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 (unless you have a Matchbox car of the General Lee from the Dukes of Hazard, in which case you must be sent to reeducation camp),
In my column yesterday I noted that we now live in a world where Bobby Jindal is a fake Indian, but it’s racist to say Elizabeth Warren isn’t a real Indian. It’s okay for the press to mock Ted Cruz for boasting Cuban heritage, but it’s outrageous that Jindal and Nikki Haley aren’t boasting about their heritage enough.
What’s the correct word today? What are we allowed to think? How long must we discuss a world that doesn’t bear much resemblance to the one we actually live in?
Big corporations — the very same corporations we are constantly told are “Right-wing” — have been falling over themselves to erase any hint of Confederate flags from their inventories. Walmart proclaimed, “We never want to offend anyone with the products that we offer.” eBay said they don’t want to sell anything that promotes “divisiveness.” Amazon quickly followed suit with similar pabulum.
As a business proposition, it’s hard for me to fault them. With the mobs desperate to sack any citadel that even hints at being a holdout, best to defenestrate the Confederate flags and fly the white ones.
But this standard of no “divisive” products isn’t actually a standard. It is a political fiction, a marketing myth, an invocation one must offer as one shovels the cursed wares of the day down the memory hole, like so many kilos of heroin with cops at the door.
Goodbye to All That
“Memory hole” is a term from Orwell’s 1984. It was literally a series of pipes one could throw documents down, so as to whisk them to the furnace as quickly as possible. (Fortunately for Hillary Clinton, that can be done digitally these days.)
Taken seriously, this new standard of anti-divisiveness would require cramming so many things down the memory hole it would be the functional equivalent of shoving a whole Thanksgiving turkey, uncooked, into the garbage disposal. Everywhere one looks, there are divisive things. The gay pride rainbow flag? Shvvvuuumph! Down the memory hole! Nazi memorabilia (still widely available at Amazon and Ebay)? Thwwwwwwwwwooosshh! Down the memory hole! Communist flags? Muslim Crescents? Christian Crucifixes? Stars of David (never mind Israeli flags)? Get ready for a long, grinding, thwarararammmmmfitang as the disciples of blackwhite thinking — and those who fear them — squeeze the polarizing bric-a-brac into the wheezing pneumatic tubery.
These of course are just the symbols. Then there are the books that must be hurled into the maw of forgetting. For the last few years, Huckleberry Finn’s place in American life has been shrinking, thanks to the stark terror it inflicts in an educrat class that insists on denouncing America’s racist past, but is too scared to actually engage it maturely for fear of triggering someone.
Gone With the Asininity
Already, a film critic at the New York Post (!) wants to dustbin Gone With The Wind (though he at least concedes it could be interred at a museum). I’m no partisan of the Confederacy, but I’m also no partisan of Communism. I understand why so many glower when they see the Confederate flag fly, I am hard pressed to understand why so few glare when they see the Hammer and Sickle grace dorm room walls or the midriffs of bearded, burly hipsters who apparently got a memo it’s okay to wear transgressive T-shirts so long as they’re so tight people get a glimpse of your belly hairs.
I’d say it’s almost as if they don’t know that the Communists were the greatest revivers of the institution of slavery in the 20th century, except I am fairly certain they don’t know that (as we speak — so to speak — ISIS is giving away sex-slaves to the winners of Koran-memorization contests, but this arouses far less passion in Americans than the thought that someone somewhere might want to buy a civil war chess set from Walmart).
I said above that if this standard were taken seriously so much would have to go down the memory hole. But that’s the rub. This isn’t a standard that is being taken seriously. It isn’t a standard at all. It’s a cudgel. A rhetorical nightstick used in service to the politics of revenge and forgetting.
When I was growing up (“How’s that going? Seems like you’ve got a ways to go…” — The Couch), it seemed like lots of people talked about post-modernism, critical-race theory and all that junk. Today, it seems like no one talks about it, but everyone lives it — or is being forced to live with it.
I’ll always remember that line from Wendy Doniger when McCain picked Sarah Palin for veep: “Her greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman.”
Whatever criticisms you might have for Palin, there was a time when the one thing everyone could agree on is that she’s, you know, a woman. But now we live in an age where we must say Bruce Jenner is a woman, but only Right-wing cranks like me bother to complain that a professor at the University of Chicago could write that Sarah Palin isn’t one.
The Center Will Not Hold
My real fear isn’t that the Left will win. I still have some faith that the American people, including large portions of the Democratic base, don’t actually buy all of this nonsense, or at the very least it’s reasonable to assume they won’t continue to buy it for long. Why? Because it’s exhausting. What’s the correct word today? What are we allowed to think? How long must we discuss a world that doesn’t bear much resemblance to the one we actually live in? Most people don’t want to be politically engaged constantly. We won’t all be assimilated by the Borg. (Though it is kind of amazing that the Swedish Chef on The Muppet Show had been warning us about this for so long and we never listened; “borg-a-borg-borg-borg!”)
The Left’s identity-politics game is a bit like the welfare states of Europe, which exist solely by living off borrowed capital and unrequited generosity.
No my real fear is that the center will not hold. I’ve discussed this a bit when it comes to the debate over Islam. I don’t like the practice of insulting Muslims — or anybody — just to prove a point. But what I like even less is the suggestion that Muslim fanatics have the assassin’s veto over what we can say or do. So I am forced to choose sides, and when forced, I will stand with the insulters over the beheaders. But that is not an ideal scenario. That is the Leninist thinking of “the worse, the better.”
So what I fear is something similar in our own society; that the Left gets what it’s been asking for: Total Identity Politics Armageddon. Everyone to your tribe, literal or figurative.
Spending as much time as I do on the internet, it’s easy to think this world has already arrived. It’s basically how political twitter operates. But what I fear is that it spills over into real life, like when characters from The Matrix walk among us.
The Left’s identity-politics game is a bit like the welfare states of Europe, which exist solely by living off borrowed capital and unrequited generosity. Europeans can only have their lavish entitlements because they benefit from our military might and our technological innovation. Left to their own devices, they’d have to live quite differently.
Similarly, identity politics is fueled by generous subsidies from higher education, foundations, and other institutions designed to transfer resources to the Griping Industry. But if you spend enough time teaching people to think that way, guess what? They’ll think that way.
Cruz v. Clinton Ragnarok
The other night I was on Special Report with Senator Ted Cruz as our guest in the “Center Seat.” On the broadcast show I got to ask a total of one question — Cruz is a brilliant filibusterer.
Anyway, after he left the online show (where we chatted more), I remarked that his professed general election strategy — should he get the nomination — is to run on uniting conservatives and to get the conservatives who allegedly didn’t show up for McCain and Romney to show up for him. He almost explicitly says he wants to run a Goldwateresque campaign: all-choice, no echo. Galvanize the base, forget about everyone else.
Now, I’m not sure I really believe this would actually be his game plan if he were to win the nomination, but I understand why he’s saying it now. He wants to be the One True Conservative in the race and that’s what his constituency wants to hear. Fair enough.
But it occurs to me that Cruz’s bet that a full-throated conservative can beat a full-throated liberal in a general election is very much the mirror image of Hillary Clinton’s strategy (though Hillary’s approach seems vastly more shameless and transparent, perhaps because, unlike Cruz, she’s an awful politician).
Her plan is to rally the Obama Coalition and forget about the middle. Cruz’s plan is to rally what he calls the Reagan coalition and forget about everyone else. As a matter of pure electoral mechanics and mathematics, I’m pretty dubious about that. But it would move the country further down the course I’m worried about. Obviously, for me, the choice between Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton is no choice at all. I’d vote for Cruz in a heartbeat. My only point here is that when one side plays the identity politics game so aggressively, it forces others to play it as well. Those of us who want politics to mean less in life are forced to choose a side.
Various & Sundry
I’m finishing this “news”letter in the front passenger seat of some kind of rented Kia something or other. (“Just call it a Kia POS,” my wife advises me from behind the wheel.) We’re driving my daughter and a friend of hers to sleep-away camp. It’s a bittersweet thing of course. Excuse me, I think I’m allergic to something in this car….
Zoë Update: I walked the Dingo at 4:30 this morning. Normally we’d go to the dog park, but I didn’t have time before our flight. So we patrolled the neighborhood instead. It turns out that there’s a lot going on at 4:30. We saw several raccoons heading home after a long night of rifling through garbage cans. Zoë has very mixed emotions about raccoons. They smell fascinating but they don’t immediately run from her, which troubles her. We also saw some deer coming out from behind a house. Zoë was furious I didn’t unleash her and shout, “Bring me some venison!” Anyway, she’s pissed for other reasons. She had a major bath on Thursday and saw her whole family leave for God knows how long (she doesn’t know the dogsitter is coming shortly). She refused to come downstairs to say goodbye to us. For the ultimate white-trash dog, she sure can sulk like a brat from Downtown Abbey.
Okay now for the big confession. After much nudging from the suits, I now have a Facebook page. I don’t even know how to log onto it yet. But in the weeks ahead I’ll be working with the folks at NR and my own crackerjack staff (literally it’s a bunch of crackerjacks with faces on them) to make it like Bill Murray’s underwear in Stripes. By which I mean, I may use it rarely, but when I do I’ll try to make it unusual.
No wait, that’s not right. Anyway, I’ve got my first post up over there. If you’re a Facebook type person, my understanding is that “liking” it or me or something is a good thing. So please do. If you’re not a Facebook person, I envy you the way the living will envy the dead when Cthullu’s reign begins.
Breaking News Update: So after I filed this legendarily unlegendary “news”letter the Supreme Court made another announcement about our constitutional right to live in a world where the Constitution means, like, whatevs. My apologies for not addressing the big news of the day here, I’m sure there’s plenty of great stuff on NRO about it.