Josh Hawley has a book about manhood coming out next year. Nikki Haley has a book about womanhood coming out in two months.
Mike Pompeo has lost so much weight that he’s barely recognizable. Mike Pence has grown so much spine that he’s almost a vertebrate.
Don’t tell them Donald Trump is the Republican Party’s inevitable 2024 presidential nominee. If that’s foreordained, then a whole lot of literary, cardiovascular and orthopedic effort has gone to waste.
The news media is lousy of late with articles about the various Democrats potentially waiting in the wings if President Biden decides against a second term, to the point where he’s sometimes treated as more of a 2024 question mark than Trump is.
Maybe that’s right. In a straw poll of Republicans at the Conservative Political Action Conference last weekend, Trump was the top choice to run for president, winning 69 percent of the vote. Second place went to Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, with just 24 percent, and third went to Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, with a measly 2 percent.
But Trump is no spring chicken, and by the looks of things, he pays much less heed to his health than Biden does. A year from now he could be unfit for office in more ways than he already is.
He could be in handcuffs! OK, that’s probably just a happy fantasy. But maybe less of one since the F.B.I. raided Mar-a-Lago on Monday? He’s the subject of investigations civil and criminal, federal and state.
Or he could finally wear out his Republican welcome. “It is a sign of weakness, not strength, that Team Trump has been reduced to touting straw-poll results from events that most Americans, and indeed the vast majority of Republicans, know nothing about,” Isaac Schorr wrote in National Review early this week, adding that CPAC had in fact “been repurposed into an appeal to the former president’s vanity.”
The Republicans eager to take his place at the helm of the party know all that. And they don’t have to be quite as discreet and demure in their positioning as Democrats interested in standing in for Biden do. Trump’s not the incumbent president, at least not in the world beyond his and his supplicants’ delusions.
That positioning, once you recognize it, is a hoot. Everyone’s after a kind of branding that rivals won’t copy, a moment in the spotlight that competitors can’t match, an angle, an edge.
DeSantis’s action-figure approach to his role as governor of Florida is in part about the fact that Cruz, Hawley and others don’t have the executive authority that he does and can’t make things happen as unilaterally or as quickly. They’re would-be MAGA superheroes bereft of their red capes.
So a week ago, DeSantis didn’t merely suspend the top Tampa Bay area prosecutor, who said that he would never consider abortion a crime. DeSantis also peacocked to that part of the state and, surrounded by a flock of law enforcement officials, crowed about his decision during a news conference.
Cruz and Hawley were such hams during the confirmation hearings for Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson because, as members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, they had a stage that DeSantis, Pence, Pompeo and others didn’t. Might as well pig out on the opportunity.
Haley’s forthcoming book, “If You Want Something Done: Leadership Lessons From Bold Women,” is one that Cruz, Hawley, Pence and Pompeo would have an awkward time pulling off, and it beats voters over the head with the fact that she’s a trailblazer in ways that they can’t be.
But does she or any other Republican love the Lord with Pence’s ardor? That’s a question he obviously wants to put in voters’ minds with his memoir, “So Help Me God,” to be released about a month after “If You Want Something Done.”
Pompeo is doing a prep-for-the-presidency twofer. According to The New York Post, he shed 90 pounds in six months after his stint as Trump’s secretary of state was over. And he’s apparently putting the finishing touches on a memoir of his own, “Never Give an Inch: Fighting for the America I Love,” which Broadside Books is scheduled to publish in January.
Its crowded company includes not only Haley’s and Pence’s books but also one by Cruz, “Justice Corrupted: How the Left Weaponized Our Legal System,” which is due in late October, and, of course, Hawley’s testosterone treatise, “Manhood: The Masculine Virtues America Needs,” which has surely become a more risible sell in the wake of those images of him sprinting for the Capitol exit on Jan. 6, 2021.
Here, for your delectation, is a snippet of the promotional copy for Hawley’s book: “No republic has ever survived without men of character to defend what is just and true. Starting with the wisdom of the ancients, from the Greek and Roman philosophers to Jesus of Nazareth, and drawing on the lessons of American history, Hawley identifies the defining strengths of men, including responsibility, bravery, fidelity and leadership.” I have goose bumps.
Lest “Manhood” fail to persuade you of Hawley’s nonpareil virility, he summoned boundless courage last week to stand up to … Finland and Sweden. He was the only senator to vote against their admission to NATO.
David Von Drehle sized it up correctly in a column in The Washington Post: “In search of a position that would set him apart from his rivals among the Senate’s young conservatives, Hawley arrived at the cockeyed notion that adding two robust military powers with vibrant economies would somehow increase NATO’s burden on U.S. resources.”
Cockeyed? No! Cocksure — and undoubtedly weighing which fearsome and dastardly global actor he’ll unleash the full force of his manliness on next. The citizens of New Zealand tremble. The people of Andorra quiver.
For the Love of Songs
I’m making a slight change to the title and tilt of this feature and putting the focus on songs instead of lyrics, because you can’t have the latter without the former and I don’t know anyone who listens repeatedly to a song if only the lyrics are appealing. Besides, the most poetic, truest and funniest lyrics don’t hit their marks unless their aural trappings complement them.
The hundreds of unused nominations that you’ve sent in over time remain viable — you were always praising whole songs. And I’ll keep dipping into those nominations. I’m doing that today, with two very different but magnificent compositions that never lose their luster.
“Fast Car,” written and performed by Tracy Chapman, is close to perfect. Scratch that: It is perfect. Released in 1988, it’s one of those ambitious songs, like Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle,” that tells a decades-spanning story and captures a life’s arc in just a few minutes, its lyrics a feat of economy and deftly chosen anecdotes and imagery:
See, my old man’s got a problem
He lives with a bottle, that’s the way it is
He says his body’s too old for working
His body’s too young to look like his
It’s a song about a poor woman’s yearning and disillusionment, about how trapped she is, and the “fast car,” mentioned over and over, becomes both incantation and multipurpose metaphor, a means of escape, a vessel of delusion, a promise, a betrayal. The music works gorgeously with the words: During the verses it communicates the grind of her existence, but then it speeds up for the chorus, which captures the exhilaration of her dreams.
When I went looking online for live performances of the song, the one I found had, below it, this comment from someone identified as Avila Dauvin: “How can someone write a song that breaks your heart and lifts your soul at the same time? Absolute legend.” I can’t say it any better.
And I’m not surprised that “Fast Car” has been covered many times. Here’s a compendium of versions by Khalid, Birdy, Sam Smith and more. (Thanks to Carole Randolph Jurkash of Darien, Ill., and Deirdre Godfrey of Chicopee, Mass., for drawing my attention to “Fast Car” anew.)
The other song I want to celebrate isn’t as lyrically epic or eloquent, but it’s gorgeous, and it lifts my soul even higher than “Fast Car” does. Please tell me that you’re familiar with Van Morrison’s “Sweet Thing,” which was released in 1968 and became a classic over the years. Please tell me that you smile at its start, when it playfully canters, and that you’re mesmerized two minutes in, when it reaches full gallop. And please tell me that its description of love’s spell — of how love puts stars in your eyes and the wind at your back — rings true to you:
And I will walk and talk in gardens all wet with rain
And I will never, ever, ever, ever grow so old again
“Sweet Thing” is a sublimely sweet thing, salted in just the right measure by Morrison’s voice. (Keith Krabbe, Princeton, N.J.)
“For the Love of Songs” appears monthly(ish). To nominate a songwriter and song, please email me here, including your name and place of residence. “For the Love of Sentences” will return with the next newsletter; you can use the same link to suggest recent snippets of prose for it.
What I’m Reading
Many Latino voters’ movement away from Democrats and toward Republicans is a fascinating and important political story, and Axios recently put together a broad-ranging but succinct examination of the shift.
My belief that North Carolina is an instructive mirror of America, my attention to L.G.B.T.Q. issues and my worry about our ability to find common ground all fed my interest in this article by my Duke University colleague Barry Yeoman in The Assembly. It’s about a schism in the United Methodist Church, and it asks “how long the ‘United’ in their name will hold.” The question applies to the United States these days as well.
Another Duke colleague of mine, David Schanzer, recently began a newsletter, Perilous Times, which provides commentary about political and policy-related news, especially developments that underscore threats to our democracy. He weighed in this week on the meaning of the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban’s rapturous reception at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas.
I’m a bit late to “American Made: What Happens to People When Work Disappears,” by my Opinion colleague Farah Stockman, but I’m very glad I finally got there. Published last October, Farah’s book chronicles the closing of a factory in Indiana that made ball bearings, and it’s both epic and intimate, with big thoughts about America and poignant details about the three people at the center of her meticulously reported narrative.
On a Personal Note
If April is the cruelest month, August is the laziest. Businesses shutter. Beaches fill. From my observation, more people take weeklong or weekslong vacations around this time of year than any other, and if you’re one of them, and you’re away right now or will be heading off soon, I’m curious:
Is your destination where you really want to be? Or is it where you want to say and show you’ve been?
Did you choose it based on the tug of your heart? Or based on the tyranny of expectation?
These questions came to mind as I read an excellent recent column in The Times by my colleague and friend Ginia Bellafante, who reflected on the crush of tourists using the Brooklyn Bridge as a backdrop for selfies. She wondered, rightly, whether the look-at-it majesty of the landmark was being lost in the look-at-me mania for proof of having brushed up against it.
I in turn wonder how much joy we lose — with travel as with so many other dimensions of life — by striking certain poses, honing certain images and fussing over how the world receives us rather than simply relishing our movement through it.
The way so many people choose their vacation spots is a case in point. They collect places the way a Boy Scout or Girl Scout collects badges. Or they follow the crowd. They do what they think people like them are supposed to do — maybe because they lack the confidence to call their own shots, maybe because they lack the energy, maybe because they lack the imagination.
They go to the Brooklyn Bridge because aren’t they supposed to? Don’t they want a record of the encounter? That record used to be a traditional photograph or maybe a silly souvenir. Now it’s a selfie, which is often as much an advertisement — an act of personal branding — as it is a keepsake.
But there’s a difference between memorializing a vacation and enjoying it. I saw that less clearly in the past than I do now, and I do my flawed best to stay focused on it — to realize that my least ambitious, least photographed, most private breaks from work and escapes from routine are among my favorites. I’m not a big fan of precious portmanteaus, but I’m modestly fond of “staycation” — or, rather, the message of it: You needn’t necessarily set out for any coveted locale or impress anyone, including yourself, to lighten your load, free your thoughts, lift your spirit, find your bliss.
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