William Howe was not a “total radical,” as Thomas Meaney quotes me as saying in his report from last summer’s National Conservatism Conference [“Trumpism After Trump,” Report, February]. He was a moderate Whig, and is not, despite Meaney’s recollection of my views, remotely comparable to Bill Ayers. Enoch Powell, for that matter, was no one’s idea of Sylvia Plath’s fascist Daddy. He was a classical scholar, a bisexual poet, the youngest brigadier in Britain’s army, and the last Victorian statesman in Parliament. For an “alt-right pamphleteer,” I sure get called “(((Moldberg)))” by white nationalists a lot, and as a “young man,” I must be the Adonis of the Brown class of ’92.
These and other careless errors are not just characteristic of Meaney’s endless essay. They are about all there is.
Holder of a PhD in history from Columbia, sent by America’s oldest magazine of ideas to its most interesting conference of ideas, Dr. Meaney brings no ideas of his own. Nor does he seem to care whether those he hears are true or false or good or bad. You might as well ask Hunter S. Thompson for Kentucky Derby tips.
The author wants to be Tom Wolfe. He can write like Tom Wolfe. But what distinguished Wolfe was his courage. He never punched down. He never mocked peasants or Trotskyist wreckers. He wrote about Leonard Bernstein—not the latest enemy of the people. For every Wolfe there are fifty Ilya Ehrenburgs.
Since 1850, Harper’s Magazine has brought us America’s best-crafted prose. I can’t complain about being ambushed so eloquently by so great an institution. But an elite needs substance, too. We don’t worry that you’re not sending your best—we worry that you are.
Thomas Meaney’s observations miss the point. The future of the American right will not be determined by a series of lectures and floor debates. One might instead look to Brexit, the Gilets Jaunes movement, the rise of Germany’s far-right AfD party, the enduring popularity of Italy’s Matteo Salvini (aka “Il Capitano”), and Putin’s forthcoming promotion to tsar.
Meaney writes that the National Conservatism Conference occurred because “someone had to stand up for Trumpism in the noble abstract.” But America does not exist in a vacuum. There are enough clear causes for concern without resorting to the abstract, much less to the theories of the intellectual fringe.
Theater of Cruelty
Jennifer Percy is correct to point to the harmful, racist narratives perpetuated by “stage Indians” [“The Skinning Tree,” Letter from Lusk, February], figures which evoke the long history of real violence against Native Americans. The reenactment Percy describes, of a mythical event in Wyoming, begins with the murder of a Native American by a settler who believes that “the only good Injun’s a dead Injun.” What I find most objectionable about the play is that it never seriously interrogates the hatred it depicts; it is spectacle for its own sake.
Percy refers to the burning of the Gaspee and the Boston Tea Party. She might just as well have noted bloodier historical incidents involving redface: the Mountain Meadows Massacre in Utah, for instance, in which Mormon militiamen dressed up as Paiutes and murdered more than a hundred men, women, and children in a wagon train that was on its way from Arkansas to California.
As Percy writes, “Indian dramas were a device for white Americans to work out anxieties about the genocide of Native Americans.” But to the extent that the Lusk play evinces any real anxiety, the participants don’t seem to notice. Apparently, they have come to believe they are offering a kind of public service. The lead actor says as much to Percy, telling her the play is “pretty much a history of this territory. Just a history.”
“ ‘My Gang Is Jesus’ ” [Letter from Rio de Janeiro, February] relied, for a paragraph describing prison life in Brazil, on first-person reporting from the book If I Give My Soul: Faith Behind Bars in Rio de Janeiro by Andrew Johnson. Due to an editorial oversight, the description failed to cite Johnson’s work. We regret the error.