In 1965 Tom Wolfe visited Princeton University for a panel discussion of “the style of the Sixties.” The author of The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, published that year, was scheduled to appear alongside Günter Grass, Allen Ginsberg, and Paul Krassner. Grass spoke first. The German novelist’s remarks, Wolfe wrote later, “were grave and passionate. They were about the responsibility of the artist in a time of struggle and crisis.” And they were crudely dismissed by Krassner. “The next thing I knew,” Wolfe wrote, “the discussion was onto the subject of fascism in America.”
On May 15, 1939, philosopher John Dewey issued a statement to the press announcing the formation of the Committee for Cultural Freedom. Attached were the committee’s declaration of principles and the names of 96 signatories. The following day, at a meeting inside Columbia University’s Low Library, the committee adopted its official manifesto. “Never before in modern times,” the document began, “has the integrity of the writer, the artists, the scientist, and the scholar been threatened so seriously.”
I was anxious about Gina Haspel’s confirmation hearing. Here was a woman who has spent her life purposefully in the shadows, brought before a committee whose members bask in the spotlight. Here was a career intelligence officer, a keeper of secrets and agent of dissimulation, whose professional future depends, at least in part, on her ability to speak directly and persuasively in a public forum. And close to the entirety of her life remains classified, making her job all the more difficult.
Ever since April 30, when the New York Times published a list of topics that special counsel Robert Mueller would like to ask President Trump about, cable news and the political press have focused exclusively on the two major legal matters in which the president is entangled.
First, of course, is Mueller’s open-ended probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Second is the Southern District of New York’s investigation into Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s business dealings, including with Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels.
What on earth are the Democrats doing? President Trump has nominated CIA Director Mike Pompeo, eminently qualified by any reasonable standard, to be America’s seventieth secretary of State. And yet the Senate Democrats, led by Chuck Schumer, have perverted the advice and consent clause of the Constitution into a license to obstruct this solid nominee for one of the most important cabinet offices. The Democratic rationales for opposition are neither consistent nor compelling. But the party is heedlessly and recklessly trying to capsize the nomination anyway, without giving second thought to the potential consequences of its actions. If this doesn’t count as a symptom of Trump derangement syndrome, I don’t know what does.
Every so often I hear political reporters gripe that the news has become exhausting, that it is impossible to keep track of all the developments in the nation’s capital. And while my reflex is to scoff at the media line du jour, and to observe that journalists have never been so lucky, never had such an incredible and unusual and exciting story unfold before them as the rise and rule of Donald Trump, I confess that the past week has left me unable to catch my breath, too. The commentator in Donald Trump’s Washington resembles a tourist in a foreign city, unsure of which way to travel, confusedly searching for directions, standing at the corner, gazing at the scene, mouth agape.
Toward the end of Vanity Fair’s story on the “woke civil war” at the New York Times came this revealing detail: To assuage employees concerned that the paper is not as progressive and socially conscious as it could or should be, publisher A.G. Sulzberger, opinion editor James Bennet, and others have been “holding office hours” where internal critics speak freely.
In February, Chuck Schumer delivered a lecture at the McConnell Center of the University of Louisville. The center’s namesake, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, listened as Schumer described the Democratic strategy for the midterm elections. “You cannot just run against Donald Trump,” Schumer said. “It is the job of we Democrats to put together a strong cohesive economic group of proposals aimed at the middle class.”