Sweet, raucous democracy, &c.

Supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party at party headquarters in Jerusalem on March 23, 2021 (Ammar Awad / Reuters)
Israel and its politics; Western business and China; a Kafkaesque cancelation; and more

In Israel, there has been a political upheaval — but not really: because the country has a parliamentary democracy, which is working. The system is in place, which is what counts. In the Middle East, a democratic transfer of power is very, very rare. It’s not all that common elsewhere.

The rule is: Winner seizes power; loser goes up against the wall, or swings from a rope. If he’s lucky — exile.

Though it is not my country, I have strong views about Israel and its politics. I have strong views about everything (or everything I care about). The same is probably true of you, too. But my main belief is in the system, or the frame, if you will. People will come and go. Actors will strut upon the stage, then exit. But governmental principles ought to endure.

Many people, probably, can hardly imagine an Israel not led by Benjamin Netanyahu. Or they don’t want to. But if a country depends on the leadership of one man — that country is hopeless, because men come and go. Israel had to do without Ben-Gurion (who, like Netanyahu, was very, very reluctant to get off the stage). It’ll have to do without Netanyahu. It’ll have to do without anyone and everyone.

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The important thing, overarchingly, is the survival of the state and its way of life. This is an elementary point, but I believe we are in an age for elementary points.

• In Syria, Assad was just “reelected” with 95 percent of the vote. The country is obviously getting more competitive, because Assad won in the 2000s — twice — with 97 percent.

• The Washington Post had a report on a congressman. It began,

Republican Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina has been a reliable conservative during his five terms in Congress, and he was a strong supporter of President Donald Trump and his agenda.

But he voted to impeach Trump after the assault on the Capitol. “I took an oath to defend the Constitution,” he told the Post. “I didn’t take an oath to defend Donald Trump.”

Yet, as the Post said, “Rice is also eager to show that he is not part of the ‘Never Trump’ movement of Republicans who opposed the former president during his 2016 campaign and term in office.”

Yes, this eagerness is very familiar to me. It’s very human, I think.

When I was coming of age, there were people who were willing to criticize Communism and Communists — but they were very eager to let you know they were not with the anti-Communists: not with Buckley, Reagan, Kirkpatrick, and the rest of the “extremists.”

Readers may remember a line from Willmoore Kendall. I have cited it often. Speaking of Cleanth Brooks, the famed literary critic who was his colleague at Yale, Kendall said, “Cleanth was always the second-most-conservative person in the room.”

I know that type, like the back of my hand.

• Since the 1990s, I have written about the eagerness of big business in the Free World to please the Chinese government. But, in a column, Max Boot taught me something I never knew.

For six years after Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, Hollywood studios avoided making films that made the Nazis look bad, because they did not want to lose access to the German market. The first motion picture to break the taboo — “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” — did not come out until war loomed in 1939. Studios even worked with the German consul general in Los Angeles to cut scenes that might offend the Nazis. There is scholarly debate about whether the moguls were guilty of “collaboration” with Hitler, but there is no doubt that they put dollars and cents ahead of their moral sense.

Now history seems to be repeating itself, with the studios kowtowing to Communist China.

• Years ago, I swore not to use the words “Orwellian” and “Kafkaesque” unless they well and truly applied. Well, I think I can haul out “Kafkaesque” for this one.

I am speaking of Robby Soave’s story headed “A Composer Condemned Arson. Now No One Will Hire Him.” The subheading is, “‘I chose to be that guy who didn’t issue the apology,’ says Daniel Elder. ‘Things went from there and it wasn’t good.’”

The phrase “cancel culture” is overused — wildly misused, in fact. But what Daniel Elder has experienced is . . . a Kafkaesque cancelation.

The world gone cray. Absolutely nuts.

• Here is a tweet from The New Yorker: “A debate has erupted over whether the reviled Supreme Court case of Dred Scott v. Sandford should be excised from law courses. The language in the decision ‘gratuitously traumatizes’ readers, one professor said.” The New Yorker’s article is here.

I think of Gene Genovese, the late historian. He would use a word, and use it with biting contempt. I wish you could have heard him. Maybe you can imagine (Genovese was from Brooklyn). “Childish,” he said. In particular, he would apply this word to absurdities in academia: “childish.”

• Congressman Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) tweeted, “While President Biden pals around with his buddies in Europe, the border crisis rages at home.” Talk about childish. The American president was attending G-7 and NATO summits. Earlier this year, Trump awarded Jordan the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Kafkaesque.

• “Trump Pressed Official to Wield Justice Dept. to Back Election Claims: The former president began pressuring his incoming acting attorney general even before announcing that his predecessor was stepping down, emails show.” Yes. You can either look away from this story or stare it in the face. The right course, I think, is the latter. It is important to the health of our republic. But many, many will want to look away, naturally. The tribal impulse is overpowering.

• “Voters looking for Republican leaders want to see independence and mettle,” said Paul Ryan in a recent speech. “They will not be impressed by the sight of yes-men and flatterers flocking to Mar-a-Lago.” This strikes me as wishful thinking. You?

• Above, I referred to a Presidential Medal of Freedom. If I were president — LOL — I would hang one around the neck of Perry Link, that signal China scholar. I have written about and podcasted with him many times over the years. He figured in a piece I wrote in 2012: “Scholars with Spine.” Two months ago, I podcasted with him and Ellen Bork, about Hong Kong: here.

Don’t miss his piece from last weekend: “Beijing Protests a Lab Leak Too Much.” He knows how to read the Chinese Communist Party. He knows that crew like the back of his hand.

• I have been familiar with the name “Owosso” my whole life, as a Michigander. So I was extra-interested in a piece called “COVIDville, USA: A small town caught up in America’s culture war between science and right-wing conspiracism.” That town is Owosso. To read the piece, go here.

Owosso, mind you, was the hometown of that great New Yorker, Thomas E. Dewey: governor of New York and two-time presidential nominee of the Republican Party.

• Speaking of the governorship of New York: Andrew Giuliani, son of Rudy, is running for it. He is a Trump alum and a contributor to Newsmax TV. I have a memory of him, from long ago. No one will like it. A handful might, but no one else will. I’m plowing ahead, as a writer, not a pol. (I have long since torched my electability.)

I never had much use for Charles Rangel, the congressman from Harlem. I was on his case constantly, especially for his warmth toward Fidel Castro and the Cuban dictatorship. Unfortunately, Rangel was a very charming guy, and I avoided meeting him, when I had the chance to do so. I knew how charming he was.

My hostility aside, he said a few things that have stuck with me, in a positive way. I will give you two of them.

In 2006, when Hugo Chávez blasted George W. Bush at the rostrum of the U.N., Rangel issued a press release, saying, “George Bush is the President of the United States and represents the entire country. Any demeaning public attack against him is viewed by Republicans and Democrats, and all Americans, as an attack on all of us.” In interviews, he was spicy on the subject.

There was a time when, according to press reports, Andrew Giuliani was estranged from his father. Observed Rangel, “Sons respect and admire their fathers, but they love their mothers against cheating goddamn husbands.”

Maybe he shouldn’t have said it. He said it. Oh, well. Sue him, sue me.

• A charming, interesting, offbeat, heartwarming story from Jesus Jiménez of the New York Times: “A Teenager Mistakenly Moved Into a Senior Living Complex.” It wound up being good for her, and them. Read the story here.

• Highly recommended is an appreciation of Denis Donoghue, the late Irish literary critic, by Adam Kirsch, who is the poetry editor of The New Criterion. I intend to read the piece a second time. There is much to absorb, and to savor.

Let me single out two things.

Donoghue loved the sounds of words, even independent of their meaning. I get that, totally. Meaning is very important, of course. But the sounds of words — that’s an important department too. I have never been able to divorce speech from music, entirely.

Also, Donoghue said that the question to ask about a poem or a novel is not, “Do I find its political attitude congenial?” but rather, “Am I willing to read it, and to let it at least provisionally read me?”

Yes, sir.

• In the past year or so, I have started to receive spam texts — marketing texts and the like. Very annoying. Intrusive, also. Lately, they’ve taken to asking me, “Do you agree that Big Tech is censoring conservatives?” There are problems with technology companies, no doubt. But my problem is these damn spam texts. There oughtta be a law.

• I would like to offer you a music piece. It is a personal piece, about a family of musicians, whom I love. You will enjoy getting to know them, I bet: here.

Thanks for joining me, everyone, and see you soon.

If you’d like to receive Impromptus by e-mail — links to new columns — write to jnordlinger@nationalreview.com.

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