and at book length), a great deal of our political discourse — most of it, in fact — is not an effort to talk about things but a programmatic way of not talking about things. You see this in the tepid language that so irritated Orwell, as horrifying euphemisms such as “ethnic cleansing” become part of the ordinary vocabulary. And this tendency is not limited to language: It is present in data and data-collection as well. I have written from time to time about the persistent tendency of police departments to produce not only occasional criminals but full-blown organized-crime rings, and one of the things that is most striking about the scholarship in this field is that there is . . . not very much of it. There is no reliable data-collection on the subject of how often the ladies and gentlemen we entrust with badges and guns abuse those instruments in deliberate and sustained criminal enterprises; such information as we have is mostly journalistic, along with a few desultory scholarly efforts to aggregate news reports. You can learn a great deal about a society by understanding what is not talked about and what cannot be talked about.

One of the things that is studiously not talked about is the fact that our criminal-justice system works on a worst-of-both-worlds model: It is simultaneously cruel and ineffective. Some of us might be inclined to tolerate a liberal but underperforming system, and a great many Americans would defend a vicious and cruel system if it were effective. Each of those models has its problems. But who could defend the system we have? Our criminal-justice regime ranges from the petty (reincarcerating paroled offenders over minor noncompliance) to the monstrous (effectively turning many prisons over to gangs, weaponizing rape) while failing to protect our cities and other communities from criminal violence of a sort experienced in few if any other advanced countries. (This includes advanced countries with relatively widespread gun ownership, such as Canada, Finland, Austria, and Switzerland.) Conservatives sometimes whisper among ourselves that this is not talked about because of the relative prominence of African Americans among criminal offenders. But it is, I think, much more the case that we do not talk much about the facts of the case because those facts inconvenience some very powerful actors: police departments and penal systems, the vast bureaucracies of parole and probation, the vast workforce employed in our 2,000 state and federal prisons, our 1,700 juvenile jails, our 3,000 local lockups, and our hundreds of other incarceration facilities, along with countless parole offices, drug-testing centers, grant-dependent “social services” agencies that function as ATMs for the politically connected and the corrupt, etc.

Personally, I’ll take a dozen honest drug dealers over one corrupt parole officer.

What happened in St. Paul was the work of particular criminals. But it also is the work product of a vast, vicious, ineffective apparatus of criminal justice that is big on surveillance and officiousness but not very big on achieving justice, or even securing order. We should stop acting surprised by these episodes — and we should stop allowing our police, mayors, city councilmen, social workers, and legislators to pretend that they are surprised. There is no excuse for being surprised.

And we can begin by trusting the English language to express that the men named as suspects so far in this investigation are Terry Lorenzo Brown Jr., 33, Devondre Trevon Phillips, 29, and Jeffrey Orlando Hoffman, 32; that this violence was not perpetrated by firearms or any other inanimate object; and, above all, that this is not something that just happens, that gunfire doesn’t just “break out.” Sentences have subjects, and it matters that we get them right.

In Other News . . .
Speaking of things we do not talk about, last week the name of Julia Kristeva came up in my reading. Kristeva is a feminist philosopher and literary critic, a celebrated one: She is a commander of the French Legion of Honour and a recipient of the Order of Merit and has won most other scholarly and cultural awards that you can think of short of a Nobel Prize. Because we are very good at memory-holing inconvenient facts about left-wing intellectuals, I offer this reminder that Kristeva is, among other things, a former collaborator with the Bulgarian Committee for State Security, effectively an arm of the KGB. That’s way there down at the bottom of the memory hole, somewhere near The New Republic’s unhappy Stalinist phase and “Hymietown.” But we should remember these things.

Words About Words
If Matthew McConaughey does end up running for governor of Texas, his campaign slogan surely will be, “Alright, Alright, Alright.”

Is that alwrong?

In a recent piece, I wrote: “The message from the labor market seems to be that teachers are doing alright.” A reader asks: ¿Qué pasó?

Some people insist that there is no such word as alright, that what you want is all right.

I disagree.

My usual criterion for these questions is clarity — it is useful to have different words for different things, which is why I want to preserve the difference between careen and career, between jealousy and envy, etc. And all right and alright don’t mean the same thing. All right means just what it says: all correct. “I checked out his figures, and they were all right.” Alright, on the other hand, usually means acceptable or mediocre: “I’m not at the top of the class, but I’m doing alright in chemistry.” “How am I feeling? Alright, I guess.” But alright is also an exclamation denoting excellence or desirability: “Pizza for breakfast? Alright!” Sometimes, it just means yes or okay: “Do I want to go play tennis? Alright, I’ll come.” For McConaughey, it’s the expression of a generally high-on-life (and, who are we kidding, probably on a hell of a lot more than life) sentiment.

The 1979 Who film is The Kids Are Alright, but the 2010 Annette Bening film is The Kids Are All Right.

Rampant Prescriptivism
Alternate is a verb meaning to take turns with something else or to go back and forth between two conditions: “This time of year, sunny days alternate with overcast periods.” Alternate is also an adjective describing things that alternate: “My alternate periods of levity and despair.”

An alternative is a choice or a possibility, or an adjective characterizing such a choice. “Mrs. Thatcher’s motto was, ‘There is no alternative,’” “I offered an alternative solution to the problem.”

Alternately as an adverb means occurring in an alternating sequence: “Jekyll and Hyde appeared alternately.”

Alternatively as an adverb means presenting a choice or alternative: “We could run for our lives; alternatively, we could stay here and fight.”

One thing alternately never means is alternatively.

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. There is no alternative.

My National Review archive can be found here.

In case you missed it: Government by sanctimony is a terrible idea.

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.

The New York Times’ latest report on Rikers Island, part of a long-running series of reports, is worth your time.

Enjoying the Morning Sun
Katy and Pancake have been enjoying a visit from their cousin Quinn, no relation to the journalist mentioned above.

In Closing
From criminal to god and back again — the other St. Paul’s career is not entirely unfamiliar in our age of brief, toxic celebrity:

When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand.

And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live.

And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm.

Howbeit they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.

Paul was beheaded a few years later.

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Politics & Policy

Making Sense of the Tax Debate

A demonstrator dressed as Uncle Sam wears a “tax the rich” sign during a climate change protest organized by Extinction Rebellion in New York City, September 17, 2021. (Caitlin Ochs/Reuters)

Welcome to an XL edition of the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about language, culture, and politics. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

The Facts about Taxes

“We are going to tax the rich and make them pay their fair share!” Senator Manchin thunders the sentiment from his yacht, Senator Sanders from his lakeside dacha, Senator Warren from her gilded Cambridge retreat. Tesla-driving Met-gala debutante Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez insists that Democrats are going after the top 1 percent, not doctors, blissfully ignorant that doctors are more common among the top 1 percent than are members of any other occupation. Jonathan Chait, the dim and dishonest New York magazine typist, denounces the inconvenient facts about federal tax policy as — and I am not making this up — “deeply misleading” even though the figures in question are “literally true,” italics in original.

Here is some more literal truth about taxes you may find useful.

Fair share? The high-income already pay the majority of federal income tax, and the share of tax they pay is larger than their share of income. Their share of all taxes (income tax and other kinds of taxes) is also in excess of their share of income, though not as dramatically as is their share of federal income tax.

According to IRS data, the top 1 percent of taxpayers (which includes households making $540,000 a year or more) take home about 21 percent of all income and pay about 40 percent of federal income taxes — which is to say, their share of the income-tax burden is about twice their share of the income.

The top 10 percent earns about 48 percent of all income and pays about 71 percent of federal income taxes.

The top half of earners make about 88 percent of the income and pay virtually all of the income taxes — more than 97 percent.

The Tax Policy Center, a left-leaning advocacy group, calculates that 1 percenters pay an effective federal tax rate — on all taxes, not just income tax — of 29.4 percent, while the top 0.1 percent pays 30.1 percent — an effective rate higher than that of any other income group. Their federal tax rate is more than twice that of middle-income (third quintile) households.

Chait cites figures from the left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP). These figures model all taxes — federal, state, and local — and the findings are similar to what we see with federal income taxes, though less dramatically so. According to ITEP, the top 1 percent earns 20.9 percent of all income but pays 24.1 percent of all taxes — well more than their “fair share.”

ITEP calculates that the top 20 percent earns 61.9 percent of income but pays 66.5 percent of the taxes.

The great economic problem facing the poor and the middle classes is not that high-income Americans aren’t paying taxes that are proportional to their incomes. The great problem for the poor is that both incomes and mobility are stagnant for lower-skilled workers, with globalization and automation putting pressure on those jobs. The great problem for the middle class is rising prices of certain critical goods, namely housing in the markets where the best jobs are, health care, and education. The basic responsible progressive proposition (to the extent that there is such a thing) is that higher taxes on the wealthy would make funds available to subsidize these goods on behalf of those with lower incomes. The conservative response is that the worst housing, the worst health care, and the worst schools already are free, and that much of what is wrong with those markets is the result of earlier progressive efforts to fix them.

Conservatives also are right to point out that if American progressives want to build a Scandinavian-style welfare state, then they are going to need to impose Scandinavian-style taxes, meaning radically higher taxes on the middle classes. There isn’t enough leftover income at the top to fund what progressives dream of.

Tax rates are not the same thing as tax revenue. Progressives and conservatives are equally sentimental about the immediate post-war years, and progressive in particular like to point to sky-high federal tax rates in the Eisenhower era as evidence that the economy can thrive and produce widely shared prosperity with radically higher taxes.

But that is not really the lesson of the 1950s at all.

It is true that in 1950 and 1951, federal tax rates topped out at more than 90 percent, a number that is almost unthinkable in our time. But there is a considerable difference between the statutory marginal rate — the rate you theoretically pay on your last dollar — and the effective rate, the real overall rate.

In fact, very high-income households in the 1950s paid effective tax rates that were not much different from what they pay today — a bit higher in some cases, but not radically higher. That 91-percent rate was not applied to a lot of dollars.

More important, the overall tax burden — meaning actual tax revenue as a share of GDP — was lower in those years than it is in our time. In 2020, the federal government collected 16.4 percent of GDP in taxes, while in 1950 and 1951, it was 13.2 percent and 14.9 percent, respectively. In fact, Fed data show that for most of the post-war period, federal tax revenues have mostly stayed around a relatively narrow band of 15 percent to 18 percent of GDP, even as tax rates and other tax policies have changed significantly.

As always, please do consult the original data yourself if you think you’re not getting the whole story.

We should not, however, undervalue the difference a few percentage points makes when you are talking about something as large as U.S. GDP. The 19.8 percent the government collected in 2000 had the federal budget nominally in surplus. Four years later, tax cuts and economic weakness had that figure down to 15.4 percent of GDP, producing serious deficits. If you are serious about balancing the budget, or just reducing the deficit, then the most realistic path is getting tax collections and spending both back to turn-of-the-century levels.

Some will prefer mid-century levels. But it should be understood that the federal budget in the post-war years was radically different in its priorities from today’s budget: In the early 1950s, about 75 percent of federal spending was defense-related, while everything else added up to 25 percent. We spent four times as much on defense as on all “human resources” — education, welfare, etc. — programs combined. Today, we have cut military spending by two-thirds (from almost 10 percent of GDP in the 1950s to just over 3 percent now) while welfare spending has more than quadrupled (from 3.9 percent of GDP to more than 16 percent). The next time a lefty friend says he wants to go back to 1950s budgeting, make sure he knows the facts of the case.

Tax rates affect tax compliance/avoidance behavior. One of the reasons (though far from the only reason) that tax rates don’t line up in the expected way with tax revenue is that tax rates affect taxpayers’ behavior. The poster boy for Eisenhower-era tax-avoidance behavior is . . . Dwight Eisenhower, in fact. As a lifelong military man, Ike was far from wealthy, but, after the war, he was offered $1 million to write a memoir. With $1 million, he’d be pretty well-set — but with $99,550 after taxes, he would be far from that. So Eisenhower talked his publisher into structuring his deal in such a way as to have the income taxed at the lower capital-gains rate rather than at the confiscatory federal income-tax rate. He wasn’t alone: Tax avoidance drove all sorts of aspects of business compensation and affluent lifestyles in that era, with executives shifting all kinds of personal consumption onto the firm and well-off men acquiring rental properties and other businesses that threw off a lot of cash but managed to show on-paper losses.

A lot of that was straight-up tax fraud. But we have become more effective at detecting and prosecuting that sort of thing, and so, in our time, most tax-avoidance strategies are entirely legal. Private-equity operations structure their businesses the way they do largely for tax purposes, and a great vast sum of American corporate profits are exiled to Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Switzerland for tax purposes. (Amsterdam and Zurich — some race to the bottom!) These are not “loopholes” — this is the tax law, operating as intended. It isn’t some bizarre accident that we treat investment income differently from salary income — that is a policy choice, partly intended to encourage investment and partly intended to account for the fact that we already tax corporate income before it gets paid out as dividends.

The U.S. tax system, far from being lax in this regard, is remarkably invasive compared with the tax regimes of other developed countries, and remarkably expansive in its interpretation of its taxing jurisdiction. And we have a slightly higher top corporate-tax rate than Sweden, in the same neighborhood as Denmark and Norway.

Businesses and, to a lesser extent, high-income people have a lot of choices — about how, when, and where they earn their income, about how that income is classified under tax law, etc. The Powers that Be in New York have been learning that the hard way, as ultra-high-income New Yorkers — who pay an enormously disproportionate share of state and local taxes — decamp for Florida.

Even if there were 100 percent compliance with the law — and there isn’t, and isn’t going to be — perfectly legal strategies for tax avoidance limit what class-war progressives can actually accomplish. And that matters, because . . .

Using the tax code to raise revenue for necessary government spending is different from using the tax code for social engineering and revenge. Conservatives well remember Barack Obama’s declaration that he would raise taxes on wealthy people and businesses even if doing so were economically destructive, simply because he believed it to be a moral imperative. The vindictive attitude toward taxation completely dominates progressive thinking — which is why Democrats such as Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are always going on about how much money wealthy people have rather than focusing on the situation of the poor and how that might be alleviated. Barack Obama, in his own words, believes that morality calls for reducing the wealth of the wealthy, irrespective of other considerations.

We hear a lot of that when we are talking about inheritance taxes. From a fiscal point of view, the inheritance tax is an almost purely symbolic issue: It raises very little revenue, and it would raise very little revenue even if it were jacked up. Raising the inheritance tax is not about revenue — it is about resentment.

As usual, that resentment is misplaced. In reality, inherited assets make up a relatively small share of the wealth of wealthy Americans. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, inherited assets make up about 15 percent of the wealth of the top quintile if we are sorting by wealth, and about 13 percent of the wealth of the top quintile if we are sorting by income. As it turns out, inherited assets make up a much larger share of the wealth of those with lower incomes: 43 percent for the bottom quintile and 31 for the second quintile. (What that means more often than not is that these lower-income households inherited a house from parents or grandparents, and that this house accounts for a very large share of their wealth.) Most wealthy Americans earn most of their wealth, a few Waltons and Marses and billionaire dilettante magazine publishers notwithstanding.

Of course people with rich parents enjoy an unearned advantage in life. So do people who are tall, good-looking, or born with a relatively high IQ. (In fact, a great deal of our Kulturkampf politics is driven by the bile and hatred of people who enjoy one sort of unearned advantage directed at people who enjoy another.) But the important ways that rich parents provide their children with advantages mostly happen earlier in life and have nothing to do with inheritance: Rich parents see to it that their kids get the sort of education that makes the most of their talents, including all sorts of help outside of school; they make sure that college is paid for and that their kids have only their studies and interests to worry about; they subsidize their participation in unpaid internships or low-paying entry-level jobs in elite professions; they make sure that unexpected setbacks or bad decisions do not produce debilitating long-term financial burdens; they help them get on the home-equity escalator earlier and more substantially; they have networks of friends and associates who can help their children connect with opportunities that they aren’t going to see on And, because wealthy people tend to be long-lived, when they leave money to their children, those “children” are often in their 60s, having made lives and careers of their own — which is why those inherited assets often make up a small portion of their wealth.

If you want to reform taxes in order to fund necessary government programs in the least economically and socially disruptive way, that’s one conversation. If you want to reform taxes because you’re a horrifying ghoul living out some ghastly perverse “Harrison Bergeron” fantasy, that’s a different conversation. What works best for one is not generally what works best for the other.

But maybe none of this matters, because in a real economic sense, taxes are paid jointly.  The old proverb about businesses just passing along tax increases to consumers isn’t entirely right, but it isn’t entirely wrong. Many businesses, including very large ones such as Walmart and McDonald’s, have very little negotiating power vis-à-vis their customers. Walmart’s business model is based on low prices, and, if Walmart raises prices too much, its customers just go elsewhere — Target, Amazon, HEB, whatever. But firms such as Walmart and McDonald’s do tend to have a great deal of negotiating power with their vendors and other business partners, with service providers, and, in many cases, with their employees. Shareholders — the people who own these companies — are going to do their best to push off expenses onto anybody else they can rather than go into their own pockets. That can mean lower incomes for everybody from farmers to truck drivers to store clerks, to people who work in paper-goods factories or unloading goods at ports.

Just how much and to whom tax costs get pushed around is a matter of some dispute and much study in economics, but the basic answer is: They get redistributed quite a bit, generally to those with the least negotiating power in the market. Which is what you’d expect. Economists have spent years studying the payroll tax, one part of which is notionally paid by employees and one part of which is notionally paid by employers. The general consensus is that employees pay both their share and much of the employer’s share, which is passed on to them in the form of lower wages.

It matters where a tax legally and formally falls. But, ultimately, we all end up on the hook for taxes that are not legally our burden, because there is a world of difference between statutory fiction and economic reality. That is why it matters to all of us that government use our money in a prudent and responsible way and that it collect taxes in such a way as to minimize economic damage and distortions. In the end, that is more important than whether the top statutory income-tax rate is 39.9 percent or 36.5 percent.

The main obstacles to radical tax reform are conservative inertia, which is generally healthy, and progressive rapacity, which is generally destructive. If we had no tax system at all and were looking to create one from scratch, we probably wouldn’t settle on anything like the system we have. If I were god-emperor for a day, we wouldn’t tax work or investment directly at all but would instead rely on consumption taxes. We could fund the entirety of the federal government with a VAT or a carbon tax, if we were starting from a blank slate — but we aren’t.

Put another way, the main argument for income taxes from a conservative point of view is that we already have them, and they more or less work, whereas replacing them in toto with a new and untried system is bound to bring about unintended consequences and involve risks we had not accounted for. Conservatives are pulled in two directions: in one by our skepticism of radical social change and in another by our appreciation that the current tax code and overall fiscal practice is seriously defective, which eventually will produce catastrophic consequences.

Democrats are pulled in two directions, too: They are the party of people who say they want to tax the rich, but they also increasingly are the party of the rich, from Wall Street to Silicon Valley, and they emphatically do not want to raise taxes on their rich. Our friends at the lefty ITEP are once again on the case, noting that Democratic proposals to end caps on state and local tax (SALT) deductions would undo almost all of the new taxes on the rich in the Build Back Better bill. The SALT deduction overwhelmingly benefits high-income people in high-tax states — which is to say, the same Platinum Card progressives whose preferred tax burden is the $100 corkage at Quince.

There are lots of reasons not to reformulate our taxes in such a way as to rely even more heavily on the wealthy: a healthy sense of proportionality, the republican sense that citizenship brings with it burdens and responsibilities as well as benefits and privileges, political complications, etc. But in addition to the big economic reason — that the fantasy progressive tax strategy is unlikely to realize the promised benefits — there is the always-underappreciated matter of risk: The more heavily concentrated the tax burden is on a few taxpayers, the more real power those taxpayers have over a dependent political class and an unstable political situation. It is politically difficult, but the best, reasonably stable means of increasing tax revenue in a big way is increasing the tax base — meaning higher taxes on everybody.

If that’s a price you are unwilling to pay, then you aren’t serious about your progressive utopia. And that’s okay! You shouldn’t be serious about it — it was never a good idea to begin with.

Words About Words

We owe the modern English word berserk to Sir Walter Scott and his 1822 novel The Pirate. It comes from an Old Norse word (berserkr) for the same thing we use berserker to mean in English, a warrior possessed by madness and wild power. It is likely but not certain that the word comes from earlier words meaning “bear” and “shirt,” with he who wears the bearskin shirt having the power and ferocity of the bear. Scott apparently misunderstood the origin of the word, believing that it derived from berr meaning naked, a berserker being, then, a warrior who fought without armor. Berserkr is a plural noun, and berserker is sometimes used as a plural noun in English, too. The adjective berserk came later.

In an 1850 edition of “Notes and Queries” (the folio reads “No. 61, Price Threepence,” which is charming) you may read:

[Grímur Jónsson] Thorkelin, in the essay on the Berserkir, appended to his edition of the Kristni-Saga, tells us that an old name of the Berserk frenzy was hamremmi, i.e., strength acquired from another or strange body, because it was anciently believed that the persons who were liable to this frenzy were mysteriously endowed, during its accesses, with a strange body of unearthly strength. If, however, the Berserk was called on by his own name, he lost his mysterious form, and his ordinary strength alone remained. Thus it happens in the Svarfdæla Saga:

“Gris called aloud to Klanfi, and said, ‘Klanfi, Klanfi! keep a fair measure,’ and instantly the strength which Klanfi had got in his rage, failed him; so that now he could not even lift the beam with which he had been fighting.”

It is clear, therefore, continues Thorkelin, that the state of men labouring under the Berserk frenzy was held by some, at least, to resemble that of those, who, whilst their own body lay at home apparently dead or asleep, wandered under other forms into distant places and countries. Such wanderings were called hamfarir by the old northmen; and were held to be only capable of performance by those who had attained the very utmost skill in magic.

Why? I don’t know — I just find this stuff interesting. There’s a line in a novel that I can’t quite remember, I think by Philip Roth, in which an old dean tells a sex-obsessed graduate student: “I don’t think you are giving Anglo-Saxon poetry your full attention.” But, sometimes, it’s “Klanfi! Klanfi! Keep a fair measure!”

(If anybody knows the line I’m referring to above, let me know — I can’t quite pull it up.)

Rampant Prescriptivism

A reader wants to know why I write “Texas’s history” rather than “Texas’ history.” The short version is because Texas is singular rather than plural. But there’s a little more.

There is an archaic but still-common habit in English of writing the possessive of certain proper nouns ending in “S” with a naked apostrophe rather than with an apostrophe and an “S.” The usual one is: “For Jesus’ sake.” This is reserved almost exclusively to biblical and classical names ending in “S.” Some people prefer it because it prevents any possible confusion with a contraction: “Jesus’s from Galilee.” I don’t think that’s a very good reason to depart from the standard English practice, if only because when you are writing about Jesus or Pericles or Euripides, you are not usually going to use a contraction like that. “Euripides’s the best!”

So: Texas’s history, Texas’s constitution, Jesus’s holy name, Euripides’s contemporaries, etc.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can get a whole lot of my thoughts on Texas, Texan identity, and Mutant Texan Weirdness here.

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 publisher and I both will appreciate it, and you may find something interesting or amusing in it. Also some horrifying stuff.

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.

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I do not think this edition of the New York Times’s The Daily podcast was meant to appeal to pro-lifers — the opposite, I think. But I do recommend giving it a listen. You know how sometimes the opposite side of an argument confirms your views without meaning to?

In Closing

Saturday, October 9, is the feast day of Saint Denis of Paris. Denis is regarded as the first bishop of Paris, and he is a cephalophore — when he was beheaded at Montmartre (“the mountain of the martyrs”) he picked up his head and carried it off to a village north of the city (now Saint-Denis) preaching a sermon on penance all the way there. I do not know that I believe that God intervenes in football games, lottery draws, or bingo, but I do like to think that He enjoys the occasional grand gesture.

Henri Bellechose, who served the Dukes of Burgundy, painted Saint Denis’s martyrdom, a scene one critic describes as “lively.” Perhaps not precisely the right word.

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The Lessons of the Assassins

Sirhan Sirhan (at left), convicted of killing Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, pleads his case during his tenth parole hearing at the Corcoran State Prison in California in 1997. (Reuters)

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“If the 9mm pistol round was worth a damn, Pope John Paul II would have died a martyr.” So declared a hardened veteran, one of those old-school tough guys who says that the reason to carry a .45 is that they don’t make a .46.

(Save your breath, fellow gun-nuts: I know, I know. That’s just how the joke goes.)

It has been a while since the last assassination, or near-assassination, of a major political figure made headlines in the United States. But we have some assassins and would-be assassins in the news. One of them is 77-year-old Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian who is serving a life sentence in California, having been incarcerated since 1968, when he assassinated Robert F. Kennedy in retaliation for his support of Israel.

Sirhan is up for parole, having been declared a “suitable” candidate with the support of both Douglas Kennedy and his crackpot brother, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Other members of the family and many in law enforcement oppose releasing Sirhan on any grounds. If he is paroled, he should be put on the first plane to the Palestinian statelet to live out his days there. Forgiveness is difficult, but forgetting would be somewhat easier with him 7,600 miles away. If the experience of terrorists paroled from Israel prisons is any indicator, he’ll be petitioning to remain under the loving care of his imperialist oppressors, where the standard of living is considerably higher.

A similar figure of more recent infamy is now entirely at large: On Monday, a federal judge approved the unconditional release of 66-year-old John Hinckley Jr., who shot President Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981.

Hinckley was, thankfully, a terrible shot with a relatively low-powered weapon, a .22-caliber revolver. (Sirhan Sirhan had used a .22 revolver to kill Robert Kennedy — it is a humble weapon, but still a deadly one.) Hinckley fired six shots and missed Reagan with all six. But, even so, the damage was considerable: Reagan was struck and nearly killed by a ricochet; press secretary James Brady was shot in the head, suffering a wound that left him with a permanent disability and brain damage that ultimately killed him; Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy caught a bullet in the chest that damaged a lung and his liver; D.C. police officer Thomas Delahanty was shot in the neck, suffering damage to his spinal cord that forced him into retirement.

That was in late March of 1981. In May of the same year, the Turkish fanatic Mehmet Ali Agca shot Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square, possibly on orders from the socialist regime in Moscow, which was intent on keeping the pope’s native Poland under its thumb. Two weeks later, the president of Bangladesh was assassinated. In August, it was the president and the prime minister of Iran. In October, it was Anwar Sadat of Egypt.

In 1984, the Irish Republican Army attempted to assassinate Margaret Thatcher and her entire cabinet; Thatcher survived, but five of her Conservative Party colleagues were killed in the bombing of their party conference. That was on October 12.

On October 31, Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in retaliation for her bloody removal of Sikh separatists from the Golden Temple at Amritsar, resulting in the death of Sikh pilgrims and damage to the temple. Her death was followed by a period of terror in which some 8,000 Sikhs were massacred in reprisals.

The rest of the 20th century continued to be bloody for heads of government and heads of state: The president of Palau was assassinated; the prime minister of Sweden was gunned down; the prime minister of Lebanon died in a car bombing; the president of Burkina Faso died after a coup d’état; the president of Lebanon died in another car bombing; the president of the Comoros died after a coup d’état; a combination of assassinations and coups claimed the lives of the chief executives of Liberia, Algeria, Sri Lanka, Burundi, Rwanda, Burundi again, Rwanda again, one or two such deaths almost every year leading up to the assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. After that, things did not stop but slowed down a little, with a decade passing between the death of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and the deaths of the presidents of Chad and Haiti in April and July of this year, respectively.

The majority of these murders were straightforwardly political. But, in some cases, the closer you look the further away politics seems to be. John Hinckley Jr. was famously obsessed with Jodie Foster and seemed to believe that assassinating Reagan would get her attention: Foster had been cast (at age 12) as a prostitute in the celebrated film Taxi Driver, in which Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle contemplates assassinating a political candidate.

Mehmet Ali Agca had a number of political enthusiasms — from Turkish ultra-nationalism to Marxism and Palestinian liberation — but he seems to have been mostly just crazy. (He may have been a tool of more put-together fanatics.) Pope John Paul II went to extraordinary lengths on behalf of the man who tried to murder him, ultimately securing a pardon for him, and Agca, in turn, showed up at St. Peter’s to lay roses on the sainted pope’s tomb after his canonization. But he also has spent years predicting the imminent end of the world, now declaring his desire to become a Catholic priest, now declaring: “I am Christ eternal.”

John Hinckley Jr. was working at a Virginia antiques mall before COVID-19 interrupted commerce. It’s a funny old world.

This raises a few points.

One, we are always telling ourselves that we live in the most dramatic times, the most critical and urgent times, the times when everything we love and hold dear is most at stake. But that isn’t true. The 32 years between the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in Tel Aviv were bananas. When Andy Warhol got on the wrong side of angry feminists, he didn’t get canceled — he got shot. And if we don’t remember that all that well, it’s because Bobby Kennedy and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. got shot the same year, and Warhol lived. After King’s assassination, there were coast-to-coast riots in which dozens of people died, thousands were injured, and tens of thousands arrested. I don’t think we should minimize what happened on and around January 6, but, as I have argued before, the riot is the least of it. Riots are, for Americans, normal — it’s the effort to discredit and delegitimize the election that is remarkable and more dangerous. Which brings us to:

Two, politics attracts kooks, including kooks to whom politics is only incidental to their kookery. Religion is the same way. Everybody who has ever been to a Latin Mass or a hot-yoga class has encountered people who were going to be neck-deep in kookery one way or another, and happened to light upon one kook perch instead of another. Anybody who has ever been to a political rally, party convention, or election night afterparty has had the same experience. Democrat or Republican, Left or Right, there will always be a contingent of kooks — conspiracy nuts, people who dream about overthrowing the government, fanatics who believe that we would be well on our way to utopia if we just made one big policy change, etc. (The Fair Tax guys and the Universal Basic Income guys are basically mirror images of one another.) Every kook has a class of kulaks he wants to liquidate. There’s no bright line of demarcation on the journey from Sean Hannity to Michael Savage to Alex Jones to Flat Earth Mystery Cult Neo-Nazi Hobbits.

Do you know what Mehmet Ali Agca wanted to do when freed? Write a book with Dan Brown, the Da Vinci Code guy.

And, laugh all you like, but there are not very many novels that have outsold The Da Vinci Code — in fact, there are only eight — and, with the notable exception of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, they mostly are books that have been in print for a the better part of a century or more, the most recent being The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, in print since 1950. The Da Vinci Code, published in 2003, has outsold The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, published in 1885, four-to-one.

It’s a kook’s world, and we’re just living in it.

Words About Words
Flounder or founder? All of us do one or the other from time to time, but you’ll be happier if you know which is which.

Flounder is a fish, and to flop about in an awkward and impotent and generally piscine manner is to flounder. You’d think those two words would be directly related — flounder in the sense of flop around fishily and flounder in the sense of the fish itself — but they are not. Flounder in the floppy sense goes back to the 16th century in English, and it has a near cognate in Dutch (flodderen). It may be a portmanteau of blunder and founder. Flounder the fish is a much older word related to the Old Swedish flundra, meaning a flat fish.

Founder is often the word a writer really wants when he reaches for flounder.

To founder is to sink, especially all the way to the bottom, or, by analogy, to collapse. It originally was a transitive verb: “We foundered the enemies’ ships.” Founder comes from the Latin fundus, as in fundamental or foundation. In that sense, founder also is a noun, meaning “one who founds.”

So, foundering or floundering?

President Biden couldn’t remember the name of the Australian prime minister, and he stood there floundering until he settled on “that fella down under.”

The Biden agenda is foundering, and it will founder entirely if congressional Democrats ever figure out how to do elementary math.

At the annual corporate dinner, the founder ordered the flounder.

Rampant Prescriptivism
I don’t know if it is muscle memory or what, but there are a few things I can count on typing the wrong way. E.g.:The Agence France-Presse photographer who took that famous photo describes it less dramatically, saying only that the agents had ‘twirled’ the reigns [sic] of their horses at the Haitians, and that the situation was ‘tense.’” Many thanks to the 6,000 of you who wrote me with the correction. “Reins.” A few of you asked how I could make such a mistake, having grown up in Texas. I know that there is a contrary impression out there, but we don’t actually ride horses around town.


From Instacart: “Only 18,894 days before your free-delivery coupon expires.” Better hurry! In 18,894 days, I’ll be just a little over 100. I’m thinking that is an editing error.

From a reader: What’s up with “You need to . . .”? This is a pretty passive-aggressive (or aggressive-aggressive) and condescending way of saying “You should,” or “You ought to,” or, “What would be required in this situation is.”

“You need to” is a sneaky way of putting the onus on the person being addressed rather than on the speaker. So, instead of, “I wish you were not so agitated,” or “Your emotional state is making me uncomfortable,” it’s “You need to calm down.” “You need to listen,” “You need to understand where he’s coming from,” “You need to get with the program” — all of these are, I think, manipulative.

You need to knock it off.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away
You can listen to my friend Jonah Goldberg and me discussing many things on The Remnant podcast here. The show notes contain the terms “Charles C. W. Cooke,” “John Eastman,” and “Satan’s balls.”

What our so-called pro-choice friends most fear is that the abortion issue will be settled through democratic consensus. 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. The original Satan’s balls thing is in there.

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 . . .
To no one’s great surprise, murders were up 30 percent in 2020.

And the new Leader of the Free World is . . . Olaf Scholz, probably. The center-left politician promises to raise some foreign-relations challenges for the Biden administration.

Do read Henry Foy and Sam Fleming in the Financial Times “Big Read” on Europe and “strategic autonomy.”

Paris’s very public fury triggered private alarm among some member states, say EU diplomats. While many understood why France was livid about the lack of consultation by the anglophone trio ahead of the announcement, this was intermingled with concern about the collateral damage French anger could do to the EU’s broader agenda for re-engagement with the US after the tempestuous Trump years.

Anxiety ran particularly deep within capitals that are staunch advocates of Nato and the military alliance with the US — including some former communist states. A claim by Thierry Breton, the French European commissioner, in the Financial Times that “something is broken” in the transatlantic partnership provoked acute irritation among some. That anxiety spilled into the open on Wednesday, with blunt comments from Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen, who on a visit to New York told the Danish newspaper Politiken that Biden was “very loyal” to the transatlantic alliance and that she felt absolutely no frustration with the US administration.

By the time Macron spoke to Biden on Wednesday, a concerted effort was under way in Europe to dial down the angry rhetoric. The message emerging by the end of the week was a reaffirmation of the partnership, in sharp contrast to earlier messages from France and elsewhere that Europe needed to be better equipped to stand alone. “We were frank and open but we have not put into question the transatlantic alliance,” Michel tells the FT. “There is unity of the liberal democracies. We have decided to stand together.”

In Closing
Somewhere, out there, is an Amazon delivery man. Katy is ready. Always ready.

Pancake? Less ready.

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White House

The Presidency as Foreign-Policy Theater

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on response in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida from the White House in Washington, D.C., September 2, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

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The High Price of Big Man Mojo

The American retreat from Afghanistan, with its whimpering and scurrying and its generally cringing tail-between-the-legs posture, would have been debacle enough without the Biden administration’s having added a massacre of children and innocents to it.

The fact that it was a massacre enabled by incompetence does not improve the situation.

General Frank McKenzie, who is in charge at U.S. Central Command, confirmed last week that a drone strike carried out in Kabul in order to ward off an imminent attack from ISIS-K actually killed a carload of civilians, mostly children.

“I offer my sincere apology,” General McKenzie said. Oh, at least it’s sincere. He affirmed that he is “fully responsible for this strike and this tragic outcome.” If General McKenzie is fully responsible, then perhaps he — or someone above him — should act like it and see to it that he is, at a minimum, fully relieved of his responsibilities.

But is General McKenzie really fully responsible?

“The strike on 29 August must be considered in the context of the situation on the ground,” General McKenzie said, “in Kabul at Hamid Karzai International Airport following the ISIS-K attack that resulted in the deaths of 13 soldiers, sailors, and Marines, and more than 100 civilians, at Abbey Gate on 26 August. And also with the substantial body of intelligence indicating the imminence of another attack.”

That is a useful context to consider, because it is not a relevant military context at all — it is a political context.

The horrifying attack on August 26 confirmed only the general sense that violent attacks against U.S. forces and those under their protection were likely, if not inevitable, during our headlong retreat from Afghanistan. It told us what we already knew. The events of August 26 did not tell us anything about whether that particular vehicle — packed with an aid worker and his family — was likely to be part of an ISIS-K operation. The events of August 26 are unlikely to have shed any light on whether the intelligence, if we can call it that, preceding that drone strike ought to have been judged credible.

The events of August 26 are relevant mainly for political — or, we might as well say, cosmetic — reasons.

And it seems to have been the politics that we were responding to.

The collapse of the Afghan government and the surrender of U.S. forces to the Taliban (and we might as well call it what it is) already was shaping up to be a fiasco. Subcomandante Malarky boasted that the Afghan military had been so well-trained and splendidly provisioned by the U.S. government that its ability to hold off the Taliban was a near certainty. “They have an air force,” Joe Biden said of the Kabul government. “The Taliban doesn’t.” Someone might have reminded him that the Taliban already conquered Afghanistan once without the benefit of an air force, and that the attack on the United States that precipitated our involvement in Afghanistan was carried out by means of box-cutters and building schematics.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken was even more emphatic: “We are not withdrawing. We are staying. The embassy is staying. Our programs are staying.”

(I know the Blinken type. When one of these bloodless, dead-eyed Ivy League lawyers says he isn’t going to screw you, you’re already screwed. Blaming them for it is like blaming a wasp for stinging you — it is what they do, their nature.)

The seemingly instantaneous collapse of the notionally U.S.-backed regime in Kabul — a regime that had been in reality neglected by U.S. officials wearied by its corruption and inefficacy and then actively undermined by the Trump administration’s decision to bypass it altogether and conduct direct negotiations with the Taliban — calls to mind Lee Smith’s “strong horse” principle, which he applied to the Arabic-speaking Middle East but which also shapes political calculation in much of the rest of the world. As Osama bin Laden once put it, “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse,” a sentiment Smith connects to the thinking of medieval Arab historian Ibn Khaldun.

We are the weak horse.

There are many factors that shape the political life of Afghanistan: religion, ideology, tribe, geography, history — but also the brute facts of brute force. That has always been the problem with setting an arbitrary deadline for wrapping up U.S. efforts in Afghanistan: Without the United States, the Taliban wins, and it is not in the interest of anybody in Afghanistan to see to it that it takes the Taliban a long time to win — if they ultimately end up on the losing side of that fight, they and their families are going to be tortured and murdered. President Biden did his best impersonation of Lyndon Johnson, who famously complained about sending “American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.”

That’s familiar stuff, and it generally shakes out the same way. The same political decision that made Taliban rule inevitable also made it imminent. This isn’t the Army–Navy football game — there are real consequences for being on the losing side of a fight in Afghanistan. It was never going to be the case that as Uncle Sam went limping back home Afghans were going to stand there and make things worse for themselves.

The fact that the United States chooses to be the weak horse does not change the political algebra.

American presidencies do not run on policy — they run on magic.

They run on the superstitious (and, indeed, idolatrous) belief that there is something magical about the person of the president, that he enjoys the powers of at least a demigod, and that the nation’s prosperity and security are mystically connected with his person and his ritual performances in the democratic agon. That is how the 9/11 attacks came to be, in a very strange but true sense, about George W. Bush. They became something more than an event.

When the nation is insulted or attacked, then the president must respond in some symbolically satisfying way or risk losing the Mandate of Heaven. Hence President Bill Clinton’s decision to blow up an empty pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum in retaliation (or so he said) for terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. There were a couple of different stories told to justify that attack — some fiction about the facility being used to produce nerve gas and that it was connected to Osama bin Laden, who had lived in Khartoum a decade earlier — but the timing was perfectly Clintonian: two months after the film Wag the Dog opened in theaters and one week after the Monica Lewinsky matter became public.

Clinton, who had been a draft-dodging bum in the 1960s (one of the many things he has in common with Donald Trump), was intent on remaking the Democratic Party along more centrist and less McGovernite lines, and he was sensitive about looking like too much of a flower child. At the same time, anything that looked like a variation on the theme of Vietnam was, in those years, strictly off limits, especially for a Democrat. The question about U.S. military engagements in the Clinton years was never about U.S. interests — the question was: What does this say about Bill Clinton?

It was a difficult question to parse politically. The memory of Vietnam was alive for Clinton-era Democrats who had cut their political teeth in the anti-war movement, but in the most recent major U.S. military conflict before Clinton’s presidency, Operation Desert Storm, President George H. W. Bush had if anything made it look too easy. U.S. forces drove Iraqi invaders out of Kuwait in four days of fighting, a show of force that was underlined by the ruthless massacre of some unknown number of retreating Iraqi troops — estimates run from hundreds to as many as 10,000 — on the so-called Highway of Death. President Bush’s actions were a sharp departure from those of his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, who must have been the most dovish hawk there ever was, the greatest peacenik ever to be denounced as a warmonger.

The first Gulf War left Americans with the impression — and the expectation — that U.S. forces could impose any outcome they desired, anywhere in the world, with a minimal loss of life and a money cost that was easily lost in the financial vortex of Washington. We still operate, in no small part, under that misapprehension, failing to appreciate that our ability to impose military outcomes is insufficient to secure the political outcomes that are, in fact, our actual national-security goal.

Clinton’s only political goals were self-serving. But Clinton nonetheless was compelled to act — politically compelled, not militarily compelled. If anything, his obviously symbolic response probably emboldened Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, persuading them that the price of attacking the United States was, all things considered, quite tolerable, a burden they were willing to bear in the service of jihad. Bin Laden, being largely ignorant of American political realities and hostage to his own messianic mania, had expected much the same thing after 9/11 — a symbolic retaliation followed by retreat.

Because Barack Obama had at least the good sense to more or less ignore Joe Biden out of existence for eight years, Osama bin Laden did not live to see his expectations finally come to pass. But a symbolic retaliation followed by retreat is precisely what President Biden ultimately intended to offer, at the end, in Afghanistan. After the airport attack — the deadliest attack on U.S. forces in Afghanistan in a decade — President Biden was politically compelled to do something, lest his Big Man Mojo be seen to wane and the Mandate of Heaven slip from his quavering grasp. That compulsion surely was felt all the way down the chain of command. And it resulted in taking the first opportunity to make a theatrical show of force — in this case, against a car with seven children in it.

Because Congress is run by Democrats, there probably will be no serious oversight effort made to learn how that decision was made and how it went wrong. But the political dynamics animating the administration are plain enough.

George H. W. Bush was far from indifferent to political realities, but he was a politician of an increasingly rare kind: one who was not only a politician. In the Gulf War, he understood what U.S. interests were actually at stake, identified the most direct and convenient means for securing those interests, built a grand coalition that served U.S. military and diplomatic interests, and to a considerable extent trusted — wrongly — that the contrast between his old-school competence and the low-rent shtick of the grabasstical governor of Arkansas would secure his reelection. But by 1992, our presidential politics already had become surreal: George H. W. Bush was denounced as a “wimp” — the editorial cartoonists liked to depict him as an old woman — by the same people who had five minutes ago denounced him as a warmonger, not only for his leadership in the Gulf War but even before that, for his courageous actions as an airman in World War II. (The charge was strafing Japanese lifeboats.) There has always been an element of purely symbolic exchange in our presidential politics, from George Washington on, but by the 1990s that economy of symbols had become almost entirely unyoked from the business of being president. That is the only way to understand the madness of handing power over from the experienced and capable hands of George H. W. Bush to such a man as Bill Clinton.

The symbolic presidency and presidential administration remain disconnected. That makes it impossible for a president to shut up and do nothing — even when that is the best course of action.

The prevalence of symbolism over all else means that presidents are compelled to act — even when the action is pointless or destructive. Sometimes, that is an ill-considered tariff or a ridiculous promise about Mexico paying us to build a border wall. Sometimes, it is showing up at a disaster scene as though the presidential presence brought with it mystical healing powers rather than resource-consuming distraction. Sometimes, it is the mystical laying of presidential hands upon a Skutnik during the State of the Union address.

Sometimes, it’s a carload of kids being burnt on the altar of muscular executive action.

Words About Words

We use iconic to mean something like “famous and admired” or “celebrated,” but we really should restrict its use to people whose depictions are, in fact, icons, which is to say, people whose images are used in some emblematic capacity.

Queen Elizabeth II is an icon; Prince Charles is not. Che Guevara is an icon; Muammar Gaddafi is not, at least not outside of Libya. An icon can stand for a nation (Mohandas Gandhi), a movement (Susan B. Anthony), an ideology (Adolf Hitler), a sensibility (Le Corbusier), an era (Marilyn Monroe), an episode (Abraham Lincoln), a cultural current (Hugh Hefner), an ideal (Mother Teresa), and, of course, religions and religious tendencies.

Like an artistic style, the iconic quality of an image is most easily detected when it is being copied: Elizabeth Holmes dressed up like Steve Jobs, not like Bill Gates, for the same reason that there have been many parodies of William F. Buckley Jr.’s writing and speech but none of Ezra Klein’s. To borrow from Gertrude Stein, a woman who knew, there has to be some there there. It is a quality that you cannot buy, engineer, or even earn — celebrities who set out to make themselves into icons (Lil Nas X) almost always fail. They end up like the ironically named Madonna, who is a kind of vampire that has fed on a series of genuine icons, derivative to such an extent that her considerable originality is obscured by the enduring looks and personas which, in layers of pastiche, compose her image.

All logos aspire to the iconic condition, but only a few achieve it: Apple, McDonald’s, Nike, Starbucks — you know that these logos have reached that height because they can be parodied, while attempting to parody some very well-known but not iconic logos or brands (say, Armani or Tesla) is like telling a joke that nobody gets. In that respect, a person who is genuinely iconic has a face that works the way the McDonald’s arches do, supralinguistically — straight to the lizard brain, where the consumer instinct lives.

We use iconic lazily and promiscuously, but we should hold it in reserve: For one thing, it is rarely warranted, and, for another, when it is warranted, you don’t need to be told.

Rampant Prescriptivism

A reader, apparently not entirely familiar with your obedient correspondent, writes in with a sports-related question. Stuck in his craw is the broadcasters’ phrase “former first-round draft pick.” What would be more accurate, he says, is “previous first-round draft pick.”

Former seems to indicate that the player is no longer a first-round pick. But, it seems to me, the player in question will always have been a first round pick — it simply happened a while ago. In other words, previously.”

There is something to that. Surely it matters when a player was a first-round draft pick: I would imagine that the bidding starts higher for 2019 first-round picks than it does for 2011 first-round picks. So, why not say it that way: “Andrew Luck was a 2012 first-round pick.” The easiest cure for ambiguity is information and precision.

Seems easy enough.

Make it so.

From the Things That Shouldn’t Need Saying Desk . . .

Literally means literally — describing a thing that actually happened. As opposed to metaphorically. A reader shares an example from the late Norm Macdonald and the extant Lena Dunham, via Vulture:

NM: I guess a whole bunch of people hate her or something. I didn’t know she was a big person.

V: It’s even weirder if you didn’t know who she was. You just picked some random stranger to correct their use of the word “literal” on Twitter?

NM: Well, that does bother me. They told me what a writer she [Dunham] was. Whenever somebody tells me that someone’s a great writer and the first thing you see is “literal” used incorrectly . . .

V: Forget about your career, do you think Twitter has been good for you as a human being?

NM: It’s definitely bad for me as a human being.

If you happen to be in the market for a titanium hammer, here is an Amazon review: “I used this hammer for framing a basement a couple weeks ago and literally fell in love with this amazing hammer.”

That is going to be a love story for the ages.

If you ever are in doubt about how to use the word literally, just see how Joe Biden does it, and then don’t do that.

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. In it, you will discover 60 words for heroin and some very sad stories involving those words.

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 . . .

Writing in the New York Times, Ezra Klein insists that the words “supply side” will “summon the ghost of Arthur Laffer.”

That’s pretty spooky — for one thing, it isn’t even October yet.

For another, Arthur Laffer isn’t dead.


Referenced above: The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations.

In Closing

Something from this week’s reading, from Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, stood out:

By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter . . . By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king.

There’s a reason there is so much Old Testament sensibility in the earliest days of our nation. Pharaoh was very much on the pilgrim mind.

Every now and then I come across a Bible verse that I must have read a dozen times but makes me wonder whether I’ve really read the book at all.

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Health Care

The High Price of Free Health Care

People walk past a mural praising the National Health Service in London, England, March 5, 2021. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a semi-fortnightly vexation. To subscribe to the Tuesday and receive it in your in-box, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

Trouble in Single-Payer Paradise

There are two kinds of people who support single-payer health care in the United States: Those who point to the British system as a successful example, and those who know something about the British system.

Under the Conservative government of Boris Johnson, the United Kingdom will see taxes raised to their highest-ever peacetime level with a new surcharge going to support the financially wobbly National Health Service and “social care,” meaning nursing-home care or at-home care for the elderly. The taxes will fall disproportionately on the wages of young people, who don’t vote Conservative, to the benefit of wealthier retirees, who do.

One of the proverbs you hear when it comes to comparisons between the United States and the United Kingdom goes roughly: “Sure, they pay higher taxes, but at least they get something for it, including free health care.”

Neither one of those is exactly true.

Apples-to-apples comparisons are difficult to make, because both countries have multiple taxing jurisdictions (high-income New Yorkers pay more than high-income Texans, and high-income Scots pay more than high-income Englishmen) and tax things like investment income and profits from selling a residence differently. That being said: Middle- to upper-middle-income Britons do pay higher national income taxes than do their American counterparts, but when state and local taxes are taken into consideration, the math looks different, with middle-income households in New York State, for example, liable in at least some cases to pay higher income taxes than they would in the United Kingdom. (By way of comparison, taxpayers in Denmark typically pay nearly twice the income tax they would in the United States.) Overall, British income taxes are slightly but not radically higher than American taxes.

So, comparable income-tax rates and all that sweet free health care — it looks like the British are getting a great deal, no? But, of course, it is more complicated than that.

The Brits take a great deal of national pride in the NHS, but, for many in the United Kingdom, that pride is not enough to get them to actually rely on the NHS for health care: One in five Britons choose private care funded out-of-pocket rather than the NHS care funded by the taxes they already are paying, according to the BBC, citing delays, lack of available services, and the indignity of having to “fight for treatment” with the NHS bureaucracy. One in four NHS patients say that working with the state-run system has harmed their mental health.

Meanwhile, residential and at-home care for the elderly, a growing concern in aging nations such as the United Kingdom, can be outrageously expensive. Britons with modest assets (say, $35,000 in home equity) might expect to pay around $90,000 a year for retirement care. In some cases, those expenses can run into six figures.

It isn’t just care for the elderly. Mental-health care in the United Kingdom is poor (though not as poor as it is in the United States) and getting poorer as the number of available treatment spots are cut.

That’s typical of the socialist model of providing scarce goods and services: The things that are free you can’t get, and the things you can get aren’t free. There is a reason that, contrary to what you hear from American progressives, few countries in Europe or elsewhere actually have national single-payer systems. Germany doesn’t have one. France doesn’t have one. Health care in Switzerland happens in an entirely private (but highly regulated) market.

The new surcharge and the related reforms are meant to get social-care costs under control. And while the government of Boris Johnson is not always obviously competent, this is not a Johnson problem: British governments have been grappling with social care since the 1970s. The timelines there are always kind of interesting to me: The welfare state in the United Kingdom took its modern form in 1948, and, less than 30 years later, the country was a wreck. But now as we approach a half a century since the crisis that brought Margaret Thatcher to power, many of the basic problems with that welfare state remain unaddressed. Thatcher’s government made important and fruitful reforms, but there is only so much one government can achieve. Tony Blair tried, and largely failed, to reform the system. Theresa May’s government attempted to deal with the social-care problem and got burned in much the same way the George W. Bush administration did when it tried to reckon with the financial imbalances of Social Security.

These problems are in the lesser part economic and in the greater part political.

Of course, a very rich country such as the United Kingdom has the resources to provide care for the indigent and the elderly. But it has lots of other things it would like to pay for, too: an army and a navy, educations for young people, roads, bearskin hats at $1,500 a pop. The British also want to have a private economy with lots of investment and trade, and enough left over for the occasional Spanish holiday. Choices have to be made.

The NHS is chronically underfunded for the same reason U.S. public pensions are chronically underfunded: Politicians run for office every couple of years, and they have powerful incentives to spend money on things for their constituents in the here and now rather than set aside resources for the use and enjoyment of future beneficiaries. Real investments require real money, but promises are free. And so money goes to where the votes are. And it doesn’t go where the votes aren’t — that is why in the United States, the architects of our social programs have generally tied the interests of the broad middle class to the welfare state through entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare. As the proverb has it: “A program for the poor is a poor program.”

A very tiresome mode of political argument is the one that goes thus: “The ideal version of my imaginary system is preferable to the actual version of your real-world system.” We saw this in the Barack Obama-era health-care debate, when Democrats and the just-the-facts gang at places such as Vox sniffed that the (grievously misnamed) Affordable Care Act would reduce the deficit. Critics, myself included, responded: “That may be true, if the cost projections are not exceeded, and if all the unpopular tax increases are fully implemented. But that isn’t going to happen.” When tasked with giving the ACA a deficit-impact rating, the Congressional Budget Service did everything except make rude masturbatory motions as its analysts dutifully reported, “Sure, in the imaginary world in which this all goes according to plan, it will reduce the deficit.” In reality, everybody knew that measures such as the “Cadillac tax,” a levy on the expensive health-care benefits enjoyed by Democrats’ union allies, were never going to be implemented. As it turns out, many of the key features of the ACA were never implemented.

We see the same dynamic at work in areas other than health care; e.g., with the same big-city progressives who demand higher taxes to fund expanded welfare benefits fighting against higher taxes to fund expanded welfare benefits when those taxes fall on big-city progressives in the form of capped federal income-tax deductions for state and local taxes.

Recent COVID madness notwithstanding, Australia is, in general, a very well-governed country, and a rich one. Its single-payer health-care system is a mess, “under pressure and underfunded,” as the Australian Medical Association puts it, with “delays to treatment, bed shortages, and lengthy waiting lists for elective surgery.” New Zealand, another rich and well-governed country with a similar system, suffers under a “drastic shortage of specialist staff,” expecting to lose up to a third of its neurosurgeons in the coming years with no easy way to replace them. Canada has similar problems. These shortcomings are endemic.

None of this is to say that the U.S. model is the only model, or even that it is a good one. There are several different good ways to do health care. The Swiss model has many American admirers, and the ACA was in part an attempt to adapt Swiss practice to American realities. Many American progressives profess to admire the German way of doing things. But what the German model and the Swiss model have in common is a ruthlessly enforced individual mandate to purchase private health insurance; i.e., one of the parts of the ACA regime that both Republicans and Democrats were content to abandon.

And that points to the fundamental issue that we never seem to get around to really thinking about. The case for single-payer health care, like the more general case for a health-care system with a larger role for government, is not at its foundation about economic efficiency, quality of care, or even access to care. Some largely public systems perform pretty well on the efficiency and access criteria, and so do some largely private systems. Our health-care debate is not based in economics but in temperament — mainly risk-aversion.

The great sources of stress in the American system are the threat of losing coverage and then incurring some massive medical costs, and the related issue of general price opacity. If you want LASIK eye surgery, you can get a quote, you can get three competing quotes, you can arrange financing if needed, etc. The same for many kinds of cosmetic surgery, some kinds of dentistry, and some other services. Of course, not everything can be priced that way. But the lack of transparency, prices, and accountability is, I think, the root of our anxiety about health insurance and health care.

A single-payer system such as the NHS is attractive to some people because it promises — often falsely — to relieve that anxiety. I have even heard some more thoughtful people put it in the appropriate terms: “I would be willing to accept health care that is less innovative and of slightly lower quality, with longer waits and fewer amenities, in exchange for knowing that I was never going to get a bill for anything more than a relatively trivial copay.” And that is not a necessarily irrational position — it is the position of someone who prices risk in a different way from what you or I might do.

A single-payer system also introduces new problems and new sources of anxiety. And so much of our debate ends up being a comparison between the British system and the U.S. system, or the Canadian system and the U.S. system, or the French system and the U.S. system, whatever. Politically, that means exaggerating or emphasizing the defects of the system you like less and waving away the defects of the system you prefer. That is an unprofitable use of time and energy.

What would be more productive, I think — especially for proponents of more liberal and market-oriented solutions on such issues as health care — is to understand and appreciate the stress and anxiety that some Americans believe could be alleviated with an NHS-style monopoly or similar system, and develop reforms that speak to these concerns — which are legitimate concerns and deserve to be treated as such — in a way that is more consistent with our values and with American practice. Local norms and culture matter enormously in these things: I am a great admirer of the Swiss model of government, but I think it would be catastrophic to attempt it in the United States.

I am not much of an admirer of the NHS, which I also think would go simultaneously up in smoke and down in flames, Hindenburg-style, if attempted in the United States.

As Boris Johnson can attest, it isn’t working that well in the United Kingdom, either.

Words About Words

A New York Times headline: “If the Police Lie, Should They Be Held Liable? Often the Answer Is No.”

As you might have guessed, the headline says the opposite of what the article says. The report, by Shaila Dewan, notes that the police often are not prosecuted but does not argue that they should not be prosecuted. In fact, the author seems to believe the opposite.

This is one of the problems of getting news reporting too mixed up with agenda-driven opinion writing: Should is a word for opinion columnists, not a word for reporters.

. . .

Last week, I wrote about the adjective/adverb fast and mentioned that I couldn’t think of a use that wasn’t related to speed. (The issue was the redundancy “fast-speed Internet.”) About 11,451 of you wrote in to remind me of the use of fast to mean fixed or steady: “He held fast,” “They were fast friends,” “She was a woman of fast resolve.”

This sense of fast is, in fact, older than the sense of speedy. Fast is one of those funny words such as cleave that come to mean both a thing and its opposite: Cleave means both to cling together (“a man shall cleave to his wife”) and to separate, which is what a cleaver does.

That which is fast goes quickly, while that which is fastened goes nowhere.

The references inform me that the root is the Proto-Indo-European past, meaning firm, and it isn’t clear exactly how that produced identical English words meaning both quick and fixed. One idea is that fast in the sense of fixed came by extension to mean disciplined or resolved, a sense that fast maintains in English, and from resolved on to vigorous or energetic. A religious fast, then, would be a demonstration of resolve, while running fast would be running with vigor and energy. That’s speculation. The theme running through all these is commitment, but, as far as I can tell, no one really knows beyond a very vague sense how all these words fit together.

But in none of these senses is “fast-speed Internet” a sensible thing to write.

Rampant Prescriptivism

A reader writes in with a classic: evacuate, which has come up repeatedly in the case of Afghanistan. Contrary to what you might read in the Washington Post, NPR, or CBS News, places are evacuated — made vacant — not people. This is one of the many things people learned from watching The Wire. (RIP Michael K. Williams.) Afghanistan was evacuated, the Americans and Afghan allies there were rescued.

Some of them.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Memory Lane

Some of you have heard me tell the story of my first being offered a job by the Atlantic. I warned the editor, Jeffrey Goldberg, that there would be howls of protest, and not just howls but blubbering and ululations and hoots, all of them in protest. He scoffed. “This isn’t the high church of liberalism. This isn’t the New York Times.”

Home and Away

Writing in the New York Times, I argue that the January 6 riot at the Capitol was not an attempted coup d’état but only half of one: the less important half. The more important half is still being carried out.

Meanwhile, at the New York Post, I consider the possibility that the rapidly declining share of men among college undergraduates just might possibly have something to do with the fact that we’ve been telling men for a generation that the problem with our institutions is that there are too many men in them. Apparently, they listened.

You can watch me discussing Vivek Ramaswamy’s new book, Woke Inc., with the author 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. If you are curious about what some of those disaffected young men mentioned above are up to, you can find out therein.

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.

Car Thieves from the Future?

From the Sacramento Bee: “Davis has felony convictions in Sacramento and Santa Cruz counties dating back to 2017 and was arrested in June in Sacramento in an auto theft case involving a 21012 Nissan.”

I am reminded of an Onion headline: “Earthquake Sets Japan Back to 2147.”


Do check out Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam.

In Closing

I didn’t write or say much about the 20th anniversary of 9/11, mostly because I didn’t think I had anything useful to add to the conversation. But, one observation: Much of what has been said and written about the attacks of September 11, 2001, characterizes the terrorists as “savages.” I understand the reason for writing that way and no doubt have done so myself on many occasions. But the sobering — and terrifying — truth is that these horrific acts were not performed by uncivilized people from some barbaric backwater. Osama bin Laden himself was an educated man (he studied for a time at Oxford) and valued education in others: Two of his wives had doctorates.

Osama bin Laden was not raised in an environment of fanaticism — he helped to construct one. In that famous picture of him and his family on vacation in the 1970s, there are plenty of bellbottoms and not a burqa in sight. The difficult task is drawing a line between the kid in that picture to 9/11. These acts were not performed by barbarians — they were performed by intelligent men, in many cases by educated men, and by sincerely if perversely devout men, with the full consent of their consciences.

Nazism did not arise in some unlettered desert — it was the product of Europe’s most intellectually accomplished nation.

When we encounter people with radically different values from our own, we sometimes think of them as somehow less than human, as closer to animals than to us. That has led us to many mistakes in the Muslim world and will lead us to similar mistakes regarding China and other challengers to Western liberal values.

Savagery would be, by comparison, a relatively easy problem to deal with.

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Like a Rolling Stone

A supporter of then-president Barack Obama attempts to have him sign a copy of Rolling Stone at a campaign rally in 2012. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a hebdomadal conspectus of stuff I’m thinking about. To subscribe to the Tuesday, and I hope you will, please follow this link.

Why the Media Keep Publishing Fiction

I once taught a whole college seminar on how Rolling Stone got took.

And now Rolling Stone has done it again. Maybe I’ll expand that seminar to a full semester — because the lessons of the journalistic crimes of Rolling Stone are applicable to much more than Rolling Stone.

The venerable pop-music magazine, which not long ago had to retract a splashy story about a vicious gang rape that never happened, has now been obliged to issue a correction — this should be a prelude to retraction — for a story about how gunshot victims wheeled into hospitals in rural Oklahoma are being left to bleed and groan in agony because the emergency rooms are overrun by cases of ivermectin poisoning. As with the infamous rape case, this is a culturally electric event that . . . did not actually happen: “Rolling Stone,” the correction reads, “has been unable to independently verify any such cases as of the time of this update.” There is a reason Rolling Stone has been unable to independently identify any such cases: There are no such cases.

More from the correction:

The National Poison Data System states there were 459 reported cases of ivermectin overdose in the United States in August. Oklahoma-specific ivermectin overdose figures are not available, but the count is unlikely to be a significant factor in hospital bed availability in a state that, per the CDC, currently has a 7-day average of 1,528 Covid-19 hospitalizations.

The most important word in this story is not “ivermectin” — it is “Oklahoma.” Because you know who lives in Oklahoma — Joe Rogan fans.

The story turns out to have been based on the claims of one doctor — claims that Rolling Stone never checked. Why? Because the story is about (1) ivermectin, and, more important, (2) Oklahoma.

More correction:

The doctor is affiliated with a medical staffing group that serves multiple hospitals in Oklahoma. Following widespread publication of his statements, one hospital that the doctor’s group serves, NHS Sequoyah, said its ER has not treated any ivermectin overdoses and that it has not had to turn away anyone seeking care.

Another journalistic Hindenburg goes down in flames at Rolling Stone — oh, the buffoonery.

In 2015, I taught a journalism seminar at Hillsdale College, the subject of which was Sabrina Erdely’s 2014 Rolling Stone article, “A Rape on Campus,” which related the story of a horrifying, brutal sexual assault at the University of Virginia, a crime that — and this part still matters! — did not happen. The story was a fantasy, a concoction, and a libel — and Rolling Stone’s report was, in the words of Erik Wemple at the Washington Post, a “complete crock.”

A crock of what precisely, though?

Like most of the phony hate crimes and fabricated racial and sexual insults that have for years been an epidemic among young Americans, especially on college campuses, the Rolling Stone rape hoax was a neurotic casserole of familiar ingredients: social and romantic disappointment, weaponized envy, prejudice, mental-health problems, and a progressive-activist culture in which the effort to discredit and abominate cultural enemies — more often than not dishonest — takes the place of argument.

These things follow a pattern: When Lena Dunham made up a story about being raped while a student at Oberlin, her fictitious villain was not a member of the chess team or the president of the campus Sierra Club chapter but a swaggering College Republican; when North Carolina Central University student Crystal Mangum made up a story about being gang-raped, the malefactors were the Duke lacrosse team; the UVA hoax author, Jackie Coakley, falsely claimed that she was gang-raped by members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity as part of an initiation ritual. When feminist activist Judy Munro-Leighton made up a story about being raped, she chose as her assailant Brett Kavanaugh, who was at the time a Supreme Court nominee in confirmation hearings. Jussie Smollett alleged that he was assaulted in the wee hours by . . . weirdly bitey Trump-loving Empire fans who just happened to have a length of rope and a quantity of bleach on their persons as they roamed the freezing streets of Chicago on an early January morning.

In all of these cases, the story wasn’t about what the story was about.

None of those fabricated rapes was presented as a mere crime of sexual violence — a crime that happens every day in these United States, disproportionately affecting not college women (who are, in fact, less likely to suffer rape than are women the same age who are not in college) or well-heeled activists but poor women in isolated urban and rural communities, women with little education, women on Indian reservations, illegal immigrants, etc. The stories and the data associated with some of these places are shocking.

But here’s the thing: Nobody cares about those women.

Not really. Of course, they’ll say they do. In reality, the kind of women our newspaper editors and magazine publishers care about are college students, white tourists abroad, and celebrities. But the most important variable in these hoaxes is not any of the personal qualities of the fictitious victims but the cultural resonance of the fictitious attackers. If you want to see a Native American leading the nightly news, put him in front of some white high-school kids wearing MAGA hats.

Magazines such as Rolling Stone, the major newspapers, the academic establishment, and the professional-activist class are not staffed in the main by people who grew up on Indian reservations or in dysfunctional mountain villages, people who dropped out of high school, people who have been incarcerated, or other people from the margins. You may find one or two or those at any given media property, but you’ll find a lot more Oberlin and UVA graduates. Their interests, anxieties, and obsessions are those associated with their class. They don’t know — or care — what’s happening at Pine Ridge or in Owsley County. But they do know what sort of class-adjacent people they like and don’t like, they do know what sort of lifestyles and cultural affiliations they disapprove of, they do remember being snubbed or insulted (even if they only imagined it) by some frat goofus at UVA, and they do know what sort of people they resent.

They don’t know much, but they know what they hate.

And so these made-up rape stories are not stories about rape — they are indictments of fraternity culture, or jock culture, or Southern institutions, or Republicans, or anybody else who wanders into the cultural crosshairs of the hoax artists. The Oklahoma ivermectin story works in the same way, fitting into a prefab politico-cultural narrative that is not strictly speaking connected to the facts of the case at hand. Stephen Glass’s fictitious report from CPAC is another example of the same thing at work. No one questions tales of victimization involving people they assume to be, always and everywhere, victims. No one questions tales of depravity discrediting people they believe to be depraved. Joe Rogan can’t be a half-bright meathead who sometimes says things Professor Plum doesn’t like — he has to be a monster, responsible for the deaths of hundreds or thousands of people. Of course the corpses of those rubes in Oklahoma are piling up like cordwood — Joe Rogan has to be stopped!

(Joe Rogan is a genuine crackpot about ivermectin and much else — maybe don’t take medical advice from the Fear Factor guy.)

This reflexive prejudice deforms journalism in ways that are not limited to seeing the occasional work of pure fiction published as news. As I have written before, this same tendency is why the same media kingpins who claim to be the tribunes of the poor and the forgotten will publish about 53 articles on the admissions policies at Harvard or the University of Texas law school for every one article they put out about the high-school dropout rate in Milwaukee. Harvard applicants matter, elite law schools matter, and Milwaukee high-school dropouts don’t matter.

Dead hicks in Oklahoma matter only because Joe Rogan matters.

Rolling Stone is not alone in this. Writing about the problems of the unionized public-sector work force in big Democrat-run cities does not push the right buttons for your average Washington Post reporter or editor — it does not lower the status of a perceived enemy but instead threatens a perceived ally. But, beyond that, the situation in Milwaukee’s troubled public schools (or Baltimore’s, or Dallas’s) simply does not have any personal resonance for media decisionmakers, speaking in most cases neither to their own experiences nor — more important — to their social aspirations. The people who edit the Washington Post are the sort of people who care intensely about who gets into Harvard and what’s happening at Georgetown. Only a minority of Americans are college graduates, but the people who run Rolling Stone and the rest of the major media are in large part people who have powerful emotional connections to campus life.

School choice for poor black kids in Philadelphia isn’t even a blip on NPR-listening Democrats’ radar – but forgiving college loans sure as hell is. Why? It is obvious enough.

For progressives who see those who do not share their political priorities not as having different views but as enemies, publishing a made-up story about deranged gang-rapists at UVA pushes all the right buttons: white privilege, rich-jerk privilege, male privilege, Southern brutality, maybe even Christian hypocrisy if you can figure out a way to shoehorn it in there.

You can be sure that if someone had come forward with an unsubstantiated, loosey-goosey story about having been gang-raped by the staff of Rolling Stone, that claim would have received a good deal more scrutiny — not only at Rolling Stone, but at any mainstream-media outlet. Not because they are personally connected to Rolling Stone staffers, but because they live in the same world as Rolling Stone staffers. Southern fraternity members and college athletes are natural bogeymen to the media-staffer demographic, and so claims about them, however outrageous, are treated sympathetically. Oklahoma, on the other hand, inspires more fear among big-city progressives than the terrifying prospect of . . . being made to pay their own property taxes.

The Rolling Stone story got picked apart in about five minutes as soon as it encountered the lightest skepticism. The Duke lacrosse story required a criminal investigation. Lena Dunham’s made-up story fell apart as soon as one curious reporter — in this case, me — spent five minutes on Google and made one telephone call. That wasn’t exactly hardcore investigative journalism, and I don’t write that to be modest: The students I taught at Hillsdale were undergraduates, not professional magazine editors, but they were able to see the problems with Rolling Stone’s reporting and its agenda-driven narrative pretty easily. Which is to say: These stories don’t get published because nobody knows how to prevent that from happening — these stories get published because nobody cares, because these stories serve the purposes of a particular narrow cultural agenda and flatter the prejudices of a particular narrow set of educated and generally affluent American professionals.

(It is worth bearing in mind that the captains of our ruling classes are so greedy that they are willing to rob the poor and the oppressed even of their suffering, which is why you so often find cases like those of Edward Said, whose hardscrabble Palestinian childhood was an invention, or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the daughter of an architect who was raised in affluent Westchester County and invented a “working-class” background for herself. These people simply must have the best of everything, including the pleasure of congratulating themselves on how far they have come and the adversity they have overcome. That is the emotional foundation of our victimization Olympics.)

This is a problem of political bias, but political bias is part of a larger cultural bias, a particular social orientation. Rolling Stone has always been left-leaning, but it also was for many years the home of great writing from conservatives, notably P. J. O’Rourke and Tom Wolfe. But we have closed ranks, socially, in recent years, for a variety of reasons, many of them just blisteringly stupid. This has coincided with certain social and economic changes that have undermined the quality of American journalism. It is not that we do not know how to get it right, or even that we do not have the resources to get it right — it is that our petty hatreds and cultural tribalism have led us to believe that it does not matter if we get it right, that lies and misrepresentations about cultural enemies are virtuous in that they serve a “greater truth.” And this is not an exclusively left-wing phenomenon: Donald Trump’s lies, and the distortions and misrepresentations of right-wing talk radio and cable news, are excused and even celebrated on the same grounds.

The test of a political claim in our time is not whether it is true or false but whether it raises or lowers the status of our enemies.

It is, of course, a little bit amusing that those at the commanding heights of our media are so blinded by prejudice that they cannot see the plain evidence that they are blinded by prejudice. Class prejudice is a bigger part of that than is generally appreciated, but there are other kinds of prejudice at play. (It is complicated, because many other kinds of prejudice are intertwined with class prejudice: religious prejudice, notably, but also racial prejudice and linguistic prejudice.) Making our media even more of a monoculture — more intellectually and politically homogeneous — is going to make this even worse. You do not have to be of a certain background to write about people from that background, and you do not have to have personal experience with any particular social situation to write intelligently about it. But you have to do the work, which is a lot more difficult and a lot less enjoyable than simply indulging your own prejudices and hatreds.

Unhappily, our so-called journalists are by the day less willing to do that work — and have fewer incentives to do it — which is why they keep getting snookered by interchangeable lies from a cast of interchangeable liars.

A note to our progressive friends: This is your version of Q-Anon — falling for obvious, ridiculous lies because you want to believe the worst about people you hate.

In Other News . . .

Writing about cancel culture, Anne Applebaum turns up her nose at “anyone who tries to shoehorn these stories into a right-left political framework.”

Writing in the Atlantic, she was.

Now, where did I leave that shoehorn?

Words about Words

Where I come from, a shoehorn is not a shoehorn — it is a shoe spoon. But, depending on where you are, it may be a shoehorse, shoespooner, shoe schlipp, or shoe tongue.

It is a damned interesting word: Shoe horn in its literal sense dates back to at least the 15th century, but its modern metaphorical sense goes back only to the 19th century.

For some period of time between the coining of the word and the emergence of the modern metaphorical senses, shoehorn had a different metaphorical sense: cuckold.

My guess is that the horn part explains that. The connection between horns and sex has been around a lot longer than English has, and the popular tradition connecting horns and cuckolds goes way back into the history, and the pre-history, of the British isles. The Charlton Horn fair, with its obvious pagan survivals, was held at a site known as “Cuckold’s Point,” and, according to legend, it was instituted by King John in recompense to a man whose wife he had seduced. It probably predates King John’s reign by some time.

But the connection is not exclusive to the Western world: Horns have been used for centuries in folk medicine as aphrodisiacs — as the rhinoceros horn still is in China, among other places.

More Words about Words

From the New York Times, writing about Billy Bob Thornton’s series “Goliath”:

Once again, an ace supporting cast (including the series regular Nina Arianda and the newcomers Bruce Dern, Jena Malone, J.K. Simmons and Elias Koteas) works magnificently to deliver a moody and complex mystery with juicy twists.

I understand the use of the word newcomers here, meaning “newcomers to the series,” but it is jarring to see the word newcomer applied in any context to 85-year-old Bruce Dern, who was appearing on stage when Billy Bob Thornton was appearing in diapers.

(Literally, Mr. President. Literally.)

I am reminded of the opening credits for Robert Rodriguez’s Machete: “Starring Danny Trejo, Steven Seagal, Michelle Rodriguez . . . and . . . introducing . . . Don Johnson.” Johnson, who was an enormous celebrity in the Miami Vice era, had been dormant for a while before appearing as the villain in that 2010 film. Introducing was a little joke, but also an announcement of his intention of reviving his career. Which he did.

An old friend of mine who got by for some years as a semi-professional golf hustler said he used to caddy for Don Johnson, who was, according to my source, a gentleman and an excellent tipper.

Rampant Prescriptivism

Writing in Slate about Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite-internet company, Claire Park notes: “Incumbent satellite providers like Viasat and HughesNet currently offer median download speeds 10 times slower and upload speeds 20 times slower than median speeds available through an at-homefixed broadband connection.”

Do not do this. If you do, your prose will be . . . 100 times less readable.

“Times slower” is a variation of “times less,” which is a clumsy formulation. Times should go with more or with things that go in the direction of more, in the direction of increase: “The CEO earns 300 times more than the lowest-paid employee.” While it is true that you can get less through multiplication (multiplying by a number less than 1) times by its nature wants to point in the direction of increase. Better to write: “One-twentieth the speed of a fixed broadband connection,” or “The lowest-paid employee earns 1/300th what the CEO is paid.”

The same story mentions “fast-speed affordable internet.” Why not “fast, affordable internet”? I can’t think of a context in which the adjective “fast” does not refer to speed, either literal (Literal, Mr. President!) or metaphorical.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

News from Hollywood?

How Star-Making Pollutes the Cosmos.”

Home and Away

We are going to have vaccine mandates, at least narrowly tailored ones for medical personnel and those in similar work. So, we are going to need a secure and reliable system for monitoring vaccinations. The one we have is kind of a joke. 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. Shoe-schlipping kept to a minimum.

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.


Do read David Mamet on the sorry state of American theater here in National Review.

In Closing

I am writing this on Labor Day, which is, in my view, kind of a disreputable pinko holiday, even if it originally was instituted to preempt the deeper red festivities of May 1. Oh, I know, we conservatives are supposed to be building the Populist Right-Wing Farmer-Labor Party these days, but I do not think that I have very much to contribute to that particular project. That being said, I do have a little sentimental attachment to Labor Day because it marks the anniversary of my first association with National Review, back in 2007, which led to the best job I’ve ever had or could imagine having. I am inexpressibly grateful to the friends and readers who have made that possible, something I do not say nearly often enough.

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Alexander Hamilton’s Revenge

Detail of Alexander Hamilton portrait by John Trumbull, c. 1805 (via Wikimedia)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about politics, culture, and, more often than you might expect, Vikings. To subscribe to the Tuesday — and I hope that you will — please follow this link.

His Elective Majesty

Why is it that the political life of China or Russia seems in some important way simpler to us than does the politics of the liberal-democratic world?

Probably, we are mistaken, and the political reality in Beijing or Moscow seems — but only seems — simpler than the situation in Washington, London, or Brussels. But there are some differences in the non-consensual societies (as Jay Nordlinger, quoting Robert Conquest, has taught me to call them) that do promise some simplification — that is the sort of thing that tempts the likes of Thomas Friedman to envy Beijing’s power to act, apparently without interest-group obstruction or self-interested procedural shenanigans, in those “China for a day” fantasies.

In science fiction, there are stereotype planets (single-biome planets like the ice world Hoth in Star Wars and the desert world Arrakis in Dune) and stereotype civilizations (Star Trek’s Vulcans are logical, the Klingons are martial, and the Ferengi are, as Paul B. Sturtevant put it, “stereotyped crypto-Jews” who “look and behave like the Jews in the worst of Nazi or early-20th-century American propaganda”) and it is all too easy to take a similarly flattened view of the real world: The Chinese are relentless Han ethno-nationalists, the Russians are psychologically fixed on their history as the front line of the Christian West against the Muslim East, etc. Oversimplification is a very efficient way to make yourself stupid. But it is the case that concern for individual liberty does not seems to complicate Beijing’s decision-making the way it does Washington’s and that Moscow’s nationalist agenda will steamroll right over any muffled chirping about the rule of law or liberal-democratic norms. There is not much tension between nationalist ambitions and individual liberty in China or Russia because individual liberty is so lowly regarded as to barely enter the conversation, while the rule of law is whatever the national powers need it to be at any given moment.

With that in mind, we should understand the progressive dream of being “China for a day” as a close cousin to the perverse envy that some on the right evince for illiberal regimes such as those of Vladimir Putin or Viktor Orbán, and a near relation to the Trumpists’ grudging admiration of Xi Jinping: It is rooted in a desire for a simplified politics, one in which we liberate ourselves from the need to work out unsatisfying tradeoffs between competing values by rejecting some of those values. Managerial technocracy under “expert” government offers much the same promise: that we can escape from the messy business of compromise and consensus-building by abandoning the liberal-democratic paradigm for something fresher and more active. You will notice that calls for a “new politics” — whether those are rightist lamentations of the “dead consensus” or Senator Sanders’s demand for a “political revolution” — never point toward a more complex and consensus-driven politics that takes account of a wider array of competing values and discrete interests, but instead push relentlessly toward a simplified, cruder practice, a political equation with fewer variables to take into consideration.

This line of thinking infests both parties, and entices both left-wing activists and right-wing activists in the direction of executive aggrandizement, government by executive order, and presidential unilateralism rather than government by legislation, compromise, and bipartisanship. It is a homogenizing politics of larger lumps: We the People vs. the Swamp or the 99 percent vs. the 1 percent.

Like many of our political problems, this one is old enough to be practically eternal.

We trace our modern democracies to Greek and (to a lesser extent) Roman models, but Western parliamentary forms owe at least as much (and probably much more) to the consensus-oriented politics of the Germanic tribes that left their cultural marks everywhere from Iceland and the British Isles to Lombardy and beyond. It may seem strange to use the word egalitarian to describe societies that practiced slavery and human sacrifice — as in the case of the Vikings mentioned last week — but consider that in the first half of the Viking age, there were no kings as such, and no formal hereditary aristocracy, either. There was social mobility among the three main classes of persons, and the free men of the tribe all enjoyed the right to have their grievances heard and settled under law at a proto-parliamentary assembly, the famous þing, or thing. (The modern English word court, referring simultaneously to a monarch’s retinue, his official venue, and a judicial assembly is a reminder that these were, at one time, essentially one thing, with acting in a judicial capacity being the chief domestic responsibility of a king.) In Norse society, the jarls may have enjoyed rank and title (jarl survives in the modern English earl), but they usually did not enjoy any special formal political power — the power they had came from their followers and from their ability to use their prestige and their wealth to shape public opinion and shove consensus in one direction or another — something not entirely alien to our modern democratic practice.

But as these primitive tribal societies became more complex and sophisticated — and as the scope of political questions became national rather than local — they found that they required new modes of government. Like the Americans living under the Articles of Confederation, they came to believe that they needed a more robust national state and, especially, a more active and permanent executive who could focus sustained attention and effort on long-term national interests, something that could not be achieved through ad hoc alliances of tribal chieftains and regional magnates or other similarly temporary and fragile instruments of cooperation. This meant balancing goods and values that often were in tension: A powerful king might be simultaneously a protector of his countrymen’s rights and interests and an insult to their sense of equality; the desire to act decisively will at some margin always clash with the desire for consensus; the principle (sometimes unarticulated) of majority rule will always be in tension with minority and individual rights and with traditions enshrining such rights; the king’s obligation to provide public goods (beginning with physical security) assumes the state’s access to material resources necessary to creating such goods (soldiers have to be paid, roads and fortresses don’t build themselves) which brings the state into conflict with the property rights of individuals. A great deal of what pretends to be political philosophy is in fact only rhetoric put into the service of pretending that these goods and interests are not in conflict.

Many of those Germanic tribal societies attempted to resolve the tension between their egalitarianism and their desire for a powerful executive with what Henry Jones Ford described as “the oldest political institution of the race, the elective kingship.” (Ford, who served in the Woodrow Wilson administration, knew something about elective kingship.) The formalities and character of these elective kingships varied over time and between peoples: Certain Gallic tribes elected kings for one-year terms, while most other elected kings held office for life. In Venice, the doges were in effect elected monarchs with constitutionally limited powers. Among the egalitarian Swedes, the early kings were elected at an assembly open to all free men with relatively open terms for candidacy, but in later practice both electors and candidates were restricted. In Scandinavia as in the rest of Europe, the limits on elective kingship grew narrower over generations as the superstition of “royal blood” came to dominate political belief. Societies that had developed for generations without any sort of monarchy, much less a hereditary monarchy, eventually came to believe that they could not function without such a thing. When the American colonists decided that they did not need one, George III was sincere in his concern that the new nation might “suffer unduly from its want of a monarchy.”

King George was not alone in this. Alexander Hamilton was a calculating nationalist before he was a Broadway sensation, and his political orientation was very much informed by monarchists such as Jacques Necker (finance minister to Louis XVI) and by his own view that the English system of government was the best the world had to offer. While the great statesmen at the constitutional convention were debating the relative merits of the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan, Hamilton saw serious deficiencies in both and proposed instead a model of government that was in its main points the English model adopted to American circumstances: a popularly elected commons, an indirectly elected senate with untitled lords serving lifetime terms, and — most radical to the modern American mind — an elected king. He didn’t call the king a king but a “governor,” one with far-reaching political powers and a lifetime appointment as long as he remained in “good behavior.”

Hamilton’s elected king was in many ways similar to the presidency that eventually took shape: He was to serve as commander in chief of the armed forces and chief national representative in foreign affairs, and would have held veto power over the national legislature. Exactly no one rallied to Hamilton’s banner — in fact, after his five-hour disquisition on his proposal for national government, his ideas never even came up for discussion at the convention, but the echo of them can be heard throughout the Founding era, for example in John Adams’s much-ridiculed proposition that the American president should be styled quasi-monarchically: “His Elective Majesty.” That the president would in any case be a kind of king was plain to Hamilton, as reported in The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, which says of Hamilton’s president-for-life:

It will be objected probably, that such an Executive will be an elective Monarch, and will give birth to the tumults which characterise that form of Govt. He wd. reply that Monarch is an indefinite term. It marks not either the degree or duration of power. If this Executive Magistrate wd. be a monarch for life — the other propd. by the Report from the Committee of the whole, wd. be a monarch for seven years.

There is an echo of that old pre-monarchy Norse practice in the earliest days of the American republic, which was open but more democratic in rhetoric than in practice, in which a genuinely egalitarian ethos coexisted with a system of government in which local magnates and chieftains exercised an outsized influence, putting some considerable distance between equality under the law and equality in fact. (There were monstrous similarities, too, notably slavery-based agriculture.) And, in spite of Alexander Hamilton’s ambitions and John Adams’s anxieties, the president did not behave very much like an elected king, at least for a generation: George Washington, being a demigod, would not condescend to kingship; John Adams was too conservative and too unprepossessing to act the king; Thomas Jefferson was an aristocrat who gave his heart to the French Revolution; James Madison wanted a bank, not a crown; James Monroe, the empire-builder, might have made a king under different circumstances, but republican norms held him in check; John Quincy Adams was too much his father’s son to be dipped in purple.

Henry Jones Ford, mentioned above, made his observation about Americans’ resurrecting elective kingship in relation to Andrew Jackson, whose ascent to power (and to an excellent if less-successful musical than Hamilton’s) ushered in a new kind of presidency that was a lot like an old kind of kingship: king as all-father, king as embodiment of the people. As Ford wrote: “The truth is that in the presidential office, as it has been constituted since Jackson’s time, American democracy has revived the oldest political institution of the race, the elective kingship.” But this is a kingship that rises up from the people rather than being handed down from heaven: “The greatness of the Presidency,” Ford wrote, “is the work of the people breaking through the constitutional form.”

But it is not kingship, of course, that has distinguished American political life: It is the constitutional form — or it was, until about five minutes ago.

In Other News . . .

I should probably note that Thomas Friedman’s “China for a Day” bit often has been willfully misrepresented and unfairly maligned. Thomas Friedman has a lot of bad ideas, but single-party police-state brutality is not among them. “I don’t want to be China for a second,” he said during the now-infamous exchange. “I want my democracy to work with the same authority, focus, and stick-to-it-iveness. But right now we have a system that can only produce suboptimal solutions.”

Friedman’s problem is not that he is a closet Maoist — it is that he does not seem to understand that the optimal is the enemy of the good, and that the real choice faced by every free society is between competing suboptimal solutions, some of which are better than others.

Words About Words

There is a Polish proverb I love that is more and more useful every day: Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” This is especially useful if you are a conservative who watches Fox News from time to time or if you are following the Senate race in Ohio.

The word monkey is one of those words that are just funny, and it seems to be as funny in Polish as it is in English. Some words are funny because they sound like they should be dirty (dongle, poop-deck, haboob) or because they are foreign-language words that look absurd in English (humuhumunukunukuapua’a), but, sometimes, it’s just the phoneme, in this case, –nk, which is part of a lot of funny words: monkey, funky, honkey, tinkle, spank, spelunk, conk, stank, stunk, zonk, wank, etc. Why is –nk funny? No one knows. It just is, and groups of –nk words, rhyming or not, are funnier still: funky monkey, spank the monkey, junk in the trunk, rinky-dink, drunk as a skunk, yank the crank, etc.

You can take that to the bank.

Rampant Prescriptivism

Speaking of kings, elected or hereditary, they are not coronated — they are crowned at a coronation. Coronate is an adjective describing something that has the shape of a crown, as in “coronate flowers.”

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 contains many interesting stories, but not many Vikings.

My National Review archive can be found here.

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I have mentioned it before, but, because it is relevant to this week’s discussion, Michael Novak’s Choosing Our King is a truly excellent book and very enjoyable.

In Closing

Other news from Ohio:

 “The rest is history,” she said. “That pig really has established our brand, made it near and dear to so many hearts.”

And lower backs, apparently. Simpson Bush recounts the time at an expo in the Twin Cities that two women approached her, lowering their pants just enough to display matching flying pig tattoos.

Un maiale che non vola è solo un maiale.” 

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Law & the Courts

‘Print the Legend’

Police await the arrival of then-president Donald Trump to view border wall prototypes in San Diego, Calif., March 13, 2018. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about language, culture, and politics that sometimes goes on vacation and doesn’t go anywhere or do anything particular but enjoys it nonetheless. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

Of Course the Police Are Lying to You — but, Why?
In 1936, it was Reefer Madness, Louis Gasnier’s cinematic moral panic about high-school students who descend into an orgy of rape and murder after being enticed into trying marijuana. The history of Reefer Madness contains several wonderful bits of poetic juxtaposition: originally financed by a Christian ministry, the film became a profitable commodity after it was reworked for the “exploitation” circuit; it was later embraced by potheads as a kind of unintentional parody, and it almost certainly is the case that most of the people who have seen Reefer Madness today are marijuana users or were at one point; best of all, the film’s scheming drug pusher is played by Carleton Young, who is all but forgotten except for his immortal turn as the newspaper editor in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, in which his most famous line is effectively the motto of the various propaganda offices serving in the so-called War on Drugs: When the legend and the facts are at odds, “Print the legend.”

The spirit of Reefer Madness lived on and found new energy in Reagan-era anti-drug campaigns, from “Just Say No” to “This Is Your Brain on Drugs,” in which an egg-frying John Roselius gave a stirring performance much more memorable than his bit parts in Space Jam and Con Air. There were endless DARE lectures intended to leave the children of the Cold War “scared straight,” along with tall tales of the PCP Superman — whose sudden transformation, physical power, and ungovernable rage mark him as part of the long literary tradition that runs through Robert Louis Stevenson’s Mr. Hyde to Stan Lee’s Incredible Hulk — the myth of the “contact high,” legends about “flashbacks,” and a thousand baseless ghost stories about otherwise happy and healthy young people who, exposed to some drug or another, suddenly decide they can fly and fling themselves off balconies to their deaths.

(We even had that story in Lubbock, Texas, where you’d be damned hard-pressed to find a balcony high enough to kill yourself jumping off.)

In the 19th century, we had the Yellow Peril — Chinese immigrants and their opium. In our time, we have the . . . the other Yellow Peril, or the Yellow-and-Brown Peril: fentanyl, the legend of which combines old-fashioned Sinophobia with Trump-era Mexicanophobia. Of course fentanyl is a real thing. So are illicit Chinese drug factories and Mexican cartels. In 2020, nearly 70,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses, mostly from fentanyl, a figure that was up sharply from the 50,000 opioid overdoses in 2019. Nearly 1 million Americans have died from drug overdoses of all kinds since 1999. (For comparison, alcohol-related deaths in the same time frame amount to about two-and-a-half times that number.) But as we have seen with everything from homelessness to violent crime, interested parties will reliably exaggerate things that are real problems, and, at times, will simply fabricate stories about them. For example, it is true that there are violent racists in the world, and it is also true that practically every campus hate-crime incident you’ve ever heard about is a hoax.

Which brings us to beautiful San Diego.

In early August, San Diego’s sheriff’s department put out a video purporting to show a trainee overdosing on fentanyl — and nearly losing his life — after merely being exposed to the stuff while processing evidence after an arrest. The deputy, David Faiivae, falls to the ground in a catatonic state after encountering a white powder that the sheriff’s office later identified as containing fentanyl. The sheriff’s office put out one of those now-familiar, po-faced propaganda videos, with Sheriff Bill Gore intoning seriously about the dangers his men face over corny background music and the usual heroic-cop posturing. The “This Is Your Brain on Drugs” moment comes when the deputy declares: “I’m Deputy David Faiivae, and I almost died of a fentanyl overdose.”

Except, he didn’t. Almost certainly.

It is physically impossible to overdose on fentanyl from the kind of exposure Deputy Faiivae experienced while being recorded on body-cam video. He was wearing gloves and long sleeves while handing bagged quantities of drugs. Even if he weren’t wearing gloves, he still wouldn’t have overdosed that way: Fentanyl cannot be absorbed through the skin in any significant quantity without some solvent, but even when such a solvent is present, as with the fentanyl patches that are given to some patients for pain, it would be practically impossible to overdose from brief accidental exposure. The same is true of inhalation of airborne particles: A study of workers in legal fentanyl factories found that at the highest concentrations found in those facilities, they would have to take off their protective gear and spend hours standing in a little haboob of opioid particles before even absorbing a clinical dose of the stuff, much less a life-threatening overdose.

The charitable explanation of what happened with Deputy Faiivae is that it was a mistake. The less charitable explanation is that it was a hoax.

The case for being charitable is not very strong here.

Among other things, the sheriff’s department did not bother to collect a sample from Deputy Faiivae for toxicological examination — after an episode that allegedly had him at death’s door. Think on that: A law-enforcement officer was, if this story is to be believed, almost killed in the line of duty, and the law-enforcement agency for which he works neglected to perform the most elementary investigation. The guy was dosed with Naloxone, a powerful drug used to counteract heroin overdoses. But the rest of the overdose protocol — breathing support, for instance — was completely ignored.

Why? Most likely, because he was not having an overdose.

Never mind the criminal question: Surely the insurance office would be interested in what happened — and it was only a few years ago that a San Diego sheriff’s deputy was charged with felony fraud for misrepresenting his physical condition for insurance purposes.

No physician ever diagnosed Deputy Faiivae with a drug overdose — the “diagnosis” came from the sheriff. Deputy Faiivae did not display any of the typical symptoms of a fentanyl overdose. Add all of that to the fact that he was never in a position to experience a fentanyl overdose to begin with, and it is difficult to credit the good faith of the sheriff’s department here.

So, what the hell is going on?

“There is a public-relations motive,” says Sheila P. Vakharia, deputy director for research and academic engagement at the Drug Policy Alliance. “If we see police out there putting themselves at risk, courageously exposing themselves to scary chemicals and drugs, then we think, ‘Obviously, these are good people doing good work.’ It motivates and sustains a commitment to the drug war. It gets people scared and angry, and this mobilizes people to support expanding police budgets, to make sure there are cops on the street, to spend any amount of money — whatever is needed to find these drugs and the people selling them and get them off the street. It mobilizes people’s emotions to get them to act in ways that are aligned with their agenda.”

It is a mistake to take police or prosecutors at their word in any matter — but especially in this one, where the record of fabrication and misinformation is so long and shameful. But the underlying political dynamic should be obvious enough: I’ve never met someone involved in issue advocacy who has said that the problem they were working on has been solved — they almost always say the opposite, that thus-and-such a problem has never been worse, that immediate action and massive spending are needed, etc.

You’ll never hear Randi Weingarten say that we are spending enough on schools, you’ll almost never hear a secretary of defense or a flag officer say that the military budget is too big and bloated, and you’ll rarely if ever hear a cop or a prosecutor say that the drug situation is anything other than a crisis and the worst that it ever has been. The same pattern holds true in politics: Every election, you’ll hear that the Other Party is the most dangerous it has ever been, that we are one election away from sliding into communism or fascism or whatever.

And it is all — all of it — bull.

It is lies and nonsense and self-serving dishonesty. Police departments will lie to you for the same reason a presidential campaign will lie to you: for money, power, and status. We should be clear-eyed about this. Our police departments and prosecutors’ offices are rife with misbehavior, some of it criminal, with abuses of power ranging from dangerous buffoonery to outright corruption. Conservatives tend to understand this easily when it comes to government schools or the IRS but are instinctively protective of police and military agencies. But a bureaucracy is a bureaucracy is a bureaucracy, and the same dynamics of institutional self-interest operate in all of them to some degree. On top of the usual interest in salaries, benefits, and pensions, police departments suffer from a terrible addiction: Police are hooked on being thought of as heroes. And some of them are heroes.

But most of them are, most of the time, something closer to tax-collectors. There isn’t anything inherently dishonorable in that. There’s a job that has to be done. It is what it is.

But that job has to be done honestly and competently, with high degrees of transparency and accountability.

There is reason to doubt that that is what is happening in San Diego.

This “overdose” drama requires independent investigation as a potential criminal matter. If the San Diego sheriff’s department staged this episode — which appears to be at least possible if not likely — then losing their jobs is the least Sheriff Gore, Deputy Faiivae, et al. should face. An open society cannot tolerate police who stage crimes or fake on-the-job medical traumas for public-relations purposes.

We can be confident that an overdose is not what happened in this case.

So, what did happen?

In Other News . . .
On the subject of drugs and drug policy, I was not persuaded by Aron Ravin’s piece, “Libertarians Were Wrong about Marijuana Legalization.”

Part of my criticism is alluded to above — taking police and prosecutors at their word that things are, invariably, worse than they have ever been — but part of it is that I don’t think Ravin quite gets what libertarians actually think about marijuana-legalization projects such as the one in Colorado.

There are, of course, utopians and ideologues, who insist that legalization is all upside and no downside, that it will end criminal cartels and produce enough tax revenue to provide free false teeth to every needy mouth from sea to shining sea. But that does not capture the fullness of opinion or analysis. As I argued in a 2015 National Review cover story on the Colorado project, legalization will always be a mixed bag, and partial legalization will be a very mixed bag in that the “presence of black markets in prohibition states ensures the presence of black markets and gray markets in legalization states.” Which, as Ravin notes, is something that has come to pass.

A useful point of comparison is Nevada’s limited legalization of prostitution. By most accounts, the sex business as practiced in Nevada’s legal brothels is better and safer for both sellers and buyers than is the criminal sex business on the streets, in casino bars, etc. But the legal-prostitution business in Nevada is very limited and very highly regulated, and, hence, much more expensive and less easily accessible than is illegal prostitution. It has had very little discernable effect on street-level prostitution in Las Vegas (prostitution is not legal in Las Vegas, in spite of what some poorly informed tourists believe) or throughout the rest of the state. From that point of view, Colorado is sort of Pahrump writ large: an improvement for those who buy and sell marijuana on the legal market, but not large enough to overcome the economic forces of the black market — or, more precisely, of the various black markets.

As many libertarian-leaning critics predicted, organized-crime penetration remains an issue in the upstream supply chain, where it is relatively easy to divert a few hundred pounds of legally grown marijuana here and there for very profitable black-market profit margins, and legalization creates special problems in nearby prohibition states. Those idiots getting arrested bringing Colorado marijuana into Nebraska are not getting caught with amounts that can legally be purchased in Colorado, but often with hundreds of pounds or more.

This is no surprise: The presence of Las Vegas and a thousand smaller gambling destinations has not eliminated illegal gambling in the United States. It hasn’t even eliminated illegal gambling in Las Vegas. There remain black markets in alcohol, tobacco, and other legal products, driven in part by taxes and regulations. There are licensed gun dealers and illegal gun traffickers, licensed bus operators and outlaw bus operators. (And, no surprise, there is some real overlap between the unlicensed gun merchants and the unlicensed bus outfits.) We should expect that there will always be illegal marijuana sales — for example, sales to minors.

It took decades to break the grip of organized crime on Las Vegas. It will take some time for corporate producers to squeeze the cartels out of the marijuana market — and it is possible that they will never squeeze illegal producers out entirely, because it is relatively easy to grow marijuana. Note that fentanyl is produced both legally for medical purposes and illegally for recreation and profit. The question is not whether legalization delivers some utopian transformation of unhappy social realities — it won’t, and most libertarian critics understand that — but whether the best harm-reduction strategy in the case of marijuana is sticking a gun in somebody’s face with a hearty “Just Say No!”

Our experience with that strategy so far suggests very strongly that it is not the most reliable one, and that it brings along with it some fairly terrible unintended consequences, on display in San Diego and elsewhere.

Words About Words
What’s a Viking? In 1820, no English-speaking person knew.

Viking is one of those unusual words whose date of entry into English is known precisely — it was introduced in 1820 by the Reverend John Jamieson, the great scholar of Scottish literary history, best known for authoring the Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language. In 1820, he published editions of John Barbour’s “The Bruce” and Blind Harry’s “Wallace,” two biographical poems, with the word Viking appearing in his notes on the former.

But beyond that, it is a little hazy.

The word Viking appeared nowhere previous in modern English or in Middle English. But the Old English word wicing goes back in the records centuries farther than does its likely Old Norse cognate, vikingr, though some scholars are not convinced the words are directly related. The Norse vic and the English wic both can mean bay or inlet, surviving in English in placenames such as Greenwich — linguistically if not socioeconomically equivalent to Green Bay — and in the name of the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik, the “smoking bay.”

(Sandwich was a sandy bay, and by extension the settlement that grew up on that bay, before it was an earl or his lunch. And while there are some sandy bays in the Sandwich Islands, which we now call Hawaii, they were named in honor of the finger-food guy, who was also First Lord of the Admiralty.)

But a vikingr wasn’t a person — it was something a person did, an expedition of piracy. You weren’t a Vikingr, you were someone who went on a vikingr.

In that sense, vikingr is maybe a little like the modern English camper. Other than the words camping and camper, derived from camp (from the Latin campus, the site of a temporary military habitation), we don’t have a specific word for the antisocial activity of going into the wilderness to escape the comforts of civilization or for the benighted people who do it. The people who go on camping trips are campers, and the people who went on viking trips were vikingrs, and, eventually, Vikings.

But as far as the inhabitants of the British Isles were concerned, the Scandinavian pirates who terrorized their coasts and enslaved those they did not massacre were not Vikings — they were Danes, the “Deniscan” of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The Danes haven’t always been about social democracy and tasteful furniture design — they once were some of the ass-kickingest people in Europe. Many of those “Danes” were not from Denmark but from what are now Sweden and Norway, but, then as now, one breed of foreigner was much the same as another to a Yorkshireman.

Rampant Prescriptivism
Some drive-by prescriptivism:

Amit Katwala has written an essay about name discrimination in Wired, in which he notes that he was named after a famous Indian actor, whose name he goes on to spell a couple of different ways, all of them wrong. The actor is Amitabh Bachchan. I wouldn’t normally whack somebody over that (it’s not like I’ve never got a name wrong) but, if your whole essay is predicated on the power of names, you might want to double-check.

Amitabh Bachchan is one of the most famous men in India, someone with approximately 100 percent face-and-name recognition. But, outside of India, he is anonymous enough that he can fly commercial mostly unnoticed, as Jay Nordlinger reports after having encountered the movie star sitting quietly by himself in the Zurich airport.

Moving on . . .

Writing in the New York Times, Cassady Rosenblum insists “work is a false idol.” But all idols are false — the expression she and her headline writers are looking for is “false god.”

Speaking of Jay, do him a favor and remember that it is “forbid to” and “prohibit from,” not the other way around.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away
In California, it’s the Sage from South Central vs. the Schmuck from the French Laundry. More in the New York Post, an Alexander Hamilton Joint.

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. Think of it as a course of treatment to cure you of populist sentimentality, if you suffer from that malady. You can also read in it a great deal more about Colorado’s marijuana-legalization efforts and prostitution in Nevada.

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 History of Private Life, Vol. III: Passions of the Renaissance. Part of a series exploring private life from ancient Rome to modern times. Terrifically interesting and insightful.

In Closing
I suppose there is some sort of bipartisan sensation in watching Joe Biden execute Donald Trump’s Afghanistan program even more incompetently than the Trump administration might have been expected to do. At a special session of the House of Commons held to debate the situation in Afghanistan, multiple members of Parliament castigated Biden’s approach in the bitterest terms — they held him “in contempt,” as the Telegraph put it. In this, the British are only repaying the president’s obvious contempt for the United Kingdom. As one member of Boris Johnson’s cabinet put it: “The U.S. remains by far and away our most important ally — but we are not Washington’s most important ally by some stretch.”

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Politics & Policy

Progressivism, Democracy, and Climate-Change Action

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) participate in a “No Climate, No Deal” demonstration outside the White House in Washington, DC, June 28, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about bringing the heat. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

Climate and Democracy

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a U.N. body, has released its most recent report on global warming. Those of you who follow the climate discourse will already know that these reports are handed down with a great deal of ceremony and that they are received as though they had originated at Delphi, Hira, or Corinth.

A familiar part of the ritual is the report’s moral amplification by the press, which is always a couple of more degrees further gone into hysteria and lamentation than the IPCC report itself is. Not that the report is all rainbows and sunshine. (Well, sunshine.) It continues the longstanding IPCC trend toward certainty: that the consequences of climate change are going to be catastrophic; that the current disturbance in the climate system is the product of human action, largely the consumption of fossil fuels; that a radical change in the whole pattern of human life is required to slow down climate change and prevent its becoming even more dire. In fact, the gradual evolution of the IPCC’s estimates of confidence (a five-point scale: very low, low, medium, high, very high) in its assumptions and in its forecasts (which are graded from exceptionally unlikely to virtually certain) is one of the most-studied aspects of the report.

As is proper, much of the report consists of technical scientific discussion that will be of very little practical use to the lay reader, even those with reasonably good general-science education. In this case, sola scriptura just won’t do. But then, this has always been more of a sola fides matter, at least for the general public.

A word that does not appear in the report is democracy. And democracy is the specter that haunts climate activism.

Climate change is not a new issue. It is an issue that seems to grow in urgency each year if we judge by taking the temperature of the political rhetoric. But it is an issue that does not seem to grow in urgency each year if we consider the actions of governments, democratic and otherwise, around the world.

The first meeting about climate change was held in 1963, and by the end of that decade much of the basic science of climate change was in place. Cesare Emiliani and Edward Norton Lorenz (father of the “butterfly effect”) argued from geological evidence that relatively small changes in the climate situation could produce very large effects, while the possibility of polar ice melts, rising sea levels, etc., were part of the scientific discussion before the moon landing. At the same time, other theories of climate change — notably that anthropogenic aerosols would lead to catastrophic global cooling — also were part of the discussion and, at times, dominated it.

But by the 1990s, the climate-change discourse had taken on, more or less, its modern form: 1992 saw the failed Rio Conference, 1997 witnessed the creation of the Kyoto Protocol and the first Prius to roll off the assembly line — the climate agenda has always been, in no small part, a shopping list — and much of the debate by that point consisted of arguments over the validity of evidence.

Some 20 years ago, the third IPCC report called it “very likely” that, barring an effective program of mitigation, we were in for the most disruptive period of climate change since the last ice age.

What you or I or anybody else believes about the cause or reality of climate change shouldn’t matter in evaluating what I am going to discuss next, but, for the record, I will note here that I have more or less conventional views about climate change — that while there is a good deal of distortion and exaggeration in the popular press, I have no reason to believe that the facts regarding the state of the climate and its likely course of evolution are appreciably different from what you will read in the IPCC reports and similar documents. I do not think that climate change is a hoax or a plot or anything like that, though it often functions as a pretext for groups with other, generally illiberal, agendas.

(I suppose that I also should note for the record that, as announced a few months ago, I will be doing a project on climate change in partnership with the Competitive Enterprise Institute over the course of the coming year.)

Climate change as a potential public-policy issue has been with us since the 1960s, while climate change understood in at least some quarters as an urgent public-policy issue has been with us since at least the 1990s. And in that time, the major governments of the world have decided to do . . . not very much. There has been a great deal of talk, agreements entered into and abandoned — and then reentered into, at least notionally, in the case of the United States and the Paris agreement.

We have seen some progress: In the United States, emissions not only of carbon dioxide but also of other greenhouse gasses such as methane and nitrous oxide have declined, if the Environmental Protection Agency is to be believed. And that’s not because poor addled Hunter Biden has been huffing the nitrous oxide out of the sky, or because we have cut back on fossil fuels — in some considerable part, the improvement in the U.S. greenhouse-gas situation is the result of one fossil fuel — coal — having been partly supplanted by another fossil fuel — natural gas, which produces fewer emissions when used to produce electricity. Wind and solar have made a difference in electricity, too.

But, for the most part, the liberal democracies (to say nothing of China and the other authoritarian states) have said, “No, thanks!” to the kind of radical climate policies dreamt of by Green New Dealers, “climate justice” activists, and socialists such as Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D., N.Y.) who wish to use the climate issue as an excuse for imposing political regimentation on market economies.

Progressives generally argue that this is because our democracy isn’t a real democracy, that it is distorted or captured by big money from Big Oil and other self-interested business concerns. But that isn’t political analysis — it is foot-stamping, insisting that democracy is only democracy when it gives the blessed caste what it demands.

Beyond the American scene, you can take your pick of democratic models — Western Europe, Scandinavia, India, Japan — and you will see similar results. The United States is a bit of a rhetorical outlier and a bit less inclined to keep up appearances by going through the motions with international agreements that no one has much interest in or intention of enforcing. Norway is producing about as much oil today as it did a decade ago, and about as much as it did in the late 1990s, though well under its turn-of-the-century peak. The United States is producing more. As in the United States, the biggest change in countries such as France has been the displacement of coal in electricity generating by natural gas, along with wind and solar.

Because progressives are at heart utopians, they have a difficult time acknowledging tradeoffs. On Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays, climate change is the most important consideration in the world. On Tuesday, Thursdays, and every other Saturday, the top issue is “democracy,” vaguely and inconsistently defined. In fact, Democrats care so much about democracy that they have shut down the democratic process in the democratically elected legislature in Texas in the name of “democracy.” Instead of tradeoffs, progressives embrace a practically mystical model of the unity of all virtues. And so it is practically impossible for the Left to think intelligently about the tradeoffs involved. If you doubt that, read this transcript of Ezra Klein trying to lead a discussion on the question “What If American Democracy Fails the Climate Crisis?” You’ll notice that the headline question never really even enters the conversation.

We use the word democracy as though it signified something sacred rather than merely procedural. But it does not make democracy any less precious to forthrightly recognize that it is one value in a world of values that are sometimes complementary and sometimes rivalrous. Progressives ought to be grappling with the fact that one of the things they put forward as a nonnegotiable and absolute good — democracy — is at odds with something they insist is an existential threat to human civilization — climate change.

Rather than deal with that honestly, progressives have fallen into a number of obvious alternatives: hysterical moralizing, in which those who do not concur with their agenda must be denounced as moral monsters, because there can be no honest disagreement; aggressive indoctrination, in which affirming various aspects of the climate fides as a precondition of participating in educational or business life, including the cynical ploy of indoctrinating children as a means to getting at their parents; “lying for justice”; and, of course, using the levers of the state to subvert inconvenient democratic realities.

The most likely solution to this conundrum will be found — very likely — in the words “science says.” Progressives have long struggled with the tension between their desire, often genuine, to be democratizers and their desire to give experts (however unreliably identified) a larger role in the administration of public affairs. The democratizing aspects of progressive reform often end up being catastrophic for democracy — see the sorry state of radically democratized contemporary political parties and shed a quiet tear for the smoke-filled room of old — and government-by-expert is a hit-or-miss affair — remember that during the “global cooling” scare there were people talking about covering the polar ice caps in soot or taking other radically invasive measures to bring up the temperature of the planet. All sorts of bad science and pseudoscience — eugenics, the grain-based diet, “scientific” racism — have enjoyed expert support at various times.

The great danger on climate change is that frustrated progressives, unable to win the argument and move the democratic states with their two favorite phrases — “studies prove” and “science says” — will take it upon themselves to liberate the demos, whose members either won’t or can’t understand what “science says,” and unburden them from the responsibilities of self-government. There are times to overrule the will of the people (as I wrote, democracy is one good among many competing goods), but attempting to forcibly reorganize the material life of the entire human race without consent or buy-in is to leap headlong into certain disaster. To accomplish this would require a program of coercion unprecedented in human history. Believing that this would be done with the very best of intentions does not provide a moral get-out-of-jail-free card.

On the matter of climate, progressives insist that President Biden must achieve his climate goals even if the democratically elected representatives in Congress disagree — even though it is Congress, not the president, that has the power to make law. Biden himself has threatened to act over and above Congress, the matter being, in his words, a “moral imperative.” Progressives such as Christy Goldfuss of the Center for American Progress argue that Biden should act “without Congress,” if Congress will not comply with his demands.

Why do we elected congresses and parliaments if not to make decisions of precisely this kind? The fact that progressives have not got their way on this issue is not an indictment of democracy — it is a reflection of the fact that different people have different priorities. Maybe Americans and Europeans and Japanese should have different priorities — but they don’t. This is a matter of stated preferences (“Go green!”) being at odds with revealed preferences (for inexpensive energy and the bounty that comes with it). The democracies have had plenty of time to adopt the more radical version of the climate agenda — and they have, for the most part, said, “No.”

And so the missives keep coming, from IPCC and from other quarters. “The report leaves me with a deep sense of urgency,” Jane Lubchenco, deputy director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, tells the New York Times. That’s what it is meant to do.

More heat doesn’t mean more light.

Words About Words

“It’s in and it’s big,” reads the AP headline. The subject is . . . the infrastructure bill. Goodness, gracious.

Moving on . . .

Theranos, soon to be back in the news, is an unfortunate corporate name in that it sounds like some kind of evil cult — which, in its way, it was. Theranos is a portmanteau, a word made from smudging two other words into one, the textbook example being motor + hotel = motel. Portmanteau here is a metaphor that has taken on a separate life of its own: A portmanteau is a suitcase with two equal halves, and a metaphorical portmanteau is a word into which parts of two other words have been stuffed.

The portmanteau constituents for Theranos are “therapy” and “diagnosis.” There’s a little linguistic irony lurking in there: Diagnosis is formed from the word gnosis, meaning knowledge, and Gnosticism purported to offer a special kind of knowledge that was available only to a special kind of people. As the ancient mystic Georgius of Costanza put it, “it’s not a lie if you believe it.”

Rampant Prescriptivism

The next time a waiter asks you, “How are we doing?” I hope you will join the cause and reply: “Are we . . . plural?” Or the more straightforward: “There is no we.” You could try the old “What do you mean we, kemosabe?” but you’ll probably get fired from your job or expelled from college.

I don’t know what foetid spawn of the pit decided that waiters should address normal, mentally functional adults having a ribeye as though they were crayon-eating preschoolers, but somebody needs to make it stop.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

Here’s a man with a face made for radio talking with Joe Scarborough about right-wing hippies.

Here is Clarence Page writing in the Chicago Tribune. It is a column that is mostly about how surprised he is to find himself agreeing with a column I wrote a while ago. Column-writing is a funny business, especially in August.

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. There is more bunkum catalogued.

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 shortest road to civic peace is prosperity. Make sure there is enough yogurt in the bowl.

Katy is indifferent to the camera, but Pancake seems to know she’s being photographed — which is really remarkable for a creature who does not understand how mirrors work.

But Katy is good at letting you know what she wants.


I’ve been enjoying Noah Hurowitz’s book on El Chapo, especially the background about Sinaloa. The title is: El Chapo: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Infamous Drug Lord.

In Other News . . .

Reading about “time crystals” makes me feel as if I should be taking an enormous bong rip, but this is a real and fascinating thing.

In Closing

I have written a great deal about trust in institutions. Trust is not just something nice to have — it is an immensely practical consideration. Trust is the lubrication that makes an open society work. As our politics descends more deeply into dishonesty, distortion, and hysteria, the decline in trust will very likely prove more catastrophic than the state of the climate or the state of our public finances.

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Health Care

Vaccination Agitation

A commuter receives a COVID-19 vaccination at Grand Central Station Terminal train station in New York City, May 12, 2021. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

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

On Vaccine, Between Persuasion and Coercion
The news seems to be sinking into even some traditionally thick and numb Republican skulls: We need to have more people vaccinated against COVID-19. How to go about getting that done? Somewhere between persuasion and coercion lies the middle way.

Kay Ivey is the Republican governor of Alabama, one of the states with the lowest vaccination rates. As COVID-19 infections creep up around the country, Governor Ivey observed: “It’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.”

Exemplary right-wing radio dope Phil Valentine, who, like most right-wing radio dopes, had played some pretty enthusiastic footsie with anti-vaccine activism and related conspiracy kookery, later found himself on oxygen in a critical-care unit with a bad case of COVID-19, and now has dipped a toe into the pool of regret. His brother relayed: “Phil would like for his listeners to know that while he has never been an ‘anti-vaxxer’ he regrets not being more vehemently pro-vaccine.” That is, with apologies to the afflicted, bullsh**. It isn’t true that Valentine was never an anti-vaxxer — anti-vaxxers rarely describe themselves that way, but he had pointedly refused the vaccine himself and argued that others should do the same if they did not have conditions likely to put them at risk of dying from COVID-19, because, as he wrote, “you’re probably safer not getting it.” That claim is — and this still matters! — not true.

It is strange and unpredictable what will get Americans’ libertarian hackles up. The Right, which has embraced theatrical self-harm as a kind of weird performative political ritual, is the political home of most (but by no means all) vaccine skeptics (and mask skeptics, and hydroxychloroquine quackery, etc.) and its tribunes worry about vaccine mandates of different kinds. Steve Holt, a Republican state legislator in Iowa, speaks for many when he calls so-called vaccine passports “un-American,” “unconstitutional,” and “unacceptable.” But I am not sure that is quite right.

Conservatives, including many libertarian-leaning conservatives, traditionally have been comfortable with such measures as registering young men for possible military conscription and placing limits on certain kinds of business transactions or travel during emergencies or out of concern for national security. During World War I, the United States drafted three men for every two volunteers, and the generals sent 116,516 Americans to their deaths in the service of interests that were quite remote from our own national interest. We drafted 10 million for World War II and 2.2 million for Vietnam. It is a peculiar libertarian principle that accepts marching tens of thousands of Americans to their deaths at Meuse–Argonne but balks at seeking to encourage wider vaccination by taking some active measure — presumably some measure short of the prison sentences given to draft resisters.

But the libertarian principle here is very subtle indeed. Representative Holt is a vocal supporter of a new Iowa law that forbids private businesses to require customers to prove that they have received the COVID-19 vaccine. Some businesses, as you may have noticed, have put up signs asking that non-vaccinated people continue to follow such protocols as wearing masks and observing physical distancing. But there is no practical way to enforce that. Perhaps there are other businesses that wish to limit their clientele to those who have been vaccinated, though I am unable to find any serious or widespread effort at that. Such businesses may be operating from an excess of caution — or they may simply be marketing themselves to the more cautious among us. Who knows?

But haven’t conservatives traditionally believed that a business has the right to manage such affairs on its own terms? Conservatives made such arguments against, to take one very prominent example, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. How is it that the libertarian principle that bucks at requiring restaurants and hotels to serve African Americans somehow necessitates requiring the same businesses to serve people who, for whatever reason, fail to get themselves vaccinated?

It is unlikely that the United States would have much luck implementing something like the Israelis have tried (with limited success) with the recently reinstated “green pass” program. The green pass showing that someone is COVID-immune (from vaccination or prior infection, or confirmed by a recent negative test) is used to control admission to such venues as gyms and restaurants. This is technologically feasible in the United States but culturally impossible for our increasingly ungovernable people.

Americans’ lack of faith in the government and other institutions is a real problem — and the worse problem is that this lack of faith is not entirely unjustified. We have seen the weaponization of the IRS and other federal agencies along with grotesque abuses of prosecutorial power by, among others, the former California attorney general who is today the vice president. We have seen elected officials in New York, to take one example, abuse their powers and lean on financial-services companies in order to try to ruin political enemies such as the National Rifle Association. We have Democrats right now threatening to pack the federal courts, expanding the bench until enough Democratic partisans can be seated for Democrats to be confident in getting their way. We have seen Democratic operatives and progressive activists line up behind the multi-billion-dollar extortion attempt directed at Chevron. This isn’t conspiracy-theory stuff — this is stuff that holds up in court.

I sympathize with Michael Brendan Dougherty’s plea for a more respectful and charitable dialogue on the subject of vaccines. But I also believe that while it is true that you will attract more flies with honey than with vinegar, you’ll attract even more with manure — and we should identify bovine byproduct as such when we encounter it. And a lot of the anti-vaccine discourse has been that very stuff in refined form.

With that in mind, of course businesses — and employers — ought to be free to make their own arrangements as they see fit when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines. The federal government probably ought to apply some pressure, too, for example by requiring proof of vaccination for people entering the United States, whether they are foreign nationals or American citizens. The federal government should use public-health spending to encourage laggard states and municipalities to pursue more active vaccination programs. Colleges and universities would be entirely within their rights to require vaccination against COVID-19, just as kindergartens and elementary schools require vaccination against measles, mumps, rubella, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, etc. Churches, surely, must be free to approach this on their own terms.

Of course, we’d be better off if vaccination were the overwhelmingly prevalent norm, in much the same way that we’d be better off if having health insurance were the overwhelmingly prevalent norm. And there’s the thing. We tried to fix the health-insurance system by copying aspects of the Swiss system, including the “individual mandate,” the rule that people take the initiative to sign themselves up for insurance. The Swiss have something like 99.7 percent compliance with their mandate — because they enforce it, aggressively. Our mandate was such a joke that we ended up abandoning the idea entirely. We could pass a vaccine mandate tomorrow, but getting Americans to comply with it is another thing entirely.

But we should make an effort to persuade the persuadable, imposing inconveniences and both informal and formal sanctions. Un-American? George Washington ordered his troops to be inoculated against smallpox during the Revolution.

But the Spirit of ’76 is, in our time, somewhat attenuated.

The way this whole thing has unfolded has been both head-clutchingly stupid and deeply unpatriotic. The COVID-19 epidemic was received as a political gift by Democrats, who saw in it their best chance for getting rid of Donald Trump back when the unemployment rate was under 4 percent and wage growth was strong. President Trump, ever incapable of thinking more than one step ahead, obliged his critics by treating COVID-19 as a political liability for himself and trying to wish it away, thus setting up the minimization-maximization dialogue that still dominates our COVID politics. It did not have to be this way. But democracy apparently must mean that 500,000 dead Americans got the leadership they deserved.

Words About Words
A monster, you say?

In what sense?

We use monster to mean something unnatural or disturbing: a werewolf or a zombie or Godzilla. But the older sense of monster — a warning or an omen — remains both useful and at times apt. In that sense, all monsters are ahead of the curve.

Monster comes from the same Latin root as monstrance (that windowed receptacle in which Catholics display the Host), demonstrate, monitor, admonish, etc.: monere, meaning to show, remind, or warn. We have demonstrate, remonstrate. If you are the sort of person who is familiar with the monstrance, you may have encountered Premonstratensian, a religious order whose members take their name from a French placename that also is derived from monere — but the pre there, despite appearances, is not the familiar prefix meaning beforehand, as in premonitory. So the Premonstratensians are preachers and ministers rather than prophets with premonitions, as the name might seem to suggest.

The goddess Juno has moneta as one of her epithets, which classical sources took also to be derived from the Latin monere, though many modern scholars think that is an error. In any case, the association of the temple of Juno Moneta with coinage gives us both the English money and mint.

So we can think of Godzilla as a monster in both the common modern sense and the older sense: a fantastical creature but also an omen of the troubles to come in the Atomic Age.

Q. E. more or less D.

Rampant Prescriptivism
In American English, we give someone something, we don’t gift someone something — even if that someone is gifted. Using gift to mean give has been a thing in English for several centuries, but it was until recently uncommon. No one really knows what gift-as-a-verb took off, but one theory is that Seinfeld is to blame by popularizing the words regifting and degifting. If that is true, then gift-as-a-verb probably will outlast the American Express “black card” as Jerry Seinfeld’s most enduring gift to culture.

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. Makes a great gift. Gift it to someone in your life who needs more despair.

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 . . .
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Richard J. Evans’s The Third Reich in Power contains some really interesting history about Nazi economic policy that will be of interest to many readers of this newsletter.

In Closing

I’m going to go with: a society that is economically and culturally dynamic enough that there exists such a thing as the public life and career of J. D. Vance. That and a reasonable tax rate on book royalties.

To subscribe to the Tuesday, follow this link.

Economy & Business

Get a Job

Job seeker Ben Sandfulder speaks with potential employers during a job fair in Roswell, Ga., May 13, 2021. (Chris Aluka Berry/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about things I see and hear at 7-Eleven. To subscribe to the Tuesday, follow this link.

Get a Job
Your local 7-Eleven is a very different place at 7 a.m. than at 11 p.m. or 7 p.m. I worked the overnight shift at a 7-Eleven for a while — way back in ye olden days before the normalization of vagrancy transformed every commercial establishment from Starbucks to 7-Eleven and every public place from parks to busy intersections into makeshift homeless shelters and psych wards — and even in a relatively sleepy college town, things got pretty weird around 3 a.m. on Saturday. When the bartenders say, “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here,” some of those people end up at 7-Eleven.

But 7 a.m. on a Monday is a different scene altogether. The people who work for a living are up-and-at-’em and in want of coffee. My neighborhood is in that stage of gentrification where you can’t afford to buy a house here anymore, but you’re still five miles from the nearest Starbucks, and the people who work in your more classic clock-punching type jobs don’t much hit the local hipster café, with its oat milk and vegan pastries.

There was a bit of a line at 7-Eleven on Monday, and I overheard a bit of conversation between the two women behind me. One was telling the other that she expected a busy day at work, because she was going to be updating some spreadsheets for her employer, which, she said, takes all day. When she started the job, she said, she didn’t know what Excel was, and she told her friend that the first time her employer had asked her if she knew how to work with spreadsheets, she thought they were having a conversation about bed-linens. She learned how to use the program from YouTube videos. It was impossible to miss her pride in this. A couple of years ago, she didn’t know how to work with spreadsheets, and now she does, and she has a different kind of job and, to some related extent, a different kind of life. Her world got a little bigger and a little richer. She deserves to be proud.

That’s the part we should pay more attention to in our debates about employment and labor policy.

Of course, it is good — and necessary — that people use their time and energy doing economically productive work. We all thrive or starve together. You know about the guy who tried to make himself a sandwich? He ground wheat into flour, milked a cow and made his own cheese, made salt from seawater, etc. It took him half a year and cost $1,500. The same guy spent four grand making a suit. And though he endeavors to make these items “from scratch,” he doesn’t really — not until he is making his own tools out of iron he mined with his own hands. The division of labor is what makes civilizations work in physical terms. The more efficient the use of labor — human action guided by human intelligence is the most precious of all resources — the more prosperous your society is.

And it also is good — and necessary — that people earn income from doing productive work. Earning a living not only allows people to take care of themselves and their families (and their communities) in their material needs but also allows them to do so in a way that gives them a measure of independence: The client who is forever reliant upon a patron for his daily bread is never really free, never really at liberty in his own life. That’s a big part of the difference between being a very highly skilled (or simply in-demand) worker vs. one who is more easily replaced: You have more choices about how you work, when you work, where you work, with whom you work, and for what you’ll work. That, in turn, gives you more choices about everything from where you live to how your children are educated. This makes people more satisfied about their situation and more confident in their ability to sustain and improve it.

But it is also good — and necessary — that this is something that in most situations people earn themselves. We could give people more choices about things like where they live and how their children are educated by simply giving them money. And, in some cases, that’s what we should be doing: There are people with serious disabilities, children and elderly people without competent families to care for them, and other classes of people who will in almost any decent modern society be provided for at some level through public expenditure. But it is a mistake to treat people as though they are disabled or incompetent simply because they are poor, unskilled, or not especially well-educated. Of course, we could maintain such people in some kind of public dependency indefinitely — we are a very rich society with great resources. But at a certain point, we aren’t doing people any favors by doing them favors — we are instead denying them the opportunity to become free and happy in a way that they cannot be as dependents.

Arthur Brooks, the great apostle of “earned success,” notes research showing that people are happier when they feel successful at work irrespective of income. “The opposite of earned success,” he writes, “is ‘learned helplessness,’ a term coined by Martin Seligman, the eminent psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania.”

It refers to what happens if rewards and punishments are not tied to merit: People simply give up and stop trying to succeed.

During experiments, Mr. Seligman observed that when people realized they were powerless to influence their circumstances, they would become depressed and had difficulty performing even ordinary tasks. In an interview in the New York Times, Mr. Seligman said: “We found that even when good things occurred that weren’t earned, like nickels coming out of slot machines, it did not increase people’s well-being. It produced helplessness. People gave up and became passive.”

The urgent political issue raised by Seligman’s research is control. We live in an increasingly complex, globalized world in which the ever-more-sophisticated division of labor leaves humanity as a whole radically better off — by almost any measure — while providing outsized rewards to a relatively narrow set of skills and cognitive abilities that are not evenly distributed and that are not earnable, which complicates the issue of earned success. There are many people who have the skills and talent to be successful entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, technologists, entertainers, cultural innovators, etc. And there is no reliable way to say with confidence who has those abilities. But most people don’t have those skills and talents and cannot acquire them. They experience the economy most intensely as something that happens to them — or something that is done to them — and economic changes very often are a source of anxiety and personal upheaval. And there is no sharp divide between the personal and the professional: Researchers have found that a man is more likely to end up in divorce court after losing a job than after an episode of marital infidelity.

The favorite bromides of the populist Left are like the favorite bromides of the populist Right in that they promise to give people who feel powerless more control over economic tides: For Democrats, that means minimum-wage rules, entrenching the power of labor unions, using the tax code to discourage offshoring and imports, etc., while for Republicans that means tariffs, entrenching the power of market incumbents, using the tax code to discourage offshoring and imports, etc. These policies make more sense if you think about them not as economics but as psychotherapy.

We have in some sense been here before: During the rapid 19th-century transformation of the U.S. economy from a largely agricultural one to a largely industrial one, ownership of wealth became more concentrated — and wealth inequality was much more pronounced among industrial workers than among agricultural workers, more pronounced in the cities than in the countryside, and more pronounced among black Americans than among whites — it was more pronounced where the innovation was, where the change was happening. The post–Civil War pattern retraced the post-Revolution pattern: The Revolutionary War was an economic catastrophe for the colonists. Before the war, scholars estimate, colonial households had on average higher incomes than did English households, even when the average included slaves — and, on top of that, the same scholars calculate that New England had less economic equality than any other similarly developed society in the world. The war was a serious setback, but the American economy grew dramatically after independence — and wealth inequality increased, too, especially in the South. Economic revolutions produce outsized growth, and the fruits of that growth accrue disproportionately to those who are closer to the edges of innovation. You could still make a good living selling horse tackle in 1903, but not the kind of fortune that Henry Ford was about to make. Many businesses have greatly expanded their operations by selling on Amazon. You can make a lot of money doing that — but not the kind of money you make by starting Amazon.

This isn’t true only of celebrity entrepreneurs such as Jeff Bezos — it is also true, and in some senses more significant, among workers who are simply a few degrees of separation closer to them. And that is where there is a kind of inequality-multiplier effect: If you have some resources (savings, well-off parents, a high-income spouse), some skill or some education that gives you a degree of confidence about your future prospects, then you can take some risks: an unpaid internship, a low-paying entry-level job in a field with lots of upward mobility, starting a business or going to work for a new business that is still a little wobbly, etc. Seattle has a fair number of millionaires who got rich by doing an ordinary job at Microsoft in the 1980s for subpar wages and equity that turned out to be worth a fortune but could have ended up being worth nothing. It is a lot easier to take a chance like that if your Plan B is reasonably solid. If you are young Bill Gates or young Mark Zuckerberg, failure means . . . going back to Harvard.

Helping people on the margins to achieve the real and lasting happiness that comes with earned success and helping them to acquire the confidence and the resources to take on new challenges and try new things should be the fundamental pillars of conservative economic policy. Part of that is being realistic about the likely paths to success for people who are not going to get a STEM degree from a four-year university. Our national failure to pay serious attention to the interests of these Americans is both a product of a key cultural failure — the generally unstated belief that people who do non-glamorous jobs are losers and victims — and a contributor to that failure. Trying to push people into college when their real interests and abilities lie elsewhere not only sets them up for failure, it needlessly puts the stink of failure on their likeliest roads to success.

On the left, they used to like to mock conservative economic policy as a man in a top hat and monocle telling a poor man, “Get a job!” On the right, now, some have adopted the same line of criticism, mocking the Republican Party as a bunch of out-of-touch company men advising the young and the struggling, “Learn to code!” But “Learn to code!” is great advice for some people, and “Get a job!” is in many cases exactly the right course of action. It is certainly more sensible than, say, “Artificially inflate the prices of raw materials and see what that does to factory wages,” or, “You can’t do anything to help yourself — it’s all those rascally Chinese!

“Get a job!”

Hell, yes. Shout it from the rooftops. Being good at something challenging and making a living at it makes people happy. It’s not all there is to life, and it’s not for everybody. But it’s for a lot of us.

Words about Words
David Crystal’s The Story of English in 100 Words is a very interesting book with some very interesting observations about the word potato.

As with our discussion of mustard last week, potato has been used both to mean something desirable (“That’s the potato!” apparently was a happy exclamation, once, and potatoes has been used to mean money, as with clams or bread) as well as something undesirable or unimportant: couch potato, small potatoes, etc.

What is interesting — especially if you are former vice president Dan Quayle — is Crystal’s observations about spelling. Potato was a borrowing from Spanish — patata, itself a borrowing of the Haitian Carib batata. Unlike Spanish-speakers, Anglophone people were not naturally comfortable with that o at the end of potato, which presented a challenge for spelling it both in the singular and in the plural. Potato looked funny to them, and potatos looked like something Greek. And so potatoe was a common early spelling of potato, and survives in the plural as potatoes.

Vice President Quayle was ruthlessly mocked for misspelling potato as potatoe. It was one of those things: If the media decide you are stupid, then you are stupid as far as the news goes. When Quayle made self-deprecating jokes about practicing his Latin before a trip to Latin America, the media reported the joke as though it had been said in earnest. I was always irritated by the potatoe incident, if only because as a newspaper editor I saw an awful lot of raw newspaper copy coming across the Associated Press wire and knew from that experience that potatoe would have been the least of the American press’s sins against English.

It is good to have an editor.

Rampant Prescriptivism
Corporate-speak is a bottomless well of linguistic barbarism, and a reader writes in to ask about the use of persist as a transitive verb. Apparently, he receives memos instructing him to do x in order “to persist” y, as in: “We have to implement new procedures to persist these developments.” Apparently, this is meant to communicate something like “make persistent” or “ensure that this persists.”

Yikes, ye gods, and Yeezus: no.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away
This recent drama in Austin isn’t the first time Texas Democrats have shut down the democratic process in the name of saving democracy from . . . the democratic process. More in the New York Post, America’s Newspaper of Record.

You can listen to me and my amigo speaking of many things in this episode of Jay Nordlinger’s Q&A. A listener writes to point out that the “suddenly, then all at once” line is from Hemingway, not Fitzgerald. My bad — and thanks to Alec for the correction.

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. Danker than you’d expect.

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 . . .
There is a new show on television called Kevin Can Go F**k Himself. It is a dark sendup of the old sitcom trope of the feckless schlub married to an implausibly attractive woman.


My first name is inherently comical. It’s just one of those words, like kumquat or snarf. I don’t know why those Welsh phonemes in that order are funny, but they are.


You don’t even have to hear it.

Kevin has not been a great name when it comes to television and cinema. Before Kevin Can Go F**k Himself, we had the school-murderer drama We Need to Talk about Kevin.

Kevin in Up wasn’t too bad, even if she was ruthlessly misgendered. Kevin the Minion is the least-cool Minion. Kevin the penguin from 3-2-1 Penguins? Ask Wikipedia: “While Kevin has no specific job on the ship other than cleaning, he is always ready to help when needed by the others.”

Kevin from The Wonder Years? Please.

You can tell it’s a problem name because you can’t really make a hero or a villain out of it. Kevin the Impaler? Kevin the Terrible? Chairman Kevin? Generalissimo Kevin? Nope. King Kevin? Sounds like something on the children’s menu at a 1970s burger restaurant. Or maybe, to quote The World According to Garp, “a flavor in a gay ice-cream parlor.”

(I’m pretty sure that line is from Robin Williams, not from John Irving.)

Here’s an approximate transcript of an actual conversation including nine-year-old me:

Kevin: “Why’d you name me ‘Kevin’?”

Kevin’s Long-Suffering Mother, Lighting Her 22nd Winston of the Day: “You were named after the preacher who married your father and me.”

Kevin: “You’re divorced.”

Kevin’s Long-Suffering Mother, Exhaling Blue Smoke: “That’s right.”

Kevin: “Does that mean I can change my name?”

KL-SM&C.: “. . .”

Kevin: “I mean, it didn’t take.”

Saint Kevin is such a lame saint that I didn’t even choose him for my patron — mine is Thomas Becket, as portrayed by Richard Burton.

“Kevin can go f*** himself.” Don’t think I haven’t heard it before.

But I think Karen still has it worse.

David Crystal’s The Story of English in 100 Words, mentioned above, really is worth your time. A certain kind of pedant (this kind!) will especially enjoy his discussion of the “greengrocer’s apostrophe.”

In Closing
I’ve been thinking a lot about the mechanics of politics lately, particularly in its relation to the mechanics of religion. On Sunday, I heard a very interesting sermon about factionalism in the early church, which Saint Paul dissects in his letter to the Corinthians. Apparently, some early Christians formed cliques seeking to identify themselves with some prominent figure in the church, whether Paul or Peter or Apollos or someone else. “Was Paul crucified for you?” he asks. “Were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

Politics, especially presidential politics, is a similar kind of status game. The president or presidential candidate is a mascot for a particular tribal identity, and in his elevation they see their own elevation — or else they see their own defeat and humiliation in his defeat and humiliation.

What’s particularly distasteful about that sort of thing, to my mind, anyway, is that there is no reciprocal relationship. Partisans will adore and, indeed, will worship a political leader, but he does not return the sentiment to the individual partisan. That’s the sad lot of the populist politician: He must find his power in being the voice of an aggregation of people to whom he would not give a second’s consideration as individuals. Take your pick of the great current populist leaders and ask which one has a son or daughter who married a factory worker. (I’ll wait.) As individuals, such people are not the sort the politician would be friends with, invite to his home for dinner, go into business with, lend money to, be happy to see one of his children marry, etc. They have value only as an electorate — which is to say, as a mob. The politician doesn’t care what any of them thinks or does or loves — only what all of them do, or the majority of them. In that way, the politician is someone who sells his soul for the good opinion of people he despises by the inch but worships by the mile.

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God’s Little Lobbyists

(DrewMauck/Getty Images)

Welcome to “The Tuesday,” a weekly newsletter about language, politics, and culture, along with some stuff about the initiation rites of Anatolian mother-goddess cults that I wisely edited out but promise to put into a book soon. To subscribe to “The Tuesday,” follow this link.

Evangelize the People

Soon after he came to power, Adolf Hitler was asked whether he intended to nationalize German industry. Hitler answered that there was no need for that. “I shall nationalize the people,” he declared.

“Which is what he did,” wrote the great historian John Lukacs, “alas, quite successfully.” Those who would try to press our society in a different and better direction — who would drag it, kicking and screaming, against its natural inclinations — have the opposite mission: not to nationalize the people, but to evangelize them. There is no avoiding the squabbles of procedural democracy, but even the most expert and ruthless squabbling is doomed to failure unless it is yoked to a real change in the minds of the American people. (The minds, not the hearts — this is a question of political thinking, not one of religious sentiment.) That is, I think, the pattern of action for American Christians who wish to be engaged with politics as Christians. But let’s not move on from Hitler and his politics just yet.

A certain kind of glamour hangs on such monsters as Hitler. It is the same glamour that hangs on many saints and saviors. One sometimes hears a version of it from Christian apologists who take a Case for Christ-style preponderance-of-evidence approach to the Gospel: “Jesus must have performed miracles and been raised from the dead — how else to explain the devotion to this otherwise obscure exorcist from the Galilean backwaters?” But these Christians are not persuaded by shows of devotion that the emperor of Japan is the descendent of a sun goddess, that Haile Selassie was God Incarnate, or even that Idi Amin was “Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular,” to say nothing of the uncrowned king of Scotland, though many of Amin’s subjects and sycophants would have sworn to it.

It is a myth that L. Ron Hubbard started Scientology as a bet with Kurt Vonnegut, but in even the relatively short span of American history we have seen new religions invented ex nihilo, faiths for which men were willing to kill and die. And by creating a cult that masqueraded as a political party — a socialist workers’ party — Adolf Hitler convinced what was arguably Europe’s most intellectually and culturally advanced country to stage a kind of national mass-suicide beyond the wildest imaginings of Jim Jones.

To make or to remake a people — toward heroic ends or monstrous ones — is a display of tremendous power, and that kind of power attracts not only admiration but worship. And religious iconography tends to repeat itself: It is not for nothing that (among many other similarities) Jesus, Siddhartha Gautama, and George Washington each was said to have revealed his true nature in an encounter involving a sacred tree, one of the most ancient religious symbols, or that each was purified by a period of suffering in the wilderness. Nor is it an accident that coins invested with a special meaning figure prominently in both religious and political mythologies. In the case of George Washington, the winter at Valley Forge is an event that actually happened, while the cherry-tree story was a fable (probably a spontaneously generated folk tale rather than a propagandistic fabrication) amplified by the ever-entrepreneurial Parson Weems. The legend about Washington’s throwing a silver dollar across the Rappahannock River took a few different forms before it fossilized into its final version. But both the fact and the fiction fit easily into a longstanding mythological template.

The pagan character of German politics in the 1930s was clear to many observers and widely remarked upon at the time. The pagan character of American politics (and society) in our time is less plain to modern Americans, partly owing to the decay of our religious education. Of course, it is always easier to see the cultishness of the other side as cultishness.

None of this is exactly new, and we see familiar patterns of myth and legend, of rebirth and deliverance, in our own time: The Nazis had their Horst Wessel, and the January 6 maniacs have their Ashli Babbitt, who has assumed Kate Steinle’s role in their martyrology. Their spiritual and political leader, Donald Trump, succeeded in working a radical change not in the entire people but in a non-trivial share of zealots and converts, who are growing even more clabbered and paranoid, rather than less, as the days pass. And a fair number of those born-again cultists profess an altogether different religion on Sundays, even if many of them have effectively ceased to believe in any higher power than that of the president as anything more than a matter of rhetoric and tradition. I am reminded often of Ezra Pound’s sneer that the “Catholic Church went out of business when its hierarchy ceased to believe its own dogma.” That’s an exaggeration, but it is an exaggeration of something that is true.

The footprint of Trumpism in American Christianity, particularly among those we clumsily and vaguely characterize as “Evangelical,” is large and persistent. It is powered in part by genuine political disagreement, in part by cultural anxiety, and in part by a large and rapacious commercial apparatus that converts Americans’ fears into fortunes 30 pieces of silver at a time. (This makes more sense if you think of cable news, political radio, and social media as in effect one complex and recursive system of self-moronization.) And it grows in its opportunistic way because American Christians still, after all these years, have not quite figured out how to engage with politics without either drifting into some unholy compound of state-idolatry and theocracy or degrading the church to the position of just another special-interest group among many, a half-assed Chamber of Commerce for the faithful — God’s little lobbyists. Because they have been convinced that we live in especially critical times and that the other side is irredeemably evil and on the verge — always and forever on the verge — of achieving irresistible power, they are all too eager to subordinate eternal concerns to short-term political mandates, proclaiming themselves practical and hard-headed men of worldly experience.

This is a particularly acute institutional problem for Evangelicals, because they do not have the Catholic Church’s history of wielding real political power, and — perhaps more importantly — because they do not have its hierarchy. The Catholic Church discovered many centuries ago that if an organization is going to cultivate princely power, then it had better have some princes. The pope can meet any head of state — including heads of officially atheist states — as a peer, and in most cases something more than that. Lesser princes of the church have sufficient status and prestige (purely secular qualities but necessary ones) and, in some cases, enough plain political clout to meet any legislator and most heads of state eye-to-eye. But without a hierarchy of that sort, American Evangelical leaders most often come to wide influence only as political pundits or operatives (Mike Huckabee, Ralph Reed), or as a familiar species of self-help guru (Joel Osteen, T. D. Jakes). A very few, such as Tim Keller, achieve some intellectual influence as clergymen, but that is a bit of a high-wire act: Almost invariably, they end up politically neutered by a too-scrupulous bipartisanship or else are spiritually evacuated by factionalism and the unclean hurly-burly of democratic action in the real world.

What should the relationship between church life and political life look like?

Imagine some extraordinarily effective and charismatic Christian minister who traveled the country, preaching and teaching, changing lives everywhere. Now, imagine that minister has a very attractive young assistant. Should the two of them travel alone together without their spouses? Share a hotel room? Of course not. Even if they were two people of unimpeachable personal probity, it would be a mistake, and maybe something worse than a mistake, to put them to the test. Putting them to that test would be wrong even if they passed it, thereby confirming their trustworthiness. (Some Christians will be familiar with the phrase “sin and the occasion of sin.”) Thrift might argue for one hotel room, but prudence would argue for two — even if as a matter of pure practical calculation, the ministry would reach more people if travel costs were reduced. Everyone understands that, because almost everyone has at least some passing familiarity with the underlying issue. (That is why Bill Clinton’s sexual misdeeds produced a national convulsion but Hillary Rodham Clinton’s cattle-futures shenanigans are all but forgotten: Most people don’t really understand futures trading, but most people know something about sex — even Ayn Rand devotees have heard something about it.) If that seems as obvious to you as it does to me, then think about this: One night in a hotel room with someone who probably shouldn’t be there is not one-one-thousandth as dangerous to the missionary soul as a long-term flirtation with political power, the seductive and corrupting pull of which exceeds in intensity and outlasts by many years the minor compulsions of the flesh. I cannot say how many men and women I have known who were apparently immune to the usual array of petty vices but were ensorcelled and enslaved by a fleeting encounter with political power. This kind of Christian activism has the effect of profaning what is holy rather than infusing grace and spiritual discipline into practical affairs.

This is a Christian nation!” our friends insist. But, of course, it is no such thing. If it were, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. The state of our country at this moment does not represent something that has been done to us, in spite of the populists’ victimhood politics. A Christian nation would know its own mind and have some idea of its own soul.

The United States is a Christian nation in the same sense that King Henry VIII was a Christian statesman: No doubt there was much that needed reform in the 16th-century church, but King Henry’s nationalism and his dynastic ambitions propelled his reformism, not the other way around — the kingdom that is not of this world is, in skilled hands, plastic enough to be retrofitted onto the politics of any kingdom you like.

To evangelize the people is to go to the democratic source and to set our sights on something more vital and more enduring than the penny-ante politics that currently dominates so much of our imagination. This is not a pie-in-the-sky project: It is the only secure road to real change in the long term. Think of it this way: President Trump appointed some excellent judges to the federal bench, and I expect that will have some desirable effect on abortion jurisprudence — but a culture in which the normal thing to do is to pay off the porn star with whom you were having an affair in order to avoid a confrontation with your third wife and grease the skids for your presidential campaign is a culture that is going to have abortion, whether there is one Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court or nine. And a Christian politics that demands the excommunication of Joe Biden after having elevated Donald Trump to the status of Fidei Defensor is unserious as either a Christian enterprise or as a political one. The only thing it is any good for is making money.

Some of our practical-minded and hard-headed men of worldly affairs may sniff at that, but if they showed us anything between 2017 and 2021, it is that they do not know what to do with real power when they have it. The cynic might be forgiven for concluding that they didn’t know what to do with real power because they have never thought much about it, having been so preoccupied for so many years with the pursuit of power for its own sake that they forgot what they had wanted it for, if indeed they ever knew.

When the Stranger says: “What is the meaning of this city?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?”
What will you answer? “We all dwell together
To make money from each other”? or “This is a community”?

An evangelized people will be able to make an answer to that question. A people that has been merely indoctrinated, propagandized, or nationalized will not.

Words About Words

Because Charlie has been on vacation (if you’re wondering where your new MD&E is) I haven’t had my weekly gun-nut talk, so I’m going to inflict a little bit on you. I have knowledge in here [points agitatedly at cranium] that I need to get out there [points at you].

One of my funny little obsessions is where measurements come from. The metric system is full of fun ones: a gram, for example, is one cubic centimeter of water at 4 degrees centigrade; the original definition of a meter was the “length of a pendulum with a half-period of one second,” which was later changed to the distance traveled by light moving in a vacuum for 1/299,792,458 of a second, for obvious practical reasons.

Firearms come in calibers, millimeters, and gauges. The last of these is the most amusingly medieval.

As some of you know, a shotgun gets bigger and more powerful as the gauge number declines: a 20-gauge shotgun is smaller than a 12-gauge, which is smaller than an eight-gauge, etc. Before we had the technical ability to define our measurements by things such as the speed of light or the weight of a volume of water at a specific temperature, we had to rely on less refined means. Shotgun gauges are defined this way: The gauge of a shotgun is the number of lead balls the same diameter as the gun’s bore that it would take to weigh one pound. So a shotgun with a bore the size of a one-pound ball of lead would be a one-gauge, though you won’t see one of those in your local sporting-goods store. A 20-gauge is smaller than a 12-gauge because it would take 20 balls the size of the bore rather than twelve to weigh a pound. The convention flips when the gauge is larger than one. If you’ve ever read about the French firing “four-pound guns” at their enemies in the Napoleonic wars, they’re talking about cannons that push out a four-pound ball.

But a .410 shotgun is, for historical reasons, described as a caliber rather than a gauge. A firearms caliber is the size of the bore expressed in decimalized fractions of an inch or in millimeters. So a firearm with a quarter-inch bore is a .25-caliber, a half-inch bore is a .50-caliber, etc. This leads to some confusion, because it doesn’t actually tell you anything about the weight or the speed of the projectile leaving the firearm. A .223 rifle is a lot more than three-thousandths more powerful than a .22 rifle, just as a 7mm rifle is a lot more powerful than a 9mm handgun. A .38 and a .380 are different, even though the decimals are exactly equivalent.

(By the way, you normally only say or write “caliber” with the imperial units: a .45-caliber handgun, but a 9mm handgun, not a 9mm-caliber handgun. But: “What caliber?” “Nine millimeter.”)

A good deal of this is marketing: A .500-caliber revolver could be described as a .50 caliber or a .5 caliber — because that’s how decimals work! — but “five hundred” sounds a lot more awesome. Similarly, I have a rifle that is stamped as being chambered for the .275 Rigby round, but I have never in my life seen a box of ammunition labeled .275 Rigby, which is identical to the cartridge known as the 7mm Mauser or 7×57. The backstory there is that the Rigby rifle company had had good luck selling its English buyers hunting rifles chambered in 7mm Mauser, which was a common European military caliber. But in the Second Boer War, a lot of Englishmen got shot to pieces with a lot of 7mm Mauser ammunition, and appetite for the cartridge — along with most anything bearing the name “Mauser,” for that matter — declined sharply in England. So the Rigby people, still having rifles to move, converted that metric caliber into an imperial one and called it the .275 Rigby (though every box of that ammunition I have ever seen is labeled 7×57 Mauser).

I suppose that makes the .275 Rigby the “freedom fries” of the ammunition world.

Rampant Prescriptivism

Some of you wrote in to question my use of “cut the mustard.” Tsk-tsk, you would-be correctors wrote, don’t you know this is a barbaric bastardization of the military term “cut the muster”? I got four or five notes like that.

The thing is, it isn’t true.

There’s no real evidence that “cut the muster” ever was an expression of any kind — and, of course, it doesn’t make any literal sense.

That being said, it’s not entirely clear where “cut the mustard” comes from. We have similar uses of “cut” and cut-adjacent words — to make the cut, to be a cut above, to be able to hack it, etc. So “cut” in the sense of “qualify” or “satisfy requirements” is there.

But what about mustard?

The OED says that in 19th-century American slang, mustard meant “something which adds piquancy or zest,” and, by extension, “that which sets the standard or is the best of anything.” We have some funny and unexpected equivalents, as in the way a certain excretory profanity is used both to mean the best and the worst of something: His old car is a piece of sh** vs. That new Aventador is the sh**.

So, to cut the mustard is to meet or exceed the standard, according to this line of thinking, to be up to snuff, to make the cut, to . . . pass muster or, as it was once written, to pass the musters.

As for cut the mustard, as I have written before: Good enough for O. Henry, good enough for me.

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. I think you may enjoy 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 the National Review Institute, go here.


Nobody hits all the time, and almost nobody misses all the time. I spent some time beating on Garry Wills last week, but his Cincinnatus: George Washington and the Enlightenment is a singularly fascinating book. If you are interested in the apotheosis of the American presidency, this is a hard book to beat.

In Closing

Godspeed to the Cubans taking on their island’s brutal dictatorship. Maybe a few of our American socialists, who are always going on about their being democratic socialists, could lend a hand — or at least an encouraging word? No?


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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)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about language, culture, and Champagne. To subscribe to the Tuesday, follow this link.

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.”

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

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.

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.


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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Politics & Policy

The Devil and Garry Wills

President Joe Biden departs Holy Trinity Catholic Church on the first Sunday as president in Washington, D.C., January 24, 2021. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter on divers and sundry themes. To subscribe to the Tuesday, follow this link.

What Have We Learned?

One of the great ironies of the abortion debate is that the pro-life camp, purportedly made up of religious fanatics, mostly wants to talk about biology, while the notionally secular pro-abortion faction has embraced a medieval superstition about “ensoulment” and “quickening,” as exemplified most recently by Garry Wills’s latest New York Times essay, flabbergasting in its simplemindedness, on Joe Biden and the Catholic bishops.

Wills’s column is the sort of Dark Ages hoo-haw that gives Dark Ages hoo-haw a bad name.

We shouldn’t live by prehistoric superstition when we have better alternatives, but we shouldn’t sneer at our forebears as primitive — they would recognize us, and we should recognize them and recognize ourselves in them. As James George Frazer argued in The Golden Bough, magic is the embarrassing ancestor of science, the fruit of mankind’s earliest efforts to produce a systematic explanation of the physical world and natural phenomena. Is the thunder really the Sky Father  shaking his shield? No, of course not, but put yourself in the place of those early men: Everybody you know believes that the Sky Father causes thunder, everybody you have ever known believes it, the people of the highest standing in your community attest to it, your father and your grandfather believed it and, even if you were to question it — and here’s the most important part — what’s the next-best explanation?

The elaboration and refinement of next-best explanations over centuries — and not very many centuries — took us from Jupiter and Minerva and orgiastic cereal rituals to physics and genetics and space tourism. And that happened really, really quickly: The time between the first organized human agriculture and today constitutes about 3 percent of the totality of human history. Or think of it this way: When Joe Biden was born, Nikola Tesla and Piet Mondrian were still alive — two Joe Bidens ago, Ulysses Grant was just taking charge of Union troops, and three Joe Bidens ago, they were hashing out the Constitution in Philadelphia while Mozart was swanning around Prague. We are anatomically the same animals as our caveman ancestors, but our social evolution has moved with incredible speed in the last three centuries. The number of years that passed between the first flight at Kitty Hawk and the moon landing is fewer than the number of years Oprah Winfrey has been walking the earth. We have had electric lights for about 0.04 precent of the time Homo sapiens has been around, and yet that short span has been enough time for us to go from Edison bulbs to iPhones. But for the other 99.96 percent of human history, we worked by firelight — or shivered in the darkness.

So we should not laugh too hard at the old superstitions — and, more to the point, we should not be very surprised to see many of those superstitions survive into our own time. The myth about Ronald Reagan’s refusal to say the word “AIDS” as president is the modern answer to the old belief that the touch of a king could cure scrofula, just as the American folk belief that the nation’s economic performance is a judgment on the character of the president is an echo of the ancient superstition that the king’s piety ensured good crops and fecund livestock while his impiety brought about drought or plague. (If I’ve been hitting that theme more often, it is because I am writing a book about it.) We are superstitious creatures, and magic is never far from our minds.

It is probably worth noting here that our modern attitudes toward science are in many ways like our ancestors’ attitudes toward magic or religion, which is to say, they are informed by a status game. Not one American in 10,000 has the scientific training to engage meaningfully with the science touching climate change, evolution, or vaccines, and our attitudes toward those things mostly reflect tribal identities: Team Fauci vs. Team Trump. This leads to all kinds of stupidity, from young-Earth creationism (an astonishingly common view among Americans) to anti-vaccine kookery to, in the case at hand, the denialism — human denialism — at the center of the abortion debate.

What’s rare about Wills’s essay is that he forthrightly connects his thinking to Dark Ages superstitions and expects (not without some reason) that the readers of the New York Times opinion pages, who sway in the wind like a field of rotten corn, will be satisfied with that.

Wills demands to know: If Christians of old thought abortion a serious matter, then why is Judas at the bottom of Dante’s inferno, rather than a gang of abortionists? (Seriously, that’s where he starts. Judas, of course, is not alone at the bottom of the pit — Brutus and Cassius are there with him, because Dante did not share my view that Brutus is the hero of that story and Julius Caesar the villain. But that’s for another week.) Dante’s Divine Comedy is an idiosyncratic allegorical work mainly concerned with the personalities and events of 14th-century Florence and historical figures connected to them. It is not a map of medieval moral orthodoxy and certainly not a statement of Christian religious orthodoxy, a fact that was obvious enough to the agents of the Inquisition who censored it. I admire Dante deeply, but his moral schematic is his own.

A better indication of the state of public thinking about abortion in Dante’s time and place might be found, to take one obvious example, in the laws of the nearby Tuscan cities of Siena and Castiglion Aretino, which “prescribed the death penalty for anyone supplying abortifacient herbs to [a] pregnant woman causing her to abort the fetus,” according to Jurists and Jurisprudence in Medieval Italy: Texts and Contexts. Abortion was covered as a category of homicide or as a stand-alone crime in the laws of Milan, Genoa, Benevento, etc. Dante, a man of politics, must have been familiar with these statutes or similar ones. He may even have objected to them for the same reason Wills objects to similar statutes in our time.

While custom and law varied from place to place in the Christian world, and it is difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison between medieval law and our own (abortion was treated as something closer to a tort than a crime in much of Europe in the Middle Ages, but, then, so in many cases was murder, at least murder that was not political in character, murder of a commoner that did not touch the state or the royal household; many other acts that we would think of as serious crimes in our time were treated similarly, and that treatment does not necessarily indicate that these matters were thought of as inconsequential), it is remarkable how similar ancient disputes about abortion are to our own: For example, enforceability was a pressing issue in medieval abortion law (it was difficult to prove that an abortion was induced rather than a natural miscarriage, and sometimes difficult to prove even that there had been a pregnancy) and the matter was understood to be graver later in the pregnancy.

Dante seems to have shared the common view that the unborn progress toward humanity and that, in some point during the pregnancy, a soul is conferred by God — see Purgatorio Canto 25, where Dante puts this explanation into the mouth of the Roman poet Statius:

Open thy bosom to the truth that comes.
Know soon as in the embryo, to the brain,
Articulation is complete, then turns
The primal Mover with a smile of joy
On such great work of nature, and imbreathes
New spirit replete with virtue, that what here
Active it finds, to its own substance draws,
And forms an individual soul, that lives,
And feels, and bends reflective on itself.
And that thou less mayst marvel at the word,
Mark the sun’s heat, how that to wine doth change,
Mix’d with the moisture filter’d through the vine.

Here, Dante is writing under the influence of the classical philosophers, but his fellow Italians did not swallow the Greco-Roman view whole: The influential legal commentator Accursius, who died just before Dante was born, had suggested that the Roman punishment for abortion, banishment, was adequate only for abortions induced in the first 40 days of a pregnancy, whereafter, he thought, the penalty should be death. This line of thinking was not uncommon.

Wills sees the gradualist view in Aquinas and attributes it to the influence of Aristotle:

Aristotle told him—that it came at or near childbirth, after an earlier stage of having a nutritive soul (like plant life), which developed into an animal soul, at last receiving a rational soul. Thomas kept Aristotle’s biology, just adding that God himself infuses the soul into the body at some unspecified time during the last stage of this process.

I have no doubt that Wills is correct that Aquinas took this idea from “Aristotle’s biology.” And Aristotle’s biology was excellent — for its time. As it turns out, we have learned a few things since Aristotle was scrawling his thoughts in charcoal on animal skins by the light of a fire he started by banging rocks together. Aristotle’s biology was primitive, mistaken, and, from the point of view of our own time, preposterous. It is difficult to believe that if Aristotle had access to 21st-century science and technology he would maintain his 4th-century B.C. views, just as Dante probably would have modified his 14th-century A.D. views if he knew what we know.

There isn’t some magical thing that happens in the last three weeks of pregnancy that changes the unborn from a “sea sponge” (Dante’s description) into a human being. The ancients, believing that the soul animated matter, took detectable fetal movement as the sign of “quickening” or “ensoulment.” (Islamic law has traditionally taken the same view, prohibiting abortion only after 120 days.) We now know, for example, that fetal movement starts only a few weeks in — before many women even know they are pregnant. We now know that there is a detectable heartbeat at only five weeks in. Etc. These aren’t pro-life points: They are the simple facts of the case.

There simply isn’t some dramatic thing that happens late in the pregnancy that radically changes the organism in question — to maintain otherwise is pure superstition, but it is a popular superstition, because it buttresses the legal fiction of “personhood,” under which those who wish to permit abortions are able to define “human being” in a way that excludes the (1) individual (2) living (3) human (4) organism they wish to see put to death.

Wills must at some level understand that this is preposterous, which is why he retreats into the further preposterousness:

The religious opponents of abortion think that the human person actually antedates the Aristotelian scheme, dating it from “conception” (when the semen fertilizes the ovum). But the Catholic theologian Bernard Häring points out that at least half of the fertilized eggs fail to achieve “nidation”—adherence to the uterus—making nature and nature’s God guilty of a greater “holocaust” of unborn babies than abortion accounts for, if the fertilized ovum is a “baby.”

Presumably, if God wanted a world in which there were no mass murders or genocides, then He, being omnipotent, could do something about that. He doesn’t. It does not follow that we are directed to be indifferent to mass murders and genocides and other great evils that are the product of human volition. God also permits plagues and disasters, and we work on vaccines and countermeasures. The fact that many pregnancies fail to take does not tell us anything at all about the moral standing of intentional abortion, any more than the fact that everybody dies tells us anything about the morality of murder or war. This is shockingly immature stuff from Wills, who is too old for this schoolboy theodicy. He should be embarrassed to write such things. But it gets worse:

The opponents of abortion who call themselves “pro-life” make any form of human life, even pre-nidation ova, sacred. But my clipped fingernails or trimmed hairs are human life.

This is either the dumbest thing published in the New York Times since the last time Paul Krugman wrote or it is willfully misleading, a bad-faith argument. Because, as you may have noticed, you can give your children a haircut or trim their nails without controversy — this does not mean that you can kill them if they get in the way of your social life or cost too much money. Likewise, you can tattoo or pierce yourself all you like, but tattooing or piercing a stranger without his permission is a crime. The morally relevant level of organization here is organism, not tissue. An unborn child is an (1) individual (2) living (3) human (4) organism, not a part of another organism. It is an individual in the sense of being biologically distinct from its parents, living in the sense of being composed of tissue that is living rather than tissue that is dead, human as opposed to rutabaga or salamander, and an organism as opposed to a pile of toenail clippings, a tumor, or a pint of donated blood. These are not interpretations or religious revelations. These are facts as well-attested as any biology has to offer. “Ensoulment” and similar superstitions are simply ways of changing the subject: moral cowardice and intellectual cowardice.

Dante had the excuse of not knowing these facts. Garry Wills does not.

The rest of this tedious nonsense you will have heard before in other generally adolescent contexts. Neither Jesus nor the Bible explicitly condemns abortion, Wills notes. Maybe “Thou shalt not kill” isn’t clear enough for everybody, but, setting that aside, do we really want this to be our guide? Jesus is mum on the questions of cannibalism and child pornography, while the Bible takes a pretty tolerant view of slavery. In Dante’s time, the deans of European law accepted that an eight-year-old girl could consent to marriage, that heresy should be a capital crime, and that witches were a thing. (In fact, some legal scholars believe that at least some witchcraft prosecutions were de facto abortion prosecutions.) They also didn’t know about germs, lots of them thought the earth was the stationary center of the universe (well . . .), and did not — let’s remember — really know where babies come from on anything but the more superficial physiological level. The first mammalian ovum wasn’t even observed until 1827.

Maybe we should build on that knowledge, no?

But the true believers in the religion of man-as-meat require a metaphysics, inasmuch as the biology is against them.

Next, they’ll be telling us how many angels can dance on the head of an infrastructure bill.

Words About Words

From the Nope Desk: “Why Young Adults Are Among the Biggest Barriers to Mass Immunity,” the New York Times reports, adding, illiterately: “Many are foregoing Covid-19 vaccines for a complex mix of reasons. Health officials are racing to find ways to change their minds.” Foregoing is going before, forgoing is doing without.

Also: Jupiter, mentioned above, is the Roman sky-father, whose name is derived from the Greek root for sky or heavenly (zeu, as in Zeus) and the familiar pater. So, literally, sky-father. These are very old roots and widespread enough that you’ll see similar words in Sanskrit. And, as Indiana Jones learned the hard way about the Latin name of another Heavenly Father, the Romans spelled it with an I: Iuppiter.

Rampant Prescriptivism

A reader demands to know why I write Côte d’Ivoire instead of Ivory Coast. After all, I don’t write Italia, España, or Bhārata. Fair point. I think of the Most Interesting Man in the World in that Dos Equis commercial, who advises: “Unless we are going to conduct the entire conversation in Spanish, it is best not to begin with ¡Hola!” But Côte d’Ivoire is just a lot more fun to write, and, so, I’m sticking with it. Jay Nordlinger tells of a reader who once wrote a letter to Bill Buckley saying that he was going to cancel his National Review subscription because there was “too much untranslated French.” But not everything has to be for everybody. “You are not for all markets!”

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. More thoughts on man-as-meat.

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 . . .

We have been having some work done around the house. The supervisors are at work:

But some supervisors are more dedicated than others:

And then there’s the union-mandated break:


An enjoyable read: Cultish, the Language of Fanaticism, by Amanda Montell. Also: Michael E. Ginsburg has written a thriller about one of my favorite terrors: Debt Bomb. I haven’t read it yet, but it looks like a hoot.

In Closing

Abortion is a very difficult subject — to think about, to write about, to disagree about. In that conversation, honesty and charity are desirable — but intelligence is critical. We simply cannot afford very much more stupidity on either side.

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Politics & Policy

Read Bernie’s Lips: No New Taxes*

Sen. Bernie Sanders during a Senate Budget Committee hearing to examine President Biden’s proposed budget request for fiscal year 2022 on Capitol Hill, June 8, 2021. (Shawn Thew/Pool via Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about politics, culture, and language, with some special attention paid to the mental and spiritual deficiencies of senators. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

Biden’s Nickels, Bernie’s Dimes

Here is one you may have not seen coming: One of the holdups on that ridiculous $1 trillion infrastructure package currently idling in Congress is the fact that — picture me double-checking my notes here — Republicans want to include a tax increase, while Joe Biden and — really! — Bernie Sanders oppose it.

Strange days, indeed — most peculiar, mama!

Republicans have put forward the possibility of indexing the gasoline tax to inflation. Currently, the federal gasoline tax is structured as a flat fee of $0.183 per gallon, a rate that has been preserved in amber since Ye Olden Days of 1993, when gasoline went for an average of $1.11 per gallon. Put another way, in 1993 the federal gasoline tax was about 16.5 percent, whereas today it is about 6 percent. Indexing the tax to inflation is one way to go about rationalizing it, but a far simpler thing would be to calculate the tax as a percentage, which would keep it stable in relative terms even as the price of gasoline goes up and down, as it so often does. We already do that with sales taxes of other kinds.

Funding roads and bridges and such with a gasoline tax is an old idea and based on the principle that the people who use the roads are the people who should pay for them. That is fine as a principle, I suppose, but there isn’t really much reason to believe that it holds up as a matter of practical fact: We all use the roads, because we all move around, use products that are trucked from place to place, live in houses made of things that were not simply gathered up from the construction site, etc. When Amazon puts a tank of gasoline into a delivery van, it doesn’t just eat the expense, and (forgive me for repeating this point yet again, but it is important) it doesn’t necessarily just pass the cost on to consumers, either, because Amazon has to compete, just like any other business, and if it jacks up prices too much, shoppers will go elsewhere — and so it passes on its costs to everybody else as best it can: its employees and vendors, businesses that sell on Amazon, service providers, etc. In that way, we all pay taxes together. You should think about that when Senator Sanders talks about raising taxes on “the rich” — the rich are, for the most part, pretty good with money, which is why they are rich. A tax on Jeff Bezos or Exxon is, ultimately, a tax on you, Sunshine.

A higher gasoline tax will get passed on throughout the economy pretty easily, which is one reason it’s not a terrible tax.

Raising the tax might also create some incentives for individuals and companies to pursue greater fuel economy, though history suggests that gasoline prices have to get pretty high before Americans start passing over trucks and SUVs for economy cars. A high-enough gasoline tax might even create an incentive that would get people to choose electric or alternative-fuel cars — and Republicans can’t have that, so they’d prefer to include an equivalent fee on electric cars, too. If your big issue is environmental externalities, you can go chasing those all over the world and never really get it very well sorted out. Electric cars are far from carbon-free, but powering cars with electricity generated at a natural-gas (or nuclear!) generating plant produces a lot less carbon dioxide than does running dinosaur juice through a V-8. But a tax on electricity would have similar effects to those of a gasoline tax, creating incentives for energy efficiency and being spread out through the economy through the magical effect of nickel-and-diming consumers, workers, and business partners.

The problem with a higher gasoline tax — the problem for President Biden and for his congressional allies — is that people notice higher gasoline prices, and they hate them. They will look for someone to blame, and they will find someone. They’ll also notice when Amazon or GrubHub raises delivery fees — often, companies go out of their way to explain to consumers why they are raising prices. “Don’t blame us!” says the memo from the marketing department.

We mostly fund the federal government from taxes on income. We tax wages and salaries, we tax corporate profits, we tax gifts and inheritances, we tax investment payoffs and dividends, etc. There’s no particular reason we have to fund the federal government that way, and the policy world is full of just very very very enthusiastic people who will explain to you the merits of some other tax regime. They all have the same problem, which is that every man-jack ends up thinking he is paying too much while the other guy is paying too little.

For the past couple of weeks, we have been treated to a just astoundingly stupid series of breathless reports and vitriolic denunciations from people who are scandalized that there are some famous Americans who do not pay very much income tax because they do not have very much taxable income. Jeff Bezos is notionally the wealthiest man in the world, but it’s not like he’s got $200 billion in his Chase Sapphire Checking account. He owns a big piece of Amazon, and his net worth is approximately whatever his shares are worth right at this second. If he wants to convert that on-paper wealth into money he can spend, then he has to sell some shares, at which point he pays taxes on his capital gains. If he gets dividends, he pays taxes on those — and the dividends are paid out of funds that already have been taxed as corporate income. Most reasonably well-informed people understand this, but the angst and wailing and howling never stops, anyway, because it just seems wrong to people. But if you adopt some other tax system, it’s going to seem wrong to a lot of people in six months, too. That’s not a revenue problem — that’s a human-nature problem.

That being said, there’s a case for having several different sources of federal tax income — diversification is prudent — and for having an updated version of the gasoline tax as part of that mix. The case against raising or indexing the gasoline tax is purely political — President Biden doesn’t want to be blamed for it.

Something is going to get worked out, though, almost certainly — because almost everybody in Washington is itching to spend that $1 trillion or more. Senator Lindsey Graham (R., Slytherin), addressed the president directly: “President Biden: If you want an infrastructure deal of a trillion dollars, it is there for the taking, you just need to get involved and lead.” It would be helpful as a political matter if the president got involved, but perhaps Senator Graham could be reminded that the Senate is its own thing, and it can pass whatever kind of bill it wants. It can even override the president if he doesn’t like it. The lawmakers ought to, from time to time, make law and act like they’re in charge of it.

But I must confess that the libertarian in me is enjoying the prospect of a $1 trillion slop-bucket being derailed by a 5-cent tax hike.

Words About Words

Mike Pompeo, one of the geniuses behind Donald Trump’s foreign policy, likes the term “pipehitter.” He has a new political-action committee, called CAVPAC, which sent out a fundraising email over his signature reading, in part:

We named the organization CAVPAC as a nod to my time in the U.S. Army Cavalry — the CAV in the PAC. [Editorial note: Thank you for your service, and cue puking sounds.] My cavalry service taught me that America needs warriors who lead and are willing to ride first into the fight without fear.  CAV also stands for Champion American Values [Editorial note: More puking sounds], the values that we know have made our country exceptional.

Pompeo subsequently sent out some tweets calling for “pipehitters” to support his PAC. His website demands: “Become a Pipehitter — someone who is unapologetically American, someone who fights for our future, someone who never gives an inch, someone who is dedicated to stand against the radical Left’s agenda.”

The usual late-career Republican-hack boilerplate, except . . .

A pipehitter is a crackhead, i.e., he who hits the pipe.

By extension, the word came to be used to describe someone with a fanatical dedication to a task or cause (if you know any crackheads, you’ll understand exactly why) even to the point of disregard for personal well-being. You’ll recall Marsellus Wallace’s stated desire to recruit a couple of pipe-hitting colleagues to work over an adversary with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch. (When he promises to “get medieval” on those who have wronged him, he does not mean reading them carefully selected passages from Thomas Aquinas.) Parts of the U.S. military took up “pipehitters” as a term of respect for hard men who do bad things to bad people.

“Mike Pompeo has a plan, and he needs crackheads!”

And maybe some better PR people.

Rampant Prescriptivism

When is a cat not a cat? When it is certified as a dog!

From the Salt Lake Tribune: “Rilie Atkinson, a student at the University of Utah, said that she was turned away by multiple properties despite having a cat that is certified as an emotional support animal, as well as a dog.”

Here’s one of those situations where you’ll want to use a few extra words to avoid blurriness. (Also, that first that is unneeded, and despite is the wrong word there.) Better to write: “She was turned away for having a dog and a cat that is certified as an emotional-support animal.” Or “. . . a cat that is certified as an emotional-support animal and a dog that isn’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. There are some pipehitters in there, to be sure.

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.

Not a Cult

A Missouri man pleaded guilty on Thursday to charges that he had threatened to lynch a Black congressman the day after the Jan. 6 siege at the U.S. Capitol and a Jewish congressman in 2019, court records show.

. . . Mr. Hubert acknowledged that on May 6, 2019, he had called the Washington office of Mr. Cohen, who is Jewish, and told a staff member that he had “a noose with the congressman’s name on it” and planned to “put a noose around his neck” and drag him behind his pickup truck.

Three days later, F.B.I. agents went to Mr. Hubert’s home, where he admitted making the call and said he had done so because he was offended by a comment that Mr. Cohen had made about Donald J. Trump, who was president, the agreement states.

Believe Me, It’s Not a Cult

A Connecticut man has been arrested on charges that he threatened to kill Representative Adam Schiff of California, the Democrat who was the lead impeachment manager in the House during the proceedings against President Trump, federal prosecutors announced on Monday.

The man, Robert M. Phelps, 62, of Torrington, Conn., used a meeting request form on Mr. Schiff’s congressional website to send the expletive-laden threats, which were made on Nov. 12, the eve of the first public impeachment hearing, according to a criminal complaint.

Mr. Phelps was taken into custody on Friday and made a brief appearance the same day in U.S. District Court in Connecticut. He was at least the third person to be charged with threatening Mr. Schiff, a former federal prosecutor who became the face of the impeachment case against Mr. Trump.

Totally and Completely Not a Cult

A Trump supporter who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 threatened on social media to assassinate Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that day and also threatened the Capitol Police officer who fatally shot a woman as she tried to enter the Speaker’s Lobby, federal prosecutors said.

The man, Garret Miller, 34, of Richardson, Texas, was arrested on Wednesday and charged with, among other things, threats, knowingly entering a restricted building and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, according to a criminal complaint.

. . . Writing on Facebook on Jan. 16, Mr. Miller said the officer was “not going to survive long,” and he claimed that “millions” of people agreed with him that the officer deserved “to die,” the complaint said.

. . . “Mr. Miller regrets the acts he took in a misguided effort to show his support for former President Trump,” [his lawyer] said.

Some People Are Saying It’s a Cult

Prosecutors have added five felony weapons and assault counts against a white man already charged with attempted murder for shooting into a car carrying four Black girls during a rally for President Donald Trump in Iowa.

We Have the Best Cultists

A supporter of former President Trump has been found guilty of threatening to kill lawmakers before President Biden’s inauguration in January. . . . [Brendan] Hunt said in the video that people should take guns to Biden’s inauguration later that month and “literally just spray these motherf—ers.”

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Hiding the Facts from Readers Is the Opposite of a Journalist’s Job

Police investigate the scene of a shooting in the Sixth Street entertainment district of Austin, Texas, June 12, 2021. (Nuri Vallbona/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about language, politics, and culture. (And, when you’re lucky, dachshunds.) To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

Start with the Facts

On Monday morning, my wife showed me a “blue alert.” A bald guy with a beard riding a motorcycle had shot a cop. She read me the description. “You check a lot of boxes,” she said.

Motorcyclists as a group have a bad reputation, and that’s not new: In the immediate post-war years (the era famously depicted in The Wild One), the American Motorcycle Association apparently felt the need to put out a statement insisting that 99 percent of all motorcyclists were decent, law-abiding people — at which point, the nation’s nascent outlaw-biker gangs embraced the designation you can still see on their patches today: “1%.”

The stereotypes about motorcyclists are probably unfair. (To say nothing of the stereotypes about Tatars, who apparently look so suspicious that they sometimes — more often than you’d think! — get stopped by the police for the suspicious activity of taking a walk down the street they live on.) But if the police are on the hunt for a bikerish-looking white guy, that’s usually what they say, and for good reason — white and male alone are enough to eliminate about 75 percent of the residents of Dallas County (where that police shooting took place), and, if you add in the bald head and the beard and other reasonably visible attributes, you can eliminate most of the population. Assuming that your average Texas biker isn’t traveling around with a Simon Templar–style disguise kit, police looking for that suspect can ignore the women, the African Americans, the ginger dudes with long red ponytails, this guy, etc.

You say what you’re looking for: standard, reasonable stuff. An inconvenience for those of us who get stopped for looking suspicious, to be sure, but the world is an imperfect place.

As you may have heard, on Friday night there was a mass shooting in Austin, Texas, in the Sixth Street entertainment district. Fourteen people were shot; as of this writing, one has died. This apparently wasn’t one of those loser-shoots-up-his-school mass shootings, but one of the more common shootings involving “some kind of disturbance between two parties,” as the police put it. So the shooter didn’t kill himself or wait around for the police and force them into shooting him. He fled, and the police, naturally, put out a description of him.

The Austin American-Statesman, the local daily, refused to publish that description. Instead, it put this editor’s note at the end of its report:

Editor’s note: Police have only released a vague description of the suspected shooter as of Saturday morning. The American-Statesman is not including the description as it is too vague at this time to be useful in identifying the shooter and such publication could be harmful in perpetuating stereotypes. If more detailed information is released, we will update our reporting.

Some of you will have guessed that this “vague description” did not involve a MAGA hat or a Confederate-flag T-shirt.

In fact, the description put out by the police was that of a black man with a skinny build and dreadlocks. Vague? Maybe. But nonetheless useful, and the Statesman is obviously wrong — and must know it — to claim otherwise. Black men compose about 4 percent of the population of Travis County. Skinny black men with dreadlocks (or braids — witnesses sometimes say one when they mean the other) make up an even smaller share of the population. In a county of 1.3 million people, eliminating 96 percent or 99 percent of the population is useful.

A suspect, a minor, was arrested over the weekend. A second suspect remains at large as of this writing. The local newspaper won’t tell you the relevant information about him, either.

What are newspapers for?

Newspapers exist to tell people about what is happening. If newspapers are sometimes instruments of justice and enlightenment, it is because facts — and the vigorous if necessarily imperfect pursuit of them — sometimes are instruments of justice and enlightenment. That is what Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he observed: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” But that, of course, assumes that newspapers are doing what they are supposed to do.

I used to give a lecture about the culture of American journalism in which I mentioned the House of Elzevir, the great Dutch book-printer (the modern publisher is named in its honor) that made it its business to publish things that certain authorities elsewhere in Europe did not wish to see published, most famously Galileo’s Two New Sciences. In the fight between the printers and the Inquisition, journalists used to know what side they were on. But in our time, the most powerful forces in media have got in touch with their inner Torquemadas and feel the need to quash heresy before it can pollute the minds of the pure and the blameless. We even have an Index, of sorts, courtesy of Jeff Bezos et al.

If you believe that doing good necessitates keeping things from readers — or willfully misleading readers, as the Statesman did — then you have no business being in journalism. You should go do something else — join a cult, or seek out work in Amazon’s book-banning department, which amounts to much the same thing.

The Statesman here is following a lamentable precedent. The worst episode — the one that stands out most in my mind — involved a cover story in the Philadelphia Daily News, one of those spirited democratic tabloids of which the New York Post is the platonic ideal. Philadelphia was suffering a crime wave with an elevated number of murders, and so the Daily News published an interesting piece about the shocking number of fugitives wanted on murder charges who remained at large. The cover contained mugshots of all the current fugitives, all of whom were men and none of whom was white. The predictable uproar ensued, and the editors of the Daily News allowed themselves to be bullied into publishing an apology for acknowledging the facts. It was one of the all-time-low moments in modern American journalism, one that emboldened practitioners of the now-familiar mob-rule model of media management. Shameful stuff.

This isn’t how you make things better. This is how you make things worse.

Singapore, to take a counterexample, has a local civic culture that is at times stultifying — some critics say repressive — and one feature of that culture is that journalists, intellectuals, and other voices in the public discourse rarely acknowledge ethnic or religious tensions. There is some official censorship, but — as the American Left is learning to its great satisfaction — self-censorship is more effective. Scandinavia has its Janteloven to enforce herd culture, Japan its conformist ethic. But the United States is not very much like Singapore or Denmark or Japan. In our open, irascible, competitive culture, social problems do not get better when we refuse to acknowledge them or to talk about them openly — they fester, instead.

There are many complex issues touching the situation of African Americans vis-à-vis crime, police, and incarceration. None of them will be improved by adopting superstitious speech norms that prevent newspapers from reporting the facts about a given crime, including descriptions of the suspects. And the silly way the Austin American-Statesman did it — Gee, I wonder which stereotype was on their mind? — is as destructive as it is ridiculous. They may as well have written: “He’s black, okay? According to the description, anyway. You’re thinking he is, we know you are, and we’d rather not talk about it, so don’t make a big deal about it, alright?”

If you think the way to address our thorniest and most sensitive problems is to not talk about them — and to go out of your way to hide unwelcome facts related to them — then, for goodness sake, don’t become a newspaper editor. Go sell hotdogs.

Aptronym Alert

From the New York Times:

In 1917, when Marshall Field & Co. moved its underwear and bedspread manufacturing from Illinois to the town of Leaksville, which consolidated with two other towns to form Eden in the 1960s, it was to be closer to non-unionized labor and cotton, a raw material used in many of its products. Though known today for its former retail empire, Marshall Field had an equally important wholesale business that supplied its stores and others.

Moving your underwear business to Leaksville sounds like a piss-poor plan to me.

In Other News . . .

I’m the wrong Kevin Williamson to consult on Scottish questions (though I have written a bit about “Scottish” issues), but I think this from the New York Times is a charming example of how tribalism produces the occasional good result, at least when it comes to what Charlie Cooke probably still secretly calls “football”:

Tam Coyle, a veteran of more than 100 overseas games since 1985, recalled how fans started a chant with lyrics that included the words “We’re the famous Tartan Army, and not the English hooligans.” And Richard McBrearty, the curator of the Scottish Football Museum in Glasgow, said the rivalry with England was so deep that even the Scots’ reputation for good behavior could be traced to it.

“The Scottish fans wanted to isolate themselves,” he said. “They wanted to say, ‘Look at us, we are better than the English.’”

I wish I could direct some of that energy into the United States, sometimes, if I could be confident that it would make people who feel threatened by Asian immigrants start more businesses and work harder in school.

Words About Words

From Slate:

Over the past several years, Yale Law School has faced a number of controversies involving two of its best-known professors: Amy Chua and her husband Jed Rubenfeld. The pair are the closest thing Yale Law has to a celebrity power couple, less for their legal and academic achievements than their boundary-pushing bestsellers and op-eds.

Professor Chua is the author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and the co-author, with her husband, of The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America, in which she argues that the secret to Chinese-American motherhood (and the parenting of other successful minority groups) is to make your children believe that they are part of a superior, high-performing community while simultaneously making them anxious about their individual achievements and, hence, their status within that high-achieving community — a programmatic approach to high expectations. I am reminded here of Jay Nordlinger’s wonderful account of the Indian educator Ben Chavis’s response to the charge of “acting white”: “‘Acting white’ is not enough. I’m acting Jewish. Or maybe Chinese.”

Professor Chua is, in my view, a bland but very competent writer, producing the sort of prose one associates with Ivy League law-school faculty. I don’t know how much meaningful boundary-pushing she does. Her most famous essay (the basis of Tiger Mother) was published in the Wall Street Journal. Her books are sold in airports and read by people who would otherwise be reading The Economist or a Malcolm Gladwell book. Not exactly samizdat. Not exactly the Marquis de Sade — or even Joe Rogan, for that matter .

Ah, but she’s at Yale. And there are people at Yale and at likeminded institutions who are very interested in redrawing boundaries in such a way as to place Professor Chua outside of them.

Boundary-pushing is like accountability and offensive: Whose boundaries? Accountability to whom? Offensive to whom? Language of the sort deployed in the Slate article is designed intentionally to obscure that issue, because acknowledging it would raise the question: Why should we, or anybody else, defer to your claim to the power to set the limits of public discourse? Why shouldn’t we think of this as a naked power grab on your part?

Which is, of course, what it is.

A culture in which Amy Chua is pushing up against the boundaries is a culture with some problems. I pity the novelists and the poets. Or I might, if they weren’t leading the charge for narrower boundaries.

And Furthermore . . .

The New York Herald once complained that the late 19th century was the Age of Shoddy. Shoddy at the time was both an adjective and a noun, referring to a kind of cheap cloth.

The world has seen its silver age, its golden age. This is the age of shoddy. The new brown-stone palaces on Fifth Avenue, the new equipages at the Park, the new diamonds which dazzle unaccustomed eyes, the new people who live in the palaces, and ride in the carriages, and wear the diamonds and silk—all are shoddy. Six days in the week they are shoddy businessmen. On the seventh day they are shoddy Christians.

But the Age of Shoddy has come and gone. As attested to by the items above, this is the Age of Petty.

And Even Furthermore . . .

The ghost of Yogi Berra apparently is writing for Sports Illustrated, insisting, on the matter of Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer: “These pitchers’ hands have become the face of a scandal.”

And thus does the literal facepalm meet the metaphorical one.

Rampant Prescriptivism

About last week’s column, a reader observes: “You were slow to point out that the permafrost is thawing quickly, not ‘fast.’ Unless it is engaged in fast motion while also thawing. Which I suppose it is, from a Galilean perspective.” For the record, I was not slow to point that out — I didn’t point it out at all, so I was remiss rather than slow.

Another reader wants to know why I wrote was instead of were in this sentence:

If all you ever saw of Europe was the nice parts of Amsterdam, the nice part of Zurich (which, in fairness, is called “Zurich”), the Louvre, Kensington, etc., then you might indeed share Thomas Friedman’s view of the world, that when it comes to cities and infrastructure, we are the Flintstones compared with the Jetsons abroad.

“I’m sure you have an unassailable reason for using was,” he writes.

Nope. Were is what you want there.

The subjunctive mood in English — how it is written, whether that matters, its relationship to kinda-sorta-but-maybe-not-technically subjunctive forms — is a hotly disputed topic, one of those debates in which grammar and philosophy complicate each other. In general, we use the “bare” or uninflected form of a verb with the subjunctive, to express things that are possible but not actually known to be the case at this time: “It is critical that the president know his talking points,” as opposed to “The president already knows his talking points.” “We asked that he listen closely,” as opposed to “He listens closely” or “He listened closely.”

The conditional counterfactual, as in my sentence above, generally gets a were rather than a was, though some grammarians insist that this doesn’t really matter, that it’s a grammatical-virtue-signaling bugaboo. As usual, I think it’s better to use different words and different forms for different things. “‘Here I raise my Ebenezer’ is one of those hymn lines that would befuddle you if all you knew of the Bible were the lectionary.” Or: “If he were in better shape, then he wouldn’t be wheezing.” This is sometimes called the irrealis were. The irrealis mood expresses things that are not currently known to be the case, as opposed to the realis mood, which is used for statements of fact.

If you want to dig in a little, I recommend this discussion from Merriam-Webster.

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. Fun fact: Many of the Amazon reviews of this book illustrate the thesis of my earlier book, The Smallest Minority. To quote the great philosopher K.: “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it.”

My National Review archive can be found here.

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My New York Post archive can be found here.

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

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After watching the series and on the recommendation of many readers, I’ve been reading Wolf Hall. All the praise is warranted — and I am not naturally sympathetic to people called “Cromwell.” As a fan of A Man for All Seasons, it is fun to see the same story told with the hero and villain reversed.

In Closing

If you are wondering about that “Ebenezer,” it is not Mr. Scrooge but a reference to 1 Samuel 7:12 in the 18th-century hymn, “O, Thou Font of Every Blessing.” The short version: Samuel wins a big battle and drives the enemy back to a certain point at which he erects a stone monument he calls “Ebenezer,” or “stone of help,” saying, “Up to this point, the Lord has helped us.”

There is a kind of wonderful humility — and an antidote to fanaticism — in that:

“Is God on your side, Samuel?”

“So far.”


Thinking Honestly about Health Care, Welfare, and Taxes

A doctor holds a stethoscope in the Intensive Care Unit at the Melun-Senart hospital near Paris, France, October 30, 2020. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about language and politics and culture and sundry and divers shenanigans, but not about the ancient Germanic god of war and sky, though I do reserve the right to change the name to the Týsdagr if that should change. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

The Persistent Power of Invincible Ignorance

Forgive my plucking a comment from the obscurity of Twitter to make an example of, but it is a useful one. In an exchange about health-care policy, a professor of political science at a major American university asked a familiar question: Why is it that some Americans apparently believe that the United States is incapable of managing a single-payer health-care system like France’s?

You’ll see the problem there.

The fact is that nobody actually knows whether France or the United States is capable of managing a single-payer health-care system, because neither country has single-payer health care. Not many countries do.

France’s health-care system is different from the U.S. system in important ways, but it is in other ways quite similar: It is based on insurance. As in the Swiss system and the original version of the Affordable Care Act regime, that insurance is compulsory. Patients pay for their health care and then are reimbursed — but not for the full amount — by their insurers. The French generally have to consult with a general practitioner before being referred to a specialist, they must pay lab fees, etc. About a quarter of the hospitals are for-profit and the rest are either private nonprofits or public. There is an extensive system of subsidies and price controls. What the French do not have — and what almost none of the countries of Western Europe and few countries around the world have — is single-payer, a public-monopoly model of health care found in the United Kingdom, Canada, Norway, the United Arab Emirates, and a few other countries.

There is much to admire in European governance and much that Americans — conservative and progressive both — could learn from the successes of Western Europe and the Nordic countries in particular. It also is the case, I’m afraid, that a great deal of American thinking about European governance is based on the experiences of tourists and business travelers. If all you ever saw of Europe was the nice parts of Amsterdam, the nice part of Zurich (which, in fairness, is called “Zurich”), the Louvre, Kensington, etc., then you might indeed share Thomas Friedman’s view of the world, that when it comes to cities and infrastructure, we are the Flintstones compared with the Jetsons abroad. Friedman originally made that observation after flying from Hong Kong to JFK — but you get much the same sensation flying from Schiphol or Geneva or, in spite of the Italian reputation for organizational dysfunction, Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino. But journey out into the exurbs of Amsterdam or Rome and you’ll see a very different world. There are many Americans who would be happy to trade our problems for those of the Netherlands or Sweden, and many who would not. The more you know, the less obvious it is: Silicon Valley tech types with impeccably progressive credentials bemoan the persistently dirigiste model of business in Western Europe.

Which is to say, in order to learn from European practice, it is necessary to understand what it is the European actually do — and, of course, there is no “European” model of health care: Sweden and Switzerland have very different systems. But American progressives, and a surprising number of conservatives, believe that Europeans can simply go to the doctor and receive free treatment with no copays, cost-sharing, or medical bills, simply because their governments aren’t dominated by mean meanies like Mitch McConnell or the memory of Paul Ryan. (I really do wish that Paul Ryan had had the lasting effect on American governance that his progressive critics attribute to him — the country would be better for it.) There are many European systems, but most of them look more like Obamacare than they do the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. Even Norway has an annual deductible.

That isn’t an argument against single-payer in and of itself. It’s an argument against lazy thinking and mindless tropes.

Another perennial favorite is the idea that the Europeans can afford their relatively generous welfare states because they freeload on the American military presence in Europe, that NATO is a subsidy for European social programs. That isn’t really true, either: France, which is Europe’s biggest social-welfare spender, is also its biggest military spender. Sweden, famous for its comprehensive welfare state, announced in December that it will increase its military spending by 40 percent in the near future. The United Kingdom and Australia manage to fund their single-payer health-care systems even as they spend a larger share of GDP on defense than does China. While it is the case that most of our NATO allies fall short of the 2 percent benchmark for military spending, the European countries aren’t really the outliers when it comes to defense. The United States is at the high end, along with Russia, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, while pacifistic Japan brings up the rear. Of course, it matters what you choose to count: Defense as share of GDP gives one measure, defense as share of government spending gives another: Thrifty Singapore has a relatively small public sector, but it dedicates about a third of its spending to the military, while the United States earmarks far less of its budget for the military, choosing instead to fund entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare.

But you’d be surprised how very little worldly people know about the world, and how much of our political discourse consists of “I went to Copenhagen once and it was really nice so let’s have socialism.” It is bananas. When I was covering Bernie Sanders’s bad-granddad presidential campaign in Iowa, an enthusiastic Sanders supporter told me that she was hoping to move with her husband to a socialist country. I asked her which one. She said: Germany — the place where Porsches come from, a thoroughly capitalistic, trade-oriented country that has been governed by its conservative party since Billie Eilish was in preschool.

The big difference between the United States and most of the wealthy European countries isn’t defense spending, and it isn’t single-payer health care — it’s taxes. Sweden can afford a magnificent welfare state because middle-class Swedes pay much higher taxes than do middle-class Americans. That’s the most remarkable difference between American and European practice. In both contexts, the poor are taxed relatively lightly while businesses and high-income people are taxed at comparable rates — the top individual tax rate in France is 45 percent vs. 37 percent in the United States. (N.B.: There is much more to a tax system than statutory rates.) But in the United States, the bottom half of all earners pay almost no federal income tax, while the broad middle is very lightly taxed by world standards. The share of taxes paid by the top 10 percent of income earners in the United States is nearly twice what it is in France. And that’s not because we tax the rich more, but because we tax the middle class less.

And that is one of the reasons why there is such a market for cultivated ignorance among those who would prefer to have a much larger welfare state. I have never encountered a single Democratic politician of any consequence who is willing to forthrightly admit that paying for a European-style welfare state will necessitate European-style taxes on the middle class. Even Bernie Sanders, who comes as close to admitting this as anyone on the national stage I’ve seen, mostly pretends that it isn’t the case and that we can pay for everything by jacking up taxes on Jeff Bezos, a couple of Wall Street guys nobody likes, and the members of the “allah-garchy” he is always honking about.

We can’t have a useful debate about the real choices in front of us unless we are willing to be honest about what those choices are. And it’s a damned rare specimen in Washington who is willing to face those facts — even in private.

Words about Words

I don’t know whether the humor of the New York Times is puerile in this case or purely unintentional:

Kathryn Garcia Doesn’t Want to Be Anyone’s No. 2: Ms. Garcia, a former sanitation commissioner, faces the challenge of persuading New York city voters to elect a political newcomer as mayor.

But I am pretty sure this minor illiteracy is unintentional:

In a paradox worthy of Kafka, ConocoPhillips plans to install “chillers” into the permafrost — which is thawing fast because of climate change — to keep it solid enough to drill for oil, the burning of which will continue to worsen ice melt.

That which is Kafkaesque isn’t merely paradoxical — it is contradictory or logically impossible in some surreal and nightmarish way, which is not exactly the same thing. Charlie’s recent experience with the British quarantine regime was Kafkaesque, inasmuch as he was obliged to take a test he could not possibly take — a test on the eighth day of a seven-day stay.

But, even if it we include the paradox in the Kafkaesque, the example above is not a paradox. There isn’t anything paradoxical about using chillers to solidify permafrost that is thawing because of climate change, although it is ironic.

Rampant Prescriptivism

More from the Times:

On infrastructure, Republicans offered a fraction of the spending in the Biden plan.

Do yourself a favor and avoid that very stupid formulation. If Republicans were offering Biden 99 percent of what he was asking for on infrastructure, that would be a fraction of his request: 99/100. If they were offering him 150 percent of what he asked for, that, too, would be a fraction: 3/2. If they offered him exactly what he asked for, we could express that as a fraction, too — 1/1 — though it would be odd to write it that way.

Better to indicate which fraction: If it is half, or a tenth, that tells you something. But to write “a fraction” is not to say “a great deal less.”

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.

You can read a “Religion Unplugged” review of Big White Ghetto here. My thanks to Professor Robert Carle.

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.


It is not a new book, but if you are interested in what was really going on in the Cold War — something we seem to be forgetting rapidly — you might enjoy Paul Lettow’s Ronald Reagan and His Quest to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. We forget what a committed peacenik the alleged ol’ warmonger was.

Destroyer Update

Readers demand, I deliver. Katy and Pancake after a hard day’s destruction.

Pancake is not sure about this new dog.

In Closing

I understand my former colleagues at The Atlantic are forming a union in the hope that it will help them to cultivate intellectual diversity on the staff. I do wish them the best of luck with that.

To subscribe to “The Tuesday,” follow this link.

National Security & Defense

Dispatches from the Future Front

U.S. Army troops with Second Battalion, Fifth Cavalry Regiment, and Croatian soldiers stand in front of the vehicles they used in the exercise Immediate Response combined-arms live-fire demonstration at Eugen Kvaternik Military Training Area in Slunj, Croatia, May 26, 2021. (Sergeant Joshua Oh/US Army)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about language, culture, and politics. This week includes a long q-and-a with retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, former commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, who has a new book out today. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will, follow this link.

Today’s Politics, Tomorrow’s Warfare

Ben Hodges, the author (more precisely, one of three co-authors) of Future War and the Defence of Europe, has the right résumé for the book: United States Military Academy, Army Infantry School, National War College, etc. — and, outside the classroom, he commanded the 101st Airborne’s 1st Brigade in Operation Iraqi Freedom, served as director of operations for Regional Command South in Kandahar, and ran the Joint Staff’s Pakistan Afghanistan Coordination Cell. He began his military career in Germany and returned to Europe as commander of the U.S. Army Europe. He retired as a lieutenant general and set up shop in Frankfurt as a strategic-studies specialist with the Center for European Policy Analysis.

That’s the short version of his curriculum vitae. And so when he says the United States needs to strengthen its defense and security relations with the Europeans because of the likelihood that U.S. forces will be engaged with Russia and China simultaneously, he is someone you listen to.

Our conversation has been edited a bit for brevity and clarity and to address my unfortunate habit of saying Balkans when I mean Baltics and vice versa.

Q:  You focus on the Black Sea and the Baltics — why?

The Black Sea is the real cauldron of competition between Russia and the West. The Baltic Sea is traditionally important to them — St. Petersburg is there, and part of their access to the Atlantic comes out of the Baltic Sea, Kaliningrad is sovereign Russian territory, an oblast. But in terms of economic impact and their ability to really influence things, the Black Sea is more important to the Russians. It’s their launching pad for everything they do in the South Caucusus, in the Balkans, and, of course, in the Middle East and in Africa, in the Eastern Med[iterranean]. Their support for the Assad regime in Syria, for example — which has had no positive outcomes for anybody else except the Kremlin and the Assad family — was only possible because of their illegal annexation of Crimea. They are able to use force against Georgia — 20 percent is occupied by Russians — Transnistria still has Russian peacekeepers, and what they’re doing in Ukraine is quite well-known. This is real competition, and the West is just not paying attention to it.

Q: Our relationship with Russia seems confused. When it comes to online shenanigans, they’re Public Enemy No. 1, but when it comes to Russian troops on the ground in places they don’t belong, we shrug it off.

During the Obama administration, with the “reset” with Secretary Clinton, there was an attempt to work with the Kremlin in the mistaken belief that you could deal with the Kremlin like you could deal with another European country. We tried to imagine situations and think about how they might act through Western eyes vs. how Putin thinks. There has been a refusal, or at least a reluctance, on the part of Western political leaders, in Europe and in the U.S., to even consider that they have very bad intentions, believing that they are somehow interested in a win-win outcome — they’re only interested in a win outcome. You hear the Germans and the French saying we have to keep a dialogue going and all that, but, since 2008, the Russians have invaded Georgia and Ukraine, they have troops all these different places, and they never back down — they may stop, but then they keep going again. What we saw six weeks ago was a continuation of that.

I can remember the White House tapping the brakes on us on some exercises we were doing in Poland, for example, back in 2016, saying, “Take it easy; you’re going to provoke the Russians.” Which is ridiculous. Then the Trump administration came in, and, of course, that was a catastrophe when it came to dealing with Russia. And now the Biden administration comes in, and I have to say I’m disappointed there. When President Biden said in his first phone call with President Putin that Ukrainian sovereignty is a priority for the United States, I thought: “All right! That’s a hell of a policy statement!” Of course, we have no strategy that underpins it, and you can’t have a strategy for the Black Sea region if you haven’t figured out a strategy for how you’re going to deal with Russia. And now there’s a feeling that we’re going down the same path of thinking we can deal with these guys, negotiate with them — forget it, that’s not who they are and have been for hundreds of years. I don’t know why we allow ourselves to continue to be surprised.

Q: In the near term, what should change to make our policy more realistic?

No. 1, we have to get our European allies [engaged]. The ones in Eastern Europe already get it. The ones in Western Europe are more reluctant to address the Kremlin as a serious potential adversary. You have to acknowledge the threat before you can expect people to actually do something. If you are a political leader, then once you acknowledge a threat you are compelled to do something.

None of this means we isolate the Kremlin or shut the door — it’s a great country with limitless resources, and the changing polar ice cap means that they are going to be involved in a lot of really important stuff for all of us. But you have to deal with them from a position of strength. They’ll cry about it, but that’s all they respect.

No. 2, I would like to hear the president declare that we have a strategy for how we’re going to deal with the Kremlin, including in the Black Sea region, in the Arctic, and in the Baltics. He could even say, “It’s not ready yet, but I’ve got my best people working on it, because we’re going to have a strategy and we’re going to prioritize resources.” Because, right now, the feeling is: “Well, Russia’s bad, but we can contain this, and the real threat’s China.” We don’t get to choose the threats. They’re all threats.

Q: How much of our trouble with the Europeans is their failing to take the problem seriously enough, and how much of it is the fear that we are no longer a credible ally?

I would say the former more than the latter. Sweden, Finland, Baltics, Poland, Romania — they get it. But when you go west of there, less so. Even in the U.K., I’ve been surprised by how quiet they’ve been about what Russia is doing in Ukraine, for example. In Western Europe, it’s more about failure to acknowledge the threat. But none of them have been encouraged by what appears to be a wavering U.S. commitment. I used to say, at the beginning of the Trump administration: “Don’t pay attention to the tweets — look at what’s happening on the ground. Because, actually, U.S. boots on the ground in Europe increased during the time of President Trump. And this has continued in the early months of the Biden administration. But people are not comforted by that when they see the Biden administration waiving the sanctions on the head of Nord Stream 2. Of course, this is because we need Germany as our most important ally in Europe. But I can’t see any evidence that Germany has said, “Okay, we’ll deal with the Kremlin, we’ll bring them around and make them comply.” So, what was the quid here?

Q: And what does the U.S.–European relationship look like from your vantage point in Germany?

I would say that it is better now than it was just a few months ago, if just because the tone has changed. Nobody doubts that President Biden is a committed trans-Atlanticist and committed to NATO: Secretary Austin has made it clear, Secretary Blinken has made it clear. So, at least you don’t have that anxiety about the president of the United States at a summit blowing the thing up. The next summit is in two weeks here, and there’s nobody worried that Joe Biden is going to say, “All right, you guys suck, I’m outta here!” So, that’s helpful.

And, of course, the Defender 21 exercises are under way, with tens of thousands of troops, from the U.S. and other allies, with a huge investment to bring equipment over from the States, to move around Europe and practice — that’s significant, and that has not gone unnoticed.

But then there are the policy issues: Nord Stream 2, a very weak response to [Russian foreign minister Sergei] Lavrov’s claim at the Arctic Council meeting that the Arctic “is all our land,” even the response to [Alexander] Lukashenko’s seizing that Ryanair flight — there’s no way that could have happened without Kremlin knowledge, because the air-defense systems of the two countries are totally integrated. Then there were the two U.S. Navy ships that were headed to the Black Sea a few weeks ago that were stopped before going into the Black Sea. Our great Navy is not scared of anybody, but the decision to stop them would have been made, obviously, well above the admiral level. The way it was explained — or not explained — it looks like we were intimidated and scared away. That’s not how great-power competition is supposed to work.

Q: What do you think about the “strategic autonomy” that the European have spent so much time talking about in recent years?

The problem with strategic autonomy is that there is no official definition of it. It’s just kind of batted around without any common understanding of what it means. So we all try to guess what it means and what are the implications.

But the nations of Europe have always been able to make their own decisions. If this was created because France, for example, wanted a free hand to do things in Africa or the Mediterranean, they never had to ask American permission. So I don’t know what problem they’re trying to solve. I do think that there’s a defense-industry aspect to this, that they would like to see more of the defense industries of Europe combine together and for European nations not to buy American-made systems. So there’s an economic aspect.

Frankly, the United States would love to see Europeans take on more responsibility — they’re going to have to. If we’re in a conflict in the Indo-Pacific region, which I think is a real possibility in the next five or six years, then most of our Navy, Air Force, and intel is going to be focused on that region. To make sure the Kremlin does not take advantage of that, we’re going to need a very strong European pillar to continue to deter the Kremlin while most U.S. capability is focused in the Pacific.

We should keep working to remove all doubt about America’s commitment to Europe. And we’re not here just to protect Europeans — the EU is our biggest trading partner. It’s in our economic interest that Europe is prosperous, stable, and secure, even if they didn’t pay one euro, pound, or krona for their own defense. We have to talk more about how it’s in our interest to continue to contribute to NATO and to have a stable, secure, prosperous Europe. That would help.

And we don’t have the capacity to do anything by ourselves anymore, even with this massive defense budget. So we need to stay engaged here.

We also need a more sophisticated focus on what burden-sharing means. There has been so much focus on 2 percent [of GDP that NATO countries are expected to spend on defense] that we’ve lost perspective on what we really are after. Instead of 2 percent, what do we really need from Germany? What do we need from Italy? What do we need from Lithuania? That’s the collective “we” — NATO, not the U.S. And I think that would go a long way toward improving the willingness of nations to invest in collective security.

Q: As we work to remove doubts about our commitment, isn’t there some grounds for that doubt?


President Obama said, “Pivot to the Pacific,” a bad choice of words. “Pivot” means “turn away from and turn to.” As soon as he said that, I was getting questions from Europeans. “Are you leaving?” And then the Trump administration significantly increased the doubt. Now, the Biden administration has some work to do.

Q: You said earlier it was likely that in the next few years we would be drawn into a conflict in the Indo-Pacific. What does that look like?

Missiles, planes, ships, submarines, long-range fires. . . . I don’t see land forces on the Asian continent.

Q: I meant: With whom? Are you talking about a war with China?

Absolutely. The Chinese have watched how we in the West have responded to Russia’s continued invasions — sanctions, but nothing too powerful. They see that we in the West didn’t do crap after they smashed the protesters in Hong Kong, not even the Brits. The Chinese Communist Party is emboldened by that. The well-known fake islands down in the South China Sea and the claims they make — the Chinese pretty much do with impunity what they want down there. Even when an international court rules in favor of the Philippines, the Chinese are like, “Try to stop me.” The Chinese fishing fleet is in effect an arm of the PLA [People’s Liberation Army], and this is one of those situations in which it is very likely that somebody shoots or does something.

And then you’ve got Taiwan. The language coming out of Beijing about Taiwan is increasingly aggressive and militaristic. That would be a hell of a mission for the PLA, to seize Taiwan, but it won’t be like Normandy: There will be all kinds of other things happening, like cyber-sabotage. And I think Xi is on the clock, that he wants his legacy to be that he was the guy who got Taiwan back.

And China’s on the clock. Their demographics are very bad, and they just announced today that families can have three kids instead of two. But it’s going to be 19 or 20 years before those new children are ready to be privates in the Chinese army.

I don’t have any special access to intel. But a couple of people who do have access to intel — Admiral [Phil] Davidson, who just gave up command of the Indo-Pacific, and the admiral who took his place — have both said [that they expect a conflict within] six years.

Q: And if the Chinese decide to take Taiwan tomorrow, what does the United States do?

That’s a great question. The language from various administrations consistently gives the implication that we would defend Taiwan, but there’s not an alliance compact. So, is it shaking your fist? Strong statements in the U.N.? Those are all completely and totally empty. I imagine the White House, the Pentagon, and the Indo-Pacific command have a series of options that they have thought through, but I don’t know.

What’s a strong response? Is it kinetic? Isolating China? That’s where the Chinese have some advantage — in the economic sphere. We have to work together: the United States, the EU, Canada, the U.K., Australia, India, Japan — that’s a lot of economic power. If you work in concert, you could probably exercise leverage over the Chinese.

But, right now, there’s a Chinese economic-advocacy office in the building next to me. They’re all over Germany. We have thousands of rail cars every month that show up in Duisberg coming from Shanghai. There is deep investment, and deep control, of infrastructure here in Europe.

Q: Your list of countries makes me wonder: Is India still on the team? Managing coalitions is hard, and getting harder, because of the populism and nationalism that we have seen in response to what we call, for lack of a better term, globalization. Does that seem right to you?

The [Narendra] Modi government is under serious pressure right now because of COVID and its implications for the economy. Part of our ability to resist what the Chinese are doing and what the Russians are doing is based on the resilience of societies. Do people trust their government? That doesn’t mean you love everything about it, but do you trust it? Do you trust elections? Your judiciary? Do you have confidence that the government is doing its best? Those vulnerabilities are what the Chinese and the Russians go after, to exploit distrust. They go after weak societies that don’t have great resilience. It comes down to leadership: Can elected officials regain the confidence of a majority of their populations?

I just saw this unbelievable video of retired Lieutenant General Mike Flynn at a Memorial Day event in Texas, and he was asked by a veteran in the audience: “Why can’t we do what they did in Myanmar?” A military coup. And Mike Flynn said, “It should happen here.”

My God. That’s the kind of thing enemies of our country will exploit.

Q: Why write Future War?

I was excited about the project because I wanted to address what the impact of technology in warfare might look like. But also this notion that you and I have been discussing: that the United States is going to need European allies to deter the Kremlin or, if deterrence fails, to defeat Russian forces, probably while simultaneously being engaged with Chinese forces as well. I’d never been part of a book project before. And the publicity gives me a chance to talk about the issues that the book is about. It’s not Tom Clancy. It’s aimed