A British visitor to this village might be disoriented by the flags. They look almost exactly like the Union Jack, but not quite. These banners omit the Cross of St Patrick, which was bundled into the flag of the United Kingdom only in 1801: this is the earlier version, carried north to Canada by the losers of the American revolution. My wife and I and our three children have been spending summers in Wellington since the late 1980s, when her parents bought a disused tomato farm with a vast view of Lake Ontario. Back then, this part of Ontario was bypassed by modern development. In the years since, however, winemakers, organic farmers, and rising young chefs have converged upon verdant, sunny Prince Edward County (not to be confused with Anne of Green Gables’ island a thousand miles to the east). For the first time since the 1780s, this little peninsula jutting into the inland ocean of North America has begun to attract newcomers, and soon our small colony of Washington DC Jews may rank not far behind the descendants of the veterans of Waterloo among the longer-settled residents of this bucolic place.
A quiet rural county in a peaceable dominion may seem a planet removed from the violence of the Middle East. But my wife and I wake up before six to read about the latest rocket attack upon Israel from Gaza. Our eldest daughter, Miranda, travelled to Tel Aviv in search of adventure early last year. She was recruited by a local modelling agency, and her face now decorates magazines and billboards. Her body, however, is frequently to be found in bomb shelters. When Hamas shoots at Israel, they’re now shooting at my kid. That makes this latest round of Middle Eastern war even more personal than usual. Miranda carries an American passport, and so — unlike most Israelis — can leave for safety at any time. She has repeatedly refused. This beautiful young woman who had never cared much about Jewish life has discovered under fire a new sense of belonging. One of the hardest things in raising a Jewish child is the question from young lips: ‘Could it ever happen again?’ Parents of course wish to promise that hatred and persecution and murder have faded into the past; that people have learned to live together. But we do not promise, because the promise would not be true. As rockets hurtle into Israel, gangs attack Jews in the streets of Europe — and eminent persons in media and politics condone what they do not outright justify. Again? Yes, again.
Britain, happily, has not suffered the street outbursts that have disgraced Paris, Antwerp, and other cities on the Continent. Some of the credit must be given to more sophisticated policing initiated by the Blair government and improved under David Cameron. Few British institutions have contributed more to the struggle against extremism than the think tank Policy Exchange. I’ve been a hanger-on around Policy Exchange for many years, until at last, for lack of any better idea, they invited me to join their trustees. For anyone used to the Apollo-programme-sized budgets of their US counterparts, it’s startling to see how much impact British policy institutions can have at a fraction of the cost. (‘In column 4, line 5, where it shows revenue of 86 — that’s £86,000, right?’ ‘No, it’s as it says: £86.’)
I’ve worked for 25 years as a journalist. I can’t begin to tally how many thousands of pages of books, articles, and columns I’ve written. Over the past year and a half, however, that output has dwindled, as I’ve shouldered with my sister’s husband the responsibility for a family business created by my late father. Where once I might have started the day by heading to a studio for a snappy round of punditry, today I spend those early hours responding to emails about burst pipes and refractory tenants. In May, I started as a senior editor at America’s greatest magazine, the Atlantic. I’m trying not to dwell on the sinister implications of that word ‘senior’. I’m enjoying the change. Besides, to be quite blunt, as a pundit, I may have worked myself out of a job. Over the past near-decade, the main theme of my journalism has been to urge US Republicans to resist the urge to veer to the ideological right. Now at last, after Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck and ‘makers versus takers’, there are promising signs of self-correction. The New York Times magazine in mid-July showcased the work of a dozen brainy self-described ‘reform conservatives’, who are painstakingly reworking party policy to recognise that not every American is or wants to be an enterpreneur. At the end of July, former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan released a carefully considered anti-poverty plan. I’m beginning to recognise my party again. Just please don’t impeach President Obama if you win the Senate in November, OK?