Two Christmas Reflections
The Best of 2019

Two New Year's Day Reflections

I find Kevin Williamson to be the most consistently interesting writer at National Review these days. That's not necessarily entirely a good thing, because when I say "interesting" I also mean "entertaining," and often that entertainment involves scathing language about someone. In principle I do not approve of scathing language about persons and try to resist the temptation to use it, so I guess what it amounts to is that I'm vicariously enjoying his put-downs, which makes me feel just a touch guilty. Not very, because most of the time the put-down is merited.

And I usually disagree with at least some part of any piece he writes, sometimes something minor and sometimes major. His brand of conservatism is definitely more libertarian than mine. But--and this is a little surprising for a libertarian, or at least a somewhat-libertarian--he is really at his best on deeper subjects. This is one:

If we are to resolve something for 2020, then maybe that should be our resolution: to bear always in mind that this is not Donald Trump’s America or Elizabeth Warren’s America but ours and Walt Whitman’s and John Coltrane’s and Herman Melville’s and Toni Morrison’s, and that if we really love this country, then that can only be because we love the people in it, the ones who are with us still and the ones who have been, who are “not enemies but friends.”

This will be our year. It will be the year that we make of it, which is both our great hope and our great, fearful responsibility.

Read the whole thing; it's worth it. One thing I like about him, something he shares with recently citizen-ized Charles Cooke, also of NR, is an appreciation of this country in all its madness and glory. Elsewhere he recently said something to the effect that what works for health care in Switzerland will not work here:

The basic problem with that always has been that Switzerland is full of Swiss people, while the United States is full of maniacs.

Precisely. I always stress that when discussing American politics and culture with someone from another country: you simply won't understand us unless you start with the recognition that we're more than a little crazy. Samuel Johnson's famous remark that "If a man is tired of London, he is tired of life" applies triply to the United States of America. I am often sickened and repelled by this, that, or the other in the U.S., but never not interested. 

And, as Williamson says, life in these United States is not defined or limited by politics. I cringe whenever I hear someone refer to "Donald Trump's America." I fear such people live in cyberspace, large parts of which Donald Trump has made his own in the way that is too often effective in cyberspace: by being a troll. A great many people on the left seem to feel that their lives have been almost ruined, or in some cases not even "almost," by Trump's presence in the White House. This is...unhealthy to say the least, and as it's partly a choice, most unwise. 

I think the reality of life for the very large majority of us is that politics generally has a relatively small impact on our day-to-day lives, and plays a very small role in our conversation and other dealings with other people. I can recall only a few face-to-face conversations over the past half-year or so with anyone except my wife in which the subject even came up. Two of those were with liberals, and when the conversation drifted into politics--not by my choice--it immediately blew up in my face. The level of rage was disconcerting, and I will certainly try hard to avoid any more of those. 

Also at National Review, Richard Brookhiser does a nice exegesis of Thomas Hardy's "The Darkling Thrush." Perhaps you remember that it was the first poem in the 52 Poems series that I did a couple of years ago. I don't think more than a few days ever go by without my thinking of those last two lines.


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"for the very large majority of us...politics generally has a relatively small impact on our day-to-day lives, and plays a very small role in our conversation and other dealings with other people."

I have a group of friends, a small subsection of which enjoys talking about politics. They run the gamut from never-Trumpers to full on Trump supporters, but I find the whole thing very tedious and thus generally try to steer clear of such conversations. But I have another, different group of friends in which politics virtually never comes up: we usually talk about books, movies and music. Much more enjoyable!

I agree with you both. Other than a Trump crazed Muslim friend of mine who is constantly poking at me no one I know really talks politics too much. The one exception, oddly, is a friend of mine in Canada I speak to a lot, talk about Trump Derangement Syndrome! She is not even a US citizen and gets very animated - I'm always laughing and asking "Why?"

The Muslim friend is a Trump fan? That would be odd.

As I have often said, some of the Trump drama is basically the same psychology as in ghost stories and horror movies: people scaring themselves and each other while knowing that they're actually perfectly safe. Plus just that general desire to think the other guys are monsters.

Yes, he is certainly an anomaly. I told him he should set up a website called "Muslims for Trump" or something. :)

Well, Trump is an anomaly, so it fits.



Being a citizen of Switzerland would of course be preferable. I saw a travel show a few years ago and I think the guy was in Bern. I was very wowed that anyone could live in a place so wonderful. Why is it that the USA is the best country in the world?

Define “best” and you’ll have your answer.

I just did a search for ‘Muslims for Trump’ and it turned up a Facebook page with that name. So your buddy is not totally alone.

I can remember years ago Mac, before I came to America, asking why exactly the US could not have a National Health Service Like the UK. You answered, Because Americans are too crazy. It was a sensible answer which I have not forgotten

Sad but true. I had a somewhat lengthy post here about that written way back in 2009 when Obamacare was being debated, in which I made that and other points. I ran across it a few months ago and thought it was still quite accurate. Unfortunately. Our system is so messed up that I think we’ll eventually have some kind of national system will probably come about, and it will be a mess.

Here it is:

The link at the end is no longer valid, I see, not surprising 11 years later.

Health Care in USA: I was reading somewhere that this could be a factor in the 2020 election bringing some around to the Democrats. The Trump administration continues to try and dismantle Obamacare (the ACA). If they are successful it could mean as many as 60 million Americans losing their health care. As far as we know the Trump administration does not have a plan to replace it.

Maybe. I never take stories like that at face value anymore.

Well you can't deny that the Democratic candidate will say that, and at least one part will be true, the Republicans do not have something to replace the ACA.


The problem with Medicare and Medicaid isn't that they don't work. When they do work they work well, and many people never have a problem with them. But when there's a breakdown it tends to be a nightmare to fix, largely because of all the rules and bureaucracy involved. I've been working in the medical insurance and finance biz for 25 years and I've seen it numerous times. Our system now is definitely broken in some ways, but a national Medicare/Medicaid type of thing will in no sense be an automatic fix, unless they manage to make it simple and user-friendly from both the patient and the provider p.o.v., as for the latter it affects cost-effectiveness.

I'm on Medicare now and have had no complaints, but I haven't really needed to use it for anything substantial, either. Also, it's not just Medicare--I have a supplemental or whatever the right term is plan with Blue Cross, which from my point of view means that I only deal with Blue Cross. The premium is just a token few dollars, so I'm puzzled as to how this works for BC.

The "broken" part of our system, the truly broken part, is not so much the complexity etc., but the fact that people can be financially ruined by medical costs, in some cases even if they have insurance. As they say, GoFundMe should not be a medical plan.

Part of the craziness is that we continue to refer to "insurance" when we don't want it to function that way. "Hello, State Farm? My house burned down last night. I'd like to insure it."

I had a conversation with a liberal "single-payer" proponent who insisted that in that scenario the government could bring the cost of prescription drugs down by negotiating as a monopoly with the drug companies. I didn't have the presence of mind to say "Like the Defense Department does with their contractors?"

I cringe whenever I hear someone refer to "Donald Trump's America." I fear such people live in cyberspace, large parts of which Donald Trump has made his own in the way that is too often effective in cyberspace: by being a troll. A great many people on the left seem to feel that their lives have been almost ruined, or in some cases not even "almost," by Trump's presence in the White House.

Yep, cyberspace is not a safe place to visit too often. I'd mention those on the right, as well, who believe all is lost and keep up a drumbeat for a civil war.

John Podhoretz wrote a column a week or so ago about quitting Twitter, which he did a while ago; here's how he ends the piece:

Nine months later, I still read Twitter — its utility as a news source is unparalleled — but I don’t participate in it at all. And yes, I miss it. I miss presenting my work to readers. I miss presenting my magazine’s work to readers. I miss getting off the one-liners that amuse me and seemed to amuse others.

If I could find a way to participate simply by tweeting out articles and gnomish would-be witticisms, I would. But I can’t see how I would be able to avoid sinking back into the mire.

There’s a reason Twitter has defined this decade’s communications. It’s the most interactive medium the world has ever known, and it’s great fun.

But Twitter has an oversoul now, and the oversoul is poisonous. It rewards bad rhetorical behavior, it privileges outrage of any sort over reason of all sorts, and it encourages us to misunderstand each other. It’s the devil on our shoulder.

Or, at least, it was the devil on mine.

Marianne, I love John Podhoretz. I think he is one of the wisest commentators out there. I myself use twitter just to publicize our Minding Scripture podcast and as a news source. I almost never say anything, and when I do its to an actual life person I know. My rule os no twitter between 9 am and 9 pm.

I have the same take on Podhoretz, Grumpy. Miss his Twitter account -- it was one of the best out there, but I can understand why he quit.

I decided early on, after a bit of time on Facebook, that the last thing I needed was another cyber-distraction, so I never started with Twitter.

I'm willing to concede that Twitter is not intrinsically evil.:-) But it certainly seems to be a moral hazard. I haven't in the past been especially impressed by Podhoretz but that last bit in this column is absolutely correct.

It's really not different in kind from commenting on web sites (big or small) or Facebook. Those also lend themselves to abominable behavior. But for whatever reason Twitter seems to foster it to a far greater degree.

I'll tell you another time about a crazy exchange I had on a right-wing blog.

I have practically dropped out of facebook. Im working on cuttin back my screen time.

Me too. It’s a necessity.

Well, I would of course like to hear about your crazy exchange, Mac! I can only limit myself to discussions with people I already know/have contact with. The general public just seems to be insane when it comes to making remarks on the internet. Why is it so different from speaking to someone in person? I really don't think I ever type anything that I would not speak to someone face-to-face. To me that is the barometer of appropriate conduct.

It is, but it's amazing how often people fail to heed it. Sites that are somewhat off the beaten track for the general public, like The American Conservative, can be bad. But the ones that are frequented by the masses are often just hellholes. Here, from memory, is a "meme" I saw on Facebook:

Me, normally: Most people are basically decent.

Me, after reading the comments: This world must be cleansed by fire.

The crazy exchange in a nutshell...well, it wasn't really that crazy, but: I made a mildly critical remark about Trump and people freaked out. I guess the crazy part was how little some of what they said had to do with what I had said.

If you read any comments from things David French or Jonah Goldberg write on National Review you see all of that vitriol. These two: French and Goldberg, would prefer Trump in the WH instead of a Democrat, but the crazy people will not allow any criticism at all. It is the other side of what you are always saying, those that wanted him out from Day 1 and would not give him a chance (the group I am in!).

I don't think French and Goldberg are even on the staff there anymore. Well, I guess officially they are--still listed on the masthead page anyway (I just looked). But I haven't seen anything by French there in a long time, and only Goldberg's syndicated column.

I don't generally read the comments there. For the most part they just aren't that interesting, regardless of viewpoint or level of vitriol. But yeah, that "other side" is exactly what I ran into--and would run into more often if I commented more on right-wing sites.

French and Goldberg are now part of a new thing, The Dispatch. Here's what it says on its "About" page: "The Dispatch is a digital media company providing engaged citizens with fact-based reporting and commentary on politics, policy and culture—informed by conservative principles. It is a community for thoughtful discussion and a forum for civil disagreement."

I knew about The Dispatch, that's why I thought they were not with NR anymore. I have not yet even bothered to look at it. Likewise with The Bulwark, another new venture by and for anti-Trump conservatives.

So now I have and am a little puzzled by The Dispatch. You're invited to join with an email address, but there's a "let me read it first" link, which goes to a months-old piece by French. Does that mean it's languishing?

Oh wait, spoke too soon. From that piece you can go to the Archive and see everything (or a lot anyway). The "Note From Steve Hayes" in the most recent post tells what they're doing:

Seems pretty good, but...I sort of have the feeling that the influence of that kind of conservatism, more or less neo-conservatism, is waning,

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