Following the show of incompetence at the Democratic Iowa caucus, columns on competence proliferated. One stood out for its ineptness: “Make America Competent Again” by David French at the Dispatch.
Mr. French is an attorney and decorated Iraq War veteran, who was prominent among National Review’s “Against Trump” writers.
Back in June of 2016, when the anti-Trump cabal was engaged in a political blood sport as degrading as dwarf tossing—Mr. French came into focus as the object of neoconservative Bill Kristol’s fantasies.
To wit, never Trumpsters like Kristol imagined that from the ashes of the Republican primaries would rise a man to stand for president against the victor, Donald J. Trump. This Sisyphean task had been attempted and failed by 17 other worthies.
One of the political dwarfs tossed at Donald Trump by the aforementioned Mr. Kristol was Mr. French, who is vested in an aggressive, expansionist foreign policy, and is a tool of democratic internationalism.
The first sign of incompetence in “Make America Competent Again” is that the column is hopelessly littered with the Imperial “I”:
“I THOUGHT—after federal officials let Jeffrey Epstein kill himself in prison—that I COULD no longer be shocked by incompetence. Yet, HERE I AM, the day after the Iowa caucuses, shocked again. … If you follow MY WRITING at all, you know that I THINK that … As I TYPE this newsletter …” On and on.
This amounts to a big fat epistolary selfie.
Entitled “The French Press,” French’s blog would be better called “I, David.” The reference is to I, Claudius (1934), an historical novel about the Roman Emperor Claudius. Written “in the form of an autobiography,” I, Claudius was turned into an award-winning television series.” (Which this writer watched as a child growing up in … Israel. That’s what once passed for kiddie entertainment!)
In any event, the use of the first-person pronoun in opinion writing is a cardinal sin. To get a sense of just how bad someone’s writing is, count the number of times he defers to himself solipsistically on the page. The late, sphinxly Charles Krauthammer, who wrote a tight column, considered a single “I” in a piece to be a failure.
The Imperial “I” is fine when you’re a Roman emperor, or when the writer has earned the right to rhetorical self-absorption, due to his relevance to the story. That excuse does not obtain in the case of the French puffery.
The promiscuous use of the first-person should be considered as bad as the ghastly catchphrase, “I feel like,” which prefaces every sentence spoken by a millennial.
Mr. French is doubly diminished when he declares:
“If you follow MY WRITING at all, you know that I THINK that policy is far less consequential to American life than culture.”
Oh, the sins we commit when we omit. Naturally enough, strong, competent writers credit those who inspire them; they don’t crib from them.
Mr. French, on the other hand, appears to take a bow for a philosophical bent that belongs to classical conservatism: “The culture is upstream from politics.” Or, as Russell Kirk, the father of American conservatism, put it, “At heart, all political problems are moral and religious problems.”
Relinquish the ego. Quit letting your reptilian brain lead you, and allow, in a sentence or two, that the stuff “I THINK” in “MY WRITING,” to parrot Mr. French, belongs to a proud conservative tradition.
That tradition might need revision. For the world, political and cultural, has changed, metaphysically.
Although a man of the left, Canadian columnist Rick Salutin had, without doubt, advanced astute observations about the relationship between culture and politics. Because they comport with the metaphysical changes alluded to, Salutin’s observations are the better ones.
Back in 1998, Salutin offered up a prescient, if distressing, view of politics as culture, following “the capitulation of most sources of opposition to the neoconservative … agenda.”
Wrote Salutin: “In a culture of imagery and spectacle, politics has become mostly a show, entertainment.”
“[F]or the moment, politics in the democratic, electoral sense, is no longer about making choices [left or right] regarding social and economic direction.”
“What’s increasingly clear to voters is that they are not choosing the direction of their society—that has already been settled; they are voting for a cast of characters who will play the role of The Government on television and on [Capitol Hill] for the next [couple of] years.The scrip is set, but you get to decide who plays the parts on TV.”
If Deep State durability has proven anything, it is that not even a fire-breathing political dragon like our president can fumigate the snake pit that is the Permanent State.
Neoconservatives like David French and the attendant ideology they promote—foreign-policy bellicosity, endless immigration, mindless consumerism, racial shaming and “cancelling” of deviationists, conformity to an American identity that’s been melted away in vats of multiculturalism—these are in our country’s bone marrow, by now.
That’s politics qua culture