EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.
Dear Reader (Including those of you foolishly expecting me to come back from vacation with a whole slew of fresh “Dear Reader” gags),
A lot has happened since my last “news”letter, and not too much of it has been good. I learned that the federal government is pumping mice full of nicotine and then making them walk on hot plates. (“They never even asked me any questions,” one mouse said as he was returned to his cell.) Not far from where I live, the CIA borrowed a local school bus to practice bomb-detection procedures. The only problem: they left some of the explosive material in the engine compartment when they returned the bus. Keanu Reeves movie to follow. Meanwhile, speaking of the CIA, CIA-backed Syrian rebels are fighting Pentagon-backed Syrian rebels.
My Police State, My Teacher
And that reminds me: President Obama went to Cuba, where the government really is in charge of everything.
While there, Obama said:
President Castro, I think, has pointed out that in his view making sure that everybody is getting a decent education or health care, has basic security and old age, that those things are human rights as well. I personally would not disagree with him. But it doesn’t detract from some of these other concerns. And the goal of the human rights dialogue is not for the United States to dictate to Cuba how they should govern themselves, but to make sure that we are having a frank and candid conversation around this issue. And hopefully that we can learn from each other.
I was opposed to Obama’s overture to Cuba, but not because I’m against lifting the boycotts. I was against it because Obama’s goal was to simply lift the embargo, not use the carrot of lifting it as a way to get something worthwhile. If your goal is to give an adversary your biggest bargaining chip, odds are you’re not going to drive a very hard bargain. Obama wanted to check-off an item on his legacy bucket list and get some photo-ops, not help Cuba or advance American national interests. That’s what he did.
And that brings me to the above quote from Obama. It is, quite simply, disgusting. America may well have things to learn from Cuba — about culture, music, literature etc. I really have no idea what we can learn from Cuba, but I dislike the idea of saying we have nothing to learn from any culture.
But you know what I dislike even more? The suggestion that we have anything — anything at all — to learn from the evil authoritarian political system of the Castros. Obama’s moral equivalence is immoral, ignorant, and insulting.
The only thing we have to learn from Castroism is what not to do. Castro’s Cuba is like the guy who says, “Hold my beer while I take that nursing grizzly bear cub from its mother. She won’t mind. Animals love me.” It’s like the dude who sees a motorcycle parked outside a Hell’s Angels clubhouse and says, “I’m going to take a selfie on that cool Harley. The owner won’t mind.” Cuba is the country that was brought to you buy the makers of Bad Idea Jeans.
“But, but, but . . . free health care! Universal education!” the useful idiots and bootlicks say.
If Cuba is so awesome, why are so many Cubans still risking death and prison trying to escape it?
We could spend all day debunking this nonsense. For example: Here’s what Cuba’s glorious medical system actually looks like; a de facto apartheid system where the Communist apparatchiks (mostly light-skinned) do relatively okay and the (mostly darker-skinned) masses suffer. But all you really have to do is ask yourself: If Cuba is so awesome, why are so many Cubans still risking death and prison trying to escape it?
The enduring appeal of Castroism (and Maoism, Stalinism, and so many other isms) is a perfect example of how Marxism, for all its theoretical falderal and philosophical jiggery-pokery, is nothing more than a polysyllabic rationalization for indulging our instinctual desire to have our lives run by an alpha-ape. All of these systems boil down to letting the government run everything or almost everything — because that way “we’re all in it together.” The only problem is, it doesn’t work. But since that’s a big part of the book I’m supposed to be working on, let’s move on to Donald Trump.
A Unified Fields Theory
Until Trump changed the subject to punishing women for having abortions, the Trump obsession of the week was Michelle Fields.
I’m glad that story is largely gone. I don’t think it was good for Fields or for the forces opposed to Trump. And it distracted from more important stories, like Trump’s willingness to nuke Europe.
Without rehashing the whole thing again with reference to frame-by-frame analysis best left for the Zapruder film, let me just say I think all of the important and relevant facts are on Fields’s side. There’s audio of her describing what happened immediately after the Corey Lewandowski incident. There are the bruises captured on film. There’s video and there are eye-witness accounts, all of which corroborate the basic story Fields has been telling.
To listen to Trump’s and Lewandowski’s defenders, this is all a big lie, the upshot being that Fields invented the whole story in a deviously clever gambit to trade her job at Breitbart and her regular gig on Eric Bolling’s show for something so much better. Indeed, I think her plan went something like this:
Step 1: Ask Donald Trump about affirmative action while he’s walking out of a press conference.
Step 2: Walk in just such a way as to dupe Corey Lewandowski into putting his hands on me.
Step 3: Pretend that he grabbed me too hard, convincing eyewitnesses on scene that something bad happened.
Step 4: Bruise my own arm and take a picture of it.
Step 5: Ask for an apology from the Trump campaign, which is like asking Trump to create a boulder too heavy for him to lift.
Step 6: Wait for my own news organization to throw me under the bus, then quit job.
Step 7: Wait for the checks to roll in!
Still, what happened to Fields was not Kristallnacht and Lewandowski should not, in my opinion, stand trial or be sent to even five minutes of jail. I think he’s a boorish lout and he behaved stupidly. If Lewandoswki had common sense or decency, he would have apologized for overreacting and thrown Fields an interview with Trump to make amends. The whole thing would have been over without any of us having heard a word about it.
Second Thoughts on Trump
But observing common courtesy and civility is not what Team Trump does. And that’s the real issue here. Donald Trump and his campaign take great pride in overturning the basic rules of politics and democratic discourse. For those who want to see “the establishment” — however defined — torn down, this bull-in-a-china-shop stuff is celebrated. Trump’s fans ascribe a brilliance to his actions that is wholly underserved. Breaking the rules in ways large and small is seen as self-justifying in every case.
Or almost every case. This week there have been some cracks in the façade. Trump’s attacks on Heidi Cruz unsettled even Ann Coulter. And his abortion remarks are still sending tremors through the granite foundations of Trump can-do-no-wrong-ism. Joe Scarborough and Breitbart’s John Nolte are talking about what a bad week he’s having and gravely warning Trump to get his act together.
As Jim Geraghty has been writing, the problem with such second thoughts is the assumption that something is amiss with Trump or his campaign. This is Trump. This is his campaign. The Trump we see before us is the same Trump. It’s a bit like when Barack Obama said that the Jeremiah Wright he saw denouncing America wasn’t the man he knew. That was nonsense. Obama knew exactly who Wright was, having attended his church for 20 years. It was only when Wright’s act moved to a larger national stage that all of a sudden he became inconvenient to Obama.
The analogy isn’t perfect, of course. But the basic point is the same. The Donald Trump of the last week is the exact same Donald Trump many of us saw a year ago or five years ago. He’s always been full of sh*t. He’s always been a total ignoramus when it comes to public policy, lacking the simple sense of patriotic duty to do his homework on the issues. He’s always been a nasty and boorish cad. He’s always pretended to be a conservative while working on liberal assumptions of what conservatives want to hear.His “punish the women” comments were of a piece with his refusal to condemn the Klan on CNN. It’s not that he wants to punish women who have abortions — I’d bet he’s paid more abortion bills than he will ever sign — it’s that he thinks that’s what pro-lifers want to hear. It’s not that he’s a Klansman or that the pillowcases at Mara Lago come with eyeholes cut out in advance. It’s that Trump thinks lots of his fans like the Klan and he wants to pander to them. I have heard first-hand stories from people who’ve worked with Trump about how he disparages women’s appearance routinely. That’s who he is. If you’re attacking him because he retweeted a bad picture of Heidi, that’s not you being principled, it’s you getting cold feet.
Indeed, I am sure that the same opportunism that has caused so many supposedly principled conservatives to hitch their wagons to Trump is now causing some of them to question their choices, not because Trump has changed but because the climate might be changing around them.
By all means, if Trump continues to unravel (a huge if), please abandon Trump. But don’t think for a moment that the rest of us will automatically take your word for it when you say this or that statement changed your mind about the man. He hasn’t changed, your calculations have.
The Gravitational Pull of Lies
But can I go back to Michelle Fields for a moment? I think that whole affair was really instructive.
Trump is a master of a kind of passive aggression — though it can often just seem like plain old aggression. When caught in a lie, Trump doesn’t merely stick to the lie, he enlarges it. Not only did Lewandowski do nothing wrong, he saved Trump from an assault! That pen could have been a bomb! A bomb!!! (Remember when he suggested a protester who charged the stage was with ISIS?)
By embracing and enlarging the lie, Trump gives his most ardent fans no escape. They must either fall in line with yet another comfortable story about how their leader is both supremely right and a victim of deceit or open themselves up to the possibility that this one instance of deception and boorishness isn’t unique but utterly representative, which it is.
I think many of us have known people like this. Inveterate liars and other kinds of sociopaths test the limits of polite society. They break the implicit bargain that says you can get away with lying only so long as everyone agrees not to notice. Obvious lies are insults, because they rest on the assumption that the person being lied to is either too stupid to recognize the lie or too weak to say anything about it. In this sense, Trump has been insulting his biggest supporters from day one.
We’ve all had dinner parties or family gatherings ruined by that oaf who refuses to bend to simple politeness. They force polite people to either swallow small — or large — insults for the sake of civility. “I didn’t want to make a huge deal about it because it would have just made things worse,” is a rationalization we’ve given voice to on the drive home.
Trump is doing this on a massive scale. Like all demagogues, he’s using his lies as a loyalty test for his followers. He’s exploiting his popularity and abusing the devotion of his fans to force them into going along with his fictions, until they are in so deep psychologically, they have no choice but to carry on. It’s an ancient psychological tactic of authoritarians, Mafia dons, and the like: Force your followers into sharing the blame for your misdeeds so that they can’t break ranks. For instance, when Trump was caught saying something typically ignorant about abortion, he told Eric Bolling that MSNBC cut out the nuance of what he really said.
“You really ought to hear the whole thing,” Trump told guest host Eric Bolling. “This is a long convoluted question. This was a long discussion, and they just cut it out. And, frankly, it was extremely — it was really convoluted.”
Of course, Trump knows that MSNBC ran the clip in its entirety, and Bolling probably does, too. But I am sure that if I went on Twitter and said, “Trump lied about his comments being edited,” within minutes I’d hear from people saying “No, MSNBC edited him!” or “Of course you RINOs would believe MSNBC!” I’ll also be interested to see if Bolling says anything about the fact that Donald Trump blatantly lied to him.
But I won’t hold my breath.
Various & Sundry
I had a great time on vacation with the family. But my daughter and I brought back a horrible bug in the process. I’m only now recovering, so my apologies if I seem off my game today. (You really should have read the whole thing, not the version edited by MSNBC.)
Oh, a small thing. While I was in Newport Beach, I visited a terrific little cigar shop, CDM Cigars (338 Poinsettia Ave, Corona Del Mar, CA 92625). They’re trying hard to get their small business up and running and I promised to tweet out a kind word. But I completely forgot on vacation, so I thought I’d give them a plug here.
Canine Update: The beasts did not like us being gone for so long, but they handled it well. This week we had some excitement. On an evening walk around my neighborhood, we were strolling past a house under construction. I have to walk Zoë on a leash around on the street because she can’t be trusted not to give over to her dingo-ness. But Pippa can be off-leash. Anyway, Zoë saw a squirrel sitting on a low chain-link fence and started to stalk it in that belly to the ground crawl that predators do. I wasn’t concerned about her catching it because the squirrel could just leap to the other side of the fence and Zoë was on a leash. What I hadn’t counted on was the fact that Zoë and Pippa have been working on their tactical teamwork. As expected, Zoë leapt at the squirrel and the four-legged tennis ball went over the fence. What the critter hadn’t been counting on? A flanking maneuver by the spaniel. Suddenly, like the poster from Jaws, I saw the under-snout of a Springer Spaniel popping up from behind the three-foot high fence with a squirrel leaping vertically into the air, it’s tail just inches from the beast’s maw. And Zoë was right there to catch the vermin on the descent. She caught the squirrel, which let loose a terrible sound, like Arianna Grande caught in a bear trap. I yelled something super manly like “Dear God NO!” and the squirrel took advantage of Zoë’s surprise and bolted up a tree. Zoë sat down at the bottom of the tree, furious about the one that got away. When we got home she sat in the middle of the kitchen and pouted for an hour, refusing to look at me.