Does this graduation season bring any good news from the American campus—any deviation from higher ed’s slide into politically correct incivility and closed-mindedness? A few cheering, or at least not thoroughly disheartening, signs are visible. The president of Bethune-Cookman University, joined by the school’s faculty, took a stand against protesters’ rudeness last week, when the U.S. Secretary of Education tried to address the Class of 2017 amid booing, back-turning, and catcalls at the Florida school. President Edison O. Jackson told the disruptors: “If this behavior continues, your degrees will be mailed to you. Choose which way you want to go,” reports…
If Hillary Clinton were President, conservative scholars and journalists would know what to say about the current state of American politics, the Republican Party, and conservatism. With Trump, all is in flux. It might explain why awkwardness and a talking-past-each-other quality would be the impressions left by a panel discussion in Washington that the Claremont Institute sponsored last week.
The institute, located in California, not Washington, is nonetheless being spoken of as “the academic home of Trumpism.” (See this piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education and another in the New York Times.) Anyone expecting to get the inside scoop on “Conservatism in the Trump Era,” as the event was entitled, would have gone away unfulfilled. Trumpism is at this point as hard to pin down as its unpredictable namesake.
The warm weather hasn’t stopped the wind from blowing or the foliage from turning gold and red and orange. As the leaves fall, and the trick-or-treaters prepare to make their rounds, here in Baltimore it’s also “Pumpkin Papers” season. Recalling this fascinating chapter of the Cold War is as much a part of an anticommunist’s autumn as little kids dressed like ghosts or storefronts decorated with dried cornstalks and hay bales.
With the closing ceremonies over, we can breathe a sigh of relief about Rio. The worst snafus of the Olympics were the algae in the diving pools and vandalism by a mendacious American swimmer. As with the Sochi games, the press ran scary pre-competition reports of substandard conditions. In the event, the Russian and the Brazilian just-in-time habits of organizing an international spectacle turned out to be good enough to get by.
There was extra nervousness with Brazil, a country in the midst of economic and political turmoil that claimed the presidency of the recently impeached Dilma Rousseff. According to Moody’s, the credit rating agency, in the wake of the 2016 summer games, the city of Rio de Janeiro gained by its new infrastructure and transportation projects but Brazil will “wake up once again to its deepening recession.”
When Ted Cruz quit the presidential primary on Tuesday not long after the polls closed in Indiana, it was startling. Even Donald Trump, in his victory speech that night in New York, appeared startled to see himself the presumptive Republican nominee.
“Democrats seem to be bouncing back and forth between glee and panic,” wrote an analyst at fivethirtyeight.com. There are two main reasons for that.
“How does a lawyer sleep?”
“—First he lies on one side and then on the other.”
Ugh what an unfunny joke, you say. Well we non-lawyers have to vent our feelings about lawyers somehow.
Actually there’s at least one lawyer who conquers the layman’s cynicism about the profession. He isn’t an American or even a real person. He is Rumpole of the Bailey, the creation of the late British writer John Mortimer. A new audiobook edition of Rumpole is out, with the wonderful actor Tony Britton reading the stories in Mortimer’s 2001 collection, Rumpole Rests His Case.
The college students we keep hearing about aren’t in the new book by Andrew Burt, but they sure meet the definition of American Hysteria: The Untold Story of Mass Political Extremism in the United States. Burt, a journalist and lawyer who writes for Slate, El País, and other left-of-center publications, in fact may not want to study the hypersensitivities that are spreading from campus to campus, from coast to coast—like when that Yalie confronted one of the faculty with: “It is your job to create a place of comfort and home for the students who live in Silliman. . . . It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not!”
Over the last decade or so, the gay rights movement made a politically canny adjustment: It began featuring lesbian and gay families who wanted to enter the American mainstream, and the outré postmodernists were less heard from. By outré postmodernists I mean those whose views were unlikely to play well in Peoria.
Having written before in this space about venturesome Americans and their actions on the international stage, I am moved to return to the subject. Some new books—Karen Paget’s Patriotic Betrayal: The Inside Story of the CIA’s Secret Campaign to Enroll American Students in the Crusade Against Communism, Gregg Herken’s The Georgetown Set: Friends and Rivals in Cold War Washington, and Richard Norton Smith’s new biography of Nelson Rockefeller—yield insight into the “global meliorism” that has defined American policy for a long time and the American character for even longer. What they also do is offer a picture of the genesis of the national security establishment that we know today.