If I needed a safe space, I would nominate California. Against most odds this seedbed of censorious liberalism has thrown up the antibodies to the lurgy it created. Here within a short space of each other are a group of leftists and conservatives, religious and non-religious, all of whom are united in deploring the ‘You can’t say that’ culture which has torn across America and the West in recent years. The state may still have the shoutiest students. But it now also has the best first-responders.
On Monday morning in Los Angeles I go to be interviewed by Dennis Prager, a devout, Republican talk-show host. From there I go to the studios of Joe Rogan, a libertarian comedian and martial arts expert. They could not be more different, but both conversations are equally blissfully free, funny and enjoyable. The one with Joe Rogan runs for two hours and is watched by a million people on YouTube alone. After LA I head to San Francisco to speak with some tech types. Silicon Valley used to be fairly ideologically homogenous. Most of the people in tech were social justice warriors or socialists. The bravest might admit to being libertarian in private, or having once tried conservatism in college. But now, like any over-powerful and expanding institution, the Valley is producing its first wave of dissidents: people who are worried at the power and overreach of the bubble they are in and do not think the Valley’s job should be to get us all in line.
Washington DC, by contrast, seems even more morgue-ish than usual. I listen, semi-detached, to the hopes and woes of friends and foes. The Brexit/Trump connection is overegged, but one thing they do have in common is that both continue to produce white-hot rage long after one might have hoped things might settle. I watch Vice President Mike Pence deliver a perfectly decent address, worship somewhat before the UN ambassador Nikki Haley, and then hit the museums. I had hoped to visit the stunning new National Museum of African American History and Culture but the demand for tickets is so great that it is impossible. Instead I revisit the National Gallery to look at its Rembrandts. Later, in front of a Turner, a young black art history student strikes up conversation and explains a technical feat in the painting to me. His enthusiasm, knowledge, youth and at-homeness in the museum made me feel immediately more positive about everything. Everywhere in modern America, people of his generation are told they have to appreciate and enjoy things only in new, grudge-laden, tightly policed and essentially racist cultural lanes. To adopt the vernacular: screw ’em.
I do the overnight from Washington in order to be back for Jewish Book Week. Some months ago the organisers asked who I would like to interview me. I suggested Fraser Nelson or one of my other delightful Spectator colleagues. They give me Rod Liddle. Dozing on the plane, after a foul BA dinner and a beaker of Scotch, my mind throws up a highly specific nightmare. Before an impeccably liberal London Jewish audience, Rod eyes me manically and — rubbing his hands — begins with ‘So, Douglas, what are we going to do about the bloody immigrants?’ The hall goes into uproar. Sweating profusely, I appeal for calm. The event is cancelled. Of course, on the night nothing of the sort happens. Though he would hate me to say so, Rod is the finest interviewer imaginable. He pushes back at times, tests, disputes — and lets me speak. The packed hall at Kings Place is appreciative, as is an overflow room where people have paid to watch a live relay on the big screen.
Next Wednesday (21 March) at 10.30 there will be a memorial service for Sean O’Callaghan, who died last summer. Before Christmas a group of us scattered his ashes in County Kerry, so this will be an opportunity for his wider circle of friends, colleagues and admirers to pay tribute. Among much else, Sean was one of the bravest people imaginable. For many years he worked as an informer at the top of the Provisional IRA, feeding information back to the Garda. Through these means he saved countless lives on these islands. The UK and Ireland owe him a huge and slightly unrecognised debt. I hope anyone who can join us will come to St Martin-in-the-Fields and show that even if we can never repay Sean, we can honour him.
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