Politics & Media
Jun 06, 2024, 06:29AM

I Shall Fear No Evil

A longtime commentator joins the “extreme” online community. What year is it (#497)?

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Peggy Noonan has flipped her wig, which is a drag since she’s offered calm commentary—with occasional haywire flights to a happy-pill land—for so many years. She’s also one of the warmest and low-key witty pundits/former speechwriters I’ve ever met. But now she’s, I hope temporarily, become one of those “extremely” online goofballs, writing in internet language and sprinkling the word “we” in her columns as if she’s nostalgic for the 1980s version of USA Today. I wonder if this would’ve happened to the late Bob Novak, the conservative reporter/TV personality who was always funny. We were at an evening NYC political event in the summer of 2000, chatting during an endless pitch from a candidate, and I asked what he made of the presidential election. He said, “I’d vote for a rabid dog over Al Gore,” and then laughed so hard he almost spilled his cocktail.

The conclusion to Noonan’s most recent Wall Street Journal column, headlined “We Are Starting to Enjoy Hatred” is a combination of Outer Limits weirdness and a schoolmarm’s lament: “We have to ease up, we have to slow down our desire to look down, we have to be a little more generous, we have to stop enjoying our hate so much. And we’ll have to come up with thoughts that are better than that, because we can’t go on indefinitely like this.”

Sweet swaddled baby in a manger! Left unanswered in Noonan’s lament is what will happen if, contrary to her advice, Americans don’t “ease up” or “slow down.” At least she’s not as hysterical as idiotic social media posters (who with no filter, write obscenity-laced sentences that they’d never say in person), saying, “People prattle about a coming civil war. But what are they talking about? Neither side is going to raise an army and fight in the streets…”

I’d guess that a Jill Stein-size minority of people does “enjoy hatred,” but hasn’t that always been the case? A thousand rotten apples don’t amount to much. This I don’t get: “[W]hat I’m seeing is that we don’t mind disliking each other now. We like it. That’s the new thing [unfortunate use of irksome cliché; everything is a “a thing”], that we’re enjoying the estrangement.” Noonan’s notion is rooted in the Biden vs. Trump campaign, and the political “polarization” that real or not, has taken media center stage since around 2010, and intensified with Trump. As I mentioned above, I like Peggy, but why is she speaking for the country, saying “we” get a kick out of disliking each other? That’s nervy and presumptuous, even if unintentionally so.

Not all of American culture—and the interactions between people—is about politics. Maybe I’ve gone, quite rightly, all mellow-yellow in my dotage, but I’ve noticed that those I see on a daily basis are friendly and courteous. I was in a CVS the other day, picking up a prescription, and when the pharmacist’s assistant didn’t ask my name, I reminded her. “We know each other, Russell, I don’t need a tutorial!” I replied, smiling, “Man, you’re good,” and she split a gut, making, if not my day, at least the next couple of hours.

As for politics, I agree with Noonan that a choice between two kooky very senior citizens isn’t optimal, and though I won’t debase myself by voting for either—even if Trump is probably less dangerous on the economy and foreign policy—most of my friends, either in person or in correspondence, are Democrats. Sometimes we mix it up in a “spirited conversation,” get a few jabs in and move on to other topics. One of my college friends, a MAGA guy, sends me texts with conspiratorial links, and we parry about, and then he asks about what Baltimore’s like today, and wants to know if I have any updates on mutual pals from the old days. There’s no lingering animosity.

I do “dislike” certain parts of modern life, but I don’t “enjoy” it. For example, almost every day I get pissed off about needless construction in Baltimore, and, a perennial, hate it when the Yankees are on a tear, or get frustrated by doing banking business with a simulated person, but these are irritants, and it’d be very, very strange for a person to go through life and never lose his or her temper.

The picture above is of Smith family dog Scuttle, who did enjoy hating the mailman (unwarranted, since John was a great guy) and the terrier next door, but was a loyal pooch who went nuts when I came home from school each day.

Take a look at the clues to figure out the year: Woody Allen and Joey Heatherton appear on the first episode of Hullabaloo; Alan Price leaves The Animals; The Super Girls’ “Back in My Arms Again” is their fifth consecutive #1 hit; Arlo Guthrie is arrested in Massachusetts; Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas is released; Dorothy Kilgallen dies under mysterious circumstances; Jean-Luc Godard films and releases Alphaville and Pierrot Le Fou; Jennifer Jackson is Playboy’s first black “Playmate”; U.S. troops are sent to the Dominican Republic; Thunderball is released; Sandy Koufax pitches a perfect game against the Cubs; the Gateway Arch is completed in St. Louis; Diane Lane is born and Clara Bow dies; Norman Mailer’s An American Dream and Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater are published; and the word “fuck” is spoken for the first time on British TV, by Kenneth Tynan.

—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023


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