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 Sid Blumenthal who, like some albino monk in a Dan Brown novel, feels that this is your time to defend the faith from the infidel menace and their horrifying reliance on truth, facts, and logic),
So this may be my last “news”letter.
The thoughtful e-mails from really smart people offering me insights that never would have occurred to me?
The touching encouragement when times have been dark?
Or maybe it was simply the opportunity to have turned the Florida-recount phrase “Hanging Chad” into a necrophiliac gay-porn joke. It’s a tough call.
The fact remains I’ll miss almost all of you. But this is the end, because Donald Trump says I have to resign. You see, I compared his Twitter style to that of a 14-year-old girl.
In response, America’s least-famous feminist replied:
.@JonahNRO You stated that I started “relentlessly tweeting like a 14-year-old girl…” Horrible insult to women. Resign now or later!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 21, 2015
People have been forced to resign positions for far less than @JonahNRO’s “tweeting like a 14 year old girl”— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 21, 2015
Now, having Donald Trump scold me for my less-than-progressive views about women invites any number of responses. The easy way to go would be to point out the hypocrisy. But I think his hypocrisy is merely the Rose Window of the larger cathedral of Trumpian asininity here.
Arguing with Trump is sort of like dressing up an adorable toddler in a Viking outfit and listening to it say that he will raid my village and slaughter all in his path. It’s cute. It’s funny. Maybe it’s even vaguely disturbing if he goes on too long (“I shall hang you from the fence post as a blood eagle! And I have a boom-boom in my diaper, daddy!”). But, just as with Trump’s ranting, the one thing you don’t do is take it seriously.
This morning, I started to do the whole Google-fu thing of looking up all the damning stories about Trump, which was about as taxing as searching for sand on a beach. But I gave up because I just can’t take the guy that seriously, which seems to be his problem with me (and Steve Hayes and others). By the middle of the week I thought I might have to start collecting my mail in his skull, because I seem to have established permanent residence in the guy’s head.
So no, I’m not resigning. And no, National Review is not “failing,” as Trump keeps saying based on nothing (though he does know a thing or two, or three or four, about failed magazines, not to mention failed lines of meat products — which, intriguingly, he sold through stores most closely associated with electric foot massagers). Though at one point, my wife did ask me: “When is Lowry going to step up and clarify that you aren’t the source of National Review’s many, many, failures?”
What I do find interesting is Trump’s technique. As lame and pathetic as it was, it gets at something really sick in the culture. But first I should spell out that Trump’s hypocrisy really is rich and kaleidoscopic. For instance, he likes to have female contestants on The Apprentice twirl around for him so he can decide how hot they are — because, you know, that’s what the best businessmen do.
So, the idea that he’s actually offended by my — entirely defensible — accusation that he was tweeting like an obsessed 14-year-old girl is, again, as about as serious as a toddler with a plastic battle ax threatening to send you to Valhalla.
But I can only assume he thought it would work. And on that score, he’s not entirely unreasonable.
Bring on the Mob
There are lots of myths about the witch hunts of old, and there’s even more abuse of the term “witch hunt” in contemporary life (you’d know that if you read this or this). But at times it does seem like there’s a deep current of medieval logic running through America today. No one is accusing anyone of literally being a witch (in fact, that would count as religious bigotry today), but many of the accusations of witchcraft 500 years ago really weren’t about witchcraft either. Such charges were a way of tapping into powerful human emotions to hurt people. Don’t like your neighbor? Call her a witch. Suddenly the burden of proof is on the accused. Don’t like the way some guy lives? Thinks? Talks? Why, that’s because he’s a warlock, just like Rich Lowry.
Now, when I say these words were used to hurt people, I do not mean in the way the delicate little flowers of today’s college campuses say “words hurt” à la “trigger warnings” and the like (a phrase one should only use if talking to Roy Rogers’s horse). I mean words were used to inflame passions and translate those passions into action.
There is a tendency to historicize human phenomena. I’m not sure that’s the right term, but what I mean is that human nature is a constant, like our senses. We don’t turn off our senses of touch, taste, hearing, or sight. There are simply some moments where what we touched or heard or saw or tasted is more important or memorable.
The witch-hunt panics were not the beginning of anything in human nature. Human beings have been trying to yoke the ox of the mob to their purposes since the dawn of man. It’s what we do. People think the McCarthy era was this defined chapter in our experience. And, in a political sense, it surely was. But the habits and tactics people ascribe — often incorrectly — to “McCarthyism” never went away and in no sense started with McCarthy.
The urge to demonize, shun, shame, and bully is always there, always working its magic, always in search of new causes and new victims the way water is always seeking its level. And sometimes — often, in fact — that’s a good thing. We collectively shame pedophiles because pedophilia is shameful. We scorn people who cut in line, because if society didn’t scorn such people, we’d be a less decent society.
We’re All Shamers
We are hardwired to feel shame. And without a sense of shame, the sabre-tooth tigers would be this planet’s apex predator. Megan McCardle has a nice passage on this point:
You can see how powerful this is by looking at my favorite of the less famous Milgram experiments, where he sent students out into New York with a simple task: Ask strangers to give you their subway seat. The response of the strangers was interesting (they were more likely to give up their seats if they were given no reason at all for wanting it), but the most fascinating part is the effect on the researchers themselves. They reported extreme, even physical, aversion to simply asking the question: panic, nausea, feeling faint. Milgram himself tried it and told an interviewer that “The words seemed lodged in my trachea and would simply not emerge.” After he finally managed to make the request, he said, “Taking the man’s seat, I was overwhelmed by the need to behave in a way that would justify my request. . . . My head sank between my knees, and I could feel my face blanching. I was not role-playing. I actually felt as if I were going to perish.”
Shame is one way we enforced good behavior in small groups before there were laws or trading networks. It is a very powerful motivator, and it helps us to come together in large cooperative groups with high degrees of trust and sharing. A hatred of being shamed ourselves and a love of shaming others who have transgressed both literally helped to make us human.
The problem we have today isn’t this natural human tendency. Indeed, the problem we have today is the problem human beings have had in every era in every place around the globe for all time: the misapplication of this tendency. Just as there’s nothing inherently wrong with violence, only the misuse of violence, so there’s also nothing wrong with shaming people; it’s questions of how and why we shame people that we must attend to.
After decades of left-wing intellectuals churning out treatises on the evils of “moral panics” and “shame culture,” the same crowd is now using these very tactics for their ends, utterly oblivious to their own hypocrisy.
That they are doing so should be very worrisome to conservatives, because enforcing orthodoxy against heretics is what the winners do to the losers. That is precisely why this phenomena is most powerful on college campuses — because that is where the secular orthodox are at their most powerful.
On campus and off, today’s losers — social conservatives, climate “deniers,” rape-panic skeptics, even supporters of free speech qua free speech — are being told that they must bend to the shaming of the mob. In the long run I don’t think it will work. But there’s no immutable law — of nature, democracy, modernity, morality, whatever — that I can point to back up that conviction.
I realize that going into this rant based upon a tweet by Donald Trump is like writing a Ph.D. dissertation on Skaldic poetry because your Viking toddler likes nursery rhymes. But the point is that even Donald Trump, with his thumbless grasp of the concept of sexism, still understands that arguments are less effective than accusations of heresy. He’s not wrong about the utility of demagoguery, he’s just really, really bad at it.
According to Einstein’s theory of relativity, you can date your cousins. Oh wait, that’s Rex Einstein’s theory that he can date his relations. Never mind. Rex is pervy guy, deserving of being shamed.
Anyway, according to Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity — very different theory — space and time are relative. This is the easiest explanation I could find on the Interwebs without looking very hard (“It’s that attitude that puts the “news” in your “news”letter — The Couch):
For example, in Einstein’s theory, simultaneity is a relative concept. Imagine that there are two events which an observer in space station A judges to be simultaneous — say, the explosion of a firecracker at one point in space and an alarm clock going off a few miles away. For an observer in space station B, which is moving relative to A, this statement will not necessarily be true: In general, such an observer will come to the conclusion that one of the events happened earlier than the other.
I recently watched Christopher Nolan’s Insterstellar for the first time. I liked it, despite its gratuitous lack of nudity. Relativity plays a big part in the story (spoiler alert). Matthew McConaughey is dazed and confused by the fact what takes just a few minutes on some far-flung planet translates into months or years back home. I made a similar discovery when I drunkenly ate a past-date spicy Jamaican beef patty at a 7-11 in October of 1995. Even though I was only a few hundred yards from my bathroom, it felt like it took years to get there.
Anyway, I bring this up in order to say that time is politically relative. To bring the point home, Peter Schweizer has a new book coming out. For those far from the Clinton orbit, it will contain lots of new information. But the closer you get to the gravitational pull of the Clinton homeworld, the older this information will get until, ultimately, it will be ancient, even before its publication date.
It’s funny what counts as relevant information. The New York Times is reporting on the fact that Ted Cruz said icky and unfunny things in an attempt to win in competitive debating. Charlie Cooke has a long piece explaining why this is so stupid, but I can be more brief (relatively speaking). This is like denouncing a politician who boxed in college as someone who went around punching strangers in the face. Competitive debaters say what they say in order to win, end of story.
What I find interesting is the temporal relevance of this information. It happened over 20 years ago. But it seems new because people didn’t know it before. I get that. If it were revealed that I ate the liver of a census-taker in 1989, it would be big news even if in another, equally valid, sense it was “old news” or, rather, news about old events.
But even here, just as with quantum physics, the world doesn’t make a lot of sense. John Podhoretz notes that one take-away from the “Clinton cash” stories “is that they demonstrate the mainstream media have spent the Obama years resolutely not doing their jobs — which means that Hillary Clinton has not actually been vetted the way, say, every major Republican in the race has been.” That’s certainly true about Clinton’s recent shenanigans, which haven’t been covered very much, if at all.
But what about older stories that only those of us with good memories hold on to? The mainstream media’s ennui with old Clinton scandals should not give them a pass from informing — or reminding — the public about them. And I don’t just mean the golden oldies of Whitewater and Travel-gate and the rest. I also mean Hillary Clinton’s greater biography, which is chock-full of interesting things that the media has decided to be bored by. There’s plenty of time to get into all of that another time. But I do think conservatives should prepare themselves to insist on their relevancy, even if the media gatekeepers roll their eyes. Republicans let such eye-rolling over Obama’s problematic history dissuade them from addressing it effectively. There’s no reason to repeat that mistake.
The Tudors of the Ozarks
In my column yesterday I argued that too much emphasis is being put on the greed thesis. Yes, Bill Clinton is clearly greedy. But his greed is subservient to his sense of entitlement and unbounded self-regard.
The Clintons are like the Tudors of the Ozarks. They believe they are royalty, but they also understand that even monarchs need friends. The Clinton Foundation is the perfect vehicle for their ambition. Like the medieval Catholic Church, it blurs the lines between ideals and interests. On the one hand, it does yeoman’s work in the Church of Liberal Dogoodery, but it also provides a conduit for business interests, foreign governments, academics, activists, and journalists to gain access to the imperial court-in-waiting.
Even if Hillary hadn’t conveniently wiped her servers clean, I suspect there wouldn’t be a lot of e-mails about quid-pro-quos. Such transactions aren’t made in the language of the bazaar, but in the lingua franca of loyalty, friendship, and noblesse oblige. Yes, Clinton Inc. needs money, but the money is likely seen more as tribute than bribery, a bit of coin offered up as a sign of loyalty to the coming Ozarkian Restoration — a restoration that may just have to wait for Chelsea.
Various & Sundry
I was a guest on the Coffee & Markets podcast this week. I talked about integrity, morality, what I’m reading, and my Canadian Flamenco dancing career.
The NRI 2015 Ideas Summit is nigh.
My train is pulling into Union Station and I’ve got to get to my kid’s school for a daddy-daughter thing, so Dingo updates will have to wait. But here are some dingo puppies to tide you over. And here are some odd links, too.