America’s place in the world, &c. – National Review

Since the 1988 GOP convention, I have been quoting George Bush (the Elder). It was at that convention that he first accepted the presidential nomination.

He asked a question, essentially: Is America “another pleasant country on the U.N. roll call, somewhere between Albania and Zimbabwe”? Or is America “the leader, a unique nation with a special role in the world”?

This question is ever more pertinent. It roils the Right. It will be debated, passionately, for some time to come, I think.

Last month, Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted out a picture of himself, standing with three other men. He wrote, “The U.S. believes in strengthening the security & sovereignty of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Glad to meet with their foreign ministers.”

I expressed my appreciation of Ryan’s statement — which provoked this response, among others: “Now how about working to strengthen US security and sovereignty, Mr. Speaker?”

It is up to people such as Paul Ryan (and scribes like me, I suppose) to explain to people the connection between our success and others’. I used to assume such an understanding. No longer. The elementary has to be explained over, and over, and over again. Not least to rising generations.

For a while, Barbara Bush, the former first lady, was opposing a run for president by her son Jeb. Someone threw this in the former governor’s face. He shrugged and said, “Everyone has a mother.”

So true. And everyone has a father, too. I thought of this when reading about Jean-Marie Le Pen’s response to his daughter’s presidential campaign. Not Trump-like enough, he harrumphed. Should be more like Trump.

Everybody has parents (not all of them as difficult as Jean-Marie) …

President Trump gave an interview to the Associated Press. He spoke about the difference between his former work and his present work. “Pretty much everything you do in government involves heart,” he said, “whereas in business most things don’t involve heart. In fact, in business you’re actually better off without it.”

I wonder what businessmen would say about this. (I’m not one, alas.) I further wonder what Republicans would say if a left-wing president said this.

Bill Buckley once began a column like this (I’m going from memory): “If you’re looking for a handy way to curb the population explosion, try the death penalty for anybody who says, ‘But do the ends justify the means?’”

I say: If you’re looking for a way to curb the population explosion — or simply for a way to blow off steam — try the death penalty for makers of news sites that, without your asking, start to play videos.


In comments to students recently, I mentioned that America was an unusually prosperous country. For example, one of the biggest problems of the poor is obesity. This is something unprecedented in human history.

The students explained to me that there was such a thing as “food deserts” in America. Okay.

I thought of them when reading about South Sudan — which is a real food desert. Horrendous.

Was very interested to read about the governor of Kentucky. Who tried to adopt a kid, right there in Kentucky, and couldn’t. But could in Ethiopia.

I am not an expert, so I should probably keep my mouth shut: but my impression is that our adoption system, generally, is a farce and a disgrace. And no friend to children needing adoption.

Here is a Trump tweet: “Things will work out fine between the U.S.A. and Russia. At the right time everyone will come to their senses & there will be lasting peace!” I thought, “Where is his umbrella?”

Infamously, in announcing peace with Germany, Neville Chamberlain was holding an umbrella (his trademark umbrella). Which leads me to tell a story. A story I got from Van Galbraith.

Van was a great friend of Bill Buckley, of National Review, and of the world at large. Under Reagan, he was ambassador to France. And one day, the president came to the house — the ambassadorial residence in Paris.

He looked at a portrait on the wall — a portrait of a lady. “Who’s that?” he asked. “Neville Chamberlain’s mother,” Van answered. Reagan thought for a second and said, “Where’s her umbrella?”

Ildar Dadin is a Russian democracy activist and a former political prisoner. I wrote about him here. Recently, he was given a Freedom of Expression Award by Index on Censorship, a British group. He was not able to travel to accept it — because Russian authorities refused to let him out.

What are they afraid of? And how much like the Soviets do they wish to be?

At the beginning of this month, I was at Northwood University, in Michigan (my home state). I met a young woman named Ilia. “Ah, a Mozart name!” I said. Ilia appears in the opera Idomeneo.

I also know a young woman named Despina (a Così fan tutte name). She is a Greek American.

I was at Northwood to talk about my book Children of Monsters: An Inquiry into the Sons and Daughters of Dictators. And you could have blown me down: Before my talk, a woman approached me. She was from Romania. She had been a defector, or a refugee, with her husband. And her husband knew the Ceausescu children (who of course figure in my book).

There were some questions I couldn’t get the answers to, when I was researching my book. This lady? She knew a couple of them.


After my talk, I met another lady — from Serbia. She knew about Milosevic (who is not in my book, but still). She had a school friend who tangled with both Milosevic’s son and Milosevic himself.

Again, extraordinary. I am so glad I traveled to Northwood (for myriad reasons).

I got a letter from a wise professor emeritus at a university in New England. He said,

Colleges and even high schools and elementary schools incessantly indoctrinate the kids with politically correct ideology at the core of which is: identity. You’re either a victim (female, non-white, non-hetero) or you’re an oppressor. If you’re the former, feel aggrieved (that’s an order!) and “entitled” to compensation and preference; if you’re the latter, you’re guilty — and obliged to feel that way.

Very, very well worded.

Two kinds of people: victims and oppressors. I swear, I thought of Bob Novak, the late political journalist. He said that, as far as he was concerned, “there are two kinds of people in this town [Washington]: sources and targets.”

So, this kid was driving across Australia. He was a twelve-year-old boy. He had already gone 800 miles. And they stopped him, for driving without a license. (To read a news story, go here.)

What? A twelve-year-old kid can’t drive across Australia by himself? What has Oz come to? What has happened to rugged individualism? Australia, a nanny state! MAGA!

I was interested to know about Harry Huskey, a pioneering computer scientist. He has died at 101. In 1950, he was on You Bet Your Life. And Groucho made some cracks about the work that Dr. Huskey was doing. But he also said that it was “worthwhile work which will make life easier and better for all of us.”

Dang. Yup.

Got a letter from a reader who said he was watching The Last Man on Earth, a comedy series. One episode showed a bookcase — in which was a book by John Yoo. And a collection of mine from 2007: Here, There & Everywhere.

Really? Holy smokes. John and I have perhaps achieved immortality …

On an airplane, I was sitting next to a man who was reading a newspaper, and crinkling it (naturally). I thought: “This will be regarded as a sound from the past. We’re almost there.” Amazing.

A little music? I loved a statement from Esa-Pekka Salonen, in an interview. Salonen is a well-known conductor and composer. Listen to this:

When I started out, I was an obedient student of the modernist movement. And I listened to my superiors, Boulez and so on, and, of course, in that world, there is no space for narrative. None. The very idea that music would be about something — it was soft. And as I get older, I realize that all music is about something. There isn’t one note that isn’t. And that thought liberated me as a composer a lot.

Trust me, this is an explosive statement. Nice goin’, maestro.

A little language? The other day, it occurred to me that, when people say “I take no pleasure in …,” they are usually taking pleasure in it. So I vowed that I myself would never say it.

But, honestly, I take no pleasure in saying goodbye to you. Thanks, dear readers, and catch you soon.

A word from the National Review Store: To get Digging In: Further Collected Writings of Jay Nordlinger, go here.

America’s place in the world, &c. – National Review

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