Critiques & Commentary

10/15/16 In today’s WSJ, Yale professor David Gelernter…

whom the Unabomber targeted but failed to kill, which some may have found regrettable, others not, makes as honest a case for voting for Trump as can be put forth. The problem is that the good professor’s argument completely disregards issues of character, compassion, honesty and intellect as these pertain to the GOP candidate. I don’t see how those can be left out of an weighted consideration of the presidential race. These appears to be qualities that HRC possesses at least to a minimal degree, while in Trump, the needle repeatedly stops at zero.

10/15/16 I think this is just great! This election has

energized Peggy Noonan’s commonsense gene. Linked to her writing abilities, a formidable combination. I grew up among America’s ruling class, was educated by and among them, worked among them all over the country and ended up writing about them. The moral and civic deterioration has been alarming. I’m going to be writing a long post this weekend for my Critiques and Commentary category about a number of episodes that showed me all I needed to know about how the system is gamed and the game is played.

Because WSJ may be behind a paywall, I’m pasting Noonan’s column in its entirety:

It is quite dreadful and a showing of the gravest disrespect that, if U.S. intelligence agencies are correct, Russia’s Vladimir Putin has inserted himself into America’s presidential election. And it could not have deeper implications.

If Russia is indeed behind the leaks of the emails of Democratic Party operatives Mr. Putin may have many reasons, as he often does, but the most frightening would be that he views the current American political leadership class as utterly decadent and unworthy of traditional diplomatic norms and boundaries. And, thinks, therefore, it deserves what it gets.

Why would he find them decadent—morally hollowed out, unserious? That is the terrible part: because he knows them.

Think of how he’s experienced them the past few years. Readers of these pages know of the Uranium One deal in which a Canadian businessman got Bill Clinton to help him get control of uranium mining fields in Kazakhstan. The businessman soon gave $31 million to the Clinton Foundation, with a pledge of $100 million more. Uranium One acquired significant holdings in the U.S. A Russian company moved to buy it. The deal needed U.S. approval, including from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

While it was under consideration the Clinton Foundation received more money from Uranium One. Bill Clinton got a $500,000 speech fee. Mrs. Clinton approved the deal. The Russian company is now one of the world’s largest uranium producers. Significant amounts of U.S. uranium are, in effect, owned by Russia. This summer a WikiLeaks dump showed the State Department warning that Russia was moving to control the global supply of nuclear fuel. The deal went through anyway, and the foundation flourished.

Peter Schweizer, who broke the Uranium One story, reported in these pages how Mrs. Clinton also pushed for a U.S.-Russian technology initiative whose goals included “the development of ties between the Russian and American people.” Mrs Clinton looked for U.S. investors and found them. Of the 28 announced “key partners,” 60% had made financial commitments to the Clinton Foundation. Even Russian investors ponied up.

But the research coming out of the initiative raised alarms: U.S. military experts warned of satellite, space and nuclear technology transfers. The FBI thought the Russian partners’ motive was to “gain access to classified, sensitive, and emerging technology.” WikiLeaks later unearthed a State Department cable expressing concern about the project. Somehow, said Mr. Schweizer, the Clinton State Department “missed or ignored obvious red flags.”

What would Mr. Putin, knowing all this and inferring Mrs. Clinton’s real priorities, conclude about the American political system and its major practitioners? Would he feel contempt? Might he toy with them?

As for Donald Trump, we don’t know, because he has not released his tax returns, what ties if any he has with Russia. There are charges that Trump businesses are entangled with powerful Russian financiers. We know some of his top advisers had business ties to Russia or affiliated nations and leaders.

Again, what might Mr. Putin think of this? Might he amuse himself with mischief, even to the point of attempting to hack the election returns? We’ll see.

But nothing is more dangerous than this: that Mr. Putin and perhaps other world leaders have come to have diminished respect for the morality, patriotism and large-mindedness of our leaders. Nikita Khrushchev had a rough respect for JFK and his men and that respect, in the Cuban Missile Crisis, helped avert nuclear war. Mikhail Gorbachev was in the end half-awed by Ronald Reagan’s goodness and idealism; the world knew George H.W. Bush and respected his integrity, and so he was able to build coalitions that were real coalitions, not just names. Now, whoever wins, we are in a different place, a lesser and more dangerous one.

***
On the latest groping charges: We cannot know for certain what is true, but my experience in such matters is that when a woman makes such a charge she is telling the truth. In a lifetime of fairly wide acquaintance, I’ve not known a woman to lie about sexual misbehavior or assault. I believe Juanita Broaddrick and Kathleen Willey, and I believe the women making the charges against Mr. Trump in the New York Times. The mainstream media of the United States is in the tank for the Democratic nominee, to its great and destructive shame: They add further ruin to the half-ruined reputation of a great American institution. That will make the country’s future harder and more torn up. But this story, at least as to the testimony of its central figures, does not appear to be an example of that.

***
Here I would like to say a word for the spectacular illusions under which American voters once were able to operate. You used to be able to like your guy—to admire your candidate and imagine unknown virtues he no doubt possessed that would be revealed in time, in books. Those illusions were beautiful. They gave clean energy to the engine of our politics. You can’t have illusions anymore. That souring, which is based on knowledge and observation as opposed to mere cynicism, is painful to witness and bear. The other day a conservative intellectual declared to her fellow writers and thinkers: “I’m for the venal idiot who won’t mechanize government against all I hold dear.” That’s some bumper sticker, isn’t it? And who has illusions about Mrs. Clinton? No one.

***
The big fact of the week, however, has to do with these words: They don’t like us. The Democrats, progressives and left-liberals who have been embarrassed by the latest WikiLeaks dump really hate conservatives, or nonleftists. They don’t like half the people of the country they seek to control! They look at that half with disdain and disrespect. Their disdain is not new—“bitter clingers,” “basket of deplorables.” But here it’s so unashamed and eager to express itself.

A stupid man from a leftist think tank claimed the most “powerful elements” in the conservative movement are Catholic. “They must be attracted to the systematic thought and severely backwards gender relations,” he wrote. Mrs. Clinton’s press aide Jennifer Palmieri responded: “I imagine they think it is the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion. Their rich friends wouldn’t understand if they become evangelicals.”

When I read that I imagined a conversation with my grandmother, an immigrant who was a bathroom attendant at the Abraham & Straus department store in Brooklyn. Me: “Grandma, being Catholic is now a step up. It means you’re an aristocrat! A stupid one, but still.” Grandma, blinking: “America truly is a country of miracles.”

Here’s what you see in the emails: the writers are the worst kind of snobs, snobs with nothing to recommend them. In their expression and thoughts they are common, banal, dumb, uninformed, parochial.

I don’t know about you but when people look down on me I want them to be distinguished or outstanding in some way—towering minds, people of exquisite sensibility or learning. Not these grubbly poseurs, these people who’ve never had a thought but only a sensation: Christians are backward, I saw it in a movie!

It’s the big fact of American life now, isn’t it? That we are patronized by our inferiors.

Am I nuts?

Here’s Obama “tearing Trump to pieces” – starting at 3:38. Except I don’t see that. He looks the way I would if someone was poking me from the podium.  Half-smiling, calm. Bigger than the moment. But pretentious fifth-raters like Omarosa and Roger Stone assert that he’s frozen with fury. What do your eyes tell you? Look at it for yourself.

10/14/16 Bob Dylan’s Nobel…

Friends of mine don’t approve but I like it. Dylan is a good writer; he speaks to generations all the way down from mine ( I still can’t get enough of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”) , and has reached more people than practically any writer of comparable quality. Better than some magic realist or American naturalist.

10/15/16 A political rumination….

I like to speculate about deeper causes, the potentially seismic but inadequately perceived causal linkages that underlay and distort so many aspects of American life. Today I found myself thinking about the ridiculous primary system that has virtually replaced convention deal-making. Here we’ve had perhaps the best Vice-President of my lifetime. He’s served selflessly and, all in all, allowing for certain really quite inconsequential slips, pretty faultlessly under a President who thrives on high-visibility and being the center of attention, almost to the point of narcissism (I personally think Obama is  a narcissist.) There’s no doubt in my mind that, in a political system that operated in the fashion of my youth, Joe Biden would have beaten Hillary Clinton like a drum ( what he would have done to Trump is wonderful imagine: “Crooked Biden” ? I think not.)  And yet he withdrew his name from consideration almost a year ago, saying the he lacked the time necessary to put a proper campaign together. I still am puzzled by what law of man and nature, by what power on heaven or earth,  the nomination fell to Hillary almost by default, as if it was hers by right of inheritance. The answer has to be the primary system. This, together with the ridiculous “winner take all” method of voting for the Electoral College, is why we really are up shit’s creek.

10/14/16 Midaswatching contemporary art…

I have very strong views on today’s big-price artists. I think Richter and Christopher Wool are absolute BS, and that anyone who pays over $100 for work of this minimal visual interest or beauty is either blind, an idiot or has fallen int the clutches of a dealer or art advisor who in another era would have been peddling snake oil.

Koons presents a different problem.

Has Jeff Koons earned his place in art history?

As for the banks….

I was Googling for a quotation by H.L.Mencken about how to deal with failing banks, and lo and behold, I found this, which it seems I wrote for Forbes in November 2oo8. The link in full is below. Here’s the money quote. I still believe that “perp walks” (or worse) are a more effective deterrent to dishonest, reckless or foolish management on Wall Street than all the regulations ever legislated.

“(One approach) is that, when a bank suspends payment, it would simplify matters to hang (or, in any case, to jail) all its officers and directors at once, whether its suspension be due to its roguery, to their stupidity, or only to their bad luck.”

http://www.forbes.com/2008/11/25/citigroup-bailout-mencken-oped-cx_mmt_1125thomas.html

Actually, Mencken is much needed at this moment. Here’s a useful compendium of his acerbic wisdom:

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/H._L._Mencken

Speaking of Mencken, one of the books that I consider indispensable to serious consideration of what it means to be a proper citizen of this great republic is James Fenimore Cooper’s The American Democrat. It is little known. It was published in 1838, midway between the pub dates of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and I consider it to be, if not an antidote to the Frenchman’s great work, at least a useful vitamin supplement. After the book’s initial appearance, it wasn’t republished until 1936, with the Wall Street-induced Great Depression in full uproar. The new edition was put out by Knopf, with a curious, somewhat ambivalent introduction by Mencken, of all people. I say ambivalent because Mencken expresses a kind of pity for Cooper and the fruitlessness of his mission – a mission whose core values when it comes to a thinking man’s last best hopes for this country aren’t all that dissimilar.

And here I stand…

I will not vote for Trump. He is an ignorant cretin, and he is a bully, which I truly can’t stand. He has raised some issues that are important, but it is impossible to imagine anyone less equipped, in any way that can be cited, to solve them, or even to cause them to be discussed halfway reasonably. That said, I don’t much like HRC either. Too much baggage, too many due bills streaming behind her like the tails of a kite. Moreover, as a New York voter, given this state’s skewed voter registration, so heavily weighted on the Democrat side, I have the luxury of not pulling the lever for her, knowing that she’ll carry New York come what may and hardly needs my vote. Still, when the moment arrives, I imagine I’ll hold my nose and vote for HRC. This may upset friends who are Trump adherents, either vocal or (mostly) clandestine, people who should know better but are thinking with their wallets (and might be in for a big nasty surprise involving pitchforks should Trump prevail), but I think the elements shrieking for Trump truly are  – yes – deplorable, especially given the fragile emotional state of the country, and it’s against them, as much as against Trump himself, that I’ll be voting. So be it.

Just asking…

Everywhere one turns these days, one hears an outcry against the purported evils of “cultural appropriation.” This got me thinking: what about “Hamilton”? Couldn’t the show be described as an example of “cultural appropriation” –  albeit differently triangulated subculturally and infinitely more lucrative for the appropriators than the usual suspects? Just asking…