All is Vanity, 2024 Edition

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Our Amazon Product du Jour is a poster version of C. Allan Gilbert's clever 1895 illustration "All is Vanity". If you don't get it (I didn't, not right away), keep looking. Or click the link. Gilbert did other stuff as well, but that's his claim to fame.

Its inclusion here was inspired by Lance Morrow's op-ed in the WSJ, especially appropriate today: Biden, Trump and American Vanity.

The election of 2024 is a train wreck. But is it an accident?

Isn’t it true that America’s presidents reflect the society that sends them to the White House—its tone and style, its character, some intangible national self? Think of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge as representatives of the 1920s. Think of Dwight Eisenhower, icon of America in the 1950s. Or of Ronald Reagan as the incarnation of the 1980s.

Now, a generation or two down the line, the 2020s have given us Donald Trump and Joe Biden. No one much likes the choice. Both men, almost everyone agrees, are selfish, tiresome old cartoons. Does that mean that America itself has turned into a selfish, tiresome old cartoon?

You could argue the opposite—that these things are a matter of random selection, as in quantum mechanics, too complex and contingent to support a theory of karma and comeuppance. Would some oracle, gifted at reading the fate of nations, have predicted that America would wind up with a dilemma like this in 2024? Maybe the gods are as surprised as the rest of us at the country’s bad luck.

Some say a country gets what it deserves. Others claim it gets what it doesn’t deserve. Did the Russian people deserve Stalin in the 20th century? Do they deserve Putin in the 21st? Do Russians have a mystic, Slavic need for an autocrat/czar? What of Hitler and the German people? Was he the fulfillment of their dark, chthonic longings? Or did he preside over the Reich for 12 long years despite the civilized inclinations of his people?

That's a gifted link, so check it out. And then reflect on one of H. L. Mencken's quotes on democracy, politics. and government:

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

So we'll see how that works out. He wrote that over 100 years ago, and we've somehow survived, so I suppose there's reason to hope we'll dodge 2024's bullets.

Our weekly look at the oddsmakers' opinions of the field:

Candidate EBO Win
Donald Trump 51.1% +1.1%
Joe Biden 31.4% -0.5%
Michelle Obama 4.9% -1.4%
Gavin Newsom 2.7% -0.7%
Other 9.9% +1.5%

As last week, our big gainer is the mysterious "Other". A long shot, but still considered to have better odds than anyone except Bone Spurs and Dotard.

Also of note:

  • "E" for Effort. Noah Rothman sounds like he doesn't want to write about a certain candidate anymore: Nikki Haley Has Run a Courageous Campaign.

    Say what you will about Nikki Haley’s ill-starred bid for the Republican presidential primary, but no one can honestly claim she did not spend the interim between New Hampshire’s election and Saturday’s South Carolina contest running as hard as she possibly could against Donald Trump.

    "Say what you will"… but don't say that.

    But since New Hampshire, Haley has taken a different course — burning her ships in the process. “I don’t care about a political future,” Haley told a crowd of supporters yesterday. “If I did, I would have been out by now.” We have no reason to believe she doesn’t mean it. Haley spent the better part of the last month savaging Trump from every angle in ways no one who privileges her future in a Trump-dominated Republican Party would.

    Haley took maximum advantage of Trump’s implication-laden attack on her husband’s absence from the campaign trail (he is deployed to Africa with the South Carolina National Guard) to criticize Trump’s record expressing his mistrust of the men and women who dedicate themselves to national service. “If you don’t know the value of our men and women in uniform, if you don’t know the sacrifice that they go through, why should I — as a military spouse and all our military families — trust you to know that you’re going to keep them out of harm’s way?” she asked pointedly.

    Rothman has more, and that's my last "gifted" NR link for this month, so I encourage you to check it out.

  • But for a less charitable take… we'll go to Townhall and Matt Vespa: Nikki Haley Couldn't Break 40 Percent in Her Home State...And She Went Wild.

    Nikki Haley isn’t going anywhere, which was expected, but what’s the point? I feel like her entire speech tonight could be summarized in a meme, specifically of sports journalist Stephen A. Smith, with the caption: Just smile politely, y’all. We’re witnessing mental illness. There is no path for Wreck-It Nikki, so she’s remaining in the race to help Democrats and ruin any chances of being part of the Republican Party’s future.

    "Mental illness."

    Stay classy, Matt. Don't for a minute entertain the idea that she's speaking uncomfortable (and in today's GOP, unpopular) truths.

  • But at least he's making Rashida Tlaib happy. Michael Goodwin in the NYPost pulls no punches: Biden’s betrayal at the forefront as he demands ceasefire in Gaza to stoke his re-election campaign.

    Just days ago, I wrote that Joe Biden was “inching toward a full betrayal of Israel.”

    Forget the inching.

    He’s now sprinting toward the final act.

    And he’s doing it at the United Nations, a forum that has been openly promoting antisemitism for decades.

    Biden’s latest salvo against the Jewish state is a new plan to have the UN Security Council support his demand for a cease-fire in Gaza.

    I'm in agreement with JPod's take too:

  • But muh democracy! Dan McLaughlin looks at the latest upcoming crisis: Democrats May Refuse to Certify Trump Election If He Wins. Supreme Court Could Prevent It.

    If Donald Trump wins the election, Democrats in Congress won’t commit to certifying the election. That’s not just speculation from conservatives eyeing the extremely long track record of leading Democrats rejecting the legitimacy of Republican victories. It’s the theme of Russell Berman in the Atlantic, and he’s talked to enough House Democrats to paint a truly alarming picture of what might happen to prevent the winner of the 2024 presidential election from becoming president. That’s never happened in all of our history. As Berman notes:

    As Republicans are fond of pointing out, Democrats have objected to the certification of each GOP presidential winner since 2000. None of those challenges went anywhere, and they were all premised on disputing the outcome or legitimacy of the election itself. Contesting a presidential election by claiming that the winner is ineligible, however, has no precedent.

    This is no idle threat. Berman talks to former House majority whip and outgoing assistant Democratic leader James Clyburn, who voted against certifying George W. Bush’s victory in 2004; Senate candidate Adam Schiff, who abstained rather than vote to certify Bush that same year; Zoe Lofgren, who did the same; Jamie Raskin, who objected to certifying Trump’s victory in 2016; and Eric Swalwell. None of them would commit to certify electors for Trump, even if it was clear that Trump won. He could not get a response from House Minority Leader Hakeem Jefferies, who repeatedly claimed after 2016 that Trump was not a “legitimate president.” As Berman notes, every House Democrat voted for the 2021 articles of impeachment of Trump for “incitement of insurrection,” and many of them still contend that he is an insurrectionist ineligible for the presidency.

    Voters could ask Democrat candidates for Congress whether they'll commit to certifying election results.

    But they probably won't.

    Power Line piles on Democrat Denialists, with a few more excerpts of the paywalled Atlantic article. And:

    The Democrats have become so insane on the subject of Donald Trump that it is hard to know which of their mutterings to take seriously. But if Trump wins the election and a Democrat-controlled House refuses to certify his election on the ground that he is an “insurrectionist” under the 14th Amendment, we will be past the point of a constitutional crisis. If that happens, the only realistic path forward will be disunion, possibly accompanied by civil war, but preferably not.

    Indeed, preferably not. For one thing, it would really ding my retirement nest egg.

Recently on the book blog:

The Curse of Pietro Houdini

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The latest novel from Derek B. Miller. It's totally unlike his other books, except for its general excellence.

It is mostly set during World War II in Italy, and follows the odyssey of a young Italian orphan whose parents were killed in an American bombing run in Rome. The orphan flees to the town of Cassino, gets choked and left for dead in a gutter, rescued from that gutter by Pietro Houdini ("not his real name") and enlisted in Pietro's outrageous scheme to save priceless Renaissance paintings from Nazi looters. Those paintings are up in Montecassino Abbey, home to Benedictine monks, a storehouse of centuries of art.

You can see the paintings that Pietro wants to save here.

Pietro warns that it's going to be dangerous. In fact, it involves a great deal of violence, lies, accidents, and the general horror of war. Pietro accumulates a number of accomplices along the way in addition to the orphan, including a mule named "Ferrari", and … sorry, they don't all make it to the end of the book.

The book is a mixed bag of fiction and fact. The town of Cassino and Montecassino Abbey are real, and the wartime events Miller describes actually happened. Specifically, the Allies bombed the abbey into ruins in February 1944, killing zero Germans, and a couple hundred Italian civilians seeking refuge there.

When I started the book, I worried that it was going to be too "arty" for me. There's a lot of narrative trickery involved, and some garish descriptions. I should not have been concerned; Miller knows what he's doing.

No spoilers, but page 338 in the hardcover is magical.