On internal GOP politics; a Chinese artist and the Olympics; Ukraine and its right to exist; Joan Didion and other Buckley-hired talents; and more
Mike Rounds is a Republican senator from South Dakota. By George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, he was questioned about the 2020 presidential election. “The election was fair,” said Rounds, “as fair as we have seen. We simply did not win the election, as Republicans, for the presidency.”
Such a statement, from a Republican politician, qualifies as gutsy in the present environment.
Donald Trump, naturally, retaliated. “‘Senator’ Mike Rounds of the Great State of South Dakota,” he wrote, “just went woke on the Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020. He made a statement this weekend on ABC Fake News . . .” Etc.
Trump wound up by asking, “Is he crazy or just stupid?”
Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, appeared on CNN. He said, “I think Senator Rounds told the truth about what happened in the 2020 election.” McConnell has announced that he will run again for GOP Senate leader.
Which Lindsey Graham, his colleague from South Carolina, had something to say about.
Talking with Sean Hannity on Fox, Graham said, “Can Senator McConnell effectively work with the leader of the Republican Party, Donald Trump? I am not going to vote for anybody for leader of the Senate, as a Republican, unless they can prove to me that they can advocate an America First agenda and have a working relationship with Donald Trump.”
To what extent does Trump call the shots in the Republican Party? Can Rounds, McConnell, and other senators buck him, and live to tell the tale? How about Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor?
This is an interesting — even an exciting — time to be a political observer, if that’s your thing.
• Normally I have language items at the bottom of the column, or near it, but let’s pause now for a couple. Trump said that, in acknowledging the simple truth about the election, Senator Rounds “went woke.” If this qualifies as “wokeness” — maybe the term really has outlived its usefulness, as some people say?
“. . . unless they can prove to me that they can advocate an America First agenda.” So said Lindsey Graham. I may not think much of an American First agenda (to the extent it is nativist, protectionist, etc.) — but I think a lot of anybody who still uses the verb “advocate” correctly (sans “for”).
Way to go, Lindsey!
• Ai Weiwei is the famous artist from China, now in exile. The Associated Press has interviewed him ahead of the latest Beijing Olympics — and a very good interview it is.
You may remember the Olympic stadium in Beijing — the “Bird’s Nest” — from the 2008 Summer Games. Ai Weiwei had a hand in designing it. Since then, he has described the stadium, and those ’08 Games themselves, as the “fake smile” presented to the world by the PRC.
Let me quote the AP:
Ai Weiwei characterized the 2022 Winter Olympics and the pandemic as a case of fortunate timing for China’s authoritarian government. The pandemic will limit the movement of journalists during the Games, and it will also showcase the state’s Orwellian control.
And here is a statement from Ai Weiwei:
China, under the system of state capitalism and especially after COVID, firmly believes that its administrative control is the only effective method. This enhances their belief in authoritarianism. Meanwhile, China thinks that the West, with its ideas of democracy and freedom, can hardly obtain effective control. So, the 2022 Olympics will further testify to the effectiveness of authoritarianism in China and the frustration of the West’s democratic regimes.
Bless an artist who will stick his neck out against tyranny, as Ai Weiwei has repeatedly done. Indeed, bless anyone who will do it.
• The Russian government masses for a further invasion of Ukraine, and it has meanwhile launched a ferocious cyberattack on that country. The cyberattack may well be a prelude.
About Ukraine, I have written repeatedly, including from Ukraine itself, about two years ago: here. I would like to make a few basic statements in this column.
There are a handful of countries that are not granted the right to exist, by many people: Israel, Taiwan, Ukraine. Everyone acknowledges that Iran, China, and Russia have a right to exist, though they are now ruled by dictatorships. (They may not always be.) Same with Cuba, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia — the list is long.
There are people who like to paint Ukraine — its independence, its fledgling democracy — as black as possible. I think I know why they do this: to justify not lifting a finger to help the Ukrainians as they try to fend off a ravenous dictatorship.
There are people who actually resent Ukraine and hate Ukraine. Again, I think I know why: Ukraine reminds people that there are dangers in the world, and that Putin is hungry — hungry for other countries. People don’t want to think about this (till they have to). “Maybe if we were just nice to the bear.” “Let it eat the Ukrainians.” “Aren’t the Ukrainians uppity, anyway?”
There are chest-thumping nationalists who are all of a sudden anti-nationalist when it comes to Ukraine. They are friendlier to empire. This is passing strange.
It should be elementary that national boundaries should not be redrawn by force. In living memory, boundaries were redrawn by force in Europe, with terrible consequences. But lessons are quickly lost. And humanity races to repeat its mistakes.
Finally: There are people who simply hate aspirations after freedom and democracy. They spit on ideas of freedom and democracy. They snort, cackle, and rage. I’m not entirely sure I can explain this phenomenon, but I have encountered it — close up — and it is very human (all too).
• Let me commend George F. Will on Ukraine (as on most anything else). He has written two columns on the subject recently: here and here. A sample from the first: “Abusing Ukraine comes naturally to Putin, who is Stalin’s spawn.” A sample from the second: “Putin is a coarse fabric woven of humiliations and grudges, with a common thread: Loathing of NATO is the distillation of his smoldering fury about Russia’s, and hence his, diminishment.”
George Will does not pussyfoot around, and he is clear as a bell.
• From Harper’s Bazaar, I saw a piece about Anna Marie Tendler. She was married to a famous comedian, who left her, and one of the ways she coped with this development was to work artistically with her hands. The article says, “She pushed herself to do something artistic every day, even if it was small.”
Ms. Tendler herself says, “I feel so lucky that so much of my work is this mundane, detail-oriented handwork. I’m working with a needle and thread, and it’s like, if I’m not on it, I’m going to prick myself with a needle and f*** something up.”
On reading this, I thought of Paul Johnson, the great British historian and journalist. He always recommends painting, for dealing with “black dog” — but painting with watercolor, in particular. I once asked him, “Why watercolor?” He answered, “Because if your mind wanders for even a second, the paint runs.”
FWIW, as they say in social media. (“For what it’s worth.”)
• When you got it, you got it. Let me explain what I mean. Bob Falkenburg was a tennis champion. In fact, he won Wimbledon. At some point in his life, he moved to Brazil and started a fast-food chain.
Falkenburg has just died at 95. To read his obituary in the New York Times, go here. I want to quote one sentence: “He was later a fine amateur golfer and won the Brazilian amateur championship three times.”
I can hardly stand it. Again, when you got it, you got it. Nice goin’, Bob. Wish I could have played a few rounds with you. Or swatted a tennis ball around with you a bit. Maybe later.
• Would you like an example of early rap? In the past, I have cited “Rock Island,” from Meredith Willson’s Music Man. Let me now give you Fred Astaire and some of his friends, early on in “I Ain’t Hep to That Step, but I’ll Dig It,” from Second Chorus, a Hollywood musical comedy of 1940. Oh, you’ll love it — dig it — here.
• Last month, Joan Didion died, at 87. She had a lustrous writing career. As others have noted, she worked at National Review, when she was starting out. So did other literary luminaries, or luminaries-to-be: Garry Wills, John Leonard, and Renata Adler, quite prominently. We are not talking about conservatives, necessarily: but we are talking about people loaded with talent.
Bill Buckley liked talent: writing talent. He possessed an abundance of it himself, needless to say. He wanted it around him, and in his pages.
I saw Renata Adler once, at a Buckley party. Wanted to speak to her. Did not get the chance. I did not have a chance to meet Didion or Leonard either. And have not met Wills.
Let me relate something about WFB and John Leonard. Bill related it to me, toward the end of his life. Can’t remember when, exactly. Anyway, he hadn’t seen Leonard in a long time. He asked him to come over: to come to lunch, as I recall. Leonard said he absolutely could not: writing deadlines and such. Bill said, “Come anyway.” I think he conveyed to Leonard that there would not be many more opportunities, and that there were things to discuss. Leonard, dropping all else, came.
Bill died in February ’08 and Leonard the following November. I’m very glad they had their get-together.
Thank you, my friends — check you later.
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