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 gorillas among you who do not use human children as playthings),
My friend Drew Cline asked me to write about what would happen if Donald Trump shot a gorilla in the middle of Fifth Avenue. I thought it was an interesting hypothetical, but even better would be what if it was a Mexican gorilla. Or, what if it was an American gorilla whose parents were from Mexico? Or, what if the gorilla had fraudulently edited a video of a focus group of Second Amendment supporters? Even better, what if the gorilla worked for National Review and was considering running as an independent in the presidential election?
Or what if I realized that mashing-up the news of the week into a single topic isn’t such a great idea?
The Violence Double Standard
I think my record is fairly clear that I am not Donald Trump’s most committed supporter. Indeed, compared with me, Paul Ryan looks positively euphoric in his hostage-video endorsement of Trump. (How funny would it have been if the AP kept the camera rolling as Ryan took off his mic and he yelled to an aide “Can someone call Corey Lewandowski and tell him he can release my family now!?”)
And yet, it’s an absolute no-brainer for me that these goons, thugs, and morons in California must be condemned for their violent tactics yesterday.
I don’t believe that all violence is equal. I subscribe to the William F. Buckley line on such moral equivalence. As Bill put it, if one man pushes old ladies in front of buses and another pushes old ladies out of the way of oncoming buses, you cannot describe them both as the sorts of men who “push old ladies around.” Well, actually you could describe them that way, but what you gained in technical accuracy would be offset in moral vapidity.
But in a democracy the rules are different. In political contests there are no such things as fighting words. The state has a monopoly on force, and when activists violate that monopoly, the state has a right to stop it, gently if possible, forcibly if necessary.
The state has a monopoly on force, and when activists violate that monopoly, the state has a right to stop it.
When Trump encouraged violence at his rallies — and he did — the media rightly condemned him for it. They went further than that, actually. They openly fretted about the health of our political system and the threat Trump posed to it. Personally, I think the rhetoric of those concerns was at times overblown, but the underlying concerns were entirely valid. I think Trump is an irresponsible demagogue and his supporters who use violence are goons.
But the social-justice-warrior shock troops attacking Trump’s supporters are no better. And yet, the response from the same media figures has been, shall we say, more muted. An editor at Vox even seems to think rioting is a legitimate weapon in political discourse, when aimed at the right target.
(This is the same outlet that treated Trump’s encouragement of violence quite differently, indeed as a “threat to democracy itself.”)
In the summer of 1966, Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach warned that there would be riots by angry, poor minority residents in ‘30 or 40’ American cities if Congress didn’t pass President Lyndon Johnson’s Model Cities antipoverty legislation. In the late 1960s, New York mayor John Lindsay used the fear of such rioting to expand welfare rolls dramatically at a time when the black male unemployment rate was about 4 percent. And in the 1980s, Washington, D.C., mayor Marion Barry articulated an explicitly racial version of collective bargaining — a threat that, without ample federal funds, urban activists would unleash wave after wave of racial violence. ‘I know for a fact,’ Barry explained, ‘that white people get scared of the [Black] Panthers, and they might give money to somebody a little more moderate.’
This brand of thinking, which I have called the riot ideology, influenced urban politics for a generation, from the 1960s through the 1980s. Perhaps its model city was Baltimore, which, in 1968, was consumed by race riots so intense that the Baltimore police, 500 Maryland state troopers, and 6,000 National Guardsmen were unable to quell them. The ‘insurrection’ was halted only when nearly 5,000 federal troops requested by Maryland governor Spiro Agnew arrived.
My only disagreement here is that I don’t think this started in the ’60s or ended in the ’80s. I think it’s safe to say that few left-wing labor historians — by which I mean nearly all labor historians — treat the various labor riots a century ago as outrageous violations of the rule of law. The 1992 LA riots — widely described as a “rebellion” by riot ideologists — were routinely cited as a justification for vast new spending on HUD and the expansion of the Community Reinvestment Act, which contributed to the financial crisis of 2008.
Of course, left-wing rioting isn’t simply a cynical political tactic for the Left, it’s also a modern expression of political romanticism. Remember when the mayor of Baltimore matter-of-factly said, “We also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.”
Nor is it just rioting: Political violence has always been graded on a curve. I don’t want to eat out of Jay Nordlinger’s food bowl, but if the Left considered all violence, including cold-blooded murder, as categorically and unequivocally evil, Che Guevara onesies would not exist, O.J. Simpson would have been thrown in jail 20 years ago, and Hillary Clinton would never have been so sympathetic to the Black Panthers.
Shed a Tear for the Tea Parties
It’s no exaggeration to say that this double standard amounts to a profound moral rot in our politics. I don’t need to cite chapter and verse about how the profoundly peaceful and law-abiding Tea Party movement was treated as a proto-fascist army of vigilantes while the Occupy movement was seen as a heartwarming expression of authentic people power. Never mind that violence was far more endemic to the Occupy movement. Left-wing youth, particularly minority youth, who threaten and intimidate people and destroy property, are seen as expressing their righteous passion. Right-wing youth who do likewise are terrifying harbingers of fascism and authoritarianism.
My own view is that anyone who engages in such tactics should be condemned. And, if you actually read Liberal Fascism, you’d know that I think the ideologies driving such behavior on both the left and the right are more similar than different.
And that is what is so frightening about where we may be heading. And it is why I am so heartbroken by the failure of the Tea Parties.
My own view is that anyone who engages in such tactics should be condemned.
As Glenn Reynolds noted last March, the liberals and moderates wetting themselves over Trump blew it when they allowed the Tea Parties to be smeared and demonized as racist. They were cheerful, patriotic, law-abiding, and principled. Their agenda, for the most part (every movement has knuckleheads) upheld the very best ideals of this country: constitutionalism, limited government, and, in terms of policy, living within our means without overtaxing the most productive economy in human history. Sure, there were opportunists and rabble rousers at some rallies, but given fair treatment and responsible leadership, the Tea Party was the ideal vessel for a populism-infused movement to rein in government responsibly.
Responding to David Brooks’s column about the Trump movement, Reynolds wrote:
When politeness and orderliness are met with contempt and betrayal, do not be surprised if the response is something less polite, and less orderly. Brooks closes his Trump column with Psalm 73, but a more appropriate verse is Hosea 8:7 ‘For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.’ Trump’s ascendance is a symptom of a colossal failure among America’s political leaders, of which Brooks’ mean-spirited insularity is only a tiny part. God help us all.
So now the de facto leader of the Republican party is a “counter-puncher,” and his fans love him for it (he’s also just a punch-firster — and a low-blow puncher at that — and if you can’t see that, it’s probably because you’re enthralled in resentment or his cult of personality).
Through innuendo, insinuation, and sometimes outright incitement Trump is fighting fire with fire. He argues that a judge is unqualified to hear his Trump University fraud case because he’s a “Mexican.” Never mind that the judge is not a Mexican, he’s an American with Mexican parents.
Philosophically, this is no different from a Black Lives Matter zealot arguing that a white judge can’t hear cases involving a black defendant. It’s no different than claiming Jews can’t be judges in Islamic terrorism cases.
Then-judge Michael Mukasey faced exactly such a claim in the first World Trade Center bombing case. Here was his reply (emphasis mine):
Passing the historical curiosity that the standard El-Gabrowny advocates would disqualify not only an obscure district judge such as the author of this opinion, but also Justices Brandeis and Frankfurter, who would be barred from reviewing this case if they were alive and sitting today, each having been both a Jew and a Zionist, see P. Strum, Louis D. Brandeis 268 (Harvard University Press 1984), whether the presiding judge is an Orthodox Jew or a Zionist or some combination of the two, or neither, is utterly irrelevant to this case. That someone with an imagination or a motive might hallucinate relevance is not the standard, and therefore cannot provide the basis for decision. That is why I have not answered and will not answer the questions posed by El-Gabrowny’s counsel about connections to Israel between me and my wife and our relatives to the third degree of consanguinity. To respond to such inquiries is to concede the relevance of the information.
There is no relevant fact, no principle of logic, and no rule of law that supports this motion. Accordingly, the motion is denied.
The Center Crumbles
The Tea Parties were not a white identity-politics movement. But liberal elites treated it as such and now we’ve got the beginnings of one. And while I’d be happy to engage in a debate about who started it, I don’t think it’s necessary because it’s so frickin’ obvious. Moreover, as any parent knows, identifying who started unacceptable behavior is not an exercise in excusing unacceptable behavior (no matter how much Trump thinks “He started it!” is a justification for any calumny, including suggesting that Ted Cruz’s father was in on the Kennedy assassination). If two brothers are throwing rocks at each other, you might punish Timmy more for starting it, but you wouldn’t tell Tommy it’s okay to have rock fights.
And this points to why the anti-Trump protesters are such monumental morons. Every time they live down to our expectations, they stoke the coal in the Trump Train’s furnace. The ultimate result of the 1968 Democratic convention riots was to get Richard Nixon elected. And as sure as shinola you can expect the Left to start talking about how such violence is justified. Indeed, they already have.
This points to why the anti-Trump protesters are such monumental morons.
As the corruption of the GOP proceeds, it’s very easy to see Republican politicians following the path of Mike Huckabee and others who think every misdeed by Trump is justified by the misdeeds of his opponents. Already the logic of “if you’re against Trump, you are for Hillary” has ensorcelled even very serious minds on the right (including countless friends of mine). Similarly, Hillary Clinton is doing everything she can to encourage the notion that if you’re against her, you’re for Donald Trump. It is becoming impossible to stand athwart both on the sidelines these days, at least for mainstream conservatives and liberals (libertarians and socialists have fortified their turn-off cul-de-sacs for years). One must stand in the middle of the road*, and that is where people get run over. The center will not hold.
Various & Sundry
No doubt some of you have heard that my colleague and friend David French is pondering an independent presidential run. I am not at all convinced this is a good idea personally, professionally, tactically, or politically. I am convinced that David’s motives are entirely sincere. He is a faithful man of Christian conscience and a committed patriot. By every important objective metric I can think of — save his assessment of Fear the Walking Dead and follicle endowment — he’s a much better man than I. If he were on the D.C. ballot alongside Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, I would vote for him in a heartbeat.
But that is not the relevant calculation. I worry about what would happen to his deservedly sterling reputation and the life of his family, in what, by any sensible appraisal, is a wildly improbable effort. David tells me that if he runs (he hasn’t pulled the trigger yet), he won’t do it to be a spoiler. I take that to mean that if his candidacy failed to achieve lift off, he would bow out. I have no desire to pronounce death even before his bid is born, so I will reserve further judgment until/if he moves forward.
But I will say, I am entirely sympathetic to his motivations. He sees the same thing I do. He wanted to be a banner man for Mitt Romney or Ben Sasse in this cause. They dropped the flag, and David feels compelled to pick it up if no one else will. Alas, it may be a suicide mission, but if he undertakes it he will at least be able to say he tried.
*A quick note about my use of the phrases “middle of the road” and “the center” above. I am not referring to the middle of the road or the center in policy terms. I am referring to the fact that when you have one devoutly statist party of the Left and a conservative party transmogrifying into a statist party of the Right, defenders of classical liberalism are caught in the middle. We are in effect homeless, which is why in my first column of the week I called for a new Liberty League. I don’t want a new political party. I would prefer someplace were classical liberals and mainstream conservatives can live in exile while plotting their return.
My column today is on Katie Couric, reality-TV star.
I discussed the David French situation on NPR (I haven’t listened to this, I’m not sure it’s coherent given that I had to record it at 4:00 a.m.).
Canine Update: As I’ve mentioned before, Zoe and Pippa have a dog walker who picks up a few of the mid-day squirrel sorties during the week so that my wife and I can make a living. Zoë loves Kirsten with white hot heat of a thousand thousand burning suns. She also loves the pack of big dogs that she runs with. To see them all together it’s almost impossible not to hear “Born Free” or, when the squirrel hunt is on, “Flight of the Valkyries.” We don’t encourage this hunting, or at least I don’t because I have a city-slicker’s squeamishness about cute things killing other cute things. But a dingo’s gotta dingo. Anyway, one day this week, Zoë spotted a squirrelhadist in sector 7G and broke off from the back to protect her unit. She caught the beast. Here’s proof.
You can see the pride in her eyes.
Zoë was quite proud of her trophy and was not at all interested in putting it down, and not because she was saving it for the taxidermist. So poor Kirsten had to get it from her. Alas, not even the jaws of life could extract the critter from the dingo’s jaws of death. Finally, Kirsten figured it out. She dunked Zoë’s head in water until she had to let go. I don’t normally condone canine water boarding but extreme times call for extreme measures (I oppose Trump’s proposal of waterboarding the families of squirrel-killing dogs by the way). Zoë dropped her trophy. And now, she only loves Kirsten with white-hot heat of a thousand burning suns. She moped for a long time.