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 G-File

By Jonah Goldberg