The Benefit of the Doubt Is Gone

by Jonah Goldberg
Invoking the Clintonian precedent as a moral justification for Team Trump’s actions is ludicrous.

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 (and high-quality persons everywhere),

Well, I jinxed it.

On Tuesday morning, I posted this mini-screed about how nobody knows anything about the Russia-collusion story, so the best course of action is to just wait for the facts to come in.

“Trust Nothing, Defend Nothing” was my advice.

(I wanted to turn this into a Latin slogan, but when I typed “Trust Nothing, Defend Nothing” into Google’s Latin translation thingamabob I got “Nihil confido, nihil pupillo defendite viduam.” This looked fishy to me so I translated that back into English and got: “I trust there is nothing, there is nothing, for the fatherless, plead for the widow.” This seems either like World War II code for “We’re invading Belgium on Wednesday” or the sign-language subtitles from Charlie Rose’s interview of Paco, the chain-smoking existentialist gorilla).

Anyway, where was I? Right: “Trust Nothing, Defend Nothing.”

This was bipartisan advice. On the one hand, the media get lots of stuff wrong and get way ahead of the facts. So, we should give Donald Trump some benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, the Trump White House lies like a randy sailor with eight hours of shore leave and not enough money for a professional “date.”

But the lying really isn’t the problem. Sometimes the Trump team tells the truth. Sometimes it buries the kernels of truth in the larger nougat of B.S. The problem is that Trump and his people can’t stay on message, whether it’s true or false. President Trump just doesn’t care if he makes his surrogates, including members of his cabinet and family, look like chumps. Allow myself to repeat myself:

If there is one thing we’ve learned from this president, it’s that going too far out on a limb brings out the saw. Poor Steve Mnuchin. He went out on Sunday and heaped praise on this joint US-Russia Cyber Fox Force Five idea that the president blurted out on Twitter. Within a few hours, Trump left Mnuchin out to dry. It happens again and again.

And again, and again, and again.

Shortly after I said, “wait and see because we don’t know anything yet,” we suddenly got some new information. Donald Trump Jr. released his e-mail chain about a meeting with a Russian lawyer. In this exchange, Rob Goldstone, who looks like he could land a great role in a Guy Ritchie remake of Boogie Nights, says:

The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.

This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump — helped along by Aras and Emin.

I know everyone knows this stuff already. But I really want to make a few interrelated points.

Coerced Transparency

First, according to Team Trump, this was a bold and laudable act of “transparency.”

Um. No. This transparency “argument” is like a dye-marker to see who is intellectually serious and who is part of the great Trump Aqueduct, carrying water for the president wherever and whenever he needs it. Junior released his e-mail chain minutes before the New York Times could publish it. This is like “bravely” admitting to your wife that you cheated on her seconds before she opens the blackmailer’s envelope containing the 8×10 glossies of you at the Motel 6 with a troupe of dwarf “acrobats” using you like a pommel horse.

Heading off the Times was smarter than the alternative, just as telling your wife about your time with the cast of Le Petite Cirque du Soleil before the blackmailers get to her is better than the alternative. But after spending the better part of a year denying any contact whatsoever with the Russians and lying so baldly about this meeting, it takes a Costco pallet full of chutzpah to claim the mantle of transparency.

This, of course, is all the more true now that it’s being reported that Junior wasn’t being transparent while he was bragging about his transparency. This morning, news came out that some sketchy former Soviet counter-intelligence officer was also in the room. (What are the odds he recorded the conversation, by the way? I’d say they’re pretty high.)

The Room Where It Happened

Second, this underscores a point I’ve been shouting at the TV all week: Why the Hell are people taking the word of anyone in that meeting as proof of anything? Before this morning’s revelation, even members of the Trump-hostile press repeated that “nothing came of the meeting” or that “no information was given.” On the Trump Aqueduct, this was translated into the whole story being a “nothingburger.”

Where did the proof of this come from? From the people in the room! Jiminy Cricket, that’s stupid.

Who in that room do you think is above lying about what transpired there?

It may be true that nothing came of the meeting. Heck, I think it probably is true (more on that in a moment). Junior seems plausible when he says as much. But every single person who was in that room has a very strong incentive to say nothing nefarious happened in the room. Well, when the Soprano crew is jointing a corpse in the backroom of Satriale’s, everyone there has a vested interest in sticking to the story that they were just playing cards.

Who in that room do you think is above lying about what transpired there? Paul Manafort? Forget his deep Russian connections. The guy was a lobbyist for Mobutu Seske Seko. When he worked for the Pakistani intelligence service, he pretended to be a CNN reporter for a propaganda documentary he was making for them. The only way you could say “that man’s word is oak” is if Jell-O came out with a new oak-flavored pudding. (“Now with real bark!”)

Jared? The guy who initially “forgot” that meeting happened at all?

Don Jr.? We already know he’s capable of lying about the meeting because he’s already lied about the meeting.

Oh, maybe you’re taking the word of the sketchy Russian lawyer. That’s a great idea. It’s also kind of hilarious. Many of the people pushing back on this story are doing so by questioning Natalia Veselnitskaya’s credibility. But we should take her word that nothing happened? Cults of personality are a helluva drug.

<Cue Record Scratch>

[While I was editing the galley of this “news”letter, the Associated Press reported that the sketchy former Soviet counter-intelligence guy, Rinat Akhmetshin, who was in the room claims that Veselnitskaya did indeed hand over a file of incriminating info. I guess this is just a smudge on the window of Junior’s transparency.]

Admission as Exoneration

Which brings me to point No. 3. It doesn’t frick’n matter if — note the “if” — nothing came of the meeting. Junior can’t claim he, Manafort, and Kushner never sought to collude with the Russian government when he admits that he, Manafort, and Kushner eagerly took a meeting for the express purpose of colluding with Russia. This is like one of those episodes of Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator” where some sleazebag is catfished into having a “date” with a 13-year-old girl only to show up and find Chris Hansen waiting in the kitchen with a transcript of their conversations. At least those scumbags had the “integrity” to lie and say it was all a misunderstanding and that they were just there because they really like hanging out and watching MTV and eating ice cream. “We had a lot in common! I thought we could be friends!”

I don’t recall any of them saying, “Hey, I didn’t do anything wrong because I didn’t actually get a chance to rape her.”

If you break into a bank, you can’t claim you did nothing wrong if the safe turns out to be empty any more than a terrorist can plead innocence if his bomb didn’t go off.

The Corruption of Whataboutism

Which brings me back to my first point of the week. Why on God’s good Earth would you defend any of this? Since I’ve been having this ridiculous argument all week, let me skip ahead. Yes, “Crooked Hillary,” Ted Kennedy, and a host of other liberals did bad things. Whether those bad things were analogous to this is highly debatable. But let’s just concede the point for argument’s sake. Let’s also accept the president’s grotesquely cynical and false claim that pretty much anyone in politics would have done the same thing and taken the meeting. (I for one am perfectly happy to concede that Sidney Blumenthal would happily have done equally sleazy things for his Queen-master. But I have every confidence that if some shady Russian cutouts approached, say, James Baker with a similar scheme to “incriminate” Michael Dukakis, he would become a helicopter of fists.)

Why on God’s good Earth would you defend any of this?

But here’s the thing: Who gives a dirty rat’s ass? If you spent years — like I did, by the way — insisting that the Clintons were a corrupt affront to political decency, invoking their venal actions as a moral justification for Team Trump’s actions is the rhetorical equivalent of a remake of Waterworld set entirely in the main vat of a sewage-treatment plant, i.e., the intellectual Mother of Sh*t Shows. This is a point Ben Shapiro made well earlier this week (and which I’ve been writing about for two years now). If you want to make the case that Democrats or the media are hypocrites, whataboutism is perfectly valid (and quite fun). But if you want to say that it’s fine for Trump to do things you considered legally and morally outrageous when Hillary Clinton did them, you should either concede that you believe two wrongs make a right or you should apologize for being angry about what Clinton did. And you should be prepared to have no right to complain when the next Democrat gets into power and does the same thing.

What Next?

All of this said, I don’t think we are anywhere near impeachment. The cries of “treason” are ridiculous. But I for one no longer believe that the collusion thing is mostly hype. We already know that Trump openly implored the Russians to dig up Clinton’s e-mails. We now know that Junior, Kushner, and then–campaign manager Manafort had no problem meeting with a person they believed to be an emissary of the Russian government. Moreover, not only am I unconvinced nothing damning happened in that room, I think there’s merit to Chris Hayes’s analysis that there was an important phone call before the meeting.

I also think there are many shoes to drop with regard to Cambridge Analytica and the Mercers.

Erick Erickson may be right that this meeting was a setup. Trump’s more-credible defenders certainly may be right that this is all the result of ineptitude and amateurishness. These guys are like a mix between Ron Jeremy and a yoga master in their ability to step on their own johnsons.

But my wait-and-see approach was grounded in the fact that other than Trump’s public obsession with the Russia story — including his firing of James Comey — there was no concrete evidence that the Trump campaign had any dealings with the Russians. That benefit of the doubt is gone.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: Despite all the promises that the swamp would be drained, D.C. is swampier than ever. Of course, I mean that meteorologically. D.C. is a miserable place right now. It’s like a giant overheated St. Bernard has sauntered to the nation’s capital and is panting on it. The air is akin to what it would be like if the University of Alabama football team finished a double practice in the hot sun and then put their wet socks and jock straps in a pizza oven.

The dogs do not like it and neither do I. That’s why we’ve been going out earlier than usual, when the air is only as sticky as the joystick on a Ms. Pacman machine at Chuck E. Cheese’s. But just as firemen still must do their heroic duty regardless of the weather, the Dingo is still determined to punish the rabbits for their maddening hoppiness. The Spaniel remains undaunted in her dedication to her beloved tennis balls. Although she did have a very scary run-in with a turtle of undetermined Ninjaness.

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File: a defense of Western Civilization — and Donald Trump (sort of)!

Re: Donald Trump Jr. and Russiagate, let’s wait and see.

The state shouldn’t decide Charlie Gard’s fate.

The latest Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast, with a special focus on New York movies.

Climate-change hysteria hurts its cause.

I was on NPR’s Morning Edition on Friday.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

The stones that move but whose movement no one has ever seen

Electrical fire or the gates to another dimension?

A brief history of people running across America

Kenyan runner outruns bears in Maine

Toby Maguire’s Spider-Man screen test

What could go wrong? Scientists recreate extinct virus

Arachnophobes should not click this link

Is this summer your best bet to see a solar eclipse?

Saucy Aussie checks a single beer as luggage when airline doesn’t let it on the plane

Former NASA engineer creates world’s largest super soaker

Before Las Vegas, there was Newport, Kentucky

Behold: the firenado

World War II posters warning against venereal disease

McDonald’s to drench French fries in cheese and bacon

Skull forms in smoke rising from Mount Vesuvius?

Couple tries lift from Dirty Dancing, knock each other out

In Defense of Western Civ

by Jonah Goldberg
What makes the West unique is not that we had slavery, but that we put an end to it because it was not compatible with our values.

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 (and all men of the West),

So just to get it out of the way: Who has two thumbs and loves Western Civilization? This guy (I am pointing my thumbs me-ward, which makes typing hard).

Just to be clear, I don’t mean “so-called Western Civilization” but you know, Western Civilization.

I mean the thing both liberals and conservatives alike have celebrated for hundreds of years since words like “liberal” and “conservative” had any relevance to politics.

Of course, this is not to say everyone agreed on what Western Civilization is, was, or should be.

But when I read this from my old friend Peter Beinart, I have to scratch my head.

In his speech in Poland on Thursday, Donald Trump referred 10 times to “the West” and five times to “our civilization.” His white nationalist supporters will understand exactly what he means. It’s important that other Americans do, too. . . . 

The West is a racial and religious term. To be considered Western, a country must be largely Christian (preferably Protestant or Catholic) and largely white.

Now, this is a more defensible statement than some of my friends on the right seem to think. I say “defensible” because it’s largely true, but only a partial and mincing truth. Peter is right to note that the West has largely been defined by Christianity, but who can deny that? Though let’s not forget that Christianity itself was born in what used to be called the Orient (ditto Judaism).

This fact is a nice way of noting that even in the earliest days when Western Civilization was not particularly civilized, it was borrowing from other cultures. That’s a huge part of what makes Western Civilization so special. Sure, it’s got its history of bigotries, atrocities, and other sins — quick, tell me which civilization or society doesn’t? — but a central part of the West’s modus operandi has been to sift through what is best in other cultures and our own and appropriate it or modify it. The West, historically, has been more interested in other cultures and civilizations than any other. Celebrating our long history of open-minded curiosity and tolerance is not closed-minded bigotry, no matter how hard you try.

What makes Peter’s statement indefensible is the context. Peter pretty clearly wants to suggest that, because the West, historically, has described a mostly white, mostly Protestant or Catholic civilization, defending it must be an example of bigotry. Must it? Were Will and Ariel Durant spelunkers in the history of white privilege and nativism? Was Isaiah Berlin a trafficker in little more than prettified white-supremacist dogma?

The West also means something more than merely the culture of white Christians, and if someone other than Donald Trump had given that speech, I think Peter would have an easier time acknowledging it. After all, he is a great fan of Reinhold Niebuhr, who said, “We take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization.” I doubt Peter would dare to call this a white-nationalist dog whistle.

Inclusion for All Cultures but Our Own

We’ve reached a pathetic and dangerous point in our culture where anyone who celebrates our traditional culture, our country, and, now, our civilization must be doing so for base and evil reasons (see Rod Dreher for more on this). Today, all other cultures must be celebrated while every ill is blamed on us. This is, to borrow a phrase from social science, garbage thinking. Slavery is a human universal, appearing in every culture around the world. What makes the West unique is not that we had slavery, but that we put an end to it because it was not compatible with our values. The same goes for nearly every charge in the indictment against the West, from racism and misogyny to imperialism and war.

As I’ve written before, the reason Gandhi practiced non-violence against the British Empire is not quite because he abhorred bloodshed, but because he knew pacifism would work against the British. Hitler, who saw himself as a rebel against Western values as evolved from the slave religion of Christianity, never got many lectures about non-violence from his friend Gandhi.

We fall short of our ideals, but everyone always does (that’s why they’re called “ideals”). But in head-to-head match-ups, we do better than the rest of the pack.

West Bashing Is Western

What’s ironic is that Peter’s desk-pounding outrage about Trump’s talk of the West is oh-so Western. The West’s tolerance for anti-Western philosophies is a fairly unique feature of the West itself. We love to beat ourselves up.

Before the Enlightenment, the job of saying the West is corrupt and evil largely fell to gnostic heretics and the like — because everything was seen through the prism of religion. Since the Enlightenment, that passion has migrated to more secular humanist creeds. There’s always been a Rousseauian streak in the West that says, “it’s all crap, burn it down.”

The West’s tolerance for anti-Western philosophies is a fairly unique feature of the West itself. We love to beat ourselves up.

But, again, until pretty recently, that tendency wasn’t against “the West” so much as it was against the Enlightenment or democracy or capitalism. Western radicals argued that the West had taken a wrong turn, not that the East was better. There was still this idea that the West was where the action was. Rousseau’s favorite society, after the Geneva of his youth, was ancient Sparta, which is still, you know, part of the West. (Me, I’ll take Athens any day.) But even so, this was an argument within the West about what path the West should follow or where its true roots lay. Some of the Romantics admired Mohammed, but only because he was a man of Will and a useful stand-in for their assaults on the Catholic Church, not because they actually believed in Islam or anything. The Jacobins wanted to start over at Year Zero, but they had no problem believing that history was starting over in the West, in Paris to be exact. Karl Marx, as Western a figure as you can find, believed that the first pages in the next chapter of human history would first turn in England.

The Anti-Western Cul-de-sac

What sincerely shocks me about Peter’s outburst is that he has to know what an incredibly bad idea it is for the liberal-Left to go down this road. The list of reasons why the new hatred of Western Civilization is such a bad idea for liberals is too long to recount here but I’ll offer two fairly practical ones. The whole reason liberalism is in trouble today is that it has lost the ability to speak confidently in patriotic and loving terms about America, unless it is in the context of selling some government program or pressing some nakedly political advantage (I’m thinking mostly about immigration maximalism and identity politics). Cutting Medicaid may be wrong, but it’s not unpatriotic. Peter himself recently argued that Democrats need to refocus on the importance of assimilation if they want to be trusted on the issue of immigration. Well, assimilation to what? If American culture is worth assimilating into, so is Western Culture, because the two cannot be separated.

Right now, there’s a hilarious effort afoot to defend the anti-Semitic Saudi sock-puppet Linda Sarsour. She recently called for jihad against Donald Trump and insisted that American Muslims must never, ever assimilate into American culture. So, we have the glorious beclowning spectacle of liberals falling over themselves to defend the subtle nuances of the word “jihad” while at the same telling us that Western Civilization is a dog’s breakfast of backwardness and bigotry. Good luck with that.

Don’t you people realize that you’re like Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman? You’ve got nowhere else to go.

Second, don’t you people realize that you’re like Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman? You’ve got nowhere else to go. Peter is right that there are non-Western democracies out there. Sure, Japan has Japanese characteristics and India has Indian characteristics. But what makes them democracies is their embrace of Western values. And there is no place in the world physically or conceptually outside the West where these liberals would actually want to live. Insisting that Western Civilization is a corrupt and irredeemable concept is the intellectual and political equivalent of sh*tting where you eat. It leaves you no language that resonates with anyone outside an American Studies department at Fresno State.

On the Other Hand

But I will tell you what I did not like about Trump’s speech (though I should say on the whole I liked it and agreed with most of it). In Trump’s telling, the threat to Western Civilization must be met with his favorite qualities: Strength! Will! Etc.!

The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?

Or, here’s his pithier summary:

As a matter of the text, I agree with this. But for Trump, Western Civilization is a kind of nationalism, not a worldview or philosophy. I think Peter is wrong to claim the text is indefensible, but he has a point about the man reading it. Does anyone really believe that Trump is, in his heart, a champion of tolerance, open-mindedness, democratic norms, family values, Judeo-Christian precepts, and natural rights? Or does he like this kind of talk because it’s a politically savvy way to transcend America First nationalism in favor Western pan-nationalism?

The key to keeping Western Civilization alive isn’t fending off the barbarians at our gates, though that’s important. They key is keeping it alive in our hearts. Civilizations die by suicide. As Lincoln put it:

From whence shall we expect the approach of danger? Shall some trans-Atlantic military giant step the earth and crush us at a blow? Never. All the armies of Europe and Asia . . . could not by force take a drink from the Ohio River or make a track on the Blue Ridge in the trial of a thousand years. No, if destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men, we will live forever or die by suicide.

Fending off suicide isn’t a matter of martial will, but of simple gratitude. The Left has convinced itself that there is nothing to be grateful for about Western Civilization. That’s idiotic. And they need to be persuaded otherwise, not pummeled into thinking Western Civilization is just a dog whistle for MAGA.

Love, Love, Love

I give Rich Lowry a lot of crap. Back in the old days, I could have said that literally. I used to stop by the New York office of National Review, carrying a 40-pound bag of cow manure, so freshly packed that its pungency would assault the nostrils and sting the eye. I’d let it slide off my shoulder onto the boss’s desk with a thud like Elvis off a toilet. I’d pin a photocopy of my paycheck to the sack, which, scribbled underneath, said: “There’s more bullsh*t here than here.”

But as I matured, and my compensation became less of an affront to the conscience and settled into merely a daily weight on my self-esteem, the crap I gave him grew more figurative. I’d still present him with a copy of my paycheck, but I’d attach it to, say, the latest Tom Friedman column.

I’d write the same note, of course.

Anyway, I bring this up because for all the crap I give Rich, he should be congratulated for his good-natured willingness to take it, and even encourage it. One of the great things about NR is that it overflows with very opinionated people who often disagree with each other. We’re allowed to say so.

With that out of the way, here’s the context. Earlier this week I unloaded on Rich and the cast of The Editors podcast (“Maybe one day you’ll rate high enough at NR to get invited on?” — The Couch). They recorded a fantastic Fourth of July episode. Everything was really great and interesting until the 50-minute mark, when I thought it kind of went off the rails. Rich, who is on a mission to restore the good name of nationalism, asked whether the podcasters would still love America if it had different ideals. And they all said yes.

And I kind of lost it. I called them all out like I was Omar calling out Marlo in The Wire.

If this stuff doesn’t interest you, don’t read any farther. If it does interest you, I’m going to assume you’re up to speed on the debate so far.

And, I’m going to apologize to everyone but Rich.

As Rich notes, the “Would you still love America?” question was supposed to garner a one-word response from the other podcasters. So, it’s a bit unfair for me to hold such a poorly conceived question against those forced to answer it. I particularly owe an apology to Charlie, with whom I seem to be in violent agreement.

I will say a couple things in my defense. It’s now clear a lot of people heard the podcast the same way I did, so it may not be, as Charlie claims, that I mischaracterized his views so much as he failed to make himself sufficiently clear. Second, the reason I called them out really has less to do with what they said than what they didn’t say.

The reason I called them out really has less to do with what they said than what they didn’t say.

Their silence as Rich dropped his little pro-nationalism propaganda bombs vexed me. Rich said that there are no bad people, only bad governments. Every country has norms, ideals, etc., and we’re no different. I guess I just expected more pushback. That was unfair to them because I was essentially putting words in their mouths (also, who knows what threatening gestures Rich made silently during the recording). My shot at Michael was also unfair. I think he makes a very good point about what he calls America’s Whiggish tendencies (I’m not sure I agree with the label, but I think he’s right about the phenomenon).

As for Rich, his response in the Corner is fine by me, I suppose. But it leaves out the context of his larger project to elevate nationalism into an important organizing principle. I’m already running crazy long here and I don’t want to just repeat what I said before in my first salvo against this project. I’ve written countless times that nationalism is good in small doses and poisonous in large doses, save during times of war when it is channeled outward for legitimate reasons. But I cannot help but read — and hear — Rich as arguing for discarding or demoting American patriotism as the most useful vehicle for a political agenda in favor of American nationalism. In his rejoinder, he writes that he raised the point that all countries have ideals “in the context of a discussion of whether America is a nation or an idea.”

My point was that [if] America is an idea, so are other countries, and (implicitly) that this is an absurd way to think about nations. As it happens, Jonah concedes we are a nation and not an idea, but not all conservatives are as common-sensical on what should be an easy question.

This is wrong. We agree that the “idea vs. nation” thing is an absurd formulation because it makes the question either/or when it’s obviously both/and. Every country has ideals and every country is . . . a country. So, yes, this is a silly way to frame the argument.

But it is not absurd to say that America is an idea. The Founders certainly thought it was. So did Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. They appealed to the idea encased in the Declaration, not to the nation. Appeals to nationalism can be appeals to ideas, but they usually are not. They are simply another form of populism, which says we’re right because we’re us. Appeals to ideas, particularly those that marry themselves to what is best about a nation, help a nation act in accordance with its best self.

I was going to say that Rich puts the cart before the horse on the issue of patriotism vs. nationalism. But that’s not quite right. Nationalism does come first, for it is the horse pulling the cart of patriotism. But you know what, anyone can get some beast of burden to pull a cart. What’s precious is what lays in the cart, and those are our American ideals.

At the end of the podcast, Rich touted Calvin Coolidge’s “Speech on the 150th Anniversary of the Fourth of July.” And rightly so. On the topic of the Declaration, it is second only to the “Gettysburg Address” in the annals of glorious American rhetoric. In the paragraph preceding the one Rich cites, Coolidge says:

In its main features the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but of spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man — these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in the religious convictions. They belong to the unseen world. Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish. We cannot continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause.

We are too prone to overlook another conclusion. Governments do not make ideals, but ideals make governments [emphasis added].

On this, and so much else, I’m with Coolidge.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: So, the missus came home on the Fourth and the beasts were quite happy to see her (as was I). Things had gotten a little weird with me and the doggos. Since I was mostly working from home, and because they missed the Fair Jessica so much, their pack mentality went into overdrive. They followed me everywhere. Zoë became obsessed with sitting next to me whenever possible and keeping the good cat from getting anywhere near me.

Things are a bit more normal now, particularly since Kirsten, our daytime dogwalker, can take them out with their real pack of buddies. Kirsten reports two highlights. On Wednesday, Zoë and her buddy Barley were in a stream roughhousing when they encountered a duck. Naturally, they chased it, for about an eighth of a mile. When they came back, Kirsten & Co. heard little chirps. It turned out the duck had been a mommy duck. But before Zoë could become a children’s-book monster (it’s not clear that she would have), the mamma came back and became a whirling dervish of duckness, completely freaking out the dogs long enough for Kirsten to put them on leashes.

The squirrel was less lucky than the duck.

Then, yesterday, Barley and Zoë were once again playing king of the mountain, when Zoë spotted a squirrel on a tree. The squirrel was less lucky than the duck. When I tweeted this out yesterday, a whole bunch of people got mad at me for being a party to the slaughter of a squirrel. I’d generally prefer it if the Dingo didn’t kill critters, but I am at a loss as to how people can begrudge a dingo for being dingo-y or how some want to claim that squirrels are like miniature tree pandas. Anyway, the funny thing to me is that just the night before, Zoë once again tried to embrace the Spaniel’s pacifism and learn how to appreciate tennis balls. She sort of reminded me of the sharks from Finding Nemo (Fish are friends, not food!). She played with the ball for a while, but she clearly wanted it to act more like prey. She’d bite it, then wait for it to squeal or “run” away. Then she’d pounce on it. The experiment didn’t last long. I think for the time being, the lesson is: Squirrels, watch out.

I’ll be on Special Report tonight.

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File

Trump and the media have a codependent relationship.

Jon Meachem is wrong about Woodrow Wilson.

When would you stop loving America?

How political ignorance affects our political debates.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Independence Day links

Why did Yankee Doodle call a feather macaroni?

Carnivorous Romanian ducks

Is there a mathematical formula for . . . 

KFC sandwich launched into space

Mountain of skulls unearthed in Mexico

Behold: a scorpion-venom-milking robot

How Americans order their steak

Russian motorist arrested for barking like a dog

Bird enjoys Q-tip massage

The secret language of lightning bugs

How to make a sandwich you can still eat after a year

Why is George R. R. Martin obsessed with soup?

What happens if you get bitten by a radioactive spider?

POV footage of a flying eagle

Seventy years ago, a “weather balloon” crashed in Roswell

The public shaming of England’s first umbrella user

Fight over Star Wars vs. Star Trek led to assault

Put Down the Phone, Mr. President

by Jonah Goldberg
Trump’s tweets distract from his agenda, cause chaos among his staff, and harden attitudes among Democrats and winnable voters.

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 (Let’s just do this thing),

To paraphrase the great man himself, we’re going to live every week like it’s Energy Week.

As I tried to explain on NPR this morning, I think you can look at this week — officially “Energy Week” according to the crackerjack folks working in the White House Communications shop (who I kind of imagine live in a constant state of captive fear of Trump’s Twitter feed, like Craster’s wives).

It began very well for the president (and I said so on Special Report). The Supreme Court backed him up — decisively — on the travel ban. Neil Gorsuch revealed himself to be the conservative star he was sold as. The president had a very good meeting with the prime minister of India. Monday was arguably the best day of Donald Trump’s presidency since his address to Congress.

There were other successes this week too — for the GOP and, by extension, for Trump. The House passed some good stuff. There were actually some solid energy policies unveiled as part of Energy Week. I’m not saying it was the greatest legislative triumph since the Code of Hammurabi was unveiled, but all in all it wasn’t too shabby.

Does it feel like that now?

Mo Mo summed it up well:

Hypocrisy, They Cried

Look, I think Trump’s defenders make some perfectly valid points. Laura Ingraham, for example, rightly notes that all of the people freaking out about Trump’s misogyny were all too happy to drag Bill Clinton’s victims through the mud.

Introducing that hypocrisy alone into the equation brings down the JSS (Justified Sanctimony Scale) at least a whole letter grade — for the Democrats, the mainstream media, and liberals generally.

As for Joe, Mika, and the gang, it’s entirely true that they’ve been mud-wrestling with Trump like he was Dewey Oxburger at the strip club, and now they’re aggrieved by the back-splatter.

The Golem Strikes Back

Far worse, from my perspective, is that they helped get Trump the nomination. I know Joe Scarborough hates this argument and he can point to all sorts of criticisms he made during the primaries. But the simple fact remains that in the early days of the primary season, Morning Joe was one of Trump’s greatest media assets, normalizing his candidacy and the outrageously outsized coverage it got (as I wrote often in early 2016). They came to their senses eventually, and some Trump defenders would argue, with some merit, that they’ve overcompensated in the other direction.

I like Scarborough and I think Trump’s attack on him and (especially) Brzezinski is indefensible coming from a sitting president. But there is a certain air of the frog complaining about the scorpion’s sting in all this. For instance, this morning, Joe and Mika insisted that the Donald Trump we see today isn’t the man they used to know. Maybe. But rarely does a day go by that Joe and Mika don’t also say that a man in his seventies “doesn’t change” his ways. Well, Trump only just turned 71. Did he change a lot in his sixties?

I’ve talked to dozens of people who tell me that in person Trump is charming. So what? So is Al Sharpton.

This reminds me of all the people who say, “If you only knew the Hillary Clinton I know . . . ” As I’ve written before, this is a clever Washington technique for signaling that you get face time with the principal. But it’s also an example of how people can be fooled by a little charm and attention. I’ve talked to dozens of people who tell me that in person Trump is charming. So what? So is Al Sharpton. Some of the most charming people I’ve ever met have been scam artists. Charm and integrity aren’t highly correlated as far as I can tell.

None of this changes the fact that Trump’s tweet is indefensible, particularly once you deny any authority to the schoolyard logic used to justify so much of Trump’s behavior. Every single time Trump does one of these things, the same juvenile horsesh*t gets trotted out: He’s a counter-puncher! He hits back twice as hard! They started it!

And sometimes that’s true. But the answer is the same: So frick’n what? At best, those are explanations. But they don’t even get close to being excuses.

Put Down the Phone, Mr. President

It seems to me Trump’s biggest fans need to come to grips with two really difficult, but obvious, truths.

The first is that the president should walk away from Twitter. A new Fox poll says that 71 percent of Americans think the tweeting hurts his agenda. I’m amazed that number is so low. If you think his tweeting is brilliant and strategic, you’re arguing that it’s all part of his plan to annoy seven out of ten Americans with his tweets.

Now, to be fair, I think the more accurate analysis would be to say that the tweeting hurts more than it helps. Not every one of Trump’s tweets is the political equivalent of taking a sock full of quarters and smashing himself in the crotch, only some are. If he just tweeted within relatively sane and presidential parameters, it would be an asset for him. Feel free to discount my advice, and just listen to Victor Davis Hanson, Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson, or virtually every Republican member of Congress who understand that Trump’s tweets distract from his agenda, cause chaos among his staff, make it harder for Republicans to embrace him, and harden attitudes among Democrats and winnable voters.

Not every one of Trump’s tweets is the political equivalent of taking a sock full of quarters and smashing himself in the crotch, only some are.

If your response is “It got him elected!” simply take note that most tools lose their utility once they’ve accomplished their task. You need a hammer to build a birdhouse. If you keep hammering after it’s completed, you destroy your birdhouse. Surgeons use a scalpel to operate. If they keep using it too long, they go to jail.

And, if your response is “He needs to go over the heads of the liberal media!” bear in mind that a) the liberal media loves his tweets and b) he’s the president of the United States and has no end of ways to get his message out.

The Tweets Are Just a Symptom

The second thing is the more bitter pill. The president of the United States really just isn’t a very good person. There is no definition of good character that he can meet. You certainly can’t say he’s a man of good character when it comes to sexual behavior. His adulterous past is well-documented. You can’t say he models decency in the way he talks. He’s not honest (you can look it up). He brags about whining his way to winning. He boasts of double-crossing business partners. If you want to say he’s charitable, you should read up on how he used his “charities” as leverage or for publicity stunts. I think we can all agree he’s not humble or self-sacrificing. When asked what sacrifices he’s made, in the context of his spat with the Khan family, he couldn’t name anything save for the fact that he worked very hard to get rich and that he employs people (presumably because it profits him to do so). I don’t know how anyone could absolve him of the charge of vanity or greed. He’s certainly not pious by any conventional definition.

Some argue that he’s loyal, and there’s some evidence of that. But the loyalty he shows is instrumental and self-serving. In The Art of the Deal, there’s a fairly moving passage about Roy Cohn, Trump’s mentor, and loyalty. “The thing that’s most important to me is loyalty,” Trump says. “You can’t hire loyalty. I’ve had people over the years who I swore were loyal to me, and it turned out that they weren’t. Then I’ve had people that I didn’t have the same confidence in and turned out to be extremely loyal. So you never really know.”

He added: “The thing I really look for though, over the longer term, is loyalty.” Trump then said this about Cohn:

He was a truly loyal guy — it was a matter of honor with him — and because he was also very smart, he was a great guy to have on your side. You could count on him to go to bat for you, even if he privately disagreed with your view, and even if defending you wasn’t necessarily the best thing for him. He was never two-faced.

Just compare that with all the hundreds of “respectable” guys who make careers boasting about their uncompromising integrity and have absolutely no loyalty. They think about what’s best for them and don’t think twice about stabbing a friend in the back if the friend becomes a problem. . . . 

Roy was the sort of guy who’d be there at your hospital bed, long after everyone else had bailed out, literally standing by you to the death.

But when Cohn got HIV, Trump severed his ties with Cohn. “Donald found out about it and just dropped him like a hot potato,” Susan Bell, Cohn’s longtime secretary, said. “It was like night and day.”

I could go on. But you get the point. I am truly open to the argument that there’s some morally and intellectually serious definition of good character that Trump meets. I’ve just never heard it. And that’s why the tweets are ultimately just a symptom.

Conservatives for most of my life argued that character matters. That went by the wayside for many people in 2016.

The question now is what conservatives should do about it. I agree with Ramesh and Charlie entirely. Conservatives should condemn the bad behavior. But we shouldn’t fall into the liberal trap of saying that because Trump isn’t a gentleman, we should therefore abandon a conservative agenda. Being ungentlemanly is not an impeachable offense. At the same time, however, we should not follow the path of his worst enablers who insist that his bad behavior is admirable or that the bad behavior of others is a justification for his. That’s Alinsky-envying bunk. “Let the lie come into the world,” Solzhenitsyn said, “let it even triumph. But not through me.”

Reagan, My Reagan

The other night, I participated in a panel on Henry Olsen’s new book, The Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue-Collar Conservatism  (it will be on C-SPAN’s Book TV at some point),. Henry is a brilliant psephologist and, now, a heterodox historian. He basically makes two arguments. Reagan was a “New Deal Republican” who was much more comfortable with an interventionist government than people think today or realized even during his lifetime. As Rich notes today, he makes a very strong and eye-opening case in this regard. More on that in a moment. Henry’s second argument is that the GOP needs to let go of the myth of Reagan the “Reaganite.” By Reaganite, he means the caricature of a libertarian obsessed with cutting taxes to the point where we can just pay for a minimalist state.

I’m very sympathetic to his second argument, and have been writing similar things for a while.

I have two significant objections. The first is with his historical analysis. Again, Henry makes some excellent points on how Reagan was less of a Goldwaterite than Goldwater was. But the idea that Ronald Reagan — who insisted, with some merit, that the New Deal was informed by fascism (and who often took other potshots at it) — was in reality a New Deal Republican just doesn’t convince me. Some of this is definitional, of course. The New Deal was many things and there were many different kinds of “New Deal Republicans.” But even more broadly, the idea that the “Real Reagan” — who lovingly read Hayek and Hazlitt — was a socially conservative social democrat just doesn’t make sense to me. You’d think Bill Buckley or his fans at Cato would have noticed this before Henry’s discovery.

And that brings me to my second objection. Henry wants to argue that what made the Real Reagan successful is what the GOP should follow today. I don’t agree with every policy proposal he has in mind, but, as political advice, he makes a very strong argument. Indeed, he was one of the few prognosticators to understand Trump’s appeal and chances for victory from very early on. But, it seems to me, Henry is making the same mistake of the “Reaganites” only in reverse. Just as the people he calls the High Priests of Reaganism insist that we must follow the exact footsteps of Ronaldus Magnus — Rush Limbaugh’s term — Henry says pretty much the exact same thing. It’s like arguments over What Would Jesus Do? Both agree he (or He) is the key to salvation, they’re just arguing over whose interpretation is more accurate. I don’t think this argument is necessary. Henry’s certainly right that Reagan won over working-class voters and that the GOP could learn a lot from him. But one doesn’t have to buy that Reagan was much more liberal than most historians and contemporaries believe to make that argument.

The truth is Reagan was a fantastic politician and that comes through in Henry’s engaging book. Reagan may or may not have been as libertarian as Goldwater, but that’s not the crucial distinction. He was simply a much, much better politician than Goldwater.

Which brings me to one last point, which might tie all of this together. I told this story on the panel, and I wrote about it at greater length in this 16-year-old G-File, so I’ll give you the short version here. When I was a larval wonk at AEI some 25 years ago, Josh Muravchik gave a talk on neoconservatism. The room was full of Reagan-administration alumni. I asked Josh for a definition of neoconservatism and his reply was uncharacteristically unpersuasive. But in the process of answering, he asserted that Reagan was fundamentally a foreign-policy president, elected to win the Cold War. He simply brought social conservatives and economic conservatives along for the ride as part of his coalition.

Reagan’s genius lay in being able to make everyone feel as if they had ownership in his presidency and his cause.

My friend, the late Michael Novak, one of the great Catholic intellectuals and social conservatives of the 20th century, objected. No, no, he said. Reagan was a social conservative who brought the hawks and the economics guys along for the ride. This was too much for Irwin Stelzer, a brilliant economist and Reagan official. He insisted that Reagan’s was fundamentally a free-market, pro-growth candidacy and presidency and that he brought in the foreign-policy and cultural conservatives with him. It turned into quite an intellectual melee and, much like when Jerry Seinfeld cleared out the restaurant by bringing up abortion, I’m proud to say I started it.

The point here is that Reagan was a brilliant politician with some core convictions about all of these schools of thought. His genius lay in being able to make everyone feel as if they had ownership in his presidency and his cause. I am convinced Reagan was an ideological conservative, but what made him a successful president had more to do with those traits and abilities. It also had to do with his character. He made people proud to fight in his ranks and eager to defend him on the merits.

And so, while I think we spend too much time trying to reincarnate Reagan the ideologue, we really need to reincarnate Reagan the politician.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: Well, it was an eventful week with the beasts, as you would know if you’d been following my Twitter feed. The Fair Jessica was in Alaska much of last week (and “Aunt Kirsten” the Dogwalker was on vacation), which meant that not only did I eat most of my meals over the sink, but I was also on solo dog duty for days on end. A good time was had by all, even though I lost count of how many times I had the give the beasties a bath. Yesterday, Kirsten returned, and to celebrate, Zoë rolled in a fresh pile of green goose poop.

But I’m going to spare you the rest for three reasons: 1) I’m running very late, 2) The Fair Jessica must head back to Alaska this weekend for more family obligations, so those interested in canine exploits can check out my Twitter feed over the weekend, and 3) I wanted to give you an ursine update my wife relayed to me.

My niece, Cali, works at a resort outside of Fairbanks. She manages the horses and sled dogs. At the end of the day she was walking in the parking lot when she heard a commotion. A very large black bear was trying to get inside an RV occupied by some terrified tourists. The bear, no doubt an avid reader of the Far Side, mistook the rented RV to for an igloo. (“Crunchy on the outside, and chewy center.”) As he was unwrapping his present, my niece calmly walked up, pulled out her sidearm, and sent the beast on its way, to the great relief of the tourists. Normally, it is a big deal to shoot a bear out of season or without a license, but these were obviously special circumstances. And here’s a fun fact I learned: In Alaska, if you kill a black bear, you are required by law to salvage the meat. To which, I say, “Yuck.” Meanwhile, Grizzlies, much like the food at the Fort Lauderdale Airport Chili’s, are inedible.

The new e-mail format. As loyal readers of this “news”letter may have noticed, we have changed the format of the G-File. You now click on a link in the e-mail to see the whole thing. Very few of you seem to like it, and I can’t say I am a fan. But the suits think it is necessary. We are in the midst of a continuing conversation about it and I hope we can find some compromise. In the meantime, as the intern said to Bill Clinton, please don’t hold it against me.

ICYMI . . . 

Last Week’s G-File

Why Argue That ‘Collusion with Russia’ Isn’t a Crime?

My appearance on Special Report discussing the Supreme Court’s travel-ban ruling

GLoP Culture podcast #76: “Fake GLoP (a particularly enjoyable one, I think)

How the Logic of Tribalism Is Driving the Health-Care Debate

A panel on Reagan’s legacy, in which I participated

The Left Espouses Dangerously Stupid Health-Care Rhetoric

Reagan on Abortion

Nancy MacLean’s Ideologically Motivated Shortcuts

The AP Fact-Checks Senator Roberts over Porcupine Lovemaking

GE’s Attempt to Champion Progressivism Is Creepy and Condescending

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday Links

It might soon be legal to challenge someone to a duel in Canada

The persistence of Prog Rock

Basset hound morning stretch

What it’s like to live with Multiple-Personality Disorder

Giant snail feasts on earthworm

The Brautigan Library

Why is the speed of light so slow?

AI transforms photographs as if they had been printed by different artists

How humans are shaping our own evolution

The universe visualized in one gif

This worm grew a second head after a trip to space

Pizza acrobatics is the sport you have been waiting for

A supercomputer has created the largest virtual universe ever made

Can you stop a sneeze?

How to avoid ticks

Dog crashes orchestra concert

What it looks like to travel at the speed of light

NASA denies that it’s running a child-slave colony on Mars

Politics Enters the Fast Lane

by Jonah Goldberg
The most remarkable thing about the whole Ossoff–Handel brouhaha is how short its half-life was.

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 (especially those of you feeling unsatisfied by the lack of a Dear Reader gag),

As the Dingo let loose in the petting zoo said, “Where to begin?”

I’ve had a very rough week. Rough like sharkskin. Rough like the stubble on Michael Moore’s once dasypygal buttocks after the Brazilian wax wears off.

(I wonder how many readers I lost with that image alone?)

Where was I? Oh right, rough like the morning after the Georgia special election at the DNC. How would you like to be the guy or gal or non-gender-conforming person who talked all that money out of George Clooney or Barbra Streisand who now has to field phone calls from people peppering their diatribes with “But I read in Salon!” and ” . . . but Rachel Maddow said . . . !”

I have no hot takes about all that. Or if my takes were hot, they’ve now cooled to that of flan left out overnight.

Everything Fades

Indeed, the most remarkable thing about the whole Ossoff–Handel brouhaha is how fast its half-life is. Yesterday, I started two of my favorite podcasts (other than GLoP of course). Both The Editors — put out by National Review (now containing up to 75 percent real editor) — and the gang over at Commentary began their conversations talking about the Georgia race, and it already felt old to me.

It feels like so much of the news these days is like that. What would once have been huge events — terror attacks on American soil, outrageous/bizarre/unfathomable statements from the president or Johnny Depp or Elizabeth Warren, announcements by the Russians that they might shoot down our planes, etc. — vanish like a Polaroid picture un-developing before our eyes. If Ossoff didn’t have a name that lent itself to puns (“I’m laughing my Ossoff,” “Shearing Michael Moore’s Ossoff,” etc.) most of us would already be forgetting the guy’s name.

I’m sure there are all sorts of big-think or pundity explanations for why this is so. Twitter accelerates the news. The president is like a squirrel rancher with an infinite supply of varmints to distract the dogs circling his presidency. The Orb has issued a charm of forgetting. It’s almost like our collective attention span has been crippled to the point that we can barely finish a sent . . . 

Nancying Around

Oh, there is one point I want to make about Nancy Pelosi, other than the fact that she always looks like she just left a Ludovico treatment session and her eyes haven’t readjusted. Last night on Special Report, I’m not sure I made a point the way I intended (I’d check the video, but my Internet connection in the BWI parking garage is less than ideal and I got a late start, and I’m lazy). What I was trying to say is that Nancy Pelosi’s brand outside of solidly liberal districts is worse than the GOP’s. The reason I think I said it wrong, is that the lovely and talented A. B. Stoddard corrected me by pointing out that Democrats do better on the generic ballot than Republicans do. That’s certainly true.

But Nancy Pelosi is not generic. She’s literally a San Francisco Democrat and a known quantity. When you say “Democrat” to people, they might think of Pelosi, but they also might think of John F. Kennedy, or Bill Clinton, or “not Donald Trump,” or “not the GOP.” But when you say, “Nancy Pelosi,” even many independents react like the guys at Delta House when Flounder’s picture appeared on the screen. They think of the smug, condescending, social-engineering side of the Democratic party. That’s why Handel could so effectively use Pelosi against Ossoff. A vote for him was a vote to get Pelosi one step closer to running the House of Representatives.

If the Democrats were smart, they’d give her a gold watch and some eye drops and get rid of her. I doubt her replacement would be any better, given the ideological homogenization of the Democratic party that occurred under Obama and Pelosi, but simply having a fresh face would give the Democrats breathing room. They could elect an unknown to her left, and he or she would still help the party because it would take a while to figure out what was B.S. and what wasn’t.

If the Democrats were smart, they’d give Pelosi a gold watch and some eye drops and get rid of her.

Two weeks ago, I wrote in this “news”letter about how politics is becoming “lifestyle-ized.” Everyone talks about how everyday life is becoming politicized, but the reverse is true, too. Politics is becoming a lifestyle choice, a fashion, in ways it never has before. And last week, I wrote that people are starting to follow politics like it’s entertainment. The two ideas complement each other. So much TV these days, from streaming-video shows to cooking-competition shows to DIY programming, is about lifestyle. Politics is too.

But the hitch is that once you start watching politics like it’s entertainment, you constantly crave novelty, freshness, new laughs, and drama. That’s part of the genius of the Trump presidency. As a philosophical or ideological affair, it’s a train wreck. But as entertainment, it’s really quite brilliant. According to the old playbook(s), Trump’s tweeting and all the rest looks like Sideshow Bob or Barnyard Dawg walking into a sea of garden rakes. But as TV entertainment, it’s gold.

The Perils of Over-Thinking

This creates problems for Trump supporters and critics alike. For instance, if you saw my gobsmacked expression on Special Report last night as my friend Mollie Hemingway was making the case — as well as it could be made — that Trump’s “tapes” tweet was actually strategically brilliant, it wasn’t induced because I think it’s such a compelling argument. Rather, I think it’s a very strange one (even though, as of this morning’s Fox & Friends interview, it is now official party dogma). The idea that Trump had gamed-out all of the possible scenarios when he tweeted that thing about maybe having tapes of his conversation with Comey is, frankly, unfathomable to me.

It’s a plausible argument only if you look at that one tweet in isolation and do a reverse analysis of the events that unfolded afterwards. It’s kind of like the Whig interpretation of history in miniature.

Everything we know about how Trump tweets, and talks, and acts, tells us that he lives in the moment. He even brags about it. His one concession to the future is his insatiable need to keep his options open, not in policy terms but in a personal one. I don’t want to waste everyone’s time by documenting the rich history of Donald Trump’s Twitter account, never mind his countless aphasic asides in interviews, but it seems obvious to me that whatever good the “tape” tweet did for Donald Trump, it was blind luck.

Everything we know about how Trump tweets, and talks, and acts, tells us that he lives in the moment.

Conversely, just as Trump supporters should probably give up trying to connect the tweeted dots in order to paint a picture of some grand strategist, so should Trump’s critics on the left and, to some extent, on the right. Bannon may be a Cylon with a nefarious plan for world domination. Trump certainly doesn’t have one. For good or ill, the man is not a composer of multi-part symphonies, he’s improvisational jazz all the way down. Some love the tune. Some hate it. But no one should mistake it for something else.

Wonder Woman

So, for three weeks I’ve been avoiding reviews, Twitter storms, and podcasts that might spoil Wonder Woman for me. Of course, it was impossible to hide completely from the spillover. And I should say the hype nearly ruined it for me. Nearly.

At times, I sat in the theater wondering if I was at the right movie. It was a perfectly fine superhero flick. But it was hardly any grand statement on anything. It fit the usual tropes of superhero movies (with great power comes great responsibility, man is flawed but worth saving, Look! Explosions! Etc.) It executed better than most examples of the genre. But even as an example of a woman-led action flick, it isn’t nearly as good or important as Sigourney Weaver in Aliens.

Nonetheless, I have notes!

First of all, to state the obvious: Gal Gadot is really very nice to look at, more so than your typical woman hot enough to shave Superman’s beard. She has a thing that makes you stare at her beyond normal sex appeal.

What I find hilarious is the idea that she shouldn’t be hot at all. Ms. magazine ran an unintentionally hilarious article asking, “When Will Wonder Woman Be a Fat, Femme Woman of Color?” (For those of you who don’t know, “femme” is a flavor of lesbian). Slate offered a variant of the same complaint.

Wonder Woman won’t be a fat, lesbian woman of color for many of the same reasons Dom Deluise’s Captain Chaos never became a major franchise.

The Ms. magazine writer celebrates that Wonder Woman is no longer a crusader for American “imperialism” but she concedes that this is “likely more about wanting to capture global audiences than politics.” She’s obviously right. One of the worst things about the globalization of Hollywood is the corrosive effect it has on American patriotism. Superman is a super-powered Diogenes now, a citizen of the world not a champion of “truth, justice, and the American way.” When you’re trying to sell movies in Asia and Europe, one of the first things the prop department collects is your giant foam “USA Is No. 1!” hand-thingamabob. Even Captain America is little more than Jason Bourne in tights. I made this point in what I believe was my first article for National Review on Dead Tree two decades ago.

But if Americana doesn’t play as well in foreign markets, you know what does? Explosions. And violence. And sex. It’s a well-established fact that people all around the world prefer to look at beautiful people. Sure, standards of beauty vary — for women and men. But they don’t vary that much. (I don’t recall a lot of horse-faced paunchy men in The Avengers and Jonah Hill will never be cast as Superman). Also, even going by the most generous estimates of how many homosexual people there are in the world, you’re not going to get around the fact that most people aren’t gay (you can look it up). So, if you’re trying to appeal to the broadest market possible for what is nothing more than a summer popcorn flick, casting a stocky lesbian in overalls as Wonder Woman is probably not the way to go.

A superhero who fights against tyranny and for American-style democracy is apparently gross.

But here’s the funny part. If Hollywood listened to the writers of Ms. magazine and went all-in on an Andrea Dworkinized Wonder Woman and distributed it globally, you know what the right term for that would be? Imperialism! Specifically, cultural imperialism.

A superhero who fights against tyranny and for American-style democracy is apparently gross. Who are we to impose our values on the minions of the Kaiser, or for that matter, Hitler? Thank Gaia, Wonder Woman doesn’t do that anymore! (Even though a fair reading of the movie is that she kinda does). But wouldn’t it be awesome if Hollywood went all-in on spreading the pet notions of the Bryn Mawr women’s-studies department!

Other random observations: For all the talk about how empowering Wonder Woman is, it’s worth noting that in one sense she’s not a woman. Oh, I don’t mean anatomically, thank God. But a lot of people failed to notice that she’s not really a human. There’s a lot of dialogue about “men” in the universal sense of “mankind” which includes both sexes. The Amazonians were created to protect humans, but they aren’t humans themselves. And Wonder Woman isn’t even an Amazonian but a god or demigod (it remains unclear which). She is no more a normal woman than Thor is a normal man. She may mirror norms of gender and sex, but she’s better than an actual human woman.

And on this point, let me say on behalf of my outraged daughter, the movie is a hate crime against traditional Greek mythology. Zeus didn’t create humans, Prometheus did. Zeus, if memory serves, was quite chilly on the subject of humankind.

Last, and crucially, what the Hell was an armadillo doing in Themyscira?

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: So, my wife is in Alaska for grim family business, my daughter left this morning for camp, and I am alone with my canine Amazonians. Not only does this mean that I will have to renew my membership in the International Association of People Who Eat Over The Kitchen Sink — which is fine by me — but our trusted daytime dogwalker is on vacation, which means I have to perambulate the beasts at least three times a day (it’s usually more) right as D.C. transforms into a swampy miasma reminiscent of an obese shut-in’s sweat-pant fog.

Yesterday, amidst a chaotic day of camp prep, column writing, and Gymkata practice, I had to take the Dingo to the vet. She has a bad rash in her nethers, and while I’m sure this comes as a surprise to no one, discussing canine feminine hygiene with two lady vets and a female technician comes as naturally to me as discussing health-care policy comes to Republicans. The trip to the vet was stressful in other ways. Zoë detests the vet more than most dogs, which is saying something. She has a fight-or-flight protocol that is also beyond that of any dog I’ve had. So, when flight was not an option, she made it clear to every beast in the waiting room that entering what she calls her “zone of death” is a very bad idea. She’s going to be fine, thanks in part to ministrations that will probably cost me a hand, but the vet says that Zoë does have to lose some weight (she’s 72 pounds now!).

The problem here is that she, unlike sweet Pippa, has the means to remedy hunger by living off the land as it were. If you see hundreds of squirrels carrying luggage out of Northwest Washington, it’s because news that the Dingo will be perpetually hungry and on the lookout for between-meal snacks has gotten out. Meanwhile, the crows are arming-up.

ICYMI . . . 

In my column today, I attempt to put a positive spin on things.

Last Week’s G-File

A Father’s Day Remembrance

Calling Shenanigans on Jake Tapper’s Superman-Haircut Theory

If speech can inspire good actions, it can inspire bad actions, too (BTW, this column was inspired by last week’s episode of The Editors.)

My contribution to the Commentary Symposium on the Threat to Free Speech

One-and-a-Half-Cheers for the New York Times

A Reality Check about What Handel’s Win Means

Free Speech Isn’t Always a Tool of Virtue

My appearance on Special Report discussing the GOP health care bill

Are Things Getting Better?

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

The golden age of airplane food

What the underside of an iceberg looks like

Man commits crime to get away from wife

Maine woman drowns raccoon attacker

Why dogs tilt their heads

“Fearless Girl” was supposed to be bronze cow

Tabs or spaces: the verdict

Inside the coffin homes of Hong Kong

Renaissance paintings of food people

The Hardest Logic Puzzle Ever

D.C. Bonsai that survived Hiroshima

Kung Fu mantis vs. jumping spider

What Europe would look like if every secessionist movement had their way

Dog photobombs street view of entire South Korean island

Humanity’s changing origin story

Wind turbine blown over

The Reality-TV Presidency

by Jonah Goldberg
We have been erasing the lines between celebrity culture and political culture for decades.

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 (especially those of you with a fetish for interspecies romance),

I used to love crossovers.

A “crossover” is what you call it when a character or characters from one story shows up in another. Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein was a personal favorite of mine as a kid. By the time I stopped collecting comic books, however, crossovers had gotten a bit ridiculous. They’d cut across the Marvel Universe like a four-year-old on a runaway John Deere, going straight through the hedges. A story would start in an X-Men title, get picked up in a Spider-Man title, then go careening into a limited series of Wolverine, before finally concluding in some new comic they were trying to promote such as Forensic Accountant Lad.

Movies and TV shows use crossovers to expand the pie of viewers. If you’re an ardent fan of one show, you’re likely to watch another show if your favorite characters show up in it. Hence such classics as Steve Urkel from Family Matters showing up on Full House or all those He-Man: Masters of the Universe crossovers with She-Ra: Princess of Power, not to mention that fantastic made-for-TV movie Hannah Montana Meets Brian Lamb.

Anyway, I got to thinking about crossovers, because I wanted to pick up where my Friday column left off. And I’ll do that, but now that I have crossovers in my head, I can’t let that go.

As with Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein, I always liked the big crossovers, when two seemingly incongruous universes converge. No one cares when the universe of CSI: Miami merges with the universe of CSI: New York. That’s less of a “when worlds collide” mash-up than a plausible two-hour flight. No, I’m talking about stuff like Archie Meets the Punisher or Archie vs. Predator (yes, real things) or Wonder Pets vs. the Avengers.

But I’m losing my love for crossovers these days because it feels like we’re living in one. I’m not particularly meme-spirited, but during the election when things got so impossibly weird and I felt like I was in a Bodysnatchers remake, I got kind of caught up in this whole “Earth-2” idea — where politics kept going as it’s supposed to, according to traditional Earth-logic. John Podhoretz and I have been dabbling with the idea that maybe Y2K happened after all, but in a way that was initially invisible to us. As Alice says in that as of yet unwritten crossover with Star Trek, “We’re all through the wormhole now.”

Reality World

Well, the Donald Trump presidency is the mother of all crossovers. The primetime reality-TV universe has merged with the cable-news universe — and both sides are playing the part. This is a hugely important point, and one I think my fellow Trump-skeptics should keep in mind. Take, for instance, that cabinet meeting where everybody reportedly sucked up to the president. As Andy Ferguson notes, that’s not really what happened. Reince Priebus did the full Renfield, and so did Mike Pence, but most of the others played it fairly straight.

Don’t get me wrong: Donald Trump’s need for praise is a real thing, so much so he has to invent it or pluck it from random Twitter-feed suck ups. (Remember when he told the AP that “some people said” his address to Congress “was the single best speech ever made in that chamber”?) So, yeah, Trump acts like a reality-show character, but much of the political press is covering him like they’re reality-show producers.

I kept wanting the anchor to break away to a confession-cam interview with Mike Pence.

As I’ve talked about a bunch, the mainstream media MacGuffinized Barack Obama’s presidency, making him the hero in every storyline. With Trump, they’re covering the White House like an episode of Big Brother or MTV’s Real World. By encouraging officials to gossip and snipe about each other and the boss, they too are playing the game. Much of MSNBC’s and CNN’s coverage feels like it should be called “Desperate Housewives of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”

So, when you look at how that cabinet meeting was covered, it felt less Stalinesque and more like a creepy spinoff of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette or some sure-to-come non-gendered version (working title, “I Could Be into That”). I kept wanting the anchor to break away to a confession-cam interview with Mike Pence. If he doesn’t give me a rose but gives one to Reince, I will be like, “Oh no he didn’t!”

Meanwhile, Trump’s tweeting seems less like what it is — the panicked outbursts of narcissist with a persecution complex — and more like a premise of The Apprentice in which contestants have to deal with the boss’s rhetorical monkey wrenches. Back in the West Wing, the producers (who just finished congratulating themselves for coming up with the crossover idea of having Apprentice alumnus Dennis Rodman give Kim Jong-un a copy of The Art of the Deal) are trying to craft the best possible tweets to get Sean Spicer to pop a vein in his neck.

How We Got Here

This entire spectacle is the culmination of trends long in the making. We have been erasing the lines between celebrity culture and political culture for decades. The Democratic party long ago became a vanity project for Hollywood activists who wanted to be taken more seriously. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both exploited this relationship for their short-term political advantage, but, in the process, they also blurred and ultimately obliterated important distinctions. Movie stars — and even Muppets — testified with increasingly regularity before Congress.

The Oscars and other award shows became showcases for liberal moral preening and vacuity. Mainstream journalism got into the act. The rise of TV shout-shows and cable news generally created celebrity journalists who were only too happy to appear in films, playing themselves. In the 1990s, insipid magazines such as the short-lived George treated Washington as “Hollywood for ugly people,” as Paul Begala once put it. The White House Correspondents’ Dinner, until Trump was elected, was fast on its way to becoming just another TV show during awards season, complete with twirls on the red carpet to shouts of “who are you wearing?” The Daily Show under Jon Stewart — the most literal incarnation of “fake news” possible — won a Peabody for its “journalism” during the Bush presidency.

Binge Watching Politics

Many of my angriest Always Trump critics constantly insist that I lost all my credibility because I believed Trump couldn’t or wouldn’t win the 2016 election. This is dumb on several levels. First of all, lots of pro-Trump boosters didn’t think he could win either. Indeed, many on the Trump campaign were convinced on Election Day that he would lose. Second, there’s no transitive property here. Being wrong about one thing, doesn’t automatically mean you’re wrong about everything. If it did, Donald Trump himself would be in deep trouble, unless, that is, you actually believe he’s always right about everything. Last, it’s just factually untrue. In May of 2016, I wrote about how Trump could win — and my reasoning was not only sound, it’s very relevant to this “news”letter. I argued that, just as many liberals had made Barack Obama the hero of a story in 2008 (and throughout his presidency), many Americans had done the same thing with Trump.

I think something similar has been at the root of Trump’s success. I can’t bring myself to call him a hero, but many people see him that way. Even his critics concede that he’s entertaining. I see him as being a bit like Rodney Dangerfield, constantly complaining he doesn’t get enough respect.

Regardless, Trump bulldozed his way through the primaries in part because the nomination was his MacGuffin and people wanted to see the movie play out. Many voters, and nearly the entire press corps, got caught up in the story of Trump — much the same way the press became obsessed with the “mythic” story of Obama in 2008. People just wanted to see what happened next . . . 

This could be terrible for Clinton. She began her campaign thinking she could stage a remake of The Obama Story the way they’re remaking Ghostbusters: same plot, only this time with women. It doesn’t work that way. Fair or not, the story of Hillary Clinton: First Woman President isn’t as exciting as Barack Obama: First Black President. And, more to the point, The Hillary Story is far less entertaining than The Trump Story. Clinton is boring. She’s as fun as changing shelf paper on a Saturday afternoon. Meanwhile, who wouldn’t want to see a sequel to “Back to School” in which the Rodney Dangerfield character becomes president?

As I said during the primaries, I don’t think Democrats understand the consequences of Trump’s precedent. The GOP has a very thin bench of celebrities. Scott Baio, Ted Nugent, Nick Searcy, et al. have their charms, but they’re not Oprah, George Clooney, or Tom Hanks in terms of their cultural reach and power. If it’s true that in the Year 2000 we slipped through some dimensional portal where life became a reality show, the story is going to get a lot weirder long after the Trump Show goes into syndication.

Wars, Metaphorical and Real

As I said, I didn’t plan to write about any of this. What I wanted to do was pick up a point from my Friday column. I concluded the column on the Alexandria shooting thus:

For decades we’ve invested in the federal government ever-greater powers while at the same time raising the expectations for what government can do even higher. The rhetoric of the last three presidents has been wildly outlandish about what can be accomplished if we just elect the right political savior. George W. Bush insisted that “when somebody hurts, government has to move.” Barack Obama promised the total transformation of America in palpably messianic terms. Donald Trump vowed that electing him would solve all of our problems and usher in an era of never-ending greatness and winning.

When you believe — as James Hodgkinson clearly did — that all of our problems can be solved by flicking a few switches in the Oval Office, it’s a short trip to believing that those who stand in the way are willfully evil enemies bent on barring the way to salvation. That belief won’t turn everyone into a murderer, but it shouldn’t be that shocking that it would turn someone into one.

In last week’s “news”letter, I addressed my back and forth with Dennis Prager. Dennis insists that we are in a real civil war, not a metaphorical one (and as Kevin discusses today, he’s hardly alone). When I objected to Dennis’s use of the term, he defended it as literally true in a column headlined “Yes, America is in a Civil War.” But he’s trying to have it both ways. He says “No, no — it’s really a civil war,” but then defends that claim by insisting it’s a metaphorical war:

Indeed, Jonah Goldberg in National Review said as much. He denied that we are in the midst of a civil war on two grounds: One is that it is not violent, and the other is that we are fighting a “culture war,” not a civil war.

Whenever I write about the subject, I almost always note that this Second Civil War is not violent. I never thought that the word “war” must always include violence.

The word is frequently used in nonviolent contexts: the war against cancer, the war between the sexes, the war against tobacco, the Cold War, and myriad other nonviolent wars.

The war on cancer was metaphorical. The war between the sexes is metaphorical. The term “civil war” is a literal one. And in an actual war, killing is not only acceptable, it’s mandatory. Look, I get that language is flexible and I’ve no doubt used the term “war” in diversely interpretable ways. But if we call today’s hyper-polarized and tribal political and cultural conflict a “civil war,” then we have no words left for an actual civil war. More to the point, this week’s shooting demonstrates the difference.

Inherent to the idea of debate and disagreement is that ‘combatants’ aren’t enemies but opponents.

Moreover, I hate metaphorical wars and it’s odd that Dennis cites my book as evidence for his side. I can’t count how many times I’ve railed against the concept of the “moral equivalent of war.” Wars, metaphorical and literal, work on the logic that all other considerations are secondary to total victory. It assumes that we must all drop our own individual pursuits and do whatever is necessary to defeat our enemies. And while I want to “win” political battles as much as anybody, following the logic of war isn’t how you do it.

Democracy isn’t about war or even unity, it’s about debate and disagreement. Inherent to the idea of debate and disagreement is that “combatants” aren’t enemies but opponents — and the way you win is not through killing or even metaphorically “destroying” your opponents, but by persuading them or the voters that you’re right. Every day, I’m called a traitor by those who believe that we are in a civil war, because in a civil war, disagreement or even inadequate enthusiasm is deemed to be seditious undermining of the war effort. I am entirely certain that Dennis and the vast majority of people who have bought into this civil-war thing reject violence. But the arguments they make have few or no limiting principles against violence. As Kevin pointed out earlier this week, contrary to conventional wisdom, the serious Left is in fact worse in this regard than the serious Right. But I am at a loss as to why we should try to catch up.

Various & Sundry

Alas, there’s no canine update this week, as I am finishing my (working) vacation to the Outer Banks. Because of the enduring bigotry against dogkind, we were not allowed to bring our beasts to the house we’re renting. Reports from home are that the beasts miss us terribly but are having a fine time searching the Internet for dog toys.

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File

The latest Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast

If Democrats take back the House, they will try to impeach Trump.

Megyn Kelly’s gift to Alex Jones

Political violence and the growth of government

Jack Fowler’s National Review Webathon appeal for Father’s Day.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Debby’s Wednesday links

The problem with “no problem”

How many friends would you need to celebrate someone’s birthday every day of the year?

Scientists to attempt to bring back the dead

Twelve possible reasons we haven’t found aliens

A collection of movie title drops

The most interesting man in the world is actually pretty interesting

Puppies vs. stairs

Lawsuits against God

Dogs wait patiently to be called by name

Why women live longer than men

Australian dog cut from police training gets new job

Why don’t perpetual motion machines work?

AI good for the world . . . says robot

The cat who authored a physics paper

The wonderful world of . . . spaceball

(The?) Orb sighted near Boston

Canada is genetically engineering cows to be less gassy

Comey, Master of Memos

by Jonah Goldberg
Who could have predicted that Lord Varys of the Beltway would have contingency plans and loyalists out there?

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 (I hope you can find a way to read this “news”letter),

One of the super-trendy talking points these days is to say that conservatives who are critical of Donald Trump suffer from “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” It’s original as it is clever.

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly think you can make the case that some members of the self-styled left-wing “resistance” are indeed out of their gourds.

Longtime readers might remember one of my favorite quotes from Thoreau: “Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.” Similarly, if you find yourself wearing a rubber hat that looks like female genitalia, or if you star in a video in which you proudly display the bloody, decapitated head of the president and then claim that you’re the victim because people took offense, or even if you look in the mirror and to your horror discover that you’re Keith Olbermann, you may have something that could be called “Trump Derangement Syndrome.”

Nor do I think that every critic on the right is a voice of pure reason and restraint. I think Jennifer Rubin and Evan McMullin often get so far over their skis they look like flying T-squares.

And then, of course, there is Louise Mensch. The most reasonable theory for her antics of late is that she is so offended by Russian-backed fake news, she’s decided to fight fire with fire. Another is that she misread an article about micro-dosing of LSD to read “macro.”

But I can report definitively that’s not what’s going on. The other day, I was in the Willard Hotel’s lobby men’s room, under the pretext of making my routine weekly delivery of urinal cakes. I was really there, however, to check in with the bathroom attendant who is actually an operative for USPIS, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service — America’s oldest domestic clandestine security agency.

(I don’t want to get bogged down here, but no one appreciates the full extent of their reach. Ben Franklin not only created USPIS while America was still a colony, the famous inventor used the Postal Inspection Service as a cover to develop a host of special surveillance technologies — not to mention numerous lethal weapons to be deployed in the war against the embryonic Republic of Corbynistan. Not for nothing do we talk about “going postal”: These satchel-carrying assassins delivered death long before they clogged your doorframe with Crate & Barrel catalogs. True fact: Congress made stealing the mail punishable by death in 1792.)

Anyway, my men’s-room contact — with whom I made no Larry Craig–style contact, if you know what I mean — tells me that the Juvenile Maritime Courts have issued new articles of impeachment against Trump and sent them to the Greater Municipal Sewage Authority in Gary, Ind., for safekeeping. USPIS would have kept it secret but they’re furious that the JMCs used FedEx to deliver the articles of impeachment. And by a special Act of Congress — not that Congress, the real one that operates out of an abandoned Circuit City in Cleveland — Mensch will be named chief inquisitor at Trump’s trial.

TDS for Thee, But Not for Me

Anyway, where was I? Oh right, Trump Derangement Syndrome. In short the problem isn’t that something like it exists, but rather that once you buy into it, TDS becomes all-explanatory. It’s a bit like the old Communist idea of “false consciousness” or the various theories of “white privilege” or “toxic masculinity.” You see, the Marxists used to say that anyone who couldn’t be persuaded to their cause was suffering from capitalism-induced false consciousness.

Some Trump boosters have the same approach to pretty much any inconvenient fact or development. For instance, this writer insists that I suffer from Trump Derangement Syndrome because I had the temerity to suggest not only that Donald Trump’s use of “covfefe” was a typo but that Sean Spicer’s defense of it might be trolling. As you well know, Occam’s Razor dictates that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. And, like a stiletto-wielding assassin of USPIS, David Danford cuts through my deranged musings to conclude that Trump was really using a loose transliteration of the Arabic word for “stand up yourself.”

As this example might suggest, relying on Trump Derangement Syndrome to beat back your opponents can lead to a severe case of PTDS — Pro-Trump Derangement Syndrome. And I think we’ve seen quite a lot of it in the last 24 hours.

Comey, Master of Memos

Look, I am perfectly happy to concede that James Comey is no Boy Scout. I’ve long said he’s much too interested in protecting his reputation as a Boy Scout to actually be one. If Washington were King’s Landing, Comey is closer to Varys, Master of Whisperers, than to Ned Stark. But do recall that Ned Stark wore his honor on his sleeve and it got him killed. Varys has honor and considers himself a patriot, but he’s also a survivor: “The storms come and go, the waves crash overhead, the big fish eat the little fish, and I keep on paddling.”

I’m more sympathetic to Comey than most, but I also think he should have been fired. My objection to Trump’s firing him was always grounded in the clumsy, self-destructive nature of it. If the president had simply done it the right way and afforded Comey some minimal dignity and respect, Trump wouldn’t be in the mess he’s in today. So, if we’re going to extend the Game of Thrones analogies, Trump is most like King Joffrey. No, he’s not a murderous sadist. He is, however, a man who has an insecure adolescent’s craving for respect and loyalty but who is utterly incapable of returning it to others. He also lets his psychological insecurities lead him astray, sometimes hourly.

I’m more sympathetic to Comey than most, but I also think he should have been fired.

If Trump hadn’t tweeted about the possibility of there being “tapes” of his conversation — which was almost surely a baseless and self-injuring bluff — Comey claims he wouldn’t have planted the details of his conversation with Trump in the press.

Of course, maybe that’s not true. I am totally open to the idea that this was an act of political revenge as this lawyer argues over at The Weekly Standard. But, two points need to be made about that.

First, if you take your partisan zeal or psychological defensiveness out of it, is it really so crazy to think Comey might want revenge? Comey was assured he was secure in his job — at least in his own telling (under oath) — but then he was summarily fired while he was on the other side of the country giving a speech, where he learned about it on TV and from the audience. He then had his name dragged through the mud. Who could have predicted that Lord Varys of the Beltway would have contingency plans and loyalists out there?

Second, even if you think that Comey’s payback is dishonorable, no good, and very bad, that doesn’t have any bearing on the question of whether or not his story is, you know, true.

The anti-Comey brigades on the right want to have it every which way. “He’s a liar,” Trump, his lawyer, and the PTDSers say. Well, as I note in my Friday column, if Comey is willing to lie, why didn’t he come up with a far more damaging story? He could have said Trump offered him cash to have Ted Cruz’s father arrested for murdering JFK. He could have said Trump told him the Ghostbusters remake was the best film he’d ever seen.

People are making a huge deal of the fact that Comey admitted to doing Loretta Lynch’s bidding by calling the Clinton investigation a “matter.” On that point, they think Comey is telling the truth.

Similarly, Democrats and Republicans alike denounce him for not more forcefully standing up to the president when Trump said he “hoped” Comey could cut Michael Flynn some slack. If he’s such a liar, why not say, “I looked the president in the eye and told him, ‘Sir, I took an oath and I will not bend to your outrageous demands!’”?

Of course, one reason Comey couldn’t say that is that he was locked into his version of events, because he wrote it all down and described it to colleagues immediately after the meeting with Trump. But that, alas, is an argument for believing Comey told the truth.

The PTDSers want to pocket every statement that exonerates the president as utterly dispositive while claiming that every indicting statement is a lie. That’s not how it works.

Starrs in Their Eyes

Here’s the thing. We have this old saying: “The truth hurts.” Call a skinny person who doesn’t have an eating disorder “fat” and there’s not much sting. Call a fat person fat and it hurts. Again, let’s stipulate for the sake of argument that Comey is a vengeful Deep State operator of cynical cunning. That version of Comey would understand best of all that the route to getting his vengeance would be by telling the truth.

All of this has me reeling from déjà vu. Bill Clinton was a president of remarkably low character with a mutant superpower for dishonesty so profound it would have Cerebro smoking like a AMC Pacer with sugar in its gas tank. By actions of his own making, he invited a special prosecutor (several, actually) to investigate him. The response from the assembled forces of liberalism was to attack Ken Starr in the most reprehensible ways. Clinton, too, benefitted from a cult of personality, and in such cults, the personality is held to a different standard from everyone else. Comey is now getting the Ken Starr treatment from Trumpworld, but the logic is the same: The fault lies in the Starrs, not themselves — or himself.

Conservatism Adrift

Maybe I’m so dyspeptic because I have the ooze of too many Twitter trolls all over me. But I am just amazed how remotely objective people can still take offense — offense! not mere disagreement — at the claim that Donald Trump is a liar. Honestly, I think “claim” is too weak of a word. It’s simply a verifiable fact.

And this gets to the corrupting power of both Trump’s personality cult and the obsessive need among some conservatives to justify their support for Trump by attacking skeptical conservatives as somehow deranged or nefariously motivated.

My friend Dennis Prager wrote an essay a while back lamenting about how “Never Trumpers” still refuse to become cheerleaders for Trump. He offered a number of theories as to why — We’re “utopians”! We’re seeking approval of the liberal cocktail-party set! We’re self-righteous! Etc. I responded to that column already, as did many others quite ably.

Dennis responded to his critics this week. I have little stomach to get into a major squabble with Dennis because a) I’ve lost enough friends in all this, b) I still very much like and respect the guy, and c) because there’s not room here to do justice to all of my criticisms, some of which have been covered by others.

But there is one point I do want to address, because it relates to this Comey business. Dennis writes:

“But what about Trump’s character?” nearly all my critics ask. Or, as John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine, tweeted, “For Dennis Prager, who spent 40 years advocating for a moral frame for American politics, to argue as he argued today is, may I say, ironic.”

First, I have indeed dedicated much of my life to advocating for morality — for ethical monotheism as the only way to achieve a moral world; for raising moral children (as opposed to concentrating, for example, on raising “brilliant” children); and for the uniquely great Judeo-Christian moral synthesis developed by the Founding Fathers of America.

But I have never advocated for electing moral politicians. Of course, I prefer people of good character in political office . . . 

Put aside the fact that I don’t think this is quite right, or at least not the whole story. For instance, in 2011, Dennis argued that Trump’s crude language alone rendered him “unfit to be a presidential candidate, let alone president.” He asked, “If we cannot count on Republicans and conservatives to maintain standards of public decency and civility, to whom shall we look?” I think Trump’s language hasn’t changed nearly as much as Dennis’s criteria for presidents.

But, again, I don’t want to make this about Dennis. For the last 24 hours, I have been besieged by people insisting that Comey is a deceitful man of low honor. I don’t think Comey is that, but if he is, he is only by the rarefied standards of a career public servant who operates within conventional boundaries of morality and decency. But whatever. My point is: If you excuse all the things Donald Trump has done and said — and bragged about! — you have surrendered the ability to use notions of honor, decency, and honesty as weapons against his critics.

Whataboutism is fine if you want to point out double standards. But the trick is to hold onto your standards while you do it. It is otherworldly to celebrate how Donald Trump doesn’t play by the rules while at the same denouncing anyone who doesn’t play by the rules in response. As I’ve written before, when the president of the United States ignores “democratic norms,” it is naïve to expect that everyone else will abide by them. And it is grotesquely hypocritical to defend Trump’s disdain for the rules while demonizing others for far lesser transgressions.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: The beasts have been more of burden this week than usual. Pippa seems to have picked up a bad habit from Zoë — she now has the need to roll in foulness. We can’t figure out why. One theory is that it might prevent Zoë from chewing on her too much. Still, Pippa is one happy dog.

Speaking of Zoë, we had quite an incident the other day. I was out of town and my wife took the morning walk. She went to one of the parks where I usually let Zoë chase rabbits, which she can’t catch because of the thick bushes and underbrush that hide their bunkers. But the Fair Jessica didn’t know that one of the adjoining houses had backyard chickens in a coop. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, but as we later learned a fox — another creature Zoë loves to chase — had gotten into the coop and scattered the chickens. One made it over the fence and into the park. Zoë saw it and did what her union contract requires her to do.

My wife was horrified and dismayed (she was also shocked to see a chicken in the first place). She went to the house to apologize and offer compensation, but they were remarkably cool about the whole thing. Apparently, the mortality rate of backyard chickens is high. Still we both felt terrible about it. And so, it seems, did Zoë. She lacked any of her usual triumphalism, perhaps sensing that she had acted too quickly and was just as surprised as anyone — save the poor chicken — that she caught the creature. I know many readers are much more down to earth about such things. But I’m not a hunter, and I never like it when Zoë or the cats actually catch anything. Still, we can now add chicken to the list of prey on Zoë’s résumé.

My wife was horrified and dismayed (she was also shocked to see a chicken in the first place).

Sorry for the tardiness for today’s “news”letter (and the dyspepsia) but I had to take a big chunk out of my morning to take my mandatory sensitivity training at Fox News. I am not making this up. To their credit, Fox is taking the recent troubles very seriously, requiring every employee and contributor to take the course. I get it. But while I can see why Fox sees it as a fruitful and necessary use of my time, as someone who doesn’t actually harass people, I can’t say the same thing. One good thing I learned is that abuse of interns isn’t covered so long as the abuse isn’t targeted at a protected status — age, gender, race, etc. Therefore, so long as I don’t single out interns based upon any of those characteristics, I can still hunt them for sport.

ICYMI…

I was on Friday’s Special Report.

Last week’s G-File.

My ABC News This Week appearance.

The depressing sameness of London attack reactions.

My America’s Newsroom exhortation to congressional Republicans to pass more legislation.

Bathtubs are not more dangerous than terrorists.

My quick take on Comey’s testimony.

How Trump made the Comey situation worse for himself.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

A brief history of children sent through the mail

Scientists create molecular black hole

Sidney Blumenthal? Is that you?

Play someone a song on the world’s smallest violin

Lightning in slow motion

7-11 vs. 6-12

Pitbull stops home invaders

Scientists hear ancient black holes collide

Scientists can wiggle mouse whiskers with electricity

A brief history of the gif

Japanese pigeon shoes

At age 111, America’s oldest veteran is still smoking cigars, drinking whiskey, and loving life

Tarantula crawls out of its own skeleton

World’s largest privately-owned Star Wars collection has been robbed

Mummified dinosaur found

Florida man shoots McDonald’s manager over food order

Dad’s gotta Dad

The ‘Lifestylization’ of Politics

by Jonah Goldberg
Disagreements become insults when politics becomes a statement about who you are.

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 Covfefe,

I will admit upfront that I have a pretty good gig, writing-wise. No one really tells me what to write, particularly in this “news”letter. I have no lane, as it were. I can go anywhere I want — Alger Hiss was guilty! I like eating cold chicken over the sink! Cows, when cooked properly, are delicious! Hail Orb! Etc!

Still, even as a generalist, there are some topics that aren’t a natural fit for me. I rarely write about sports. I can’t remember the last time I weighed-in on relations between Peru and Singapore or why I might spare One Direction’s lives if I were czar. I don’t review video games, miniature-horse rodeos, or Canadian pornography. But I will confess that, if I wanted to, I could. And, if someone out there wants to pay me to share my musings I will be happy to discuss terms.

I bring this up for the simple reason that I want to head off a specific asinine rejoinder that is so prevalent in this remarkably stupid moment: “If it’s okay for you to do it, why can’t I?”

My short response to this is: “Because this is my job.”

This is a long way around to get to what should have been my lede: Stay in your lanes, people.

The other day, the guy behind one of my favorite Twitter feeds, @Dog_rates, announced that he would donate half of the proceeds from a jokey anti-Trump hat to Planned Parenthood. I was among the first to criticize him. I didn’t dispute his right to do what he had in mind, but I said it was a terrible business decision for the rather obvious reason that Planned Parenthood is polarizing.

There’s a reason why lots of businesses don’t want to be seen as political — i.e., because they want to maximize the number of their customers. If you start hawking “liberal” widgets, you are closing yourself off to conservative widget buyers, and vice versa. Of course, some business models involve finding market niches, but ideally you want to sell to everyone. A dog-themed Twitter account is already something of a niche, but since only monsters don’t like dogs, it’s a pretty broad niche. Picking sides on one of the most divisive issues of our time — abortion — may be a principled thing to do, but purely on business terms it was a bad idea, as anyone who’s watched Seinfeld could have told him.

Now, I’m not going to rehash all of it here (Ian Tuttle has two good posts on the situation here and here). But I will say that I would have made the exact same argument if @Dog_Rates had promised to donate money to pro-life groups, a point my left-wing critics seem to have a very difficult time processing.

Anyway, it looks like I was right that Matt Nelson, the operator of the account, hadn’t thought the whole thing through when he came up with the idea, and he tried to backpedal as best he could, which then in turn pissed off the pro–Planned Parenthood crowd. As best I can tell, he’s even taken down his semi-apologetic statement. That’s what happens when you blunder into a no-win situation.

Now consider this tweet rant from the ACLU:

I have no doubt the ACLU sincerely believes all of this. But you know what? Climate change isn’t in the American Civil Liberties Union’s portfolio. The ACLU is supposed to be concerned with — wait for it — civil liberties. I think it has been drifting off that beat for a long time. But this tweet is truly remarkable and remarkably dumb. The ACLU depends a great deal on its reputation as a non-partisan defender of constitutional rights. It puts that reputation at risk when it starts soapboxing about climate change. What does it gain from this as an institution? The people who already agree with these tweets don’t need to be persuaded, and the people who don’t will not be persuaded by them. But they will — or might be — further convinced that the ACLU is just another partisan political outfit. Credibility is a difficult resource to accumulate and an easy one to squander.

Maybe the ACLU is too far gone to be a good example of what I’m talking about. But the problem is everywhere. From news anchors and reporters all but giving up any claims to neutrality on the issues of the day, to judges who must virtue signal their distaste for Trump, to actors who think that they are full-time pundits who play make-believe on the stage and screen as a side hobby.

Almost every morning I see this GE ad.

I’ve seen nary a critical word about it, even though it is nothing more than corporate political propaganda. But since it’s propaganda all the right people support, they don’t even pause to think about how they would respond if it pushed a political message they don’t like. It’s like my old rants about NBC’s “Green Week.” Imagine if ABC came out with a “pro-life” week in which they incorporated positive messages about fighting for the unborn in their news broadcasts and sitcoms. The same people cheering @Dog_Rates would be burning cars in the streets.

Peanut Butter Cup America

It’s a familiar conservative lament to say this is all part of the politicization of everything. And I think that’s true. But you can flip it on its head, too. Everything is becoming lifestylized (I hereby decree that’s a word). It’s like that ancient debate between Plato and Socrates: Did Socrates get his chocolate in Plato’s peanut butter or did Plato get peanut butter in Socrates’ chocolate? (“That sounds dirty” — The Couch.)

Scads have been written, mostly by conservatives and libertarians, about the problem of politics bleeding into the nooks and crannies of traditionally apolitical life. And I agree with much of it. But far less has been written about how lifestyle is creeping into politics. With the decline of traditional religion and other mediating institutions, the primary source of identity for ever larger numbers of people is partisan affiliation. Indeed, partisan affiliation — for the first time ever — is often more predictive of behavior and attitudes than race, ethnicity, religion, and gender. That’s bananas.

But it’s also utterly predictable. When politics becomes a secular religion, a source of meaning, or simply a “lifestyle,” politics will be less about arguments and tradeoffs and more about wearing “ideas” on your sleeve. I agree with Jonathan Last when he writes that the current hysteria over the Paris pullout is virtue signaling about virtue signaling. But what else can you expect when people start wearing their partisan affiliation the way people once wore a crucifix or Star of David?

Disagreements become insults when politics becomes a statement about who you are. And, as I keep saying, that explains why so many now define free speech as assault and assault as free speech.

Rights and Science

What do the passionate cries of “science denier” and calls for prosecuting Kathy Griffin have in common? They conflate amoral processes with moral stances.

This is difficult to explain, so give me a minute. Neil deGrasse Tyson notwithstanding, science is not moral. It is not a source of values. Scientists can do extremely evil things or extremely noble things. Science is a method and a tool. But the freedom to “do science” is a wonderful thing because a society with healthy guardrails can harness science to wonderful ends. Think of fire. Fire has no morality. It can be used to burn down a home and it can be used to cook a meal. Our legal, cultural, and moral guardrails make these distinctions constantly. We don’t let mad scientists use humans for experiments without their permission, even though I could make a perfectly rational argument that if we gave scientists a free hand, we could get more medical breakthroughs more quickly. What are a few eggs if we get a better omelet? Etc.

If you read left-wing Twitter, this is a source of remarkable confusion for many people. Every day, I see a tweet from someone saying that you must “believe in science” when it comes to climate change and another tweet from someone else saying that science is a tool of oppression and racism. How can science be righteously authoritative on environmental policy but cruel and bigoted when it comes to the science of embryology or sexuality?

Something similar holds for our rights. We have all manner of rights to do wrongs. For instance, as Kat Timpf and Charlie Cooke have been insisting, what Griffin did with that beheaded effigy of Donald Trump was stupid and repugnant. But at the same time, she had every right to do it, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Charlie is right. But there is a tension. Just as Griffin has every right to do what she did, she was also wrong to do it. This is a distinction people get profoundly confused about on both the left and the right.

For instance, when it was reported that General Michael Flynn (Ret.) would invoke his Fifth Amendment rights, many of his defenders shrieked that we shouldn’t count that against him in any way. As a legal matter, that’s correct. But there’s nothing wrong with making judgments about it either. It looks bad, even if Flynn is within in his rights.

If you’re going to get on your high horse about how it’s unfair to leap to conclusions when someone pleads the Fifth, then I can only assume you condemned this:

What’s interesting to me is the way that people talk about rights as if they have moral content to them. “How dare you judge me for exercising my rights!”

There is an infinite menu of things I can do with my rights that would be immoral or unethical, just as there is an infinite menu of things scientists can do with science that would be immoral, unethical, and illegal.

Americans have the right to say horrible things on Twitter in response to a terrorist attack on a bunch of young girls. They have the right to associate with Klansmen. They have the right to worship Satan. They have the right to do all manner of gross, tacky, weird, and unspeakable things with their own property and in their own homes. Indeed, they have the right to sit around all day wearing Indy 500 Rompers and eating lettuce jam while watching Donnie Darko. But in these and in so many other things, I have the right to make judgments and to criticize based on those judgments. Whether my judgments are fair and my criticisms are sound has no bearing on whether I have the right to them.

Why should the Fifth Amendment be any different? The Fifth Amendment is the right that ensures a fair process. That’s all. It’s not a source of meaning or moral direction outside that process.

Whether my judgments are fair and my criticisms are sound has no bearing on whether I have the right to them.

Morality only enters the picture when you look at the system as a whole. The trees can be bad, but the forest is good. As I wrote in this much better “news”letter, the essence of conservatism can be defined as “comfort with contradiction.” People have the right to do wrong and people have the right to condemn, shame, and boycott people who do wrong. Saying you had the right to do x is a universally valid defense in only one venue: a court of law. Outside the dock, there are higher standards — or there should be.

The problem with the lifestylization of politics — most acutely on college campuses — is that people want to clear away the contradictions. They want a unity of goodness where all good things go together and bad things are given no quarter. This has chiefly been a problem on the left, but it has become increasingly bipartisan. Why? Because right-wing populism is a lifestyle too:

Everywhere you look, people are mistaking inconvenient facts for insults. Every single day, people are taking offense at disagreement and confusing rights (and presidential prerogatives) and science for moral authority. It’s a hothouse where the air is thick with hypocrisy because arguments are downstream of feelings — and where facts are so much flair to don or discard depending on what lifestyle you want to adopt and what virtues you want to signal. In short, it’s a very stupid time.

Various & Sundry

As Michael Knight said to Kitt, I want to change gears a little. Kevin Williamson has a very nice plea for your support today. In his own inimitable way, he corroborates the point I made above:

National Review took a principled and — even at the time — unpopular stand against the man who would go on to become the Republican presidential nominee and, incredibly enough, president. I was not the most restrained voice on the issue. I am sure that this resulted in some canceled subscriptions and withheld donations, but I never heard much about any of that. I get a lot of feedback on my work from the editors here — “Do you think this is really fair to the other side’s argument? Are you sure about the numbers here? Do you really need a 121-word lead?” — but it’s never: “Don’t write that because it will annoy x donor or y advertiser.”

If you are wondering what your donations and support go to, that’s it: maintaining a conservative institution that lets a lot of different writers with a lot of different opinions write what they think without worrying about anything other than producing the best work they can. It’s a big part of what allows National Review to operate as an opinion journal in which — this is remarkable, if you think about it — there is no party line. If there’s a live political dispute that Ramesh Ponnuru, Rich Lowry, Andrew C. McCarthy, Reihan Salam, Jay Nordlinger, Mike Potemra, Rick Brookhiser, Kat Timpf, Veronique de Rugy, Ian Tuttle, Alexandra DeSanctis, and I all agree about . . . I can’t think what it is.

Now, if you’re like me, you may be wondering why he left me off that list. Maybe Kevin knows something I don’t know? But putting that aside, he’s making an important point. National Review has writers who exult in Donald Trump and it has writers who don’t. I don’t think we have any writers who take a position of blanket opposition to him. There are no members of the “resistance” here. But there are plenty of people who understand that conservatism is more than a lifestyle, better than pure team partisanship. In short, we believe in making arguments, standing athwart GroupThink. And the fact that so many friends and readers have trouble with this is a testament, at least in some small part, to the extent of the lifestylization of American politics. If you feel that way, you’re probably not reading this anyway.

But if you appreciate it, if you think America needs more institutions that think arguments and facts matter — even when they are insulting to people on the left or the right — then we would be extremely grateful if you could show your appreciation. If you can’t, we understand. Life is complicated, which is sort of the whole point.

Canine Update: Things have been a bit complicated on the dog front this week. Pippa developed a bad limp earlier in the week, but seems to be on the mend. It’s a sign of how traumatized my wife and I were by the Late Great Cosmo The Wonderdog’s medical troubles that we greet every limp as a potential crisis. Cosmo was beautiful, tough, and smart, but he was also built like an East German car. Before he died, Cosmo was about two surgeries shy of being fully bionic. We don’t know how the Spaniel hurt herself, but we fear it might be that Zoë and Pippa might play too rough when the humans are gone. My wife’s new job has necessitated a lot more alone time, and there’s evidence to believe that Zoë takes out her boredom on Pippa much like Ramsay Bolton did on Reek. We hope that’s not the case. But I’m sorely tempted to get a nanny cam to get to the bottom of it. Meanwhile, it means that when we’re home, Zoë is far needier.

In other news, Zoë is fascinated by turtles and covfefe. In feline news, when the Fair Jessica and I were in New York over Memorial Day, our dogwalker/sitter/aunt reported that around 11:00 o’clock at night, Zoë went bonkers and started barking out an open window. Kirsten looked outside and saw that Gracie, the Good Cat, was staring down a fox in the middle of the street. Between Zoë’s barking and Gracie’s willful glare, the fox turned tail (literally!) and ran away. It could have ended very badly. But now Zoë and Pippa look upon Gracie as a kind of folk hero.

Head’s Up: I’ll be on ABC’s This Week on Sunday.

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File.

My short (mostly negative) review of Alien: Covenant.

My response to Dennis Prager’s take on Trump’s right-leaning critics.

Why government-provided health care doesn’t necessarily lead to better health.

L’affaire covfefe.

My Special Report appearance from Wednesday night.

Why can’t Hillary accept blame for her 2016 loss?

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Two mating camels cause a traffic jam in Dubai

Little girl rescues runaway dog with love

When deja vu is strong enough that you don’t know what’s real

A garden of poison plants

When Nazis tried to bring extinct animals back to life

Behold: a new species of carnivorous sponge

Great White shark launches itself into Australian fisherman’s boat

Science: Your meanest friend just wants the best for you

School in France testing facial recognition tech to keep students paying attention

Love-hormone injections turn gray seals into best friends

What does the edge of the universe look like?

The strange and surprising second life of Harambe

Five hundred years after the Protestant Reformation began . . . a robot priest

The most misspelled words in every state

Mathematical proof that your life is interesting

Newborn walks minutes after being born

Anything Goes in Our New Bro Age

by Jonah Goldberg
‘Hold my beer while I abandon my principles . . .’

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 Readers (Including those of you who have not yet embraced the Orb and the total consciousness that comes with it),

Greetings from the Magic Pan at Ronald Reagan National Airport. When I say “Magic Pan,” I do not mean one of the lesser deities in the Celestial Kingdom of the Orb (That’s not even the right translation for that deity, which would be closer to “Thaumaturgical Skillet of Woe and Uncomfortable Urination of Lava”) — I’m at the “Magic Pan Crepe Station” at the airport. I can report that the crepes meet nearly all of the minimal requirements to make them fit for human consumption.

I’m not at the airport just because I like to pay as much as possible for small bags of beef jerky. I’m shipping up to Boston, or wherever Radcliffe College is, for something called Radcliffe Day, where I’ll be on a panel saying panel-y things.

So, I should warn you Up Front, if that’s your real name, or even if you’re not a member of the Front family, that today’s “news”letter is going to be a little different. As Bill Clinton likes to say when over international waters, “it’s going to get a little weird.”

That’s because I’ve been writing this thing piecemeal over the last 24 hours while doing 37.3 other things and not getting much sleep (I’m on the plane now, btw). Also, because I keep licking that Australian toad. Also, because I am now in the thrall of the Orb. No, it’s not my golden calf — which always gets weird looks when I wear shorts. (“Hey, why is the lower half of one of your legs gold color?”) It’s because I can’t stop making jokes about how the Orb is my master now. I think Orb worship is a perfect meme-fad-faith for our craptacular new age. For instance, you know that old thing about how God backwards is “Dog”?

Well, hie thee to the Ye Olde Photoshoppery and make me one of these: “The Orb Couldn’t Physically Be with Us, So He Gave Us Bros to Remind Us What a Stupid Time It Is to Be Alive. And Notice Orb Spelled Backwards Is Bro Because LOL Nothing Matters and SMOD Let Us Down.”

Anything Goes

Here’s an example: The assault on Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs in Montana was just about the perfect episode for the Bro Age. It could be in the Orbian Bible as the Book of Bro.

According to the Old God of the Jewish and Christian Faith, what GOP candidate Greg Gianforte did the night before the special election was inexcusable. Okay, technically, the Judaism 1.0 of my forebears with all the Smiting and Wrath, might have made some allowances for it. But as a matter of traditional ethics and morality, what he did was, again, inexcusable. But in the Bro Age, when one of your Bros does something wrong and oh-so-Broey — particularly if there’s proof that it happened so you can’t blame it on anonymous sources — the first thing you must do is defend your Bro’s actions. After Gianforte’s body slam, Twitter was full of people, even those of the blue checkmark variety, talking about how the Jacobs guy deserved it. I even caught Rob O’Neill on Fox saying that Jacobs was a “snowflake” and that the assault was “kinda funny” and that this was just “Montana Justice.”

Obviously, I have enormous respect for O’Neill’s accomplishments (he was the guy who plugged Osama bin Laden, which earns him a lifetime coupon for free drinks as far as I’m concerned), but this is repugnant and stupid and insulting to Montanans. If O’Neill were still in uniform and had done what Gianforte did, his career would have been destroyed and he’d likely be in a stockade. Oh, and it was Gianforte who literally freaked out in a fight-or-flight panic when asked a question about a frick’n CBO score! But Ben Jacobs is the snowflake?

Moreover, if a Democratic politician attacked, say, Jesse Watters (who routinely asks far more provocative questions than Jacobs did) never mind a serious reporter like James Rosen, the conservative media complex would be lit red with sirens and we’d all be covering our ears from the din of the “Aroogah! Aroogah! Battle Stations! Battle Stations!” blasting from the loudspeakers.

So, congrats! You held a seat in Montana (which you were going to win anyway).

But no, for an entire day, countless people defended the assault because they didn’t like Jacobs, or they wanted to win an open House seat, or they wanted to play yet another round of whatabboutism, or help Donald Trump in some way or — in the case of the alt-right — because any attack on a Jew is defined as a good start.

So, let me ask the people who spent the day defending Gianforte: How do you feel now that he won? Is it all you hoped it would be? Oh, and how did you feel when he apologized? Did you regret all that Montana justice and he-had-it-coming talk? I mean, you probably didn’t really believe that stuff anyway. You just let people believe you did because the cause was so important. Or maybe you’re mad that Gianforte apologized after spending all that time arguing he did nothing wrong? Probably not — because one of the Orb’s first commandments is “Thou Shalt Not Care about Anyone’s Hypocrisy but the Enemy’s.”

So, congrats! You held a seat in Montana (which you were going to win anyway). I guess you can take some credit for somehow helping Trump avoid a marginally bad one-day story (though the “Trump encourages atmosphere of violence” story is worse). What did you have to give up? Just any claim to the moral high ground and any credibility when it comes to condemning political violence down the line.

That’s okay, because in the Bro Age, all of the creativity is in how to leap over, skate around, or dive under objective standards of right and wrong. “Hold my beer while I abandon my principles . . . (Orb willing).”

Memory Lane

So, now I’m in the car from Boston’s Logan Airport out to Radcliffe (no I’m not driving). Radcliffe, as you may know, is a former all-women’s college and I have a warm spot in my heart for such institutions because I attended one. I went to Goucher College — my freshman year was the first fully co-ed class. There were 30-odd men (and I do mean odd men) and over a thousand women.

The reasons I went to an all-women’s college have less to do with the late-night Cinemax scenarios most men leap to when I mention these stats (“Dear Penthouse, I never thought I’d be writing a letter like this . . . ) and more to do with the fact that I was rejected from every other college I applied to.

This used to be a mid-sized chip on my shoulder. I’m the first to admit that I was your classic underachiever at my (fairly ridiculous) high school (Fellow alums: Vin Diesel, Paris Hilton, and, I just learned, Walter Lippmann!). I did just enough to avoid getting kicked out for one reason or another (“I swear, that goat isn’t mine!”). Sure, I got my share of good grades when the subject or the teacher interested me, but in the great battle for my attention comic books, TV, sci-fi, video games, girls, and, eventually, beer were like Seal Team Six fighting the support staff of the House Subcommittee on Low-Flow Toilets in a gladiatorial battle to the death for the amusement of the Orb’s Triskelion in-laws (“10,000 Quatloos that the one with the asthma inhaler cries before death!”).

One of my yearbook quotes was from Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good”: They say I’m lazy, but it takes all my time.

Now, Homo underachievus has many subspecies and phyla. Not everyone sets out to do the bare minimum for the same reasons or the same way. Yes, I cannot deny that I was a member of the great and glorious cult of Sloth (Standard Chant: “Hail Sloth, Hail Sloth, Hai . . . Oh look, Knight Rider is on!”). But laziness is just one of the requirements of the truly accomplished underachiever.

Fear is another one, specifically fear of trying your best and coming up short. This is the dilemma of being told that you have great potential. I always tested fairly well. I always liked to write. I always liked to read. I was a good talker.

When I was no older than six or seven, he told me he liked to carry bombs on planes.

And I had very smart parents who talked knowledgably about politics and current events. My dad in particular was a walking university, as far as I was concerned. And one of his only hobbies was going on long walks with his boys and talking about history and philosophy and, of course, why Communism is Very Bad.

(My dad’s humor was so dry, cacti would whither on its landscape during the “rainy season.” For example, when I was no older than six or seven, he told me he liked to carry bombs on planes. He explained that since the odds of one bomb being on a plane were very high, the odds of two bombs being on the same plane were so astronomically high as to make it impossible for a bad person to bring one on the plane. Whether you think it’s funny or not — I do — it’s the kind of thing that gets a little kid thinking. He had a kind of Socratic gift that way. He liked to tell me that if humans ever got to Mars, it was far more likely we’d find a functioning pocket watch there than alien life, since pocket watches are far less complicated than living organisms. He was wrong on the science, which he knew, but again it was a good way to get a seven-year-old to think outside the box. And it amused him greatly to say weird stuff like that to me and my brother, perhaps because he couldn’t say it to anyone else.)

The Underachiever in Chief

Anyway, where was I? Oh right, underachievers. So, I had a reputation for being smart — not a genius, but certainly much smarter than my school “work” suggested. The problem with such reputations is that the only thing that can destroy them is actually trying your hardest and coming up short.

So you create excuses. You write your English assignments on the bus ride to school (a skillset that has come in handy for this “news”letter more than once). If you do poorly, well, what did you expect? You didn’t really try. If you do well, “Hey just imagine how much better it would have been if I gave it my best!”

I bring all this up for a few reasons, starting with the fact that nostalgia is as good a muse as any. Also Radcliffe sent me down this odd mental trail and this “news”letter has always been a kind of Ouija Board: Start chasing letters and see what comes out.

But also because I’ve long thought that my underachieving youth gave me a particular insight into Donald Trump.

Bear with me. Of course, it’s insane to call President Trump an underachiever, and I don’t mean to suggest otherwise. But in the primaries, whenever Trump talked about winning states he “didn’t even try” to win, or when he said he could learn whatever he needed to learn once he was in the White House; or when he bragged about winging it in debates, it was a kind of Nightingale’s song of the underachiever, triggering memories and mental habits I’ve struggled to put away (save in this “news”letter).

Donald Trump works hard, or so I’m constantly told. But there are many kinds of “working hard.” Staying busy and active is a kind of hard work, and by all accounts Donald Trump does that. But he also seems to have taken the habits of the underachiever — relying on your wits in the moment, counting on the fact that you’re better on the fly than the well-prepared are if you can manage to knock them off balance or in some other way Kobiashyi Maru the crap out of the situation. In every profile of Trump, much is made of his need to dominate the room or the conversation to his advantage. Even his handshakes are about dominance.

You can see how this skill would be an asset in sales and real estate — and in Republican primaries. Winning the soundbite, dominating the stage, grabbing all the attention: This, it turns out, is gold.

But you can also see why such skills would or could steer you wrong in situations where there is no substitute for doing your homework.

Chesterton’s Invisi-Fence

Now that I’m in a van outside the Cambridge Marriot waiting to be joined by E. J. Dionne, Al Hunt, and Judy Woodruff so we can drive to breakfast (no, I’m not making that up), let me switch gears . . . 

Actually, now that I am sitting outside Logan Airport five hours later, let me switch gears.

I’ve been writing about Chesterton’s fence for years. For those of you who don’t remember because they lost most of their memory after waking up in that dumpster handcuffed to a horse’s severed leg (or for some other reason), here’s the relevant passage:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.

I reference Chesterton’s fence all the time, usually in the context of progressives who are imbued with the fierce arrogance of now. They have special contempt for tradition, custom, etc.

And that is basically the context Chesterton had in mind. But I think there’s a lesson here for Trump as well. Trump’s glandular approach to every situation is a kind of lizard-brain version of progressivism. Tell Trump he can’t do or say something and he almost instinctively does it or says it. It’s like there’s a homunculus in there screaming, “You’re not the boss of me!” 24/7. His fans love this blunderbuss approach. And whenever you criticize it, the immediate response is some version of “It got him elected!”

And it’s true: Trump has been an improviser in the grand tradition of underachievers his whole life. His entire, spectacular, run to the White House was like a running spontaneous jazz performance. And he hasn’t stopped improvising. The problem is that the White House and Washington in general are a vast maze of what might be called Chesterton’s Invisi-Fences. Unlike the original Chesterton fence, these fences cannot be seen, but they exist all the same. Some of them, of course, should probably be gotten rid of — but, again, you have to know why they’re there before you try.

Trump simply didn’t know, or at least he didn’t fully understand, that you’re not supposed to fire the FBI director to thwart an investigation into your activities or the activities of your campaign. And, even if he did know that, Trump didn’t know that you’re not supposed to admit it.

The Invisi-Fences are like the security lasers in some ridiculous heist movie.

I have no problem with the president firing Jim Comey. I have no objection, in principle, to Trump declassifying information. I loved his counterprograming to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. But the way Trump does these things and so many others is counterproductive precisely because he doesn’t know how to do them to his advantage — and that’s because he doesn’t know where the lines are. The Invisi-Fences are like the security lasers in some ridiculous heist movie. Every time Trump crosses one, he gets cut and bleeds a little more political capital, in part because his missteps undercut his image as a mastermind who thinks six steps ahead.

Liberals are still convinced Trump is some kind of autocrat-in-waiting. And he may well be in his heart. But the would-be autocrats who actually become real-life autocrats only achieve success because they are popular and know how to manipulate the system from within — and because they did their homework. That’s not Trump. Yes, he’s violating democratic and political norms, but he’s not doing it according to some master plan like an Erdogan or a Putin, he’s doing it more like a weird hybrid of Mr. Magoo and Chauncey Gardiner.

It may not sound like it, but this is actually a powerful defense of Trump against his harshest critics. I listened to Chris Matthews last night and he was giddy to the point of orgasmic about the Jared Kushner story. He so desperately wants the Trump-Russia stuff to be like Watergate, where the dots get connected to reveal some grand intricate pattern of well-conceived skullduggery and treason.

But the Trump presidency is in reality turning out to be much more like the story arc of Battlestar Galactica. It began with a lot of talk about how the Cylons had some grand plan to achieve interstellar domination. But as the seasons ticked by and the plot became more convoluted, it turned out the writers never had a plan and they were winging it all along.

Various & Sundry

It may not sound like it, but I actually had quite a fun time at Radcliffe Day, and I’d like to thank my generous hosts, even if they thought it was hilarious that my presence there probably did enormous damage to my conservative street cred.

Canine Update: Alas, I don’t have much to report. The Dingo keeps on Dingoing. Though both of the hounds have a newfound willingness to show their softer, nature-loving side as well. I’m meeting my wife and daughter at my mom’s house tonight and we’re spending the weekend in New York. We’ve left the beasts with the dogs’ favorite person in the world: Kirsten their dogwalker/aunt/pack leader. She keeps talking about a having a pajama party with the doggos. I can’t decide whether I hope she’s kidding or serious.

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File.

My NPR hit on Trump’s Middle East trip.

What is a ‘wop’?

Trump was welcomed in the Middle East because Obama failed there.

The latest Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast, featuring orb worship.

Why Trump is right to call terrorists “losers.”

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Movies condensed into single frames using time-lapse photography

Will someone please adopt this utter bastard of a cat?

Listening to Blade Runner

Once on death’s door, pit bull now joins K9 unit

Alcoholic donuts

A German beer pipeline

Proof of a parallel universe?

Randomly specific museums

What it’s like to be struck by lightning

Your move, creep

Dog crashes Russian newscast

Art made with bacteria

Man island > Man cave

Red Hot Chili Peppers played with a red-hot chili pepper

Stand aside Orb: Behold, cyclops goat

Snakes now hunt in packs . . . 

Can Trump Be Contained?

by Jonah Goldberg
Can Mike Pence, the Trump princelings, and congressional leadership grasp that their own self-interest depends entirely on getting Trump to behave?

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 readers who hold deer dear — see below),

I’m pretty burned out on politics. But my NR contract states very clearly that I must “put words together that leave the impression you said something about politics stuff.” I wouldn’t want to violate that. So, I’ll start with that stuff.

I think the appointment of former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate the Russia–Trump connections is a gift for the Trump administration in the short and medium term. And, if there’s nothing to find, the long term as well.

Yes, yes, all the hand-wringing cautionary tales about how special counsels once in power get seduced by blood magic, eat the hearts of young children, invade Poland, and make Steve Gutenberg a star are true, if by that you mean they sometimes get a bit out of control (hey, I’m talking seriously, not literally — it’s all the rage). And that certainly might happen here, even given Mueller’s sterling reputation. Maybe the blood magic will get to him the way it did to Lawrence Walsh and Patrick Fitzgerald. He might even stumble on something juicy and get enticed, like Homer Simpson finding a box on the street. “Wire hangers? Expired medicine? Old newspapers?! Okay, Homer, stay calm and quietly get this stuff inside your house!

But I think Hugh Hewitt is right about Mueller being a grown-up and an exemplary public servant, though I understand that some people are concerned that Mueller is too chummy with Comey for comfort.

But these are all long-term problems. And so is the concern that Donald Trump may actually be guilty of collusion in some meaningful, criminal sense. So far, however, that concern has no hard evidence to back it up, and, if such evidence exists, it will take a good long time for Mueller & Co. to find it, confirm it, and present it to the public.

Meanwhile, for the next weeks and months, Democrats have nowhere to go. I understand that Maxine Waters wants to get moving on impeachment right away, but Maxine Waters is an embarrassing buffoon and has been for my entire adult lifetime. She was probably a buffoon in my adolescence, too, I just didn’t know who she was until my early twenties, when Kerosene Maxine started referring to the LA Riots as the “LA Rebellion” and accused the CIA of running drugs in South Central.

The point is that the Republicans can now say, “We need to let the Mueller investigation take its course” whenever the subject of Russia comes up. Even the congressional investigations have to throttle back now because, as Lindsay Graham noted yesterday, it’s going to be very hard to subpoena anyone who might be the subject of a criminal investigation. The mere process of “de-conflicting” the congressional and Mueller investigations could take months.

That means Donald Trump has a reprieve, politically. He can talk about his agenda. He can talk about infrastructure and job creation and all of the stuff he claims is his central focus.

Donald Trump has a reprieve, politically. He can talk about his agenda.

Now, of course that begs the question. (It also raises a question, which means something different from “begs the question,” even if a billion people don’t know that: To beg the question is to assume a conclusion that has not yet been proven. In Latin, the fallacy is called petitio principii or “assuming the initial point.”)

The conclusion being assumed here is that Donald Trump is capable of sticking to a disciplined message and agenda. To say the evidence for this is lacking is an understatement on par with saying that there’s anecdotal evidence dogs lick their nether regions.

This gets to a point I tried to make last night on Special Report (scroll to around 9:05 for the video). My friend Mollie Hemingway is absolutely right when she says there are double standards at work here. The Obama administration got away with things — inappropriately sharing intelligence, influencing investigations, attacking the media — without a fraction of the gnashing of teeth and rending of cloth we’ve seen from the mainstream media, and without inviting a special counsel.

But the essential reason we got a special counsel and a media feeding frenzy is that Trump seems determined to do everything he can to invite chaos and hysteria to his administration.

The idea that the media or some shadowy cabal of “Never Trumpers” forced the president to fire James Comey in a comically incompetent manner is ludicrous. No one was holding Ivanka Trump hostage in a Motel 6 when Donald Trump confessed to Lester Holt that his administration’s explanation for why Comey was fired was a lie or forced Trump to admit that he fired Comey for his handling of the Russia investigation. (Though I like the image of David French clicking off the TV after the Holt interview, untying Ivanka, and telling her: “You’re free to go now, but if he stops tweeting stupid stuff, remember, we know where to find you.”)

I keep hearing that the media frenzy is solely the product of a conspiracy theory about Russian meddling run amok. What about the conspiracy theory that all of Trump’s problems are of other people’s making?

Puttin’ on the Ritz

I made this basic point at great length in my “news”letter last week — the most widely read G-File of 2017, I believe, which gets me an extra can of Spam from the suits. It now seems to be conventional wisdom across much of the Right. Even Matthew Continetti, who has been among the best at trying to find the Christmas pony amidst the manure piles, seems to be convinced that Trump is his own worst enemy.

Now, as someone who’s been writing for two years that Trump was lying when he said he could be presidential — to himself and to everyone else — I’m tempted to ask, “What took you so long?”

But that’s a fruitless question. The question now is, “Can Trump be contained?” Can Mike Pence, the Trump princelings, congressional leadership, and the rest of the imperial court grasp that their own self-interest depends entirely on getting Young Frankenstein’s monster to sing “Puttin’ on the Ritz”?

If Trump could simply hold a tune — about jobs, tax reform, etc. — for a few months, his poll numbers would creep up, some good policy might get enacted, and, crucially for Trump, he would earn some political capital that might take the bite out of whatever Mueller finds, if he finds anything at all. Alternatively, keeping his fan base loyal but alienating everyone else is a recipe for staying in the mid 30s for the rest of his term and taking down the GOP majority in the House.

Needless to say, I’m skeptical Trump’s team can get him into the tux and teach him to tap dance. But what other choice do they have but to try?

Math, Horrible Math

Via Reason’s Robby Soave, I learned this morning about the effort to bring social-justice principles into grade schools (Campus Reform has the full write-up, and I missed Kat Timpf’s article about this for some reason). Well, that’s an old story, you might say. And you’d be right. But this effort is focused on math.

Teach for America and something called “Edx” want teachers to attack math as the vile product of the Pale Penis People of Western Civilization:

In Western mathematics, our ways of knowing include formalized reasoning or proof, decontextualization, and algorithmic thinking, leaving little room for those having non-Western mathematical skills and thinking processes.

Also:

Mathematical ethics recognizes that, for centuries, mathematics has been used as a dehumanizing tool. Does one’s IQ fall on the lower half of the bell curve? Mathematics tells us that individual is intellectually lacking. Mathematics formulae also differentiate between the classification of a war or a genocide and have been used to trick indigenous peoples out of land and property.

Where on Earth does one begin? I’ve spent the last couple years working on a book that dives deep into the Romantic rejection of the Enlightenment. It was Rousseau who first, or at least most famously, leveled the indictment against the tyranny of science in his First Discourse. But these ideas were already in the water and they spread like contagion. For instance, Ernst Troeltsch, a German theologian and philosopher, proclaimed:

Romanticism too is a revolution . . . a revolution, above all, against the whole of the mathematico-mechanical spirit of science in western Europe, against a conception of Natural Law which sought to blend utility with morality, against the bare abstraction of a universal and equal Humanity.

All of this prattle about “algorithmic thinking” is just Romanticism with a fresh coat of paint. Now, I don’t want to get too deep in these weeds, since the book won’t be out until early next year, and you’ll hear plenty about it later.

Nor do I want to dismiss Romanticism as, well, romantic nonsense. I’m actually sympathetic to some of it. But here’s the thing: Romanticism — or if you prefer post-modernism, relativism, etc. — has no place in math itself. To say that the poetry of the self has a place in the world of math is like saying that the boiling point of water depends on your feelings.

Take that bit about the bell curve of IQ. It’s an unpleasant fact that half of all people are of below average IQ. It’s also true that half of all people are below average height, weight, and everything else. And the other half are above average. You know why? Because that’s what “average” means.

“Mathematics” doesn’t tell us that “that individual is intellectually lacking.” It just tells us that, by one measure of aptitude or intelligence, people who score on the lower end scored on the lower end. Any other interpretation comes from outside the realm of math. There are accomplished people of low IQ and there are high-IQ losers sitting in beanbag chairs in their parents’ basements. There are evil smart people and righteous dumb people, too. Your soul cannot be measured mathematically.

The bit about how math distinguishes between genocide and war is equally preposterous. Let us first stipulate that there is a difference between “genocide” and “war” and that knowing the difference has some utility. I’m open to different perspectives on where the line is drawn or how the definitions are reached. I for one consider it an enduring crime that the Soviets successfully defined away their own mass murder so that it didn’t fit the definition of genocide.

There are evil smart people and righteous dumb people, too. Your soul cannot be measured mathematically.

But surely marching millions into gas chambers is not the same thing as war. It’s true that one tool — among many — for making this distinction is called “math.” The model we came up with for distinguishing between war and genocide involves this mysterious craft called “counting.” But it also involves other things such as motives, means, and other aspects of what serious people call historical context. These criteria do not come from math, they come from politics, morality, and reason. All math does is count the dead. It takes human intelligence to place the dead in context. The Spanish Flu killed millions. It wasn’t genocide. You could look it up.

Blaming math for what people do with it should disqualify you from teaching math.

It’s also immoral, self-indulgent, and dangerous nonsense. We use math to make vaccines and model how to get them to indigenous peoples. We use math to feed the hungry. Teaching children that Western math is pernicious is the very essence of perniciousness. It is also incandescently stupid. Do Chinese computers use Confucian math?

This is Orwellianism in plain sight. In 1984, Winston Smith wonders whether the State will say “2 + 2 = 5.”

“You are a slow learner, Winston.”

“How can I help it? How can I help but see what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.”

“Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”

The hypocrisy here is really quite breathtaking. How much pabulum have we been force-fed about the moral imperative of teaching STEM classes so that we can be “competitive” in what Barack Obama called the “education arms race” with China and India? How much head-popping hysteria have we had to put up with about the evils of teaching “creationism”?

Yet here we have a federally funded organization teaching poor and underprivileged children to look upon “formalized reasoning” and “algorithmic thinking” as tools of oppression.

China and India must be laughing their asses off. “Yeah, please go with that!”

Various & Sundry

When I started National Review Online, live chickens bobbed across the bullpen, following Jack Fowler as he dribbled bits and pieces from foot-long hoagies that he never seemed to finish. Technologically, we were the equivalent of one of those “real” cardboard submarines you could order from the back of comic books. We used duct tape for everything. That was the only way we could keep the pneumatic tubes from leaking compressed air all over the place. Poor Ramesh, who spent most of his time making origami animals out of the subscription blow cards, would sometimes catch the jet stream and let his little swans fly around the room.

Obviously, I’m nostalgic for those days. But I’m also glad that we’ve come a long way. Charlie Cooke, the current Web editor — a much more august and daunting job than when I had it — walks around the office in a lab coat barking out orders to the safety-goggle-wearing interns who handle the laser arrays. But such technology is much more expensive, which is why we sometimes have to skimp on the safety gear. The cries from the larval William F. Buckleys ring out, “My eyes! The goggles! They do nothing!

Charlie usually responds, “Put it in a memo.”

“But I can’t see!”

“Dictate it to another intern, then.”

Of course, I’m kidding. Charlie doesn’t talk to the interns.

But what I’m not kidding about is that this is an expensive operation and National Review has always relied on the generosity and support of our readers. That support is more important than ever because of the transformations being wrought by the Web. Content wants to be free, but content isn’t free on the supply side.

This marks the beginning of the National Review Spring Webathon. We are trying to rebuild NRO from the ground up so that it will work seamlessly not just on your computer but on all of your devices (Translation: We know that NRO can be maddeningly difficult to read on phones and tablets. We’re particularly sorry that we occasionally give people seizures or induce cases of gigantism in some readers.)

We are trying to rebuild NRO from the ground up so that it will work seamlessly not just on your computer but on all of your devices.

We are also trying to fend off a lawsuit from the director of Heat and the creator of Miami Vice . . . What’s that? Oh, sorry. It’s the other Michael Mann.

Anyway, he’s suing us — out of a desire to silence us. That effort costs money, too.

I understand that some folks are not happy with us these days and other folks value us more than ever. We appreciate this in all the meanings of the word. But we hope that everyone can appreciate that what we do, we do for love and commitment to a cause. That cause is larger than any one period or any one politician. If you agree with that and can help, please do. If you just get entertainment from getting furious at us, we hope you can help as well. If you can’t or won’t help, we understand and we’ll make do, fighting what we believe to be the good fight. Just don’t blame us for the gigantism the next time you open up NRO on your iPhone.

Canine Update: First off, my apologies to the subscribers to this “news”letter. When you subscribe, you get it on Fridays, well before the unwashed get it on Saturday mornings. Ideally, there would be extra bonus material in the e-mail so as to encourage more people to sign up. But one thing that shouldn’t happen is for you to get less than the decayed roués with dubious means of subsistence and of dubious origin who wait until Saturday (I kid, I kid, you’re all Dear Readers to me). But that’s what happened last week. The “news”letter form of the G-File was without a Canine Update. And I know only too well that many of you read that first — and sometimes solely — every week (including, often, my own lovely wife). So, if you missed it last week, you can find it here.

As for this week’s Canine Update, there’s not too much to report. The beasts are less than thrilled with the return of D.C.’s humidity (“like 1980s Al Sharpton’s sweat-pants fog”), which is odd given that Zoë is a South Carolina swamp dog. The heat may explain why Zoë has started sitting in her trademark style again in the car and while she’s more insistent on pampering in the air conditioning. The heat has also caused Pippa to seek out creeks, puddles, mud, condensation, and any other source of water, no matter how vile or filthy. Sneakers, my sister-in-law’s new puppy, is compensating for his outrageous cuteness with equally outrageous behavior, proving once again that cuteness is an evolutionary survival mechanism. Would you put up with an oleaginous lizard that ate your shoes and soiled your carpets?

On a different note, I’ve gotten a surprising amount of grief over this video of Zoë yelling at a deer we stumbled upon on a D.C. street. I understand that there are some deer fetishists — particularly in D.C. — who think that these disease-carrying hooved rats are as close as we will ever get to unicorns in our bleary, workaday lives. I also understand why they think it’s wrong for me to “let” my dog chase them in a park or wooded area. But I am a bit baffled by some of the outrage I’ve received from people about how my leashed dog barked at a deer that was on a street corner.

“How could you let your dog startle that deer!” a few people have shrieked at me. Uh, the deer startled us. Moreover, given the fact that coyotes have returned to D.C. and that Zoë looks a good deal like one, I think teaching them to flee from such creatures might be good for them (maybe not for me, given the deer attack from last year). But in this case, Zoë was completely in the right. All she was saying was “Stupid Deer! This isn’t your neighborhood! Also, you are supposed to go away when I shout at you!” And poor sweet Pippa was simply yelling, “Go away now, so I can chase tennis ball again. Tennis ball good! Good!” (a point she seems to have convinced my wife’s cat of).

ICYMI . . .

The discussion about math above reminded me of this 15-year-old G-File which I think is worth revisiting every now and then.

Last week’s G-File.

Why Germans don’t laugh.

What to make of Trump sharing info to Russians in the White House.

An open letter to Vice President Mike Pence.

My Fox News open letter to Pence.

My Special Report appearance from Thursday.

My Friday morning interview with Hugh Hewitt.

My obituary for Roger Ailes.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

What would happen if you stuck your body inside a particle accelerator?

Beware: Deer now eat human remains

Are these birds too sexy to survive?

The most popular “kid” in this school is a dog

The surprising benefits of talking to yourself

What if aliens don’t care about Earth?

Poetry under Stalin

Thirty-nine places that will warp your perspective of time

Alien franchise kill count

Dogs can “talk” to humans

READ MORE:
The Guardrails of American Democracy Can’t Contain Trump
Burning Down His House: President Trump’s Self-Inflicted Wounds
Editorial: Trump Brought the Special-Counsel Investigation on Himself

The Comey Debacle

by Jonah Goldberg
Rather than rationalizing and enabling the president’s behavior, conservatives need to convince Trump that he’s his own worst enemy.

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 anyone hiding in the bushes),

Good times, huh?

Let’s start . . . here:

Now, I don’t think this is actually true, but I’ve been told for months now that I have to get better at taking some things seriously without taking them literally. And I think Ann has a point.

So, I’m going to ask my pro-Trump and passionately anti-anti-Trump friends to just take a step back and ask yourselves: “What does Donald Trump’s manufactured, self-inflicted, and pathological need for drama get us?”

If you’re about to answer “Neil Gorsuch,” the everlasting gobstopper of Trump rationalizations, please hold off one second. If you’re about to answer “judges,” please take a moment as well.

Because the correct answer, in policy terms, is . . . nothing. Actually, less than nothing because all this drama makes getting things done harder.

In the best possible light, all the insanity from the president of the United States is St. Elmo’s Fire, a lightshow to entertain us. It’s a Mexican soap opera without the redeeming sex and cleavage. It’s a reality-TV show without the cat fights, stiletto heels, and thrown glasses of wine.

Ask anybody — off the record, of course — on Capitol Hill about whether all this drama helps them get bills passed or judges confirmed. They will laugh at the question.

This is irrespective of any specific policy agenda. If you want a wall that can be seen from space along the southern border, if you want a Muslim ban, if you want to get rid of Obamacare, spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure, or any other core goal of the original MAGA agenda, none of this helps. None of it. Trump was never destined for Mt. Rushmore, but every insane tweet is a step further away from it.

I can only imagine poor Reince Priebus freaking out like Jerry Maguire shouting at Cuba Gooding Jr. in the locker room — “Help me . . . help you . . . help me! . . . help you!” — while an air-drying-naked Donald Trump giggles at the spectacle.

The Campaign Is Over

I’ve written a lot about how people can’t let go of the campaign mindset. The best example of this is how I hear every day that whatever Trump may be doing wrong, it’s still “better than Hillary.” Of course, that’s got a lot of truth to it when it comes to things such as judicial appointments and the fact that we don’t have to put up with the Clintons’ “there’s no eating in the library” officiousness. But now that Trump is president, it’s utterly irrelevant, save to those who need to reassure themselves daily.

But there’s another form of the campaign mentality that is keeping people from thinking clearly now. Say what you will about Trump’s thyroidal tweeting and aphasic outbursts, it worked for him.

Trump’s approach was so unfathomably strange, so otherworldly in the realm of Earth logic, that his biggest fans had to believe it was all part of some grand strategy. This is a natural human response. When something or someone is so incomprehensibly strange and yet successful, we often assume there’s a genius at work that is just beyond our ability to grasp. Bernie Madoff bilked billions from people who just couldn’t bring themselves to argue with success.

I’ve always thought that some modern artists are also con artists. They create something so strange, so aesthetically alien, that insecure rich people assume it must be a work of a genius, so they’re willing to spend vast sums to convince other people that a) they can afford to indulge in it, and b) they’re members of the cognoscenti, too. The greatest example of this is probably Piero Manzoni’s Merda d’artista. In 1961, Manzoni literally crapped in a can — 90 tins to be exact. He printed out labels for the cans that read:

Artist’s Shit
Contents 30 gr net
Freshly preserved
Produced and tinned
in May 1961

In a touch that no novelist would dare attempt, Manzoni’s father, who actually owned a cannery, told his son: “Your work is sh**.”

It was a pas de deux of taking something both literally and seriously.

Last August, Manzoni’s canned feces sold at auction for 275,000 euros.

The Art of the Can

Much has been written about how Donald Trump became a billionaire by being, if not an outright con artist, then certainly a kind of performance artist. He sold an image, a lifestyle, a brand. “I play to people’s fantasies,” Trump “wrote” in The Art of the Deal. “I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.”

And, again, it worked for him. I don’t think Trump is as rich as he claims, but so what? He’s rich enough and he’s famous and, now, he’s president.

But what so many people can’t — or won’t — contemplate is that what worked for Trump in business, self-promotion, and even the presidential election may not transfer to the presidency itself.

This is a staggeringly obvious insight that many people are contorting themselves not to see. Sometimes skills don’t transfer. Piero Manzoni was arguably the most successful canner of feces in human history. I am happy to acknowledge that. But if I were wheeled on a gurney into an operating room, I would not take much solace from that fact if he were my heart surgeon.

Don’t worry Mr. Goldberg, I made a fortune spackling sh** into a can. You’ll be fine. Nurse, hand me that sharp thing.

Michael Jordan was a kind of artistic genius at basketball. Do I really have to belabor the point that those skills don’t necessarily translate into being a successful president?

I am shocked, daily, by the number of people who cannot let go of the idea — the article of faith, really — that Donald Trump has his opponents right where he wants them. The logical upshot of this is that he somehow meant to have historically craptacular poll numbers. I mean if he can execute his will and play ten moves ahead of the rest of us, then this must be part of his plan, right?

The rush to defend the myth of Trump is causing conservatives to abandon their principles, standards, and credibility.

On Thursday, I noted in the Corner that Donald Trump tried to convince the editors of The Economist (!) that he coined the phrase “prime the pump” to describe Keynesian economic stimulus. This is just bizarre. It’s even more bizarre when you consider that Trump claims that he invented the phrase just a few days ago — especially since he’s been using the term himself for more than a year. I asked readers what could possibly explain this objectively ridiculous statement and, sure as shinola, a common answer was, “It’s all part of his plan!” By saying something absurd, Trump is getting people to talk about how he’s going to prime the pump! Get it? Genius!

This is a very small example of a very large problem. The rush to defend the myth of Trump is causing conservatives to abandon their principles, standards, and credibility at a breathtaking pace. Forget the issue of who coined the phrase “prime the pump.” Everyone seems to have overlooked the fact that we have a Republican president defending a school of economics that conservatives have been trying to beat back for more than a century (free-market economists were anti-Keynesian before Keynes was born).

Now, I know Trump was talking about tax cuts here, and there’s a Keynesian argument for tax cuts that conservatives sometimes flirt with. But Trump also uses “prime the pump” for his infrastructure-spending ideas. More to the point, he just doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And yet that doesn’t stop him from calling in St. Elmo’s Fire to keep people from noticing.

The Comey Debacle

But forget about conservative dogma and doctrine. Trump made clear long ago that he doesn’t care about that stuff, and he won anyway. So, just look at basic politics. I have no problem with the argument that James Comey deserved to be fired. I’m more sympathetic to him than some of my colleagues, but that’s irrelevant. In principle, a president can fire an FBI director for any reason he wants (or for no reason at all). And there were certainly defensible reasons for Comey to go.

But come on, people. The way Comey was fired was simply malpractice on a scale on par with Barack Obama’s decision to contract out the Obamacare website to the Amish community’s finest programmers. There was no reason to rush it. There was no reason to humiliate Comey while he was in Los Angeles visiting an FBI field office. There was no reason — as in “rationality” — to any of it. No reasonable person could believe that the same guy who invited chants of “Lock her up!” and defended Comey’s “guts” for reopening the Hillary Clinton investigation in October wanted to fire Comey for his unfairness to Hillary Clinton. And yet, the president humiliated the vice president and the White House communications team by letting them go out and peddle precisely that nonsense.

Trump now defends the gelding of his vice president on the grounds that he’s just too busy to keep his most loyal surrogates from beclowning themselves: “As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!….”

No one’s looking for perfect accuracy. But if the White House had waited a day, they could have avoided objective lies.

The response from the drivers of the permanent wagon circle, however, is to talk about how the media coverage of Comey’s firing is all overblown. There have been inaccuracies and hyperbole, to be sure. But serious people understand — even if they won’t say so on camera — that Trump has been throwing gasoline on a firestorm for no other reason than that’s what Trump does. I keep hearing from conservatives that the media is driven by a deranged conspiracy theory about the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia. Maybe it is. But I never hear the second shoe drop: Trump seems Hell-bent on convincing people that he’s obsessed with the Russia story and does almost everything he can to keep it alive. Trump’s confession to NBC’s Lester Holt that he fired Comey because of the Russia story, his ridiculous tweets, his letter claiming that Comey told him three times that he wasn’t being investigated: These are not things you do if you want the media, the Democrats, Congress, or the FBI to drop the subject.

A friend e-mailed me yesterday that the Comey firestorm is only a big deal inside the Beltway. Maybe, maybe not. But people forget that it’s inside the Beltway where laws get made.

The smart — never mind honorable — response from conservatives to all this should be the Jerry Maguire response. Rather than rationalizing and enabling this behavior, conservatives should be doing everything they can to convince Trump that he’s his own worst enemy. Mike Pence would do himself, his party, and his country a favor by telling Donald Trump, “If you humiliate me like that again, I will resign and run against you in 2020.” It may not work. But it’s a far better approach than bending over and shouting, “Thank you, sir! May I have another!?

My Baby Sent Me a Letter

My absolute favorite tidbit this week came with the news that President Trump has sent Lindsey Graham a “certified letter” to clear up the whole Russia business. From Trump’s interview with Lester Holt:

I have a certified letter, just so you understand. Uh, I’m not just saying that. I’ve given the letter, I’ve given the letter to Senator Lindsey Graham, he has the letter, and I think frankly, uh, it’s, I assume he’s gonna give the letter out but it says I am not involved in Russia.

Maybe this is a stretch, but to my ear this sounds like a classic example of the sort of flim-flammery common to condo salesmen. A certified letter just sounds so much more serious! “I’m sending you a certified letter saying you owe me the rest of the down payment! You hear me? It’s certified. So, you better pay up or get yourself a lawyer!”

If you go to the Post Office’s website, you’ll learn that a Certified Letter is actually a trademark of the United States Postal Service:

Certified Mail®

Prove you sent it. See when it was delivered or that a delivery attempt was made, and get the signature of the person who accepts the mailing when combined with Return Receipt.

In other words, a certified letter isn’t quite nothing, but it is the wispy vapor of nothing. If Lindsey Graham signs for the letter, that doesn’t oblige him to believe whatever is in the envelope.

I have to wonder if Trump saw Miracle on 34th Street one too many times. In the movie, Kris Kringle’s lawyer uses the fact that the Post Office delivered a bunch of kids’ Santa letters to his client to prove — prove! — that he is the one and only Santa Claus.

The trial court goes along with it because the judge is looking for any excuse to avoid telling a politically suicidal truth (he doesn’t want to have to declare, at Christmastime no less, that there is no Santa Claus).

We’re in a similar situation here. I don’t know if Trump colluded with the Russians, but my hunch is that if there’s any there there, it will end with Manafort, Stone, and Page. Similarly, I suspect Trump’s business ties to Russia are more than he claims, but that they are probably tangential to the campaign. That’s all beside the point, however. Trump is using an old bullsh***er’s technique to make it sound as if his letter is authoritative. And I’m sure some people believe it. “Did you hear that Marge, he’s sending a certified letter to Lindsey Graham. It must be true.”

But in reality, all Trump is doing is using the letter’s Certified® status like a tin can of his bullsh**. And, as we already know, there’s a market for that kind of thing.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: Some of you may recall that my sister-in-law’s dog, Buckley, passed away recently. He was about as good an example of pure doggy goodness as I have ever known; he was also the late Great Cosmo the Wonderdog’s best friend. He can never be replaced, but he has a promising successor: Sneakers! Much like Buckley and Cosmo, Sneakers is a rich ethnic cocktail of unknown pedigree. He showed up at the rescue in a cardboard box with a bunch of other puppies, many of which look like they may have had a different father (or maybe even a different mother, who knows?). He’s only eight-weeks old now, so he can’t meet other dogs yet. Also, we are thinking through how we introduce Zoë to Sneakers (Pippa gets along with everyone). The introduction of Zoë and Pippa was incredibly stressful for all concerned. It’s vital that they get along, which means we’ll certainly do it on neutral ground and perhaps without the “parents” around at all. Meanwhile, he’s just damn cute.

In other news, the culture clash between Zoë and Pippa has reasserted itself as the bunny population has exploded. As you’ll recall, Zoë is a Carolina swamp dog who takes after Daryl from The Walking Dead. Pippa is a purebred silly-billy of the dippy daughter from Downtown Abbey variety. Zoë thinks her job is to catch and kill All Things Hoppy (not to mention anything else of even vaguely rodent quality, including crows, which she considers to be outrageous affronts to the Laws of Nature). Pippa thinks her job is to flush quarry for me to shoot at. So, whenever the Dingo sees a rabbit, she crouches like a Ranger sneaking up on a German pillbox. Meanwhile, Pippa, in her Odie-like innocence, thinks her job is to get the prey moving into my gun sights. It’s driving Zoë nuts. Every time Zoë starts creeping up on a bunny/squirrel/crow, Pippa drops her tennis ball and races to mess everything up.

ICYMI . . .

The most recent G-File (from two weeks ago).

My response to the New York Times’ love letter to Communism.

My hit on Chicago AM 560 The Answer.

My appearance on Fox News’s Special Report with Bret Baier.

My doff of the cap to Bret Stephens’s trolling the Left on climate change.

My pushback on Jimmy Kimmel’s empathy-based policymaking.

The latest GLoP Culture podcast.

How Trump and his opponents collaborate to violate democratic norms.

Why does Trump claim he coined the phrase “prime the pump”?

Why is the Trump White House so leaky?

And now the weird stuff.

Debby’s Wednesday links

Sheep sink Russian spy ship

A machine that can create every horror-movie music cue

Virginia catnapper returns cats with shaved bellies

April’s best space images

Subject yourself to the pun-ishment of the World Pun Championships

Man forced to surrender Star Trek license plate

How are rocks moving unaided in the desert?

Man’s wallet returned after 13 years

Man flushes his friend’s ashes down ballpark toilets across the land (it’s what he wanted)

Basset hound moos, farts, gets confused

Vet sings to nervous dog before surgery

Crows like to sit atop other birds

Weasel rides woodpecker

Bloodhound puppy sworn in as a police officer

The 17th-century moon mission that never was

What would happen if you drank water from New York’s Gowanus Canal?

100 behind-the-scenes photos from the production of 2001: A Space Odyssey

Star Wars and sound design

Japan struggling to meet its ninja quota

Two shelter dogs rescued from euthanasia

Man designs human-sized mouse trap for some reason

Der Einhundert Tage

by Jonah Goldberg
The ‘100 Days’ marker is an arbitrary and somewhat ridiculous device — and it’s loaded with an unhealthy cult of action.

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 (Particularly all of you who went on a “news”letter strike since the last “news”letter),

Today is the 99th day of Der Einhundert Tage. Release the 99 luftballons!

Of course, if you’re reading this on Saturday, then today is Der Einhundert Tage! (Add one luftballon).

“What is Der Einhundert Tage?” you ask.

It’s “100 Days” in German. There’s no reason not to say it in English, save for the fact that it just sounds so much more ominous and impressive in der Sprache der Deutschen. Given how so many on the left think we’re back in 1930s Germany, I figured I’d throw them a bone. Also, I figure anything I can do to make this 100 Days thing even slightly more interesting is worth doing. Well, within reason. I’m not going to sacrifice 100 bulls in front of the White House.

In other words, I agree with Donald Trump that the 100 Days marker is an arbitrary and somewhat ridiculous device, even if he ill-advisedly invested too much in the gimmick. And it’s always been a gimmick. Even FDR’s First 100 Days — which started this nonsense — has been embellished by members of the New Deal cargo cult. Most of the legislation he passed was off the shelf from Congress and had been debated for years. FDR even opposed the FDIC when it was first brought up.

It is worth recalling that FDR’s head of the National Recovery Administration wanted a truly impressive first 90 days. Hugh “Iron Pants” Johnson (I always wondered if he went by “Iron Pants” to keep people from saying his name too fast) distributed a somewhat tongue-in-cheek memo at the Democratic National Convention in 1932 proposing that all members of Congress and the Supreme Court be put on an island for 90 days so that the administration could have a really free hand getting things done.

I mention this because a) I think it’s interesting, b) it’s always worth making a hyuuugjohnson joke when the opportunity arises (so to speak), and c) because I think it highlights an important point. The yearning for “action” implicit in the First 100 Days thing is not an altogether healthy one in a democracy. It’s not necessarily sinister, either.

There’s nothing wrong with a newly elected president trying to translate his mandate into legislation or otherwise spending his political capital when it’s at its highest. Nevertheless, there is an unpleasant cult of action implicit in the First 100 Days that I’ve never liked. After all, that was why FDR proposed it in the first place. He wanted to tell everyone to back off and let him have a free hand in his “bold, persistent experimentation.” That’s not really how our system is supposed to work. Presidents shouldn’t be able to say, “Hold my beer while I fundamentally transform America on my own.”

Die ersten hundert Tage von Präsident Trump

With all that said, what do I think of Trump’s First 100 Days? Well, since we’re on an FDR kick, I’m reminded of what one-time FDR consigliere Raymond Moley said in response to the notion that there was a coherent unified plan to the New Deal.

To look upon these programs as the result of a unified plan, was to believe that the accumulation of stuffed snakes, baseball pictures, school flags, old tennis shoes, carpenter’s tools, geometry books, and chemistry sets in a boy’s bedroom could have been put there by an interior decorator.

This has been, as Michael Warren chronicles over at The Standard, an ad hoc presidency from the outset. And like a Clinton Eastwood movie or a three-course meal of steak, tofurkey, and snails, you could say it’s been characterized by the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

What’s interesting to me is that I don’t think Trump truly realized it was going to be like this until pretty late in the game. He said in a Reuters interview just Thursday that he was surprised by how hard the job was. “I thought it would be easier,” the president said.

Now, on the one hand, all president say they’re surprised by how much harder the job is than they expected. So, fine. But Trump also says that he thought his old job would be harder than being the president of the United States. And I believe him. There are a lot of stories around Washington that jibe with this. Trump wanted to be something of a ceremonial figure, a bit like a British monarch in the 19th century, who gives some direction to the prime minister, but otherwise serves as an emblem of national greatness. It turns out that there’s more to the job than going around giving MAGA speeches and riffing on the media.

And, to Trump’s credit, it appears that he is starting to understand that and act on what should have been obvious from the get-go.

I’ve written a lot of late about how we now know Trump has no coherent ideological program. “Trumpism” is a psychological orientation, not a political philosophy. It’s actually far more similar to FDRism than a lot of people realize.

For instance, as Amity Shlaes reminds us, Franklin Roosevelt personally set the price of gold every morning: “One day [Treasury Secretary Henry] Morgenthau asked FDR why the president had chosen to drive up the price of gold by 21 cents. The president cavalierly said he’d done that because 21 was seven times three, and three was a lucky number.”

I’ve been mildly surprised by a few things about Trump’s performance so far — and most of them were pleasant surprises.

Now, FDR did have a philosophy but not a very deep one. As Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said, Roosevelt had a “second-class intellect but a first-rate temperament.”

I’ll leave it to others to score Trump’s intellect, but as for his temperament, if it was a ticket on the Titanic, I suspect it would be down below decks dancing on the tables with the Irish.

That said, I’ve been mildly surprised by a few things about Trump’s performance so far — and most of them were pleasant surprises. Most of his appointments have been good and a few have been great. I think there’s a lot of hype to his executive orders, but there aren’t many I don’t support.

In short, he’s doing better than I thought he would. But this is a remarkably low bar. It’s not quite like saying that Greta is the “sexiest East German weightlifter alive” or “this is the most exciting show on C-SPAN” but it’s not that far off. Still, I hope there are many more pleasant surprises in the days to come. We only have one president at a time, and so there’s really no choice but to hope he continues to learn on the job and that his team of Sherpas can help him with the climb.

All about the Base

What vexes me about the First 100 Days, however, isn’t what it has revealed about Trump, but what it reveals about his biggest fans. This time last year, it was easy to find people who parroted — sincerely — Trump’s claim that fixing everything would be “easy.” They loved to hear him say that everyone in Washington was dumb and that he had the “best brain.” He was a super-manager, a battle-hardened Sardaukar from the ranks of the übermenschen of the business world.

Any time he did or said something ridiculous, Trump’s defenders would either defend it on the non-existent merits or explain that his critics didn’t see the genius behind his strategy. Or they would mock the notion that anyone would take what he says “literally” when all enlightened people merely take him “seriously.”

Trump would rely on his instincts like a Chinatown chicken playing tic-tac-toe, and people would call him a “chess master.” For he wasn’t any old chicken, he was the Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga of American politics (“The all-powerful rooster who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake”).

The signature image of the Trump presidency so far is a goalpost on wheels.

But now Trump’s biggest boosters — and much of his base according to polls — insists that they never thought it would be easy, that Trump is doing great, even though he hasn’t been remotely able to accomplish the things he wanted to in his First 100 Days, and even Trump admits that this is all so much harder than even he thought it would be. As an unnamed White House staffer told Politico, “I kind of pooh-poohed the experience stuff when I first got here. But this sh** is hard.”

But no one cares, because the signature image of the Trump presidency so far is a goalpost on wheels. Being all-in for Trump means never having to say you’re sorry.

Then there are the folks who are mostly-in for Trump. Every day I hear people say on Twitter, “Yeah, he’s flawed but at least he’s not Hillary.” But what kind of standard is that? I’m glad Hillary’s not president. Truly. But if your yardstick for a Republican president — not candidate, but president — is now “He’s better than Hillary,” then you’ve filed down the yardstick to a couple inches. “Better than Hillary” strikes me as the minimum requirement for a conservative president, not an omnibus justification for anything he does.

The Trump Transformation?

Every time the president does something controversial, pro-Trump (and anti-anti-Trump) pundits rush to a TV studio to explain that he’s staying true to his base. Sometimes that’s true, but often it’s nonsense. The base has become quite malleable in how it defines what counts as “success.” Indeed, they’re the ones usually pushing the goalpost. Moreover, the president isn’t just the president-of-his-base, he’s the president of the whole country. I always rankled when people defended George W. Bush’s malapropisms and odd syntax as something to celebrate. Wasn’t one of Ronald Reagan’s greatest attributes his status as “the Great Communicator”?

As Richard Neustadt argued a half century ago, the chief power of the president is persuasion. Lasting conservative victories can come through legislation, to be sure. But even greater ones come from changing public attitudes so that voters want to see those victories endure. FDR’s New Deal was a very mixed bag, at best. But the main reason so much of it remains intact, alas, is that he fundamentally changed American attitudes toward government.

Barack Obama famously wanted to be a liberal Reagan or FDR, fundamentally transforming political orientations in this country. The ultimate verdict on that isn’t in yet, but right now it looks like Obama failed fairly spectacularly. It’s early yet, but how is Trump doing in this regard? Who outside his “base” has been convinced of the rightness of conservative policies? Consider that support for Obamacare, free trade, and immigration are at all-time highs.

I keep waiting for Trump supporters to respond to his flip-flops (Syria, China’s currency manipulation, NATO, or his claim Thursday that he’s now a “globalist and a nationalist”) like Steve Martin in The Jerk:

He doesn’t realize he’s dealing with sophisticated people, here. Marie, now just stay calm. Stay calm. Don’t look down, don’t look down! Look up! Just keep your eyes up and keep them that way, okay! Waiter, there are snails on her plate. Now get them out of here before she sees them! Look away, just look away, keep your eyes that way! You would think that in a fancy restaurant at these prices you could keep the snails off the food! There are so many snails there you can’t even see the food! Now take those away and bring us those melted-cheese-sandwich appetizers you talked me out of!

Instead, we get so much of this kind of thing:

Various & Sundry

Today is a pretty awful day, which may explain my dyspeptic tone above. First of all, I have to go to the funeral for Kate O’Beirne. I attended her wake on Thursday and that was hard enough. Kate’s death has hit a lot of people, me included, very, very hard. That was on display at her wake. The receiving line at 3:30 had to be 40 people deep and I think it stayed that way long into the evening. Kate was simply a remarkable woman. It’s ironic that she was the first person I ever heard say “sui generis” out loud. And that’s what she was. I’ve already written an all-too brief eulogy for her, as have so many of her friends, admirers, and colleagues. We could all have gone on for much longer. Rest in Peace.

It’s also an awful day because today is the deadline for my IRS audit. Yes, I’m being audited. My tax guy is all-too giddy about it because this is so rare and such a great learning experience for him. I keep telling him that I don’t feel so lucky. And no, Donald Trump isn’t to blame. The notice came in during Obama’s last week in office. And no, Obama isn’t to blame either. I for one would never besmirch the honesty, decency, and integrity of the patriotic public servants of the Internal Revenue Service — at least not while my audit is still pending! Still, it sucks.

Canine Update: So, Zoë is getting a little chunky and we’re trying to put her on a bit of a diet. It’s not going very well. Droit du Dingo holds that she is entitled to eat the Spaniel’s food whenever she feels like it. Also, a hungry dingo is a dingo much more interested in finding squirrels, rabbits, gnus, possums, unaccompanied children, and the like. Like a Yale graduate student, she is on a hunger strike that ends the moment she gets hungry.

Speaking of hungry, rarely does a day go by without someone (or my imaginary sentient Couch) telling me, “You know what National Review should do? It should do a bad-ass profile of The Rock.” Well, can you smell what David French is cookin’? I haven’t read it yet, but I hear that David’s cover story is pretty awesome.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File.

Kate O’Beirne, RIP.

What the free-speech debate misses.

Free speech didn’t begin at Berkeley, but it may end there.

The Washington Post’s misleading statistics on young Republicans.

The latest Ricochet GLoP podcast, on free speech

The French elections and the limits of our political vocabulary.

One of the odder cable-news hits I’ve done in a while.

Discussing the sanctuary-city ruling on Special Report.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Man bites dog

Earth seen from Saturn

Georgia firefighter catches baby

Why are so many popular cartoon characters yellow?

Beware: The brain can distinguish between real and fake laughter

In introduction to doggo culture

How pilots eject from fighter jets

Monkey steals vodka

Tom Hardy catches thief

C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien were not fans of Walt Disney

Wild boards kill three ISIS militants

Fight Club and the importance of sound design

Squirrel takes GoPro into tree

Fat beaver trapped in fence

Unreleased Sgt. Pepper’s outtake unearthed

New homeowners discover John Lennon’s original sketch of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’s album cover

The fastest perfect bowling game?

Bill O’Reilly’s Nostalgia Factor

by Jonah Goldberg
Before there was Trump, there was O’Reilly’s populism infused with a New York sensibility.

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 (I said “reader.” This will not be the venue for Caitlyn Jenner’s nude debut.),

Bill O’Reilly is leaving Fox, and I can’t say I’ll miss him.

I don’t mean that to sound too harsh (not that he much cared about sounding too harsh). The truth is I almost never watched his show, unless it was on someplace where I didn’t have control of the remote.

That’s not quite the slight it may seem to be either. My job often makes me feel like Lucy at the Chocolate Factory. The last thing she wanted to do after a Sisyphean day of eating chocolate off the conveyor belt was tuck into a big box of chocolates at home.

I watch the news at 6 p.m., and then unless there’s some compelling work-related reason, I’m done with that stuff until morning. (True story: The first time I appeared on Special Report I told Bret Baier that I was worried I might have an episode since the show was my body’s Pavlovian cue to have a cocktail.) I’d rather watch the same episode of Game of Thrones over and over than spend an hour watching a new episode of The O’Reilly Factor. But that goes for Rachel Maddow and certainly that Lawrence O’Donnell guy and the rest of them just as much, if not more so.

(I love hearing ads for Maddow’s show on satellite radio in which she promises to “report the news without fear or favor” — which is sort of like the hosts of America’s Next Top Model saying they only care about inner beauty.)

Of course, I’d occasionally stumble on O’Reilly’s show and rubberneck at the spectacle. But I didn’t enjoy it. I was never on the show much. I don’t enjoy being a meat prop for hosts to make the points they want to make, and I guess it showed the few times I was on. O’Reilly was the master of making his long and often well-crafted statements in the form of a question. “Now, I think . . .” “This is the way I see it . . .” “This is where I come down on this . . .” often preceded a jeremiad that concluded with, “Do you agree?” The answer was merely punctuation for the next “question.”

Some people got better treatment — Dennis Miller, the other Goldberg — but for the most part guests were there either to serve as a Greek chorus or as ritual human sacrifice for his smartest-guy-at-the-bar routine.

And it worked. Well. People can scoff and roll their eyes, but O’Reilly’s talent is impossible to dispute on objective grounds. There are lots of acts I don’t like but I can respect for the skill behind them. I don’t like hip-hop, or opera for that matter, but I can still see the difference between people who are really good at it and people who aren’t.  As with the man in Don Quixote who could inflate a dog through its butt, one doesn’t have to like the show to appreciate the expertise. 

I guess what I always resented was the way O’Reilly — and some of his cheaper knock-offs — claimed an authority to speak for me.

Alinsky to the Left of Me, Alinsky to the Right of Me

Ian Tuttle and David French both wrote excellent pieces for NRO yesterday, and I agree with both of them for the most part. David’s point that celebrity conservatism is swamping intellectual conservatism is particularly well-taken.

David writes:

The cost has been a loss of integrity and, crucially, a loss of emphasis on ideas and, more important, ideals. There exists in some quarters an assumption that if you’re truly going to “fight,” then you have to be ready to get your hands dirty. You can’t be squeamish about details like truth or civility or decency. When searching for ideological gladiators, we emphasize their knifework, not their character or integrity.

I agree with David that this is partly a feature of the culture generally these days. “Watch [Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, etc.] DESTROY” this or that Republican is just one facet of the riot of confirmation bias and tribalism that defines our times. And conservatives play the same game. My friend Tucker Carlson has had a meteoric run of late in part because he is so good at bringing fresh lambs to the slaughter every night, first at 7 p.m., then 9:00 p.m., and now in O’Reilly’s spot. I fully expect Tucker’s ratings to be just as spectacular as O’Reilly’s were, if not at first then in short order.

And we should not pretend this is as new as it may seem. The novelty is in the degree, not the phenomenon. Even the sainted William F. Buckley derived no small part of his appeal from the fact that he could always one-up any condescending liberal egghead. That was a big part of his legacy. At a time when the media wanted desperately to paint conservatives as paranoid, anti-intellectual bigots in the George Wallace mode, Buckley’s sesquipedalian erudition served as a kind of reassurance.

But Buckley brought something else to the table: civility, self-deprecation, and a playful wit that could be intellectually devastating without being humiliating. Even when he explained that Robert F. Kennedy was ducking his invitations to appear on Firing Line — “Why does baloney reject the grinder?” — liberals had to chuckle in admiration.

It’s that touch which has largely gone missing of late. Intellectually, Buckley was a passionate believer that liberalism was the Enemy. But liberals themselves were merely the opposition (Gore Vidal notwithstanding).

Where did that come from? Again, much of it is a product of the times, stemming from new technology, economics, and other deep-rooted causes. But I want to focus on one. Over the last decade, conservatives have developed a severe case of Alinsky envy.

It is one of the oldest insights into human nature that envy corrupts the soul. (Aquinas defined envy as sadness for the good of others.) But Alinsky envy is corrupting in a different way. For years now conservatism has convinced itself that the Left wins by, in effect, cheating. They lie. They only care about power. They demonize and slander their opponents. I’m not going to sit here and claim that there’s zero merit to that argument. There’s a lot of merit, even if it’s often an exaggeration.

My objection is the conclusion conservatives draw from it: We’ve got to take the gloves off and play by the same rules! Alinsky’s rules! As David Kahane (eye roll) puts it: “Become what you behold.”

A whole cottage industry on the right has thrived around this argument, and on the whole, it’s grotesque. You cannot argue that your enemy is evil and uses evil means and at the same time argue, “We should do it too!”

It’s particularly hypocritical given that Alinsky envy blossomed alongside obsessions with conservative purity. It is a circle that will not square: Our ideology has a monopoly on virtue, but in order for virtue to triumph we must act like people we claim are virtueless. The effort to make this argument work is inherently corrupting because it inexorably replaces ends with means. “Winning” gets redefined before our eyes into anything that fuels our ecstatic schadenfreude over the suffering of our opponents. Whenever Trump did something indefensible the “defense” “But he fights!” would pour forth.

And that brings me to Ian’s piece. I have some subtle disagreements with it. I think Ian paints too bright a line between younger conservatives supposedly alienated by Trump and older Fox News demographic conservatives. I wish it were true. But the throngs of young people who go to big-tent revivals headlined by Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos — not to mention more serious-minded but nonetheless Alinsky-ensorcelled types like Dinesh D’Souza, David Horowitz, and others — don’t reassure me.

The Long Island Captivity

I think there’s an element to the story that Ian — and pretty much everyone else — has missed in how Donald Trump won over so many people at Fox News and beyond.

A little backstory. I grew up in New York City in the 1970s and 1980s. Oswald Spengler couldn’t do justice to the dismay that was bound up in the city’s decline. Lots of people left the city for the suburbs, particularly places like Long Island, long an enclave for working-class and more affluent suburbanites who make their living in, or off of, the city but for understandable reasons don’t want to raise kids there. Whether you stayed in the city or got out, there was a sense that liberalism, broadly defined, was destroying the city. Then along came a white knight from the outer boroughs and Nassau County in Long Island.

Rudy Giuliani transformed New York, literally saving the city. But he wasn’t really that conservative. He was pro-choice, pro-gay rights, and pro-immigration. That didn’t stop his enemies from calling him a fascist and extremist. Remember, these were the days when you were considered a right-winger if you thought porn theaters were a blight and that drug-addled homeless slubberdegullions terrifying old ladies and small children were merely exercising their civil rights. Giuliani was a bit authoritarian, but he needed to be to fight the Democratic machine, the media, and the remora-like lawyers, racial-hucksters, and bureaucrats that were running the city into the ground.

Giuliani’s politics were a nostalgia-laden homage to the memory of a Big-Apple-that-was and a kind of conservative common sense. His greatest ally in the press was the urban-populist New York Post, which always could be counted on to take the side of the little guy and the tots (innocent children) against Mordor’s army of pervs, reprobates, pimps, fat cats, and corrupts pols. Giuliani’s promise was, in effect, to Make New York Great Again. And, again, he largely succeeded. Just as important, he humiliated his enemies in the process.

Bill O’Reilly grew up in Long Island before the city started to decline, but he is incontestably a product of the nostalgia-besotted working-class worldview that Giuliani tapped into. He doesn’t call himself a conservative, but a “traditionalist.” And his vision of tradition isn’t Burkean, Oakshottian, or Hayekian. He doesn’t harken to Russell Kirk’s Mecosta, but to Levittown. And to an extent that’s fine. America could use a bit more 1950s Levittown morality. Sean Hannity, born in New York City but raised in Long Island, is another who largely fits that mold. More broadly, as I’ve written dozens of times, Fox News was always more populist than conservative, but its populism is often infused with a New York sensibility.

This was always the core of Donald Trump’s act, even when he was a proud Democrat. A bridge-and-tunnel billionaire, he always had a chip on his shoulder about New York elites. It wasn’t quite the same Irish-Catholic chip that O’Reilly had, but the similarities are more interesting than the differences. O’Reilly’s intellectual insecurity drives him to churn out gimmicky histories, written by someone else. Trump’s spills out in boasts about his grades and his superior brain. They both insist they’re the smartest man in the room and that people who disagree with their meniscus-thin judgments are not just wrong, but bad or stupid.

Trump’s nostalgic appeal to Make America Great Again using common sense to defeat the pinhead elites combined with his implied promise to humiliate his enemies with his strength and will was simply a variant of O’Reillyism. Indeed, Bill O’Reilly was the John the Baptist of Trumpism long before Donald Trump appeared on the political scene.

I should say that I wish Donald Trump were a Rudy Giuliani, and I hold out the barest glimmer of hope that he could turn into one. But my suspicion is that he is a creature who mimicked the aesthetics and style of a Giuliani without anything like his discipline or expertise. And that in itself is a sign of the toxic corruption of celebrity conservatism that David French describes. Too many people think being a conservative is all about the public posture, the performance in front of the camera and not the performance on the job.

I have no idea if O’Reilly will find his way back on TV, but if I had to bet I’d bet big that he will. TV is a drug for some people. For some it’s about the money and doing good work, to be sure. But for others they come to believe that they will cease to exist if people don’t recognize them at airports. (Greta Van Susteren, for instance, is a multimillionaire, but I have every confidence that she thinks she’d dry up and blow away if she weren’t on TV.) Lord knows O’Reilly doesn’t need the money, but that’s not the itch people like him need to scratch.    

Various & Sundry  

I started writing this in the Main Street Diner in Grove City, Pa. I am finishing it in the parking lot of a Fairfield Inn in Slippery Rock. I know it sounds weird that I should be hurling epistolary and eristic brick-bats at Donald Trump’s politically fissiparous rodomontade through the machicolations of the Internet. But I was invited to share my hortatory stylings at Grove City College last night (I had a great time even though the fake news media will never tell you how huge the crowd was). I required sustenance, hence the Main Street Diner. I’m in the parking lot at the Fairfield Inn because I am smoking a cigar with the top down on my car and I need someplace to park in the shade. I know I shouldn’t smoke in the morning but sometimes I suffer from a lack of cacoëthes scribendi and this is the only way to extravasate my creative juices.

But what explains this apparent exercise in sesquipedalian epeolatry? The other day I was baited into a Twitter affray, or social media argle-bargle, by a dasypygal rantallian who made the following claim:

So I thought it a propitious opportunity to share my effulgent logophilia, even if I risk being accused of the sin of batrachomyomachy by taking so much time to respond to an anencephalous troll. I don’t want to be seen as absquatulating before I demonstrated my point, subjecting me to a severe case of Torschlusspanik. But as the kids say, I think I’ve thrown enough shade in a splendiferously umbriferous manner.

Canine Update: The beasts are still adjusting to the fact that the Fair Jessica is working outside the house for the first time in almost a decade. They become much needier and more excited when I come home. But they’ve also learned to amuse themselves more when they are not dreaming of more exciting adventures. Pippa has developed a new theory. She seems to think that if she holds perfectly still we won’t notice her in places she’s not supposed to be. I wish I had more stories to share, but I can’t think of any, so instead: Puppy pictures!

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File.

Trump’s pivot to easy wins.

Death penalty opponents are being dishonest.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Naked mole rats can survive in oxygen-free environments
Scientists name a shrimp with (literally) killer sound after Pink Floyd

Breaking down 6 popular fictional languages

Are redshirts really the likeliest to die in Star Trek?

How to escape from a car in water

California’s super bloom is visible from space

On the China-North Korea border

Herd of cattle watches lone beaver

Doberman saves 17-month-old’s life

Dog skateboards

When the CIA’s cafeteria had a food fight

Mary Poppins as a horror movie

The Shining as a heartwarming family film

Behold: the museum of failure

The Post-Trumpism Presidency Begins

by Jonah Goldberg
The last best hope for a successful Trump presidency is for conservatives in Congress to define what counts as a win in the realm of the possible and then nudge, coax, flatter, or trick Trump in that direction.

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 (and the re-accommodated everywhere),

Because National Review is a God-fearing publication, the offices are closed for Good Friday. (As a friendly outsider to the Christian faith, I have to say: I always thought that was a strange name for a date commemorating such a grim event.)

That means I’m writing this yesterday. So . . . greetings, people of the future! I envy you, what with your flying cars, jetpacks — who gets the right of way at the cross“walks” by the way? — and genetically modified dogs that poop smokable hemp.

The problem with writing this in the past, however, is that I usually use the ridiculous time constraints imposed by starting the G-File Friday morning as a steroidal impetus to get past writer’s block. It’s sort of like when you’re cornered by a CHUD or one of those break-dancing gangs from the 1980s, there’s no time to think too much (“And it shows!” — The Couch).

Fortunately, I’m still under some time constraints so maybe this will work.

The Post-Trumpism Presidency Begins

Since I literally just finished my column for today, also written in the past, I suppose I should start with what’s on my mind.

In the wake of Trump’s dizzying array of reversals on various policy stances, I wrote about how the phrase “Let Reagan be Reagan” has essentially the opposite meaning of “Let Trump be Trump.” I conclude (Spoiler alert):

When conservatives said “Let Reagan be Reagan,” they were referring to a core philosophy that Reagan had developed over decades of study and political combat. When people said “Let Trump be Trump,” they meant let Trump’s id run free. The former was about staying true to an ideology, the latter about giving free rein to a glandular style that refused to be locked into a doctrine or even notions of consistency.

That’s why saying “Let Trump be Trump” is almost literally the opposite of saying “Let Reagan be Reagan.”

I was inspired by a conversation I had with Ramesh about this excellent column, which deals with the same topic.

“In 2016,” Ramesh begins, “we found out that conservative elites didn’t speak for Republican voters.” The think-tank crowd wanted entitlement reform and likes free trade. The rank and file, not so much.

Trump’s elite supporters in talk radio, TV news, and elsewhere convinced themselves that just because the “people” rejected one coherent ideological program that meant they embraced another coherent ideological program called “Trumpism,” “America First,” or “nationalism.” Ramesh writes:

Intellectuals, whether they are for or against Trump, want to construct an “ism into which they can fit his politics: an “ism” that includes opposition to free trade, mass immigration, foreign interventions that aren’t necessitated by attacks on us, and entitlement reform. But Trumpism doesn’t exist. The president has tendencies and impulses, some of which conflict with one another, rather than a political philosophy.

But here’s the key point — “the people” don’t have a coherent “ism” either. This is especially true on foreign policy. Again, Ramesh:

An adviser to President George W. Bush once remarked to me that a lot of people thought Republicans backed Bush because of the Iraq war, when in reality Republicans backed the Iraq war because of Bush. In the absence of detailed and deep convictions on a foreign-policy issue, voters will side with the politicians whose side they usually take.

Trump’s strike on Syria was breathtakingly hypocritical. It was also the right thing to do (I think). But the relevant point is that it was popular.

Suddenly, true believers in a Trumpism-that-doesn’t-exist are in a similar predicament many of us were in during the election. They’re condemning Trump for breaking their (hastily minted) orthodoxy of True Trumpism. More vexing, they’re discovering that Trump’s popularity isn’t all that connected to his program. This is partly because of his cult of personality and partly because a lot of people are simply invested in his presidencyfor a slew of patriotic, partisan, and personal reasons.

The Oxygen-Sucking Stupidity of Trump Derangement Syndrome

I should also say that the persistence of liberal Trump Derangement Syndrome is a big part of the defend-Trump-no-matter-what dynamic. Because the mainstream media and the Democrats are so unhinged in their criticisms of Trump, they give no room for thoughtful criticism. Lots of normal Trump voters are frustrated with his presidency so far. But the partisan inanity of Trump’s left-wing critics makes it difficult not to run to his defense.

Take, for example, Sean Spicer’s “Not even Hitler” gaffe. I made fun of the guy, because the statement was so painfully dumb. (I like to imagine a homunculus Spicer in the control room in his head completely freaking out as he loses control of Spicer’s speech center. “I’ve got no brakes! I got no brakes!!”) But liberals had to take it straight to eleven, by calling Spicer a Holocaust denier and an anti-Semite. C’mon. Some even claimed the statement was a deliberate attempt to signal . . . something.

This reminds me of one of my biggest gripes about Bush Derangement Syndrome. His critics would simultaneously argue that Bush was a blithering idiot, but also an evil mastermind who orchestrated all manner of devilishly clever conspiracies. Pick one. You can’t say Sean Spicer is a buffoon, but that he’s also a brilliantly cynical dog-whistler who went in to the pressroom with a plan to throw rhetorical bones to the alt-right.

The Dilemma

Anyway, where was I? Oh, right, I’m not saying Trump could have gotten away with nominating a liberal to the Supreme Court or that if he came out overnight as a pro-choicer that the base would have gone with him. But Trump fulfilled his core mandate the day he was sworn-in: He promised not to be Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. He could have hung a “Mission Accomplished” banner over the inaugural balcony.

The conservative ideologues and intellectuals on both sides of the Trump question face the very same dilemma. Trump is no more bound to the fantasy of True Trumpism than he is to Goldwaterite conservatism. He’s a free agent who literally brags about the fact that he’s comfortable making it up as he goes.

In the first G-File after the election, I predicted: “If Trump is going to be a successful president — and I hope he is one — he will have to start disappointing his biggest fans.” In the case of Coulter & Co. I was right. But for a lot of his rank-and-file supporters, it’s more complicated. They’re invested in Trump first and Trumpism second, if at all. Or, they simply define Trumpism as whatever makes Trump look like a winner. The danger, as I’ve been writing for two years now, is that Trump could end up redefining conservatism, not necessarily as some version of Buchanan-Bannon nationalism (though that was always a concern), but as “whatever Trump does.”

The first empirical data is already coming in. Rank-and-file Republicans tend to think that conservatism is correlated to support for Trump. But the anecdotal data has been all over the place for years now. For instance, when it was announced Wednesday that Bret Stephens was leaving the Wall Street Journal for the New York Times, Twitter lit up with people saying, in effect, “good riddance, you liberal.” Of course, this assessment wasn’t based on anything other than the fact that Stephens — a fairly solid conservative — is one of the most ardent critics of Donald Trump.

Trump isn’t an ideological or philosophical conservative. He has no ideology or philosophy, rightly understood. This was obvious from the beginning and, contra Mike Allen, some of us saw it from day one. That doesn’t mean he can’t be a good president or have a politically successful presidency. But it will be difficult for an array of reasons both psychological and political. There’s lots of talk in Washington about how to fix the White House staff in order to properly constrain, channel, or direct Trump to victory. Good luck with that. I have zero confidence that Trump will reliably and consistently trade opportunities for political success — “wins” — for conservative victories over time. I also never bought that he was a particularly good manager. His presidency so far gives me no reason to rethink that.

I do have hope though.

And that hope rests, as I said last week, on conservatives restricting his range of possible political options solely to conservative policies. The last best hope for a successful Trump presidency rests not in Trump’s alleged brilliance and gift for “winning” and “deals” but in conservatives in Congress defining what counts as a win in the realm of the possible and then nudging, coaxing, flattering, or tricking him in that direction.

Various & Sundry

I know what you’re thinking: Stop with the shameless sucking up to the president. Okay, maybe not you. But that’s the upshot of Rick Perlstein’s typically snide and dishonest essay in The New York Times Magazine. Perlstein deliberately distorted my view to frame his entire argument. He insinuates that, once Trump was elected, I embraced Trump and Trumpism, jettisoning my commitment to Buckleyite conservatism. Worse, my supposed surrender is the only example he offers for this conservative capitulation. I’m pretty furious about it. I couldn’t care less about being criticized, but I take great exception to being lied about, particularly by a partisan like Perlstein hiding behind some imagined intellectual authority. I’d go on, but I ranted about it here. And, to their true credit, I convinced the New York Times to add a correction to the piece. I just found out and I’m still a little stunned.

In a more amusing mainstream media vs. Goldberg moment, the Ombudsman at NPR is apparently concerned by the fact that I have been on NPR a whopping five times in 70 days. Worse, though, is that it seems listeners are very dismayed by this lavish exposure. The Ombudsman writes, “I appreciate Goldberg’s commentary and rarely find it following predictable talking points.” And, apparently, that’s the problem. Since I don’t spout typical talking points, listeners are left to wonder whether they can trust me or if I’m a conservative. You see, “Goldberg is not always identified by his political views, leaving listeners to guess.” The horror! Never mind that I am always identified as a National Review senior editor, it seems that having to listen to the actual substance of my comments — a whole five times — without being tipped off in advance (“Warning: He may sound reasonable, but he’s a conservative!”) is too much to ask. For the record, I like doing the NPR hits and I am appreciative of them. I kind of feel like a house goy. So, for the benefit of the audience I’ll try to drop a few more hints if they ever have me back.

Canine Update: Yesterday morning, I was taking the beasts for a sortie in the park. When we came around the bend, there was a deer standing in the middle of the path. Zoë and Pippa froze. And there was a long enough stare-down moment for me to actually take out my phone and videotape it.

I was worried the deer was close enough for Zoë to actually catch it, which wouldn’t be good for anybody. But before I could get to Zoë and put a leash on her, she took off. I yelled “go!” at the deer — not the Dingo — for the record. Anyway, the deer took off and Zoë didn’t catch it. But the deer kept reappearing. I realized what she was doing. Deer protect their young by hiding them (baby deer literally have no scent). She was trying to lure the Dingo away, to save us all from the horrible cliché of hearing a deer yell “the dingo ate my baby!” I put Zoë on a leash until we were clear of the area. She has yet to fully forgive me.

You see, Zoë is a big believer in obeying the forms. I got a great text from our indispensable dogwalker Kirsten the other day. She walks Zoë and Pippa with a bunch of other dogs that Zoë emphatically considers to be her pack. “Zoë is so dang funny, she has impeccable dog manners,” Kristen texted. “Like if someone is sniffing a bone or something, you wait patiently until the dog in front is finished before you sniff it. Or if I have treats in her pocket, woe be unto the doggy that tries to sneak one. She really takes it all very seriously and I get such a kick out of it. Never known a dog like her. The only time she lashes out is if someone Dares to act out of order.”

ICYMIBYAFEAWIBTFC (In Case You Missed It Because You Ate Fifty Eggs And Were Incapacitated By The Food Coma)

What do Trump’s Syria airstrikes really mean?

Rob Long, John Podhoretz, and I mock United, Sean Spicer, Sonny Bunch, and more in the latest Ricochet GLoP podcast.

Sorry, Hillary, but Democrats aren’t the party of science.

If you’re looking for Easter links and weekly William F. Buckley wisdom on faith, culture, and civil society, subscribe to Kathryn Jean Lopez’s free newsletter.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Thursday links

Urban wildlife

Did Medieval villagers zombie-proof corpses?

Would you have wanted to be the king’s toilet attendant?

A caloric guide to cannibalism

Listening to the sea

Workers accidentally discover Rome’s oldest aqueduct

Dog dislikes sour candy

The beauty of Cincinnati’s old library

What would movie monsters actually sound like?

Why is the Pentagon a pentagon?

Shelley Duvall’s real-life horrors filming The Shining

Dog escapes animal hospital by opening doors

Japanese cherry blossoms

NSFW: Scientists capture beautiful, explosive collision of young stars

Squirrel eats tiny ice-cream cones

Trump Enforces Obama’s Red Line

by Jonah Goldberg
The strike on Syria is the single best proof that Trump has no overriding commitment to any ideological position — and I say that as someone who supports the strike.

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 (particularly the caretaker of Camp David, who must feel like the Maytag repairman watching the goings-on at Mar-a-Lago),

Well, this’ll be interesting.

After Thursday night’s attack on Syria, the conventional wisdom congealed faster than the chalupa sauce in Michael Moore’s chest hair.

Sorry, this isn’t really a topic for strident juvenilia, but I know that’s one of the things that puts digital asses in the virtual seats.

Let me start over.

I think Thursday night’s attacks are both less and more important than the rapidly forming conventional wisdom holds. This is a convoluted way of saying I see it a bit differently from some folks. And since I’m on a tight schedule, let me do it bullet-point style:

I think the foreign-policy consequences of the strike are likely to be less consequential than the domestic ones. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has already said, quite emphatically, that the strikes don’t suggest any change in our overall strategy:

“I would not in any way attempt to extrapolate that to a change in our policy or posture relative to our military activities in Syria today. There has been no change in that status,” [Tillerson] added. “I think it does demonstrate that President Trump is willing to act when governments and actors cross the line and cross the line on violating commitments they’ve made and cross the line in the most heinous of ways.”

As we put it in our National Review editorial Friday morning:

If it is a one-off, this strike is the very definition of a symbolic pinprick. It was launched with highly precise weapons against the airfield from which the Syrian chemical attack emanated. According to reports, we apprised Russian personnel at the base beforehand, meaning the Syrians effectively had advance warning as well.

In other words, if this is all that we have in store for Bashar al-Assad, President Trump’s dismayed anti-interventionists don’t have that much to worry about and interventionists have less to celebrate than think (more about them in a moment). Assad can go on killing women and children — he will simply have to use less efficient and more conventional weapons to do it. What a massive moral victory for the West!

Look, I get why — morally, strategically, and legally — chemical weapons are different than conventional ones. But if my entire family and village were wiped out with bullets and bombs rather than chemical weapons, I wouldn’t draw much solace from any of these distinctions.

Laura Ingraham is right too:

Now I favor the strikes (though I have questions about their legality and I think Daniel Pipes makes some excellent points against the strike, here). But there is literally nothing to justify it in the past speeches, campaign promises, and tweets (!) of Donald Trump, going back four years.

Donald Trump didn’t oppose the Iraq War from the beginning, but he likes to claim he did. Regardless, let’s recall that Saddam Hussein killed orders of magnitude more people — including babies — with chemical weapons, and yet Trump never considered this even a partial justification for getting rid of Saddam or the war. But forget Iraq, which, admittedly, was a different thing on a number of fronts. Assad’s attack on Ghouta in 2013 killed more people than this week’s gas attack, and we had pictures of dead children then, too.

But Trump opposed enforcing Obama’s red line back then, nevertheless. The difference, as Trump admirably admitted from the Rose Garden, is that he’s president now and that changes your perspective on things. It’s always easy to throw brick-bats when you have no responsibility (one of the guiding tenets of this “news”letter by the way). Now he’s looking at the prospect of being the president who, in effect, sanctioned the use of chemical weapons, a violation of international law. As he put it in his statement Thursday night:

It is in this vital national-security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.

There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and ignored the urging of the U.N. Security Council.

That is a sound argument. But it was just as sound in 2013. Trump’s real motivation seems to be the fact that babies were “choked out” and that he saw it on TV. And it is this apparent fact that should give everyone — supporters and critics alike — the most cause for concern. Ann Coulter wrote a whole book called In Trump We Trust, which, in its own cartoonish way, was a brilliant title in that it conveyed the unshakable, almost religious faith many of his most ardent supporters had in his will and his strength and his commitment to bucking the “establishment.”

Now:

Donald Trump is a charismatic political figure. I don’t mean that in the conventional sense that he’s “charming.” I mean it in the sociological and political-science sense. Max Weber delineated three kinds of authority — legal, traditional, and charismatic. Charismatic authority rests “on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism, or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him.” Charismatic leaders get people to write books called In Trump We Trust.

But the problem with charismatic leaders is that they are often a kind of Rorschach test. People project onto them what they want to see. I’ve lost count of how many conversations I’ve had with hardcore Trump fans who’ve described wildly different Donald Trumps — not simply different from the man I see, but different from each other. As a matter of logic, not all of these assessments can be right.

But logic also dictates that all of them can be wrong. Earlier this week I wrote a column about how the core problem with Trump’s presidency so far isn’t his lack of an agenda or his tweeting or any of that. It’s Trump’s own character. Many angry readers came at me saying that I was just refusing to get over my Never Trumpism (they’re wrong about that by the way). Others suggested I was just a sucker for the mainstream media’s “fake news.” I’m not a political reporter, but I do talk to a lot of people in and around the Trump administration. And the simple fact is that the chaos in the Trump White House is an outgrowth of the president’s personality. He’s mercurial. He cares more about status, saving face, respect, “winning,” etc. than he does about any public policy. That’s not to say he doesn’t care about public policy at all. I think he’s sincere in his views about immigration, trade, excessive regulation, etc. But they take a back seat to Trump’s desire to maintain his charismatic status (which is why we’ve seen so many stories about how he gets mad at staffers who get good press — a really bizarre attitude for a manager when you think about it).

As Rich put it the other day, writing about the (first) push for Trumpcare:

Trump, for his part, has lacked the knowledge, focus or interest to translate his populism into legislative form. He deferred to others on legislative priorities and strategies at the outset of his administration, and his abiding passion in the health-care debate was, by all accounts, simply getting to a signing ceremony.

The strike on Syria is the single best proof that Trump has no overriding commitment to any ideological position. And I say this, again, as someone who supports the strike. Ramesh likes to say that we sometimes make too big a deal of it when politicians flip-flop. Conservatives should want politicians to flip or flop (not sure of the usage here) if it means they abandon their wrong positions and agree with us. So, sure, I’m happy to celebrate his change of heart. I’m also delighted to watch the Cernovich crowd freak out. But there’s a larger lesson here. If Trump can abandon his position on this — all because of some horrific pictures on TV — what position is safe?

This is why I am actually encouraged by the response from the Coulter crowd. Until now, the standard response to Trump’s indefensible or indecipherable statements and outbursts was to say, “He knows more than us.” Or “This is what got him elected.” Or “He’s playing three-dimensional chess!” Or, simply, “I trust him.” As I put it in a column in February:

When a political leader replaces fixed principles and clear ideological platforms with his own instincts and judgment, he gives his supporters no substantive arguments to rely on. Eventually, the argument to just say, “Have faith” in our leader, he knows best, is the only safe harbor.

And that’s not what conservatism is about — nor, for that matter, democracy.

The fact that some in the Trump-can-do-no-wrong crowd are setting their collective hair on fire over the Syria strikes is a sign of ideological health (even if, again, I disagree with the substance of their complaint).

What continues to stun me is how shocked they are that this wasn’t in the cards all along.

Right now, there’s a lot of talk about how both Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus may be on the way out at the White House. In general, I’d shed no tears at Bannon’s defenestration, but it’s worth noting that Bannon and Priebus now form an unlikely coalition against Jared Kushner, a lifelong liberal Democrat. By all accounts Kushner is a smart and serious guy. He also has the ace up his sleeve of being married to the president’s (also liberal) daughter. I have grave disagreements with Bannon, but in this fight I think I’m on his side:

One senior Trump aide said that Bannon was also frustrated with Kushner “continuing to bring in [Obamacare architect] Zeke Emanuel to discuss health care options,” for instance. The aide said Emanuel has had three White House meetings, including one with Trump.

But the idea that the chaos in the White House is a function of bad staff is grossly unfair, even to Bannon. The chaos isn’t a bug in the Trump program — it is the program. It’s how he likes to run things. He could bring in a whole new roster of people, the result will likely be the same.

I’ll close with this. Some defenders have argued that Trump is merely a pragmatist. Don’t worry, I won’t rehash all my anti-pragmatism stuff. But I will say that this defense often makes a profound moral, political, and ideological error. Pragmatism (conventionally defined) about means is generally fine, within limits of course. But pragmatism about ends isn’t pragmatism at all, it’s Nietzschean nihilism. If your goals are made slaves to your desire to seem like a winner, then the question of what you “win” at becomes entirely negotiable. Conceptually, this is the difference between a knight and a mercenary. A knight fights for certain lofty ideals; a mercenary fights to win and reap the rewards. Politically, this is the lesson of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s governorship. He decided that he’d rather be a successful liberal governor than a failed conservative one.

If I were Coulter, Ingraham, or Sean Hannity I’d make a lot more money fighting the “establishment” than I do allegedly defending it, but that’s not important right now. If I were them, I’d be terrified by the reaction to the strike. Trump is getting good press. He’s being hailed as a strong and decisive leader. He’s got heart. John McCain and Marco Rubio are praising him, as are a host of foreign leaders. This would scare me for two reasons. First, if I were a committed America Firster like Coulter and Ingraham, I’d see this for what it is: incredibly positive reinforcement for a politician who responds to flattery more than most. But, second, I’d recognize that the lesson Trump might learn from this is that your poll numbers and press clippings get better when you throw your biggest fans under the bus and listen to the establishment, Jared Kushner, or Lord knows who else.

Various & Sundry

This really doesn’t belong in the V&S section, but I didn’t want to let it go by. It’s rather amazing that Donald Trump’s greatest accomplishment and the most significant conservative victory in a long time is secondary news this week. Neil Gorsuch will be the next justice on the Supreme Court. Trump deserves congratulation and so do the people who, despite their misgivings, voted for Trump solely on this issue. If that’s all you cared about — and I don’t mean that in a pejorative way at all — you’ve been vindicated. Now, all conservatives — and I mean all — should be resolutely clear that Trump should either stick to his list of potential nominees or, at the very least, promise not to stray leftward from it. The job of conservatives, as ever, is to make it in the political interest of Republicans to do conservative things.

Canine Update: I am going to forgo the usual reportings of my own canine companions this week because I have a different canine update. Longtime readers of mine will remember my old wing-hound, the late great Cosmo the Wonderdog. A few might remember that Cosmo’s best friend and partner in all manner of adventures was my sister-in-law’s (and brother-in-law’s) dog Buckley. Buckley, or “Buckles” as we often called him, was one of the sweetest beasts I’ve ever known. He died this week at the age of 13. Cosmo and Buckley loved each other even more than their humans loved them. When they’d see each other in the neighborhood, they’d run to each other like war buddies delighted to learn the other one had survived the enemy offensive too.

Physically, Buckles could have kicked Cosmo’s tail region six ways from Sunday, but he was quite literally America’s most harmless dog — unless you were a deer or a squirrel. For Cosmo had trained him in the sublime art of critter chasing from his earliest days. They were, for a time, master and apprentice:

Cosmo tried to school Buckley in his own Mencken-like misanthropy, distrusting humans from outside the pack. But it never took. Whenever strangers came to visit, and once Buckles had confirmed that the humans weren’t squirrels in human disguises (trust but verify!), he would put his head in their laps and flash them his baby browns. Coz just muttered his disapproval.

In Buckles’s old age, he got a little more lumpy and a little more grumpy, at least toward other dogs. He had little use for Zoë, whose wild puppiness elicited grave concern, as seen here. And I couldn’t blame him.

Anyway, he will be dearly missed. The world is always better with dogs and it’s always a little worse when they go. After Buckles passed, Carrie and Amit and the kids said a little prayer for him. Unprompted, my nephew Owen, who never knew Cosmo, added at the end, “He’s in Heaven now, playing with his good friend Coz.”

Rest in Peace, big guy.

ICYMI . . .

Why does F. H. Buckley want Trump to promote single-payer health care?

Trump’s character is his presidency’s biggest enemy.

What does it mean that Steve Bannon left the National Security Council?

My radio hit on Chicago’s Morning Answer.

Syria and the difficulties of realism.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Thursday and Friday links

Man who believes himself to be the reincarnation of King Arthur holds pagan rituals at Stonehenge (foolishly forgetting that Arthur is healing from his wounds at Avalon and will someday return)

New weight-loss therapy involves self-immolation

Why do cartoons only have four fingers?

Why do cartoons wear gloves?

2017 Sony World Photography award winners

Sharknado is upon us

The birth of Comic Sans

Was the T-Rex a sensitive lover?

Tokyo at rush hour, in pictures

Nazi Jurassic Park

Tropical fish with opioids in their fangs

The quest for McDonald’s pizza

When the world went crazy over Y2K

Dog saves wedding party from suicide bomber

The fascinating history of the potato cannon

Throw Away the New Playbook

by Jonah Goldberg
If he’s going to succeed, Trump needs to start acting like a normal president who deals with the reality of politics.

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 (particularly any of you women who want to have dinner with me alone, but can’t),

Turn that frown upside down!

Some of you may have noticed that I’ve been in a bit of a funk of late, what with all of the gloominess, snark, and unexplained blood spatters and splatters on my glasses, clothes, car, etc.

Just last week, in this space, while mentioning my dour mood, I asked, “Hey, what’s the emoji for metaphysical dyspepsia and spirit-grinding weltschmerz?”

A bunch of people sent in suggestions, but none really hit the mark. So, the Universe decided to create one for me.

To summarize briefly, last week I was in NYC trying to salvage a little bit of Spring Break for my kid in the wake of all our plans blowing up on account of needing to go to Alaska for my mother-in-law’s funeral. While in the city, I met with the lovely (and understanding and patient and awesome) editor of the book I’m still working on. She needed to know when the final chapters were coming. I said in the next week or so. “I have about 25,000–30,000 words on my computer,” I told her. “I just need to organize it and write a couple thousand more.”

And this is when the Universe saw an opening.

I drive home on Saturday. On Sunday morning, I wake up with a renewed sense of commitment and purpose. I’m also chipper because we’re going to officially celebrate my birthday since we couldn’t earlier in the week. Cake!

I perambulate the beasts. Make some coffee.

I pour myself a big cup. I grab my relatively new MacBook Pro. And . . . 

Well. Flashback. Last year I was on Turner Classic Movies talking about politics and film. It was a lot of fun.

They gave me some swag, including a great TCM coffee mug. A few weeks ago, the handle broke off (the investigation into who was responsible for that has broken down into partisan squabbles, though my daughter’s request for immunity in exchange for testimony is suspicious). My wife and daughter “repaired” it and put it back.

Okay, back to the moment: I grab my cup of coffee and . . . the entirety of reality and everything in it slowed down to one-eighth speed as all of the coffee spilled directly into the keyboard of my computer.

To paraphrase William Goldman, “Since the invention of shouting ‘Nooooo!’ there have only been five ‘Nooooos!’ that were rated the most passionate, the most pure. This one left them all behind.”

Darth Vader? Michael Scott? This delightful woman?

Pikers.

Now, in fairness, my pronunciation of “No” was unconventional in that it began with an “F” and ended with a parade of glottal “K”s.

I’ll spare you most of the other details, save one: You know the “Door Close” buttons on elevators? Or the pedestrian “Walk” buttons in New York? Your fool-proof system for playing roulette? Rabbits’ feet? Democracy?

These are all things that give you a false sense of control. The elevator button doesn’t actually make the doors close any faster (though they do in the U.K., where man is still the master of his fate!). Since the 1980s, the “Walk” buttons have been like Rainier Wolfcastle’s goggles; they do nothing. Rabbits’ feet aren’t lucky. Everyone knows you have to rub a leprechaun’s head for luck, which is why I keep asking Robert Reich to come to Vegas with me. As for democracy, I kid, I kid.

You know what else gives the illusion of control? Apple’s iCloud. There’s a folder on my laptop called “document-iCloud” that I “saved” to. The hitch? It’s sorta like the fake railroad tunnel Wile E. Coyote drew on cliff faces. It works for Road Runners like five-year-old G-Files and shopping lists. But book chapters about the current state of Western Civilization? They bounce off it like grapes off a basset hound’s forehead.

Now, I know everything you want to tell me already about other services, external back-ups, not gluing coffee-cup handles back on, even how I need a haircut. I know because I’ve discovered that nothing brings out the Monday-morning quarterbacking on Twitter like pouring coffee into a laptop. “You should be more careful” is the least useful advice one can give after the fact. It’s only marginally more helpful than the kind of help one gets from the guy who makes sure the leather straps aren’t too tight on the electric chair.

It reminds me of one of my favorite stories about my dad. I once accidentally rubbed hot sauce in my eye. My dad found me at the sink furiously washing it out of my eye. He asked what happened. I told him.

He replied, in his perfect deadpan, “Damn, I wish I had told you not to rub hot sauce in your eye.”

Anyway, I think the perfect real-world emoji for metaphysical dyspepsia and spirit-grinding weltschmer is pouring coffee into your computer.

And my main takeaway is that negativity invites negativity, so I’m going to be whistling Dixie out of my nethers like I got a free trip to Wally World from here on out.

Here We Go Again

Meanwhile, as I await the results of an extremely expensive effort to salvage the data off my hard drive, I suppose I should also try to salvage this anecdote as well.

Longtime readers of this “news”letter should probably stop reading it out loud because that slows down reading comprehension.

But they also may have noticed that my favorite quote from Edmund Burke — besides “the people at iCloud should be fed to wolves” — is “Example is the school of mankind, and he will learn at no other.”

What he meant by this is that sometimes you can’t be told something, you have to see it or experience it for yourself. I could write a dozen different columns on this quote (actually, I think I have). This insight dovetails with my conviction that reality is conservative. Wisdom is the accumulation of insights into how the world actually works — as opposed to how we would like it to work.

Venezuela was the richest country in South America a decade ago. Then it followed policies based on how some people wanted the world to work. Now it’s the poorest country in South America and people are fighting over bread and toilet paper. If Venezuela makes it through this mess, a lot of people will likely have learned some things from example that they’d probably never have learned from a textbook.

The other night, I was on Special Report and I made the point that even if Donald Trump was 100 percent right in claiming he was wiretapped by President Obama (he wasn’t), it would still be foolish to say what he did in those tweets. Put aside that Trump based his accusation on some flimsy news articles he had read. Let’s imagine he had a credible source with real evidence to back up the claim. The correct response would be to call in the heads of the NSA, CIA, DOJ, and FBI and get to the bottom of it. Then, after you’ve completed a behind-the-scenes investigation, press charges against those responsible.

Trump went a different way, and a month of his first 100 days has been eaten up by the furor. I added that, politically, this whole thing was a huge waste and distraction, including the response by my friend Devin Nunes. He, as the House Intelligence Committee chairman, may indeed have some important revelations to make. But the whole thing could have been handled better.

I say with all humility: I was 100 percent right.

The response, however, from Trump’s amen corner was the usual outrage and ridiculous claims: “Trump was vindicated! He’s playing four-dimensional chess! Shut up! Etc.”

Politics all the Way Down

The two common responses that I think are worth addressing here are (I’m paraphrasing): “Who cares about politics!? We’re sick of politics!” and “You want him to be ‘presidential’ and stop tweeting. But the old playbook no longer applies!”

Put aside the remarkably odd complaint that a political analyst on a political panel on a TV show that covers politics might actually discuss politics.

Here’s the important point. Politics is like the weather; it doesn’t care what you think about it. It simply is. And at least in this sense, I was right when I said that democracy gives the illusion of control.

In 2006, I wrote in the Corner about the Left’s belief, as expressed by Simon Rosenberg, that we were entering an era of “new politics.” Conservatism was over. A new era of modern, expert-driven political management was upon us. To his credit, Rosenberg didn’t say that politics was over, just that this was some new era where the old playbook didn’t apply. But it’s sort of the same thing. The idea that politics will go away if we elect the right person is a form of utopianism that plagues the Left — and, alas, the Right.

Barack Obama entered office thinking the exact same thing (So did LBJ. So did JFK. So did FDR. So did Woodrow Wilson). As I’ve written 8 trillion times, Obama really believed that he was a post-ideological president who only cared about “what works.” This progressive understanding of pragmatism is a kind of exquisite confirmation bias. We’re not ideological, we just want to do the smartest, best thing (which just happens to line up with our undisclosed and unacknowledged ideological biases).

The problem? Politics doesn’t vanish just because you want it to. Wilson was convinced that the wisdom of the Treaty of Versailles was akin to scientific fact. It wasn’t, but let’s say that it was. His view didn’t erase the political necessity of selling it to Congress.

During the election, lots of people told me that a businessman would cut through all the politics by running the government like a business. Jared Kushner is apparently heading up the latest version of this incredibly hackneyed and ancient idea. The simple problem is that government isn’t a business (never mind that Donald Trump is not a typical businessman). The incentive structure of politics is entirely different than the incentive structure for a businessman. A CEO can walk into a meeting and explain to his employees that if they don’t hit their widget sales quota, no one will get their bonus. Politics doesn’t work like that.

Moreover, people who say “Who cares about politics” or “Politics are irrelevant” are like people who go sailing in a hurricane on the assumption that weather shouldn’t matter.

Throw Away the New Playbook

It’s fine to insist that Trump has discarded the old playbook. In many respects, he has. But throwing away the old playbook isn’t synonymous with coming up with a better one. Management and marketing consultants love buzzphrases like “throw away the old playbook,” but that doesn’t mean that every time a company follows that advice it works. It really depends on whether the new playbook is any good. Warren Buffet got rich off companies that stick to old and reliable playbooks and that follow the Burkean advice to learn from example. Yes, great entrepreneurs leap into the unknown and do new things. But lots of people leap into the unknown and land on their faces. The geniuses behind the scotch-tape store threw away the playbook.

So yeah, okay, Trump threw away the playbook. It got him elected. Kudos. How’s it been working for him lately? His approval ratings have cratered. He failed to get the Obamacare repeal-and-replace across the finish line. He’s alienated the House Freedom Caucus. His biggest defenders are melting down like Harry Mudd’s androids after being told to compute the liar’s fallacy.

FDR threw away the old playbook, too. But it worked for him (if not necessarily for the country).

Look, I didn’t think Trump was a good choice for the Republican nomination, and I worried mightily that he would do grave damage to conservatism. But I’m not interested in saying “I told you so” right now. There’s enormous work to be done and it’s still possible for Trump to succeed.

If you don’t think politics matters, keep in mind that the incentives for GOP congressmen to cooperate with Trump drops in tandem with his approval ratings. Similarly, the people who dismiss the “mainstream media” as illegitimate tend to miss the point that lots of voters don’t share their view. By all means argue that those people are wrong. But at least acknowledge that those people vote too. And that matters. Everyone who cheers Sean Hannity’s limitless defenses of everything Trump does seem not to care that they are not a majority.

The people who think that the way to help conservatism is to support everything Trump says and does simply have it wrong. If he tweets “2+2=5,” you don’t help him (or the cause or the country) by saying “He’s right!” or “This is a brilliant ploy to deconstruct the ‘alt-left’ mathematical establishment!” The best thing you can do is say “Trump is wrong and he should spend his time doing what he was elected to do.”

Trump might not listen — no really, it’s possible — but criticism (reasonable criticism, of the sort we do at National Review) at least holds out the possibility that he’ll stop tweeting indefensible things and focus on what he needs to do to have a successful presidency. But if pundits race to a TV studio to say “Trump is right! He’s always right!” (particularly when they don’t actually believe it, which is often the case), he will be encouraged to keep doing what he’s doing — because, like Obama, he tends to listen most closely to his biggest cheerleaders. Trump’s one truly great success so far was the nomination of Neil Gorsuch. Why was that a success? Because he outsourced the task to Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society and Mitch McConnell — two guys who relied on a tried-and-true playbook.

The simple fact is that new playbooks, like new ideas, are as a statistical matter more likely to be wrong than right (there are literally an infinite number of “ideas”; there is a very finite number of good, practical ideas). The essence of conservatism is to respect practices, customs, norms, and values that have survived the brutal acid of trial and error. “What is conservatism?” Lincoln asked. “Is it not the adherence to the old and tried against the new and untried?”

Sometimes, the old and tried outlive their utility and new methods take their place. But that usually only happens when enough evidence mounts that a new method is superior, and it takes time and patience to figure that out. Acolytes of Trump’s cult of personality don’t want to hear it, but the worst thing they can do is keep shouting “Let Trump be Trump!” If he’s going to succeed, Trump needs to start acting like a normal president who deals with the reality of politics.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: As I think I’ve mentioned before, the big news — at least according to Zoë — in our neighborhood is that there has been an explosion in the rabbit population. I think this is attributable to two things: a mild winter and the fact that rabbits reproduce like rabbits. They have now established a beachhead on our block. This is a huge problem because there is quite literally nothing Zoë wants to do more than chase, catch, and kill rabbits. And unlike Elmer Fudd, she is very good at it. When it comes to varmint-vengeance, Zoë adheres to Wolverine’s motto: “I’m the best there is at what I do. But what I do best isn’t very nice.”

Anyway, I have to take Zoë on leash walks in the neighborhood because, unlike the late, great Cosmo or even Pippa, she can’t be trusted not to: chase critters into traffic, dig holes in peoples’ yards in search of critters, avoid fights with other dogs, or come when called at all times. Also, the last thing I need is to pay the therapy bills of our neighbor’s kids (or my own) as they watch Zoë shake to death Mr. Fluffy. Zoë can listen, but when her blood is up, she’s like Wolverine in a berserker rage. It’s a bit different in the park, which she doesn’t consider her territory. So leash walks it is. But now because the foul, oh-so-hoppy scent of bunnies is everywhere, leash walks take an eternity. She has developed a basset-like obsession with olfactory investigation. Pippa doesn’t care so long as I keep kicking or throwing the tennis ball for her. But Zoë gets mightily pissed when Pippa gets to (harmlessly) chase a critter.

Highlights:

Can Trump get Democrats to support his initiatives?

Is the failure of Republican healthcare reform all Paul Ryan’s fault?

As mentioned, I was on Special Report on Wednesday.

Liberals react angrily to Mike Pence’s good marriage.

The new GLoP podcast is out, with special guest host and all-around monster Sonny Bunch. We discuss my complaints last week about Close Encounters of the Third Kind (even though John Podhoretz didn’t even realize it was inspired by this “news”letter.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Thursday links

And Debby’s Friday links

An instrument you can play with your mind

Fetch . . . on ice

Where to hide if a nuclear bomb goes off in your area

Woman says she crashed because she saw a sasquatch

*deep breath* Horrifying moment villagers cut open a giant python and discover their missing friend inside who had been swallowed whole after being crushed to death

Spiders could theoretically eat every human on Earth in one year

Alleged burglar pantsed by spiked fence while trying to flee, found hanging upside down

Not to be confused with this man who tried to have sex with a fence

The stray dogs of India

A library of smells

Smithsonian photo-contest finalists

Would you live in a skyscraper hanging from a rotating asteroid?

J. R. R. Tolkien reading The Lord of the Rings

Dog loves baby

Man bites dog (!)

The anger of Jack Nicholson

Silence in film

Library book returned . . . 35 years later

READ MORE:

Close Encounters with a ‘Living Constitution’

by Jonah Goldberg
The doctrine of the Living Constitution is a perfect example of how behind every double standard is an unconfessed single standard.

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 (Not including anyone who includes auto-play videos on your websites. You should have a small, hungry animal sewn into your abdomen),

I’m writing this — or at least this sentence — from the Red Flame Diner in New York City. They’re going to have to work a little harder to get that Michelin star, but the Arizona Omelet (onions, cheese, jalapenos) wasn’t half bad.

Now that’s the kind of thrilling scene-setting you’ve come to expect from this “news”letter. You’re welcome.

I’m tempted to just leave it there and call it a day given that my mood is not what you would call “good.” (Hey, what’s the emoji for metaphysical dyspepsia and spirit-grinding weltschmerz?)

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that after I ordered the Arizona Omelet, the waitress brought me a bowl of oatmeal.

I might say, “I didn’t order this.”

Waitress: “Yes you did. That’s the Arizona Omelet.”

“This is oatmeal,” I’d say. “The menu says that the Arizona Omelet has cheese and onions and jalapenos in it. It also says it’s an omelet.”

Waitress: “Well, we here at the Red Flame believe that the menu is a living, breathing document that changes with the times. Oatmeal is healthier than an omelet, and we feel that people should eat more of it. So, we only serve oatmeal, but we call it by different names.”

Now, I could have taken up a lot more of your time by making my point more gradually, describing round after round of just slightly wrong orders. That’s more like how the doctrine of the “Living Constitution” works in real life. A judge makes a small leap of interpretation that seems reasonable — say, replacing onions with shallots, which after all, are a kind of onion. Then the next judge makes another incremental hop in interpretation. And then another. And another. Until eventually the waitress brings me the head of Alfredo Garcia (not the one from the movie but Alfredo “Freddie” Garcia, the short-order cook who before his untimely death worked at the Red Flame Diner) who was infamous for his onion breath.

But the point is the same. It’s like a game of telephone.

There are some issues where I think liberals have a sincerely held, rational, and legitimate point of view that I simply disagree with. But the doctrine of the Living Constitution is not one of them. Oh, I am sure it is sometimes one or two of these things — sincere and rational or legitimate and sincere — but, ultimately, it’s never all three.

As Bill Clinton said to the intern after sitting on the couch and patting his lap, do you see what I’m getting at?

Consider Dianne Feinstein’s performance during the Gorsuch hearings in the Senate. “I firmly believe that our American Constitution is a living document, intended to evolve as our country evolves,” Feinstein said. “So, I am concerned when I hear that Judge Gorsuch is an ‘originalist’ and ‘strict constructionist.’”

Yeah, okay. But at the same time, Feinstein prattled on about how Roe v. Wade is a “super-precedent,” which I assume is a version of what Senator Arlen Specter (D., R. & I., Republic of Jackassistan) called a “super-duper precedent” — which actually sounds more intelligent when sung by Young Frankenstein.

After noting a bunch of court cases that reaffirmed Roe, Feinstein went on to make an additional point: “Importantly, the dozens of cases affirming Roe are not only about precedent, they are also about a woman’s fundamental and constitutional rights.”

I’m a bit fuzzy about what she sees as the distinction between fundamental and constitutional rights, but that doesn’t matter. Clearly her bedrock belief is that the process of constitutional evolution stopped with Roe v. Wade. One might say that instead of being a 1789 originalist, she’s an originalist of 1973.

As Bill Clinton said to the intern after sitting on the couch and patting his lap, do you see what I’m getting at?

Tampering for Me, But Not for Thee

The doctrine of the Living Constitution is a perfect example of how behind every double standard is an unconfessed single standard.

One of my longest-running peeves is how so many public bathrooms require me to touch a door handle that non-handwashers have used. But that’s not important right now. Another of my long-running gripes is how whenever Republicans propose amending the Constitution, Democrats suddenly freak out about how wrong it would be to “tamper” with the Constitution. It’s a weird position to hold when you see nothing wrong with liberal judges reading new meaning into the Constitution.

Similarly, during the Bush years, when alleged NSA wiretapping of American citizens (not named Flynn) offended Democrats, they loved to declare themselves champions of the Constitution and the Founders, quoting at the drop of a tri-cornered hat Ben Franklin’s line that “those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.”

It apparently hadn’t occurred to them that the doctrine of a Living Constitution can sanction things they don’t like, too. This itself is ironic, given that the principal author of the Living Constitution idea — Woodrow Wilson — saw no problem in prosecuting thought-crimes, jailing political dissenters, and domestic spying.

But let’s get back to Feinstein. She was also horrified that Gorsuch is a critic of the Chevron Doctrine (which gives the benefit of the doubt to bureaucrats to interpret the law as they see fit). She insisted that it must not be revisited or amended in any way. Gorsuch correctly believes that the Chevron decision gave too much power to bureaucrats to invent laws, treating legislation as living, breathing documents too.

Feinstein insisted that experts must have the power to do what they think is best, even if Congress did not grant them that power. But the question is not whether the bureaucrats are right in the opinions. The question, as Michael Gillette famously put it, is whether unelected bureaucratic agencies should be able “to define the limits of their own power.” Historically, that is a job for the legislature and, when the law is vague, judges. But under Chevron, bureaucrats are given precisely the kind of arbitrary, prerogative power the Founders saw as inimical to liberty and the rule of law. As Charles Murray put it in his book By the People:

Chevron deference augments that characteristic of prerogative power by giving regulatory bureaucrats a pass available to no private citizen and to no other government officials — including the president and cabinet officers — who function outside the regulatory state. For everyone except officials of the regulatory state, judges do not defer to anything except the text of the law in question and the body of case law accompanying it.

The unifying theme here is what has been the central premise of progressivism for the last 100 years: It’s about power (See: Progressives & Power). When the Living Constitution yields the desired ends of progressives, the Living Constitution is a vital means. When the Living Constitution is inconvenient to those ends, we must bow down to the immutable and unchanging authority of super, super-duper, and supercalifragilisticexpialidocious precedents.

You can be sure that if the mystagogues of the administrative state had a Pauline conversion to minarchist libertarianism and started interpreting statutes in the most minimalist way possible, Senator Feinstein would start pounding the table about lawless bureaucrats. If judges started invoking the Living Constitution — informed by, say, new scientific insights into fetal pain — how quickly would liberals decry the lawlessness of constitutional evolutionary theory?

Close Encounters with Crappy Fathers

Last night I took my daughter to go see Life. It doesn’t exactly break new ground in the genre of sci-fi horror movies about first encounters with aliens. And it is no spoiler to say that the movie screams from the first frame “This won’t end well.” (There’s a joke about the American Health Care Act in there somewhere).

But it sparked a fun conversation with my kid last night about alien movies. And since readers seemed to like it when I aired my grievances about King Kong (to paraphrase Clemenza, I can’t stand the way the adventurers say, “Leave the dinosaurs, take the gorilla!”), I figured I would dilate on my problems with Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

In the movie, Richard Dreyfuss is a happily married man and father of several kids. He is also one of a few dozen people exposed to some kind of mind-ray invitation to an alien rave party at Devil’s Tower. (“Come for the music and lightshow, stay for possibly decades of anal probing!”) The invitation doesn’t come via an annoying e-mail from PaperlessPost, but from a kind of mind control that turns humans into bipedal salmon, willing to risk death by anthrax just to get there. Why the aliens bothered with this when they were perfectly happy to abduct children and capture our servicemen and hold them against their will for 30 years is never explained.

Anyway, Dreyfuss leaves his family. Well, actually, his family leaves him first when they conclude that he would rather make sculptures out of mashed potatoes and garden dirt than be a productive member of society or a good father. But, even after he realizes that if he gets on the alien ship, he could be there for decades (just like the soldiers), leaving his kids to grow up fatherless, he still gets onboard the ship. Note, he did have a choice. The mother of the abducted child doesn’t join him. But Dreyfuss is the quintessential middle-age-crisis male of the me-decade and he’d rather go on his adventure and leave Terri Garr to raise his kids without even a chance for alimony.

I think it’s worth mentioning that Steven Spielberg made Close Encounters before he became a father, and that he told an interviewer in 2005 that he would not make the same movie today:

Q: Father figures are common things. . . . Mr. Spielberg, was [War of the Worlds, the subject of this interview] your idea of reversing what you did in Close Encounters with a guy who goes with the family rather than abandoning it.

Spielberg: Well, I was never really conscious of that. I know that Close Encounters certainly, because I wrote the script, was about a man whose insatiable curiosity. More than just curiosity, he developed an obsession and the kind of psychic implantation drew him away from his family and only looking back once, walked onto the mothership. Now, that was before I had kids. That was 1977. So, I wrote that blithely. Today, I would never have the guy leaving his family and go on the mothership. I would have the guy doing everything he could to protect his children, so in a sense, War of the Worlds does reflect my own maturity, you know, in my own life growing up and now having seven children.

Dreyfuss’s actions in Close Encounters have always vaguely bothered me, but it took my daughter’s outrage at his selfishness to fully appreciate it. I had to promise her at P.F. Chang’s last night that if aliens invite me to visit them, I won’t leave her.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: I don’t have much to report here. Because my mother-in-law’s funeral blew up our Spring Break plans, I decided on the fly to take my daughter up to New York to visit her other grandma and have some fun with dad. (Gotta get in some quality time just in case the mind-control ray convinces me to go discover myself in outer space.) We saw School of Rock on Broadway and did other fun stuff. But between spending last week in Alaska and this week in NYC, the point is that I haven’t spent a lot of time with the beasts.

My wife, the Fair Jessica, reports that the Dingo has been vigilant in her dingoness. And I have been posting a great number of dog pics on Twitter (not least because National Puppy Day was yesterday . . . ). Here’s Pippa as a puppy (if you have diabetes, you might not want to expose yourself to such sweetness). Here’s never before seen archival footage of Pippa as a puppy. Here’s Zoë back before we learned she was so sick (a couple days later she was in the veterinary ICU). And here’s Zoë on Monday helping me not get work done.

ICYMI . . . 

My thoughts on The Walking Dead.

For Republicans, playing defense is hard.

The ritualistic symbolism of presidential budget proposals.

I was on Morning Edition Friday, uh, morning.

I will be on Greg Gutfeld’s show this evening (which means you lazy bastards who just read this on Saturday mornings rather than subscribing to the “news”letter version will learn this too late).

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

What will happen when Betelgeuse explodes?

The graves of famous dogs

Dog, sled

How 1,600 people went missing from our public lands without a trace

College student gets bad grade, amends Constitution, gets grade changed

Snowpiercer

Don’t get too close to a neutron star

Cocktails from The Simpsons

Australian teen fights croc to impress girl

Civil War veterans do the Rebel Yell

The most unsatisfying video ever made

Gray whale creates rainbow

*Deep breath* Parrots flying high on drugs are annoying farmers by plundering poppy fields to feed their opium addiction

How to get that song out of your head

Hard Situations Mean Hard Choices

by Jonah Goldberg
Thinking through the noxious fart cloud of health-care reform.

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 (but not the people complaining about the tardiness of this “news”letter. I am four hours behind National Review World HQ in New York. Not to mention the fact that pneumatic tubes had to be carved into the permafrost),

I’m writing from sunny Fairbanks, Alaska.

That right there is a good example of a fake-but-accurate statement. It has been remarkably sunny here. It’s also been cold, existentially cold. It’s been No-one-can-hear-you-scream-in-space cold. It’s been so cold that if you lost the heat, you wouldn’t think long about whether it’s worth burning your daughter’s Fathers’ Day card or your prized comic-book collection (that your wife thinks takes up needless space in the attic because she just doesn’t get it).

But it has been sunny, which is nice, because without the good lighting, you’d never be able to catch the subtlety of the blue in your fingertips or watch bits of your soul wander out of your nostrils.

The Mess Back Home

Anyway, more about Alaska later.

I’ve been out of town during a pretty tumultuous time in Washington. If I were a political cartoonist, I’d probably be a pain in the ass. I only say that because my dad worked with hundreds of political cartoonists over his career, and he’d always say that they tended to be pains in the ass. The only political cartoonist I know first hand is Ramirez, and he seems like an exception to the rule. Then again, he’s a conservative, so he’s an exception to more than one rule.

Anyway, where was I? Oh right. If I were a political cartoonist, other than making work for proctologists who concentrated in pain relief, I’d capture the mood in Washington right now by drawing the elevator at the U.S. capital with all the relevant players standing with pained expressions and maybe one or two holding their nose.

Then — because if you’re going to imagine yourself being something you’re not, you might as well imagine that you’re really good at it (nobody daydreams about having super powers but being really lame at using them) — I’d brilliantly draw “health care” as some sort of noxious fart cloud and everybody in the elevator — Obama, Trump, Ryan, McConnell, Pelosi, Reid, Schumer, Cthulhu, etc. — saying “It wasn’t me!”

I know what you’re thinking: George Will doesn’t use the phrase “noxious fart cloud” often enough (I think the last time he did, it was in a column about the Panama Canal Treaty). But that’s his problem.

If Ryan is wrong, it could just as easily be because his plan is too ambitious, not because it’s too timid.

I agree with Ponnuru, Levin, Klein, and Podhoretz (an all-too plausible name for a kickass law firm) in their criticisms of the House bill and what it represents. But I really don’t share the outrage and shock of many of my friends on the right, particularly among Donald Trump’s most ardent fan base. The way some of them talk about the House Republicans’ American Health Care Act (AHCA), you might be led to believe that they expected Donald Trump to get to Paul Ryan’s free-market right on health care. I suppose if you took just 10 percent of the things Trump has said about health care — “get rid of the lines!” and, uh, something else — and pretended that was all he had ever said on the subject, you might be right. But the simple fact is that Trump never thought much, never mind read much, on the bedeviling complexity of the health-care system, particularly post-Obamacare passage. That’s why the president could say — sincerely! — the other week that “nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”

Many of us, including those who are now shocked, said years ago that if Obamacare passed, it would radically, and perhaps permanently, change the relationship between the individual and the state. Now, many of the same people are gobsmacked that Paul Ryan says the fix has to happen over time and in three stages. He might be wrong about that. If making incorrect predictions was green beer, we’d all be able to pee our full names in the snow with emerald letters from today until the next St. Patrick’s Day.

But if Ryan is wrong, it could just as easily be because his plan is too ambitious, not because it’s too timid. I could walk you through the problems with budget reconciliation, the math of the Senate, etc., but I won’t because that’s Yuval’s job. I could also bepop and scat about how if you nominate and elect a man of Nixonian domestic-policy instincts, you shouldn’t be stunned when he pursues Nixonian policies. Blaming Ryan for proposing a plan that could pass the requirements of the White House strikes me as more than a bit cowardly. Maybe “cowardly” is the wrong word, since the point of much of the anti-“Ryancare” rhetoric is really about defenestrating Ryan in favor of a more Bannon-pliable nationalist who can replace him.

But I actually don’t want to beat up on Trump today because:

a) I do that a lot already;

b) He’s actually been much more free-market oriented in his appointments and tax proposals than I expected (so far);

c) While I disagree with Trump ideologically, politically I find myself in the uncomfortable place of being more sympathetic to his predicament than some of his longtime boosters who have suddenly discovered the Rorschach test they’ve been staring at isn’t a window on the real world;

And, d), because I’d much rather belabor strained analogies about the most ferocious member of the weasel family (wait for it).

Hard Situations Mean Hard Choices

Again, I don’t much like the House health-care plan as proposed. But when you are in a crappy situation, you shouldn’t be too haughty about the fact that the solutions are pretty crappy too. Difficult choices are always — always — between at least two really good options (steak or lobster?) or at least two really bad ones. In the annals of human history, there are precious few examples of sane people agonizing about whether to choose a check for a million dollars (or the Stone Age equivalent) or having their soft bits eaten by a wolverine. That’s an easy choice.

Since this is a complicated point, allow me to illustrate. Say you’re handcuffed to a radiator and are told that in one hour a hungry wolverine is going to be released into your rumpus room. That’s a crappy situation because your only solution is either to wait, and then fight, the wolverine — so much kicking and yelling “No! Bad wolverine! Stop it! Don’t eat that!” — or do something very painful to get out of the handcuffs before the beast comes in.

There is one other kind of scenario where decisions are hard: When you have imperfect information. Choosing the lady or the tiger is easy when they’re behind glass doors. (“I see you, Mr. Tiger!”)

That’s the situation the GOP finds itself in. No, not literally. But it’s bad options on top of bad options multiplied by imperfect information for as far as the eye can see. Trump came into office promising everything would be easy. A lot of people chose to believe him. That was foolish. It also wasn’t Paul Ryan’s fault.

Mutants Everywhere

Maybe I have wolverines on my mind because I saw Logan this week. (I liked it, but I didn’t love it.) There’s no point in doing a full review here, but — and I can’t believe I’m saying this — I think Sonny Bunch’s take is very good.

Bunch notes that a lot of the reviews of the movie describe the world of Logan as “dystopian.” But it’s not really dystopian. It’s not perfect, sure, but, hey, look out the window; that ain’t dystopia either (unless you live in Camden, N.J.)!

I can’t believe I’m saying this — but I think Sonny Bunch’s take is very good.

What makes reviewers think it’s dystopian is that the mutants have been culled from the gene pool through some kind of “public health” campaign. No new mutant has been (naturally) born in 25 years. “Does this make the world of Logan a dystopia?” Bunch asks. “Not as we understand the term at present.” Rather, “It just makes it Denmark.”

The Danes, you see, have set out to make Down syndrome a memory in their society by weeding out the Lebensunwertes Leben (life unworthy of life). No one calls that a dystopia. Heck, Francis Fukuyama says that Denmark is the teleological Shangri-la at the end of history. Once we get there, humanity can kick off its boots and relax. We made it!

Bunch makes a good point here about Denmark and he does a good job of tweaking liberal sensibilities about their soto voce fondness for eugenics — so long as it’s the right kind of eugenics.

But if he really wanted to earn his reputation as a Level 20 (Chaotic Good) Troll, he would have taken these analogies in other directions as well.

One of the most brilliant aspects of the mutant storyline in Marvel comics (now ripped off everywhere) is its political and cultural adaptability. Mutants are Jews fleeing a Holocaust. Mutants are blacks facing bigotry and segregation. Mutants are immigrants with no rights or, again, Jews with no homeland. Some mutants are even racial supremacists who see themselves as homo superior. Heck, mutants are even guns (or gun owners). In one scene in the first X-Men movie, Senator Kelly says to a colleague:

Senator, listen. You favor gun registration, yes? Well some of these so-called children possess more than ten times the destructive force of any handgun! No I don’t see a difference. All I see are weapons in our schools.

Mutants are such malleable cultural props for several reasons. First, they tap into the modern cult of identity politics: that our political or cultural self-conception is a hardwired fact of nature, immune to assimilation or scientific refutation. Mutants are also definitionally non-conformists, and non-conformity is the new conformity. (The mutants who choose to “pass” as human are considered to be living in a state of self-denial, the second greatest sin after bigotry itself). Last, mutants are victims “just for being different,” which is a form of saintliness in our secular culture. Even the mutant supremacists claim the mantle of victimology and resentment (call them the alt-homos).

Anyway, the better and more explosive analogy isn’t to Down syndrome, which most progressives have no objection to weeding out of the garden of humanity — such cases are near the heart of abortion-as-sacrament talk. But what about homosexuality?

I understand that we’re in a confusing period where definitions are lexicological shmoos, serving the needs of the given moment. I have a hard time keeping it straight (no pun intended) whether gender, sex, and sexual orientation are choices or innate characteristics. But if the old orthodoxy holds that most gay people are simply “born that way” (which I think is true), that means homosexuality is rooted in biology and/or genetics. And that means science can get to it. I am in no way condoning that. But it will be interesting to watch when being pro-life becomes a staple of the gay Left.

I’m a big subscriber to the view that science and technology drive culture and politics far more than we appreciate and, quite often, far more than ideas (See, Thingamabobs Have Consequences. Denmark ain’t the End of History, it’s a portal to a whole new chapter of human history, and not necessarily a pretty one.

Donna Gavora, R.I.P.

I came up to Alaska this week to attend my mother-in-law’s funeral (please forgive the sudden change in topic and tone, but respect must be paid). I was always going to write something about Donna (here’s the obituary, written by my wife, the Fair Jessica), but I feel particularly compelled to because I feel so guilty about this week’s GLoP podcast.

On the podcast, John Podhoretz asked me to talk about my father-in-law, Paul. And, as anyone who knows me personally can attest, I love talking about Paul. He’s lived a larger-than-life life. He’s brilliant, curmudgeonly to the point of parody, and incredibly generous all at once. A Slovakian Horatio Alger — who looks like a member of the Ukrainian politburo circa 1974, who swam the Danube to escape the Communists, and got a degree from Milton Friedman — is easy to talk about in an entertaining way, which is what I did.

But I didn’t come to Alaska to celebrate Paul, but to remember Donna. And Donna was different. First of all, she was lovely.

But more important, perhaps more than anyone I’ve ever met, she was a person of love. I’m Jewish, and pretty secular at that. I’m also more than a bit cynical and snarky and writing about love comes as easily to me as figure skating did to Dom DeLouise. (I was delighted when my sister-in-law Carrie married an Indian-American guy from Baton Rouge. It took some of the weight off of me as the exotic son-in-law.)

Intellectually, I’ve always had at least a vague understanding of the Christian idea of “God is love.” And I always felt I had a better grasp of the Catholic relationship between faith and good works, perhaps because it lines up pretty closely with Jewish notions about repairing the world and all that. I bring this up because I’ve never seen both ideas personified more in a person than in Donna. Her whole life was defined by love and the good deeds (and hard work) that flowed from that love. Love for God. Love for the Church. Love for the community. Love for music and the students she taught it to. Love, most obviously, for her family. She gave of herself, constantly. Every time I visited, it seemed she was continually coming and going to visit the sick or the lonely, to console the grieving, to play the organ at a church service, to help with the church garden, or take the grandkids somewhere.

Single men rarely coach Little League — we do that kind of thing because our wives make us.

My most poignant memory of Donna is from 14 years ago, when my wife was pregnant with our daughter. Donna came down to Washington, planning to help take care of the new baby. But my wife ended up needing an emergency C-section (I’ll tell the story of her epidural not working another day). Very long story short: At one point, I ran back to the house to get something and found Donna, on her knees praying for Jessica and the baby. As far as I could tell, she’d been that way since I had left hours before.

Little of this should matter to most of you, but there are three points that I think are relevant for everyone.

In speeches, I often talk about the importance of family and marriage to civil society. The decline of volunteerism and social trust is, in my view, most attributable to the decline of the family in America. (As Charles Murray likes to note, single men rarely coach Little League — we do that kind of thing because our wives make us.) When I look at how much good work — better work than the state could ever do — was done by Donna, it reminds me how even the best government programs are a poor substitute for the organic work of communities. And people who want to strip religion from public life risk ripping the heart out of the kind of social solidarity they claim to crave.

Second, technically speaking, Alaska isn’t “flyover” country because it’s way past where the planes that fly over “flyover country” stop. But culturally, it is exactly the type of place that people on the coasts look down on with condescension or contempt. Alaska may arouse a bit more fascination than, say, Nebraska. Grizzly bears (and Sarah Palin) will do that. But the point remains. And when I hear people deride traditional or religious or “white” America, I often think of my wife’s family and get angry. When I hear pro-lifers denigrated as people of evil intent, I think of Donna in particular, whose pro-life views barely touched ideology but were enveloped in thick layers of love. Feel free to disagree with her position, but her motivations could not have been more decent or loving.

The last point is both terribly personal and entirely universal. In the first G-File after my brother died, I wrote:

In terms of my own internal response, the most glaring continuity between my dad’s death and my brother’s is loneliness. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got lots of company. I have lots of people who care for me more than I realized. I’m richer in friends and family than I could ever possibly expect or deserve.

But there’s a kind of loneliness that comes with death that cannot be compensated for. Tolstoy’s famous line in Anna Karenina was half right. All unhappy families are unhappy in their own way, but so are all happy ones. At least insofar as all families are ultimately unique.

Unique is a misunderstood word. Pedants like to say there’s no such thing as “very unique.” I don’t think that’s true. For instance, we say that each snowflake is unique. That’s true. No two snowflakes are alike. But that doesn’t mean that pretty much all snowflakes aren’t very similar. But, imagine if you found a snowflake that was ten feet in diameter and hot to the touch, I think it’d be fair to say it was very unique. Meanwhile, each normal snowflake has its own contours, its own one-in-a-billion-trillion characteristics, that will never be found again.

Families are similarly unique. Each has its own cultural contours and configurations. The uniqueness might be hard to discern from the outside and it certainly might seem trivial to the casual observer. Just as one platoon of Marines might look like another to a civilian or one business might seem indistinguishable from the one next door. But, we all know the reality is different. Every meaningful institution has a culture all its own. Every family has its inside jokes, its peculiar way of doing things, its habits and mores developed around a specific shared experience.

One of the things that keeps slugging me in the face is the fact that the cultural memory of our little family has been dealt a terrible blow. Sure, my mom’s around, but sons have a different memory of family life than parents. And Josh’s recall for such things was always not only better than mine, but different than mine as well. I remembered things he’d forgotten and vice versa. In what seems like the blink of an eye, whole volumes of institutional memory have simply vanished. And that is a terribly lonely thought, that no amount of company and condolence can ease or erase.

I’ve always been very jealous of my wife’s family. Not because it is “better” than mine — but because it is so large and so close. It is a whole sprawling community in its own right. At the funeral this week, it hit me quite hard that the culture of the Gavora clan will live on, not just because of love, but because of scale. They have stories that won’t be forgotten because there will always be someone around who remembers them. My oldest brother-in-law Danny delivered the eulogy (drafted by my speechwriter wife) and it was full of stories. About how Donna used to put a couple of the kids in the trunk of the car as ballast so they could get up the icy road to their house. Stories about driving 6,000 miles round-trip, with a half-dozen kids in a station wagon, to visit her family in Colorado every summer.

The Gavoras came to Fairbanks with little and they prospered because they never forgot that. My favorite story about Donna was how when my wife was a kid, she and her siblings would ask for some sugary cereal at the grocery store. Donna would say, “I’m not going to get you that, you’ll just eat it.”

Bear in mind: The Gavoras owned the grocery store.

Stories are what make a culture and a civilization. Memory is what sustains both. The Gavoras are rich in a way money can’t buy because they are swimming in memories of love, shared.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: Obviously, I don’t have much by way of first-hand accounts of the beasts, as I have been away a lot. But our spectacular dog-permabulator, Kirsten, agreed to actually dog-sit for us while we were off for the funeral and the beasts couldn’t be happier.

Kirsten is kind of like the archetypal divorced dad who only wants to be the kids’ best friend, showing up for the fun stuff. And it works. They probably love her more than us, running to her car for the midday walks without ever looking back. And they were ecstatic when Kirsten brought them home and then didn’t leave. It was like bringing Chuck E. Cheese’s to the house. Anyway, it was on her watch that the beasts finally conquered the wildlands around D.C. and became the Romulus and Remus of a new canine civilization. We shall mint coins with this image on them.

Also, as some of you may recall, Pippa started out as Donna’s dog. It should be no surprise that Donna was a passionate dog person. She would take her labs, Midnight and Maggie, on long adventures in the woods around Fairbanks. But with her health declining, she couldn’t handle the furry ball of energy that was Pippa, so we agreed to take her in. Given how the spaniel started out in our family as a persecuted minority under the rule of Zoë the Terrible, I always assumed she was bit meek around all dogs. But while I’ve been here, I’ve learned that this is not the case. She was once a mighty warrior herself. Here she is tackling a mighty beast of the north and keeping him in his place.

My Friday column overlaps a bit with the first part of this criminally long “news”letter. But it references C.S. Lewis and uses the phrase “thunderclapping but” so I think you should take a look.

My Wednesday column on apathy vs. fear, which I rather liked.

The new aforementioned Ricochet GLoP podcast.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Mouse on a plane grounds British Airways Heathrow flight

What going to Mars will do to our bodies

Each state’s most beautiful library

The states redrawn as equal population units

The year in stunning science images

Jetpack skiing

How the world’s heaviest man lost it all

Indianapolis installs tiny ramps on canal to help ducklings

Rabbit hole leads to 700-year-old secret Knights Templar cave network

Lawyer’s pants catch fire during arson trial

The men who volunteered to be poisoned by the government

Death Star trench-run cornhole set

Bulldog and iguana are friends

The man who was Godzilla

Radioactive boars lurk in Fukushima

Rhino demands belly rub

Man attempts to smuggle $164,000 of cocaine through the airport by hiding it in his pants

Bill Paxton’s best roles: a supercut

Patrick Stewart receives his foster dog

Jack Russell terrier enjoys dog-show obstacle course

Just the Facts?

by Jonah Goldberg
The real problem with the American media is that we live in an era of groupthink, populist fervor, and cultural and political panic.

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 (particularly the 76 percent of you who outvoted my wife!),

A long time ago, monster snakes fought tyrannosaurs in an epic contest for survival.

More recently, but still a long time ago in Jonah-years, my dad and I had a disagreement over color photography in newspapers.

But since you brought up giant snakes and dinosaurs, I’d like to invoke my right of personal privilege and complain about the forthcoming King Kong movie. Well, not the forthcoming one, because I haven’t seen it yet, but about all the previous ones.

If you know where I am going with this, feel free to skip ahead. (I don’t mean “read ahead” or “scroll down,” I mean get up out of your bathroom stall or the veal pen you call an office cubicle and go skipping for a few minutes. Get some exercise people.)

So where was I? Oh right. You brought up giant snakes and dinosaurs and said you were excited about the new King Kong movie. Then you asked me to share my longstanding complaint about King Kong movies. And since you insisted, here it goes. Why doesn’t anyone care about the dinosaurs and giant snakes in King Kong moves?

In the original King Kong (1933), as well as the 1976 and 2005 remakes, the greedy humans go to an island for their own selfish capitalistic reasons. When they get there, they encounter giant snakes, dinosaurs, etc.

Oh, and they also discover a big gorilla. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a really big gorilla. But imagine you’re sending a telegram or e-mail back to the home office:

We found a living Tyrannosaurus Rex, a brontosaurus, a whole bunch of pterodactyls, this crazy huge snake, and a large number of other dinosaurs. We also found one extraordinarily large monkey. We’re going to kill all the dinosaurs we encounter, but don’t worry, we’re definitely going to bring back the giant monkey at enormous financial and human cost. We think it’ll be good for marketing. MMMmmkay?

Or even worse, what if the intrepid explorers went to Skull Island, came back, and simply said: “We went to this crazy island and we came back with a really big gorilla” — never even mentioning all of the dinosaurs?

Which brings me to that conversation with my dad.

Just the Facts?

I remember when newspapers started running color photos on the front page. My dad, whose birthday was this week, was a man of conservative temperament, philosophy, demeanor, fashion (I never saw him wear a pair of jeans), hair (what there was of it), and pretty much everything else except perhaps humor (though his delivery wasn’t merely conservative, it was so dry Frank Herbert could set a bestselling sci-fi series in the middle of it). So, I assumed he wouldn’t like this garish change to a practice that had a long tradition of existence.

“I don’t like it,” I said, starting the conversation (obviously, I am quoting from memory; it’s a cruel fact of life that no one transcribes our conversations with our fathers).

“I’m in favor of it. They had to do it,” he replied, while putting his keys and his wallet in their assigned space on the dresser in his bedroom, the way he did every single day (again: conservative dude).

“Really? I think it looks cheap.”

“What is the point of running pictures in a newspaper?” (My dad had a gift for lecturing with questions.)

“To show something that happened,” I answered.

“What color is blood?” he asked.

“Red,” I replied, now fully sensing the trap.

“Is a color picture more realistic than a black-and-white picture?”

And there you have it. Now, I could have gone on and made some high-fallutin’ point about how some people think that black-and-white photography distills the essence of a scene better than color photography does. But I didn’t because a) I didn’t think of it, b) he would have rolled his eyes at that, and c) because I am pretty sure the commercial break for the 4:30 movie was coming to an end, and I wanted to catch the stunning conclusion to Gamera: The Giant Monster.

Anyway, my dad’s point was pretty simple. Newspapers are supposed to give customers news, and “news” is just a fancy word for “facts.” Color photographs convey more information than black-and-white ones do, so when it became technologically feasible, they had an obligation to make the switch. Now, he might have thrown some other stuff in there about how television news (in color, of course) was eating into newspapers and so they wanted to seem less antiquated. But again, Gamera.

I keep thinking of late about that conversation in light of the media’s ongoing bowel-stewing freakout over Donald Trump.

I keep thinking of late about that conversation in light of the media’s ongoing bowel-stewing freakout over Donald Trump.

Consider the latest brouhaha over Jeff Sessions. (I won’t rehash all the facts, since you, dear readers, are the most informed and savvy people in the Known Universe, except for a few of you named Todd, who are the worst.)

The crux of the controversy is Sessions’s flawed reply to Senator Al Franken (D., Still Not Funny). The Washington Post launched this frenzy by reporting that Sessions’s answer to Franken’s supposedly probing question was not entirely accurate.

But here’s the thing. In this nearly 2,000-word article, the Post apparently couldn’t find the room to include the actual question Franken asked. Instead, the authors wrote:

At his Jan. 10 Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, Sessions was asked by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) what he would do if he learned of any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of the 2016 campaign.

I am not saying that this is an indefensible paraphrase of Franken’s question. Certainly, a lot of Democrats think this gets to the heart of it. But a lot of other people think it doesn’t capture it at all.

Here’s what Franken’s asked Sessions in its entirety:

CNN has just published a story and I’m telling you this about a story that has just been published, I’m not expecting you to know whether it’s true or not, but CNN just published a story, alleging that the intelligence community provided documents to the president-elect last week that included information that quote “Russian operatives claimed to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.” These documents also allegedly say quote “there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.” Again, I’m telling you this is just coming out so, you know . . . but, if it’s true it’s obviously extremely serious. And if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russians in the course of this campaign, what will you do?

A reasonable person — a category that I think includes Jeff Sessions — can read this and believe that the crux of the question Franken is asking can be found in that last sentence: “And if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russians in the course of this campaign, what will you do?”

And it just so happens that’s the question Sessions answered.

I know this is a wild-eyed bit of speculation on my part, worthy of a French existentialist, but I’m going to stick to my guns on this assertion.

Now, as Bill Clinton said to the Shoney’s hostess who asked him to sign her boobs, stay with me. If you think this is a reasonable interpretation of what actually transpired, or even if you don’t, but you can muster the kind of open-mindedness that our heroic champions of the Fourth Estate constantly boast of possessing in greater portions than the plebes who read their newspapers, you might think that the people reporting the news would include this news (a.k.a. fact) in their news report.

Of course, you would be wrong.

By paraphrasing the question, the reporters took what was a debatable interpretation of events and made it an objective account of events — or at least that’s what they were endeavoring to do.

Personally, I think leaving out the question is akin to reporting back from Skull Island that you found a giant gorilla, but forgetting to mention the dinosaurs.

Web Traffic Is Thy God and Thou Shalt Have No Others Before Me

On Thursday, I recorded a podcast with the Federalist’s Ben Domenech. Before we got to the important stuff (e.g., sex with robots, hurling rocks from the moon, etc.), we talked for a while about the media in the age of Trump. He told me that at the Washington Post’s sparkling new headquarters they keep conservatives chained up in go-go-dancer cages suspended from the ceiling. No, wait, that was a dream. He told me that the Post has a giant screen on the wall of the newsroom that displays in real-time their web traffic. Ben noted that nearly all of the most-read stories were anti-Trump. He asked whether we can rely on the press to be objective when all the market incentives are for Trump-bashing all the time.

You’ll have to listen to the podcast to hear my full answer. But let me take a different stab at my point here. One of the great (or terrible) things about the Internet is that it allows the suits to put numbers behind everything a journalistic outfit puts out. This makes it easier for editors to substitute data for their own judgment. The same dynamic was at work with the advent of sophisticated TV ratings.

The Peoria, Ill., store sells nine sets of Wolverine superhero underoos every week while the Gary, Ind., franchise only sells three.

In the world of business, this kind of thing is a huge boon. Walmart’s revolutionary impact on retail stems in no small part from its ability to micro-slice data so they can manage their inventory in incredibly efficient ways. The Peoria, Ill., store sells nine sets of Wolverine superhero underoos every week while the Gary, Ind., franchise only sells three but it also moves a huge amount of air fresheners (because Gary smells so bad), etc.

But journalism is supposed to be different. Editors are supposed to use their judgment about what information readers should get. Sometimes, this involves a lot of eat-your-spinach reporting that isn’t exactly sensational or sexy — but is important nonetheless.

I say journalism is supposed to be different, because there has always been a gravitational pull toward pandering to the desires of the public. But the ideal was still there. And, while this runs counter to the populist spirit ensorcelling both the Left and the Right these days, let me say this is a good ideal. Don’t get me wrong, I think the media gatekeepers have frequently abused their power over the years. But to say that humans have fallen short of ideals is not an argument against ideals. A good Catholic can concede that some priests and popes have fallen short of their principles without having to condemn their principles in the process.

Ben’s question is a good one. But I don’t think the problem is the market incentives represented by the page-view and unique-visitor numbers. Those incentives have always existed. And while obsession with web-traffic statistics is a real problem (back when I ran NRO, I’d hit refresh on the traffic software like a monkey hitting the pellet dispenser in a cocaine study every few seconds), the real problem is that we are in an era of groupthink, populist fervor, and cultural and political panic.

Ideals for Thee, but Not for Me

I know I keep saying this, but behind every double standard is an unconfessed single standard. With Barack Obama, the elite media didn’t pander to page clicks by running sensational stories about the president. It served as his praetorian guard. The L.A. Times — where I am happily a columnist — still hasn’t released the Rashid Khalidi video. The New York Times refused to quote Jeremiah Wright’s inflammatory rhetoric even as it reported on the controversies about it. And when it did so, the Times invoked the ideals of responsible journalism. I could do this all day. The point — like with the Post leaving out Franken’s actual question — isn’t to say the editors didn’t have defensible arguments for their decisions, it’s simply to say that the media have a tendency to look for excuses to invoke their ideals when that will yield the kind of news that supports their ideological or partisan leanings.

Liberals have either not noticed this or dismissed this tendency for the most part, because it comports with their own ideological and partisan worldview. But conservatives have noticed. That’s why Donald Trump’s “fake news” rhetoric has such wide currency on the right.

From Normless to Gormless

This is the point I was trying to get at in my column the other week about the center not holding. To the extent that Donald Trump has damaged democratic norms (and he has), his success is attributable to the fact that elites — in journalism, but also in academia and elsewhere — have corrupted those norms to the point where a lot of people see them as convenient tools for only one side in the political and cultural wars of our age.

I got this flattering e-mail this morning about Friday’s column:

Mr. Goldberg,

I have long been a fan of yours. I appreciate the clarity of thought, and I appreciate your point of view . . . usually.

[Your] March 3rd column about Trump and his address to Congress has prompted me to write.

Factually, and from a conservative’s point of view, the article was correct.

And I know, from your columns and appearances on Fox News, that you have never been happily on the Trump train.

My issue is that there is no Democrat I’ve read who would hold anyone on their side of the aisle to the same standards we, as conservatives, hold ours. I find nothing wrong with what you wrote — but it disheartens me that what conservative analysts and pundits write or speak usually ends up as ammunition for the looney Left.

Hence my dilemma — I’m proud that we are able to be honest with ourselves, but at what cost to the Republican/conservative brand?

[Name withheld]

This gets to the heart of the dilemma.

There’s a reason why so many conservatives have become perverse acolytes of Saul Alinsky. They think the Left broke all the rules and therefore the only recourse for the Right is to play by the same tactics. The problem with this approach is that when you adopt amoral (or immoral) means, those means tend to create new ends: Winning. It’s telling how the chief defense of Trump’s behavior during the campaign was, “At least he fights!” Conservatism isn’t supposed to be just about fighting, it’s supposed to be about fighting for something. Populism is about winning for its own sake. As Huey Long said, “What’s the use of being right only to be defeated?”

At the same time, I get the Right’s frustration.

I have no great answer here. Trump is attempting to do a lot of very good things for conservatism. He’s also attempting to do some things that aren’t very conservative, and, in the process, transform the definition of conservatism. Pat Buchanan has a point in his column about Trump’s address to Congress:

Watching Republicans rise again and again to hail Trump called to mind the Frankish King Clovis who, believing his wife’s Christian God had interceded to give him victory over the Alemanni, saw his army converted by the battalions and baptized by the platoons.

One had thought the free-trade beliefs of Republicans were more deeply rooted than this.

When I saw Paul Ryan stand and applaud a massive new entitlement to state-subsidized childcare, I had to wonder what was going through his mind.

Conservatism isn’t supposed to be just about fighting, it’s supposed to be about fighting for something.

I understand that the question of how to support or criticize Trump is an extremely thorny prudential one for Republican politicians. It’s also a thorny problem for conservative writers, such as yours truly. But it’s not the same problem.

Personally, I would be much happier if the only intramural arguments we had were over trade or childcare. These are tolerable debates within conservatism. What makes things so much more difficult, and what is so much more dangerous, is that the broader culture is accelerating its animosity for objective and independent norms — the clear rules that apply to everyone. (Just look at the insane development in the rise of anti-Semitism unfolding as I type.) Bakers must bake cakes for our team! But don’t you dare force them to bake cakes for yours! Donald Trump didn’t create the deterioration, but the way he practices politics is having a centrifugal effect on the process, pulling things apart even more.

It’s sort of like what football would look like if you removed all the rules save for the requirement to get touchdowns (and, I suppose, the requirement to relinquish the ball after scoring), with the fans cheering whatever brings victory to their team. A player killed a guy? At least he fights!

Various & Sundry

Just a heads up, there will be no G-File next week as I will be away on business for AEI’s annual meeting of the Pentaveret, known colloquially as the World Forum.

Canine Update: As I may have mentioned, the dogs have me well-trained, waking me up around 5:00 a.m. rain or shine, weekend or weekday. (If I’m out of town, they don’t wake up the Fair Jessica.) Well, the missus was out of town this morning (she’s got a new job, which will require a lot of travel, more on that later). The dogs came in at 4:45, and, as per protocol, Zoë allowed me to hit the snooze button for 15 minutes (by “snooze button,” I mean her belly, which I must rub, so there’s really not a lot of snoozing involved). Zoë flipped over on her back and inched up next to me. But then, she sneezed right onto my mouth (which, fortunately, wasn’t open). Given my germaphobia, I freaked out a bit and leapt out of bed spitting, and spitting mad. Zoë meanwhile thought it was hilarious and assumed that my leaping to my feet meant that I wanted to wrestle.

I have exciting news. A while back, John Podhoretz, editor of the indispensable journal Commentary, had the brilliant idea of discarding the usual fundraiser model for egghead institutions. Instead of a normal annual dinner with a speech, he launched the annual Commentary Roasts. He convinces some fool to be the object of scorn and ridicule of his peers and betters. Past roastees have included Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, Dick Cheney et al.

Well, this year John has opted to swing big. He’s asked me to be the object of baseless and outrageous smears. I have no idea how tickets and that stuff will work (Note: As it’s a fundraiser, it will no doubt be pricey). But I am sure it will be fun, at least when I get to clear the record at the end of the evening. Mark it on your calendars: November 7, a day that will live in infamy.

So, Thursday, while watching the collective freakout over the Sessions story on Morning Joe, I dashed off this silly item for the Corner: a vignette revealing Jeff Sessions’s deep-cover Russian-mole status. I got a surprising amount of positive feedback. But some of the negative responses were kind of bizarre. A lot of liberals were furious with me for making light of this deadly serious issue. I’m used to that sort of thing. But others were just annoyed by it in a “how dare you not write like a pundit” sort of way. I used to get this kind of thing a lot more — like when Cosmo the Wonderdog interviewed foreign leaders — and I can’t quite figure out where the anger comes from. I think it might have to do with the fact that some people just don’t like to have their categories messed up.

In other self-promotional news:

I recorded a new Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast (mostly) about the Oscars.

I wasted 20 minutes of my life ranting about the gender identity of digital assistants.

I posited a theory to explain our times by dipping my toes into the world of physics.

I discussed the Jeff Sessions’s nothingburger on The Federalist Radio Hour podcast.

I wrote about Trump’s good but not spectacular speech, and what its reception means for conservatism.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Costa Rica has a giant dog sanctuary

Why is the speed of light the speed of light?

An underground Everest?

Could the blood of komodo dragons stave off the post-biotic cataclysm?

Mars needs lawyers

The Best Picture nominees measured by their areas of greatest popularity

Animals that look like they’re about to drop the hottest album ever

Our ancestors were drinking alcohol before they were human

There’s an ancient Roman road beneath an Italian McDonald’s

Sea lions are very good at volleyball

Does your name shape your face?

The monk who saves manuscripts from ISIS

Why water from different places tastes different

Scottish schoolkids give their dead goldfish a Viking funeral

Austrian man attempts to enter building with a jar of cockroaches

How your food can kill you

What too much plastic surgery can do to you

Why we (probably) can’t have flying cars (for now)

Down with the Administrative State

by Jonah Goldberg
The most interesting moment of CPAC wasn’t Trump’s speech — it was Steve Bannon’s performance.

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 all of you who send me fake e-mail saying this “news”letter isn’t perfect. Dishonest fake readers!),

I had to take a break from this “news”letter to listen to Donald Trump’s CPAC speech. Then, I had to feed the kid, who’s home sick. Then I had to . . . well, to make a long story short, I’m sitting in my car outside of Fox News in D.C. and I don’t have a lot of time left before the suits in New York start smashing my collection of National Review–themed hummels like Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours when he breaks the glasses at the cowboy bar. Charlie Cooke likes to call me on Skype and pretend to accidentally nudge one off the shelf for every 15 minutes I’m late. (“Oh dear, look at poor Russell Kirk, how shall we ever put him back together again?”)

So, I’m going to start fresh here and see how far I can get before I have to go on air.

When President Trump finally got around to talking about his agenda, I thought it was a very good — i.e., effective — speech. I disagree with all of the demonization of free trade and I thought his disparagement of his predecessors was no less shabby than when Obama said similar things. Also, I could do with less of the “blood of patriots” talk — more on all that in a moment. But if he does all the other stuff he talked about, I would be very happy.

Also, Trump delivered a good performance and it’s not shocking the crowd ate it up. One of the things the mainstream media doesn’t seem to fully appreciate is that just because Trump isn’t having a honeymoon with the press, the Democrats, or a good chunk of independent voters, that doesn’t mean he’s not having a very real honeymoon with Republicans. They want him to succeed and they want his “enemies” not just to lose, but to be humiliated (hence the popularity of Milo in some corners, and a chunk of my least friendly e-mail).

Indeed, I think there’s good reason to believe that the honeymoon is more intense precisely because Trump is under such a sustained assault. Something similar happened under George W. Bush when the Left lost its collective mind and did everything it could to undermine a wartime president. Conservatives — me included — out of a sense of both loyalty and anger rallied to Bush and had a tendency to overlook certain foibles and mistakes for the greater good. We may not be at war — at least not like we were in, say, 2005 — but the Left and the media are clearly at war with Trump. And because Trump often makes it difficult for his allies to defend him on ideologically or politically consistent terms, the attachment is often more emotional than rational. Ann Coulter titling her new book “In Trump We Trust” or, as Kellyanne Conway put it on Thursday, saying that CPAC should really be called “TPAC” (i.e., Trump-PAC) gets right to the heart of the situation. Politics on the right is increasingly about an emotional bond with the president.

Which brings me to Trump’s comments on the media and fake news. Trump said:

Remember this — and in not — in all cases. I mean, I had a story written yesterday about me in Reuters by a very honorable man. It was a very fair story.

There are some great reporters around. They’re talented, they’re honest as the day is long. They’re great.

But there are some terrible dishonest people and they do a tremendous disservice to our country and to our people. A tremendous disservice. They are very dishonest people.

You do see what he’s doing right? The guy who once literally pretended to be his own publicist hates anonymous sources? The guy who powered his way into politics by claiming “very credible sources” told him that Obama’s birth certificate was fake is upset by “fake news”?

That’s the guy who hates anonymous sources and thinks they shouldn’t be “allowed” to talk off the record? Trump says that not one of the nine sources in the Flynn story exists. But Flynn was fired anyway. Well, that’s interesting.

Trump’s White House — like all White Houses — routinely floats stories in the press on background. Will he not allow them to do that?

Now, I think the press relies on anonymous sourcing too much. And I think many of these anonymous sources have been unfair to Trump. But what Trump is doing is preemptively trying to discredit any negative press coverage, including negative polls. According to Trump, the only guy you can trust is Trump. Trump is the way. Trump is the door. In Trump you must Trust.

If you recognize that, great. And if you want to defend it as brazen — and arguably brilliant — political hardball, that’s fine too. But if you actually believe that the only source of credible information from this White House and its doings is Trump himself, then you should probably cut back on the Trump Kool-Aid.

Something similar is at work with the delightful show put on by Reince Priebus and Stephen Bannon. It is entirely possible — even likely — that reports of their seething existential animosity for one another are exaggerated. But if you watched that performance yesterday and came away believing that these two guys are ripe candidates for a buddy-cop movie then you should probably avoid watching infomercials or you’ll find your garage full of Tanzanite and ShamWows.

What struck me during the Reince-Bannon show was when they both insisted in various ways that they always knew they would win the election (not true) and that everything they are doing has been carried out with flawless precision. This is an addendum to the “In Trump We Trust” argument. The upshot here is that they want you to think that any bad news is fake news because they’ve been right about everything so far. Conservatives — far more than liberals — should understand that politicians make mistakes and never have complete mastery of the details or the facts on the ground. That is at the heart of the conservative critique of government and it does not go into remission when Republicans are in office. Blind faith in experts and politicians is unconservative no matter who is in power.

Down with the Administrative State

The most interesting thing about CPAC so far wasn’t Trump’s speech but Bannon’s performance. He removed all doubt (even before Trump’s speech, which re-confirmed it) that he is the Mikhail Suslov of this administration (Suslov was the chief ideologist of the Soviet Politburo until he died in 1982).

Deconstructing the administrative state is a kind of nightingale’s song for many intellectual conservatives.

I have been very hard on Bannon of late, but let me say that I thought he did a very good job. Charles Krauthammer is right that merely coming on stage without horns was a PR victory.

I will also say that I loved his comments about “deconstructing the administrative state” — though I do wonder what’s wrong with the term “dismantle”?

Deconstructing the administrative state is a kind of nightingale’s song for many intellectual conservatives, particularly my friends in the Claremont Institute’s orbit. It’s been great fun watching mainstream journalists, who are not fluent in these things, talk about the administrative state as if they understand what Bannon means. The “administrative state” is the term of art for the permanent bureaucracy, which has come untethered from constitutional moorings (please read Phillip Hamburger’s Is Administrative Law Unlawful?, or Charles Murray’s By the People, or my forthcoming book — which as of now has some 75 pages on this stuff). Most of the law being created in this country is now created on autopilot, written by unelected mandarins in the bowels of the government. It is the direct result of Congress’s decades-long surrender of its powers to the executive branch. The CIA is not the “deep state” — the FDA, OSHA, FCC, EPA, and countless other agencies are.

If Bannon and Trump can in fact responsibly dismantle the administrative state and return lawmaking to Congress and the courts (where appropriate), then I will be ecstatic, and I will don the MAGA hat. But that is a very big if. The bulk of that work must be done by Congress, not the presidency. And any attempt to simply move the unlawful arbitrary power of the administrative state to the political operation of the West Wing will not be a triumph for liberty, it will simply amount to replacing one form of arbitrary power with another.

The Wages of Nationalism

And that brings me to Bannon’s other Big Idea: “Economic nationalism.”

Rich Lowry and I have been going back and forth on nationalism vs. patriotism quite a bit. I’m not going to revisit all of that because it’s already gotten way too theoretical. But what I do want to say is that when nationalism gets translated into public policy, particularly economic policy, it is almost invariably an enemy of individual liberty and free markets. This should be most obvious when it comes to trade. The Trumpian case for economic nationalism is inseparable from the claim that politicians can second guess businesses about how best to allocate resources. For instance, Trump boasted today:

We have authorized the construction, one day, of the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines. (APPLAUSE)

And issued a new rule — this took place while I was getting ready to sign. I said who makes the pipes for the pipeline? Well sir, it comes from all over the world, isn’t that wonderful? I said nope, comes from the United States, or we’re not building it. (APPLAUSE)

American steel. (APPLAUSE)

Now, you may think the command to buy American steel is a great policy or that the statism implicit here is a small concession in light of the benefits it creates. It certainly seems that the applauding crowds at CPAC think that. But let’s take a moment and recognize what that applause represents: The flagship conference of the conservative movement rose to its feet to cheer protectionism and command-economy policymaking. That is a remarkable change of heart.

Bannon is desperate to launch a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure program in the name of economic nationalism. He thinks it will be as “exciting as the 1930s.”

Well, “exciting” is one word for the 1930s, but it’s not the one I would use and it’s not one that conservatives — until five minutes ago — would have used. FDR was a proud economic nationalist. The National Recovery Administration (NRA) was slathered in nationalism. It was run by Hugh Johnson, the man who ran the draft during the First World War and who tried to literally militarize the economy. Under the NRA, a dry cleaner, Jacob Maged, was sent to jail for charging a nickel under the mandated price for pressing a suit. Under the NRA, big businesses created a guild-style corporatist political economy.

Economic nationalism taken to its logical conclusion is socialism, with pit stops at corporatism, crony capitalism, and the like. When you socialize something, you nationalize it and vice versa.

Now I don’t think that Trump and Bannon want to go nearly that far. Many of their proposed tax and economic policies will help the free market. But nationalism has no inherent limiting principle. The alt-right nationalists despise the Constitution precisely because it is a check on nationalism. For the unalloyed nationalist mind, it’s us over them, now and forever — and the definitions of “us” and “them” can get dismayingly elastic. (“This is the core claim of populism,” writes Jan-Wener Muller in What is Populism, “only some of the people are really the people.”)

In their initial essay, Rich and Ramesh write:

Nationalism should be tempered by a modesty about the power of government, lest an aggrandizing state wedded to a swollen nationalism run out of control; by religion, which keeps the nation from becoming the first allegiance; and by a respect for other nations that undergirds a cooperative international order. Nationalism is a lot like self-interest. A political philosophy that denies its claims is utopian at best and tyrannical at worst, but it has to be enlightened. The first step to conservatives’ advancing such an enlightened nationalism is to acknowledge how important it is to our worldview to begin with.

Not to repeat myself, but in this telling, nationalism is a passion — one that Rich and Ramesh believe needs to be tempered by adherence to certain principles about the role of government and other enlightened understandings about society and man’s place in it. It seems to me that when that nationalist passion runs too strong, when the fever of us-over-everything lights a fire in the minds of men, the thing that Rich and Ramesh want to use to temper that passion could rightly and fairly be called “patriotism.” And therein lies all the difference.

The G-File That Was to Be

So now that I’ve gotten that out of my system. I’ll return to this regularly scheduled G-File, though I’ve had to cut some of it out for length, which will sound like a circumcision joke in a minute.

Every Friday morning, I stare at a blank screen like Homer Simpson watching Garrison Keilor: “Stupid keyboard, be more funny!”

The hardest thing about this “news”letter is the first sentence. The second hardest is the last sentence.

Once I break through the dam, though, I have a hard time stopping the flood. Indeed, the reason this logorrheic epistle runs so long is that once I get going, I have no idea how to stop. Like Bill Clinton’s attitude toward interns, I always feel like more is more.

Since you brought up Bill Clinton, let’s talk about penises.

Some of you may know that I went to an all-women’s college. I wouldn’t call myself the Rosa Parks of gender integration — I’ll leave that to the historians — but it was a heady experience. I learned more about Foucault than The Federalist Papers and got into a lot of arguments with feminists of every stripe (and there are quite a few stripes).

Back in the 1980s, one prominent wing of feminism was very big on the whole “sex is rape” thing. “No woman needs intercourse; few women escape it,” Andrea Dworkin famously argued. Some uncharitably — if not entirely inaccurately — said that this was a particularly convenient argument for Ms. Dworkin. Though I think Zardoz was more pithy: “The penis is evil”:

I bring this up because yesterday the noted scholar Chris Cuomo said that twelve-year-old girls who don’t want to see a penis in their locker room are intolerant.

One Twitter user on Thursday morning asked Cuomo to respond to a twelve-year-old girl who “doesn’t want to see a penis in the locker room.”

Cuomo called such an attitude a “problem” and wondered if she is not the issue but “her overprotective and intolerant dad.”

“Teach tolerance,” Cuomo added.

This is a classic example of having such an open mind that your brain falls out. Cuomo, I assume, believes it was wrong for Anthony Wiener to tweet pics of his man-business at young women, but he apparently thinks if you have any problem with the potential exposure of the Organ Formerly Known as Evil to even younger girls — in actual 3D space — you’re a bigot or were raised by one.

Against Nationalizing the Transgendered

Look, I’m a bit of a squish when it comes to the transgendered. Interpersonally, my belief in the importance of good manners trumps some of my ideological and scientific commitments. When I meet someone who was born a man but lives as a woman, I may have some opinions she doesn’t like but I’m going to show some common courtesy and respect her desire to be something biology says she’s not.

But where I get off the bus is on statements like this: “We must acknowledge and come to terms with the implicit cissexism in assuming that only women have abortions.”

The claim that men can get pregnant is a funny one coming from a Left that constantly insists the Right is “anti-science.” Now, it may be true that some women who decide they want to be men can get pregnant, but that’s because they are women. The idea that there are 56 different genders is not one found in science, but in smoky dorm rooms and in academic seminars where the fluorescent lighting eats away at brain cells. It is a modern form of romantic rebellion against the allegedly oppressive constraints of science and reason. The old romantics had it much easier. When the French poet Gérard de Nerval famously walked his pet lobster through the Tuileries Garden — “It does not bark and it knows the secrets of the deep” — it was easier to shock the bourgeoisie.

You know who else we should have tolerance for? Twelve-year-old girls who don’t want to see male junk in the girls’ locker room.

I firmly believe that society should have some compassion for the transgendered. And that’s true whether you take transgenderism on its own terms or if you think it’s a disorder of some kind. Cuomo is right that people should err on the side of tolerance.

But you know who else we should have tolerance for? Twelve-year-old girls who don’t want to see male junk in the girls’ locker room. We should also have tolerance for parents who do not like the idea of their daughters going into bathrooms with cross-dressers or any other grown man who insists that he has a right to use the little girls’ room. And there are, by my rough calculation, 1 million times more people who fall into these latter categories.

Hard cases make for bad law. Life deals a lot of hard cases to people. The way the Founders got around the problem of hard cases is by pushing most questions down to the most local level possible. They were wary of trying to nationalize every issue. The Trump administration was entirely right to change the federal government’s guidance on this issue. They would be wrong, in a spirit of nationalism, to declare that every school, city, and state should follow a single “right-wing” policy toward the transgendered, just as it was wrong for the Obama administration to impose a single “left-wing” standard. If some communities come to different conclusions about how to handle the question, based upon local values, limited resources, etc., so be it. Who is to say that even the Wonder Twins of policymaking — Bannon and Priebus — can know better than a local school board or city council?

Various & Sundry

There’s still time to sign up for the National Review Institute Conservative Summit (where I will no doubt be condemned in absentia). Details, here.

For those interested and in town, the great Kathryn Lopez and the somewhat suspect Ryan Anderson (I kid, I kid) are doing some important events on assisted suicide.

My take on CPAC and Milo.

The media are not the enemy, but they also aren’t objective.

Canine Update: As I am running extremely late and even more long, I’ll be brief. Longtime readers may recall that when we first introduced Pippa, the Spaniel, to Zoë the Dingo, it did not go well. Zoë was determined to kill Pippa for about two very stressful months. Pippa is a lover (mostly of tennis balls and laps) not a fighter. Zoë is a death-dealing Carolina swamp dog. They now seem to love each other. But my wife, the Fair Jessica, has a worrisome, Agatha Christie–like theory or concern. The last two times she’s taken them to Scott’s Run in Virginia (a big park), Zoë has chosen a very worrisome moment to announce a surprise wrestling session. She’s waited until they were on a very high cliff or ridge to suddenly pounce on the poor Spaniel. Pippa doesn’t mind the wrestling, normally. But Jess is concerned that this is an elaborate scheme to do-in the Spaniel while maintaining plausible deniability. “It was accident!” doesn’t work when you’ve mauled a spaniel. But, it just might get a sign off from the canine homicide unit.

What do insects do in the winter?

2017 Underwater Photography of the Year Award winners

Beware the assassin bug

Winston Churchill on extraterrestrial life

Russia’s weirdest playgrounds

A history of fake blood

A history of laser tag

Every Best Visual Effects Oscar Winner

Thoreau’s Walden . . . in video game form?

Siberian tigers hunt a drone

Federal government spent $150,000 researching the supernatural

Good news: Cats don’t cause psychosis

Why astronauts can’t get drunk in space

The President Isn’t the Hero of the American Story

by Jonah Goldberg
Does anyone seriously believe that Trump persuaded significant numbers of people at his press conference who didn’t already love him?

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 the Dingo who cares not about your petty beauty contests),

Since most of this “news”letter is going to vex friends, let’s start with something that all right-thinking people can agree upon: If Neil deGrasse Tyson wants to continue being considered an intellectual, he should really stop talking (or at least stop tweeting).

Just before I started to pound out this dyspeptic cri de coeur of consternation, I saw this amuse-bouche of vapidity:

Now, in a reductionist kind of way, this is obviously true. When two people, two tribes, or two nations fight, they tend to have profound disagreements about who should win.

But the idea that people almost always go to war because they believe different things to be true is really quite ridiculous. Did Caesar, Alexander the Great, or Genghis Kahn have a giant war map in front of them demarking which nations agreed with them and which didn’t? “Oh, I would dearly love to conquer Gaul, will someone find out if they disagree with us on something?”

What, pray tell, do Crips and Bloods really disagree on? (Note: I have no idea if they still exist, feel free to add any other gangs: Sharks and Jets, Dead Rabbits and the Bowery Boys, the Yancy Street Gang and Ben Grimm, whatever.) The prime mover of their disagreements isn’t ideas but power, status, and, probably, the money that flows from them. They might invent grander arguments to defend their bellicosity, but those arguments are downstream of those primary motivations. Hitler believed some awful things, but he didn’t invade France because of his disagreements with the French. He invaded France because he wanted to rule it. The disagreements were secondary. David Hume said, “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” I don’t fully subscribe to this view, but I don’t think it’s entirely wrong either.

RELATED: How the Center Does Not Hold

Now Tyson is almost surely making what he believes to be a clever point about religion. And it is certainly true that there have been religious wars, some of them quite sincere. And some of them were populist justifications for wars of another motivation, proving yet again that scientific expertise doesn’t automatically transfer to other realms of study. What he seems to want to suggest, however, is that if everyone agrees on the majestic sovereignty of science, there will be no more conflict. His global empire of “Rationalia” will usher in an era of eternal peace.

Not only is that incredibly, mind-bogglingly, and incandescently absurd and extremely creepy and dangerous. It is also — wait for it — profoundly unscientific.

Canine Flatulence as Far as the Eye Can See (or Smell)

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote in this space:

I’m reminded of a scene from Don Quixote: A man walks into the center of town and gathers a crowd for the show he’s about to put on. The man picks up a dog and inserts a tube into its ass. The man then begins to inflate the canine like a balloon. The crowd watches, fascinated. The dog grows larger and rounder. Eventually, the man pulls the tube out and the air escapes loudly from the poor pooch’s rectum as it runs away.

The performer turns to the crowd and asks something like: “You think it’s easy to inflate a dog with a tube?”

That guy may be the best dog-inflator in the world. He may have tapped into something real — the need to see extreme reverse dog farting — but that doesn’t mean we should make him president.

That scene came to mind Thursday as I watched the reaction to President Trump’s press conference. My friend Mollie Hemingway captured a very widespread sentiment out there:

And I agree with her: It certainly was entertaining in parts. In other parts, not so much. But the problem is that entertainment value is one of the lowest standards one can hold a president to. It’s entertaining, apparently, to see a man stick a tube up a dog’s butt, but that doesn’t make it art. And it may be entertaining to watch a president of the United States spill out his id on national television like a torn net full of mackerel on a dock. But if that’s a standard for how to judge a presidential press conference, why didn’t we elect Charlie Sheen?

Does anyone seriously believe that Trump persuaded significant numbers of people who didn’t already love him?

I keep hearing from conservative pundits that a lot of people out in the “real world” thought this press conference was awesome. I’m sure this is true. But I wonder how many conservative pundits realize that the people who thought it was awesome are already in Trump’s amen corner (and that these are precisely the folks that conservative pundits are most likely to hear from — and depend on?). Does anyone seriously believe that Trump persuaded significant numbers of people who didn’t already love him?

I’ve written a bunch about the MacGuffinization of American politics in recent years. Ace of Spades coined the term to describe how the media covered Barack Obama. They cast him as the hero of a drama and the only goal was to see how he overcame problems. It didn’t matter if he was wrong on policy — including the Constitution — what mattered was whether he emerged victorious. “In a movie or book, ‘The MacGuffin’ is the thing the hero wants,” Ace explained. “Usually the villain wants it too, and their conflict over who will end up with The MacGuffin forms the basic spine of the story.” Further on, Ace writes:

Watching Chris Matthews interview Obama, I was struck by just how uninterested in policy questions Matthews (and his panel) were, and how almost every question seemed to be, at heart, about Obama’s emotional response to difficulties — not about policy itself, but about Obama’s Hero’s Journey in navigating the plot of President Barack Obama: The Movie. As with a MacGuffin in the movie, only the Hero’s emotional response to the MacGuffin matters.

It was the MacGuffin dynamic that first made me realize that Trump could defeat Hillary Clinton.

Now the MacGuffin thing is just a useful metaphor or analogy. But the dynamic it captures goes to the very core of humanity. While working on my book, I’ve come to believe more than ever that man is a story-telling animal and that stories are what give us meaning, direction, and passion. Hume’s point about reason being a slave to passion should be more properly understood as “reason is a slave to narrative.” But we can talk more about that later.

RELATED: The Media’s ‘Me Party’

The relevant point here is that Trump was right when he said that he didn’t divide America, it was divided when he showed up. What concerns me is that vast numbers of conservatives who lamented the MacGuffinized presidency and media of the Obama era have grabbed with both hands the MacGuffinized presidency of Donald Trump.

It is entirely true that the press served as an eager participant in the story of Obama. It is also entirely true that much of the mainstream media is playing the reverse role in the story of Trump’s presidency. And, it’s also the case that much of the conservative media is now playing the role they once decried in the MSM. The same people who rolled their eyes at every clickbait headline blaring “Watch as Jon Stewart DESTROYS” this or that Republican now cheer as Trump rails against the “Failing New York Times” or “Very Fake News.” It doesn’t matter that Trump’s arguments are as bogus, selective, or disingenuous as Stewart’s. What matters is to cheer the “butt hurt” of Chuck Todd or Jim Acosta or some other enemy.

Sean Hannity has taken to calling Chuck Todd a leader of something called “the alt-left,” a thing that is not a thing except in Hannity’s studio. (The “alt” in “alt-right” refers to a desire to replace the traditional Right with a new tribalist-nationalist Right. What “Left” is Chuck Todd trying to replace? This is weak-tea Alinskyite distraction.)

I’m reminded of that old saying, “Die a hero or live long enough to see yourself defending Chuck Todd.”

Now, that’s not entirely fair since I’ve always liked Todd, despite our fairly frequent disagreements. But you know what I mean. And I also agree with Mollie that the mainstream media has a lot to answer for when it comes to how they’ve treated conservatives and Republican presidents. I’ve written literally tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of words on this very point. And while I think Mollie is being unfair to Chuck here, I also think she misses the point.

When Donald Trump says any — and I mean any — negative coverage of him is fake, he’s making a very, very different claim than that of traditional bias. He is saying that news stories — with multiple sources from his administration, sometimes on the record — are simply fabricated. And just because the self-loving press idiotically takes the bait every time, handing him the mallet to bludgeon them with, doesn’t change the fact that the president of the United States is not only wrong, he’s lying. Yes, the New York Times gets stories wrong (News flash!), but it is not a work of fiction.

Whether he understands what he’s doing or not, Trump’s goal is to delegitimize any critical voices.

The argument one often hears from anti-anti-Trump conservatives is that they’re just holding the mainstream media accountable. Fine. Do that. But if you don’t show much interest in holding a president — who is the leader of the Republican party and maybe the conservative movement — accountable, then you’ve become an accomplice to the hero in a MacGuffinized presidency. One can see this most clearly when you hear radio- and TV-show hosts dismiss an argument by noting it comes from some alleged “Trump hater.” It’s the exact same tactic liberals used against those of us who criticized Bill Clinton. My animosity for Bill Clinton didn’t make him play football-coach-and-the-cheerleader with an intern. Likewise, my alleged feelings about Trump don’t make me wrong when I point out he’s lying when he says he won in a historic landslide or when he insists that his administration has been humming like a well-oiled machine.

Whether he understands what he’s doing or not, Trump’s goal is to delegitimize any critical voices. I think he’s motivated more by narcissism than by some evil-genius scheme, but it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is truth. We are entering a phase where everything is measured not by veracity, but by feeling: If certain facts make us feel like “our side” is losing, then those facts aren’t real. If certain fictions make the other side feel bad, then they are facts. Again, Trump didn’t create this sorry dynamic, but he is accelerating it at blistering speed. I’m less concerned about “fake news” than I am by fake opinions — by which I mean the widespread tendency to score political arguments based upon how much applause they will get from your team.

Reading Kevin Williamson’s terrific essay on President’s Day, I’m of a mind to think the presidency has always been MacGuffinized. But just because a problem has a long pedigree doesn’t mean the problem can’t get worse. I know I use this line from Orwell too much (and I’m eager to hear suggestions for substitutes), but it captures the dynamic of the moment so well: “A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks.” Collectively, we’re all getting drunk on our feelings and then failing all the more completely for it.

Beinart’s Gotcha

And that reminds me, Peter Beinart, my old sparring partner, has attempted to take National Review to the woodshed. Let me say upfront that he makes a defensible general point about anti-anti-Trumpism (a phrase I’ve been using for two years). It is a safe harbor for a lot of conservatives who don’t want to be too critical of a newly elected president who is not only popular with their readership but who is also in the infancy of his presidency and has promised an agenda they would very much like to see enacted.

I was anti-Trump throughout the primaries and in a different, but still substantial way, through the election. After Trump won, I declared myself no longer a member of “Never Trump” for the simple reason that it was a meaningless term after he won. I could be “Never New England Patriots” throughout the season and the playoffs, but once they won the Super Bowl, it would be silly to say we must take back the ring. I took a wait-and-see position because, it seemed to me, that was the only mature, patriotic, and responsible position to take. And that’s still my position (though wait-and-see doesn’t mean “stop telling the truth,” which is why I’ve both praised and criticized him). Some of my colleagues at NR are more enthusiastic about Trump, some less. But for the most part, as an editorial matter, that’s remained our position. Also, some conservatives I know — at NR and elsewhere — have taken the view that the Trump presidency will end badly but there’s no good reason to freak out now when Trump hasn’t yet earned the freak out, especially if that means we will have lost credibility when we may need it down the road.

The problem with Peter’s critique is that he’s cherry-picking various columnists to construct a narrative that doesn’t hold up.

The problem with Peter’s critique is that he’s cherry-picking various columnists to construct a narrative that doesn’t hold up. He doesn’t point to any NR editorials, and his examples come from stand-alone columns written by writers — some of whom don’t work for the magazine — who have the freedom to say what they want. If guest writer X writes that Trump is a God-King, that doesn’t mean that National Review writer Y has changed his position on anything. Moreover, Peter makes no effort to acknowledge that much of the “anti-anti-Trump” media criticism is really quite valid. Saying the election of Donald Trump is the equivalent of Pearl Harbor is ass-achingly stupid. Pointing that out may be helpful to Donald Trump, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

Lastly, the fact that National Review runs a variety of pieces reflecting different points of view on the right is not quite the damning charge Peter seems to think it is. Beinart was the editor of The New Republic for quite a long time and I know he knows that that magazine (back when it was good) often had internal disagreements that make those at NR today seem like a fight over what kind of scones to serve at a tea party. I have disagreements with some of my colleagues (last week’s “news”letter was mostly dedicated to a pretty serious one with my boss), but that strikes me as a sign of National Review’s intellectual health. What Peter and a great many of his peers in the liberal press need to understand better is that a failure to agree with them on the nature of the moment isn’t necessarily evidence of hypocrisy; it’s evidence that we are conservatives who are inclined to take our own counsel. That this should shock anyone is a mystery to me.

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Various & Sundry

Canine Update: The beasts are doing well, but we’ve gotten ourselves into a bit of a pickle. One of my wife’s favorite things to do is to feed dogs ice cream. If she could find a way to monetize the practice, she’d probably go pro. So, for a while at night, after dinner and the evening constitutional, she would give each canine a scoop of vanilla in a little dish. Pippa wisely prefers to make the experience last, licking her portion methodically. Zoë follows in the footsteps of Cooper (seen here in one of the greatest YouTube videos of all time), devouring the ice cream as quickly as possible. Once it’s gone, she seems to immediately forget that she was ever given any ice cream and looks at Pippa the way a 400-pound prison inmate looks at a white-collar criminal with a pop tart.

But that’s not the problem. The dogs now consider the ice cream to be an entitlement. And when we don’t have ice cream, they follow Jessica around the house barking and howling as if she has the power to make it materialize (which, after all, she does in their little canine brains). We’ve tried to put them on a twelve-step program, but they have no interest in earning daily chips for their ice-cream sobriety and since they believe that their higher power is an ice-cream dispenser they remain baffled.

Thanks to the YPU: On Monday night, I debated at the Yale Political Union. It was my second time and it confirmed for me that I had not dreamed how weird the first time was. Still, they were a very impressive bunch of kids for the most part. The proposition to be debated was that the “Elites should rule” — a topic I didn’t choose and wasn’t particularly interested in defending the way I was expected to.

I began by telling them that debating whether the elites should rule could be rephrased as “Should Yale students continue to get their monies’ worth from their tuitions.” I was more than a little dismayed by how many of them have so little use for democracy, the Constitution, or federalism and I was more than a bit shocked to hear two members of the Conservative party talk about the need to switch to either an unelected Catholic aristocracy or the Confucian model of the civil service. But, hey, youth.

Afterwards, the Party of the Right took me out to The Owl for liquor and cigars and that was truly a grand time. Thanks again to everyone.

ICYMI . . . 

Why Trump is probably not playing 4D chess.

Why there’s more to the Middle East conflict than the Israeli–Palestinian dispute.

How history will remember Obama’s presidency, why Tom Hardy may or may not make a good James Bond, and other observations I made on the Fifth Estate podcast.

I talk what-aboutism, Trump’s rocky early weeks, Hamilton, Oscar predictions, and more on the latest Ricochet GLoP podcast.

Why the center is weakening.

Don’t forget to sign up for the National Review Institute 2017 Ideas Summit in D.C. on March 16-17.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Valentine’s Day links

What if the Internet stopped for a day?

The evolution of Keanu Reeves

Ten actors who almost died while filming

Ten actors who took their acting too far (without dying)

*deep breath* Transgender woman, 58, who killed her sixth husband in a botched castration is arrested for threatening to shoot a judge

Just Alaska things: a moose fight in someone’s Anchorage front yard

Why you should never kiss a toad

Turning dragonflies into drones

The math of great literature (no, really)

Inside the world’s first five-star cat hotel

The Rio Olympic venues, six months later

Greek town evacuated to defuse World War II bomb

Can you identify these cities from their light signatures?

A working pipe organ made entirely from paper

Were past sightings of sea monsters actually just dying whales?

The history of bad breath

Do fictional characters “exist” in the real world?

Cronenberg Valentine’s

The weirdest animal hearts

Who owns the Moon?

The animals of the 141st Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

Puppy rescued from well in Istanbul