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 two other legs of the nuclear triad),
As longtime readers know, “i” comes before “e” except after “c.” But that’s not important right now. As longtime readers of this “news”letter know, I’m a lot like the mother ship in Independence Day: poorly lit, teeming with alien life, and bent on global destruction. No wait, that’s not it.
Oh right, I’m like the mother ship in Independence Day because all it takes to cripple me is a little cold. Of course, in the movie, Jeff Goldblum uses the term “cold” figuratively to describe the computer virus he gives the alien warship. Whereas in my case, I’m being literal. I am descended from a great and proud line of Hebrews extending back into antiquity who cannot deal with head colds very well. The good news is that after sleeping for most of the last 36 hours I’m through the worst of it. The bad news is that after all of the drugs and dreams I kind of feel like I just stepped through a wardrobe from a land where the hot new craze is “do-–it-yourself fecal transplants,” middle-aged men are becoming little girls, Leonardo DiCaprio has to deny he was raped by a bear, and Donald Trump is considered a statesman.
But then I realized that, no, no, those aren’t the false memories of my Nyquil vision quest, that’s America right now.
By the way, I was hoping that DiCaprio’s denial would involve insisting that all of the sex scenes with the bear were consensual. I particularly wanted to see the bear and DiCaprio do joint promotional interviews for the movie.
Mario Lopez: The first question I have to ask both of you about are these rape allegations . . .
DiCaprio: Let me stop you right there. We had something special. Calling it rape is insulting.
Katow-Jo: Mrrroorrr, frrr-thfft-thfft! [Subtitles: That’s exactly right, Mario.]
Lopez: Tell me more.
DiCaprio: Just think about . . .
Lopez: Excuse me, I was talking to Katow-Jo [DiCaprio chuckles awkwardly and light punches the grizzly in the arm].
Katow-Jo: Ggrrrrroowrrrrr-rrrrrroowwwwrrnnff-thwaaarrnnff [Subtitles: Sorry, Leo. Well, first of all Mario, it’s not like our love scene was over in a single take. We had to get all sorts of camera angles over several days. How could that be rape?]
DiCaprio: Exactly! I mean I was the one who kept telling the director we needed to do it again.
Katow-Jo: Mrrrrffftt-Grrrrowerlllllllerfft-fft! [Subtitles: Yeah! At one point I turned to Leo and said, “This isn’t about the movie anymore? Is it?”]
That’s So Now
That scene in Independence Day where Jeff Goldblum has the brilliant insight to infect the alien mothership with a computer virus has always bothered me because it is so 1990s. The whole idea of computer viruses was a new thing in 1996, and so the idea of giving an alien computer a “cold” seemed brilliant and cutting edge — at least by Hollywood-blockbuster standards. In hindsight, the stupidity of the scene really can’t be exaggerated, since any advanced alien civilization would have heard of hacking a long, long, long time ago. They just might have been prepared for Goldblum’s 8MB Mac PowerBook, particularly given that WiFi hadn’t even been invented yet.
A friend of mine recently saw Spotlight, the movie about the Boston Globe’s investigation about Catholic sex-abuse stuff. The less about all that, the better. But he told me that there’s a scene where you can see a huge AOL banner in the background and the whole audience started to chuckle, given that AOL today is about as thriving as Anthony Weiner’s Twitter account. It was a quick reminder of how fast things change.
It got me wondering: What will people say are the defining markers of the moment we’re living in?
Part of the problem with writing about this decade is that I’ve got no idea what it’s called. The twenty-teens? The ought-tens? Ever since Y2K (how’s that for a dated term?), we’ve been handicapped by the lack of an easy, widely accepted, and euphonious term for the decade we live in. For the 80 years prior to that, one could always say, “It’s the ’60s man,” or “High-Five! It’s the ’90s!”
Anyway, what’s the kitsch of this era? In just four years, when it becomes the ’20s again, what will we remember as the acid-wash jeans and Rubik’s Cubes of today? “Make America Great Again” hats are hopefully on the list. Ill-fitting T-shirts on potbellied dudes with bushy beards should be on there, too.
Debating the Debate
If you’ve read this far, you might say the same thing to me that you would if you spotted me at the post office packing up a mason jar of manure: “Mailing that sh*t in, huh?”
So let’s do at least a little punditry.
This week’s debate in Nevada, sort of like airplane steak tartar, is disagreeing with me more the farther I get away from it. For starters, while it was right to focus on ISIS and terrorism, that stuff went on for way too long. There are other geo-strategic threats that got short shrift. By the way, “short shrift” should really be one word. You rarely see the word shrift used (outside discussion of confession) and you never see the phrase “long shrift.” But, as Hillary Clinton said to her ethics adviser, “That’s not important right now.”
Second, both the questions and the answers were based on the premise that Americans are terrified of ISIS, which I don’t think is quite right. More on that in a moment.
With the exception of Kasich, I think all of the players helped themselves. And even Kasich got something out of the debate. He probably got a good cardio workout with his special version of Sanctimonious Policy Wonk Kung Fu.
Making Jeb Happen
I think Jeb had his best night in a while and finally managed to win an exchange with Trump. But his problems go deeper. If you ever watched the sitcom Community you might remember the — generally unfunny — Chevy Chase character who was desperate to seem cool. For a while he tried to make the phrase “Streets Ahead” hip. As in, that song is “Streets Ahead.” It’s similar to that bit in Mean Girls where Gretchen tries to popularize “fetch.” In one scene she says “That is so fetch!” and Rachel McAdams snaps, “Gretchen stop trying to make ‘fetch’ happen. It’s not going to happen.”
It seems to me that the problem with Jeb Bush is that he’s still trying to make “fetch” happen, where “fetch” = “Jeb!” Unlike a lot of people, I feel sorry for Jeb because I think he’s an honorable and capable guy, even if he’s never been my first choice for president or the nomination. But, sort of like that AOL banner, he’s just so 1990s. His basic attitude is that there’s nothing wrong with America that 4 percent growth won’t fix. He’s not only a pre-Obama candidate, he’s a pre–George W. candidate. His problems mostly speak well of him as a person, but don’t bode well for his campaign.
The bigger problem is that the longer he stays in, the more he helps Trump. Going by Twitter and e-mail at least, there’s still this bizarre notion out there that opposition to Trump amounts to support for Jeb. That might have had superficial plausibility when Jeb was a front-runner or even a top-tier candidate. But now?
The whole rationale for Trump’s candidacy was based on exploiting animosity towards the “establishment.” Jeb represents the establishment for lots of people, fairly or not. If Jeb bows out, that would give a lot of Trump supporters a victory and an excuse to look elsewhere. I hate saying candidates should drop out before the first ballot is cast, but at the very least, if Bush does poorly in Iowa and New Hampshire, he should hang it up. The sooner Trump can’t claim he’s the alternative to the “establishment,” the sooner more people will look at alternatives to Trump.
The Cruz–Rubio Triad
Hey, I figure if the GOP front-runner has no idea what the nuclear triad is, I can use Triad any way I want.
Anyway, I think Cruz got the better of Rubio in the debate, but Rubio accomplished what he wanted: igniting an upsurge of Cruz skepticism. People aren’t talking about Rubio’s continued support for a path to citizenship (after enforcement). They’re talking about Cruz’s credibility on the issue. It was akin to sacrificing a couple pawns to get a castle. After all, people already knew about Rubio’s vulnerabilities on immigration. But this conversation about Cruz is new, at least in public.
Cruz has worked assiduously to create a brand as the purist in the race. He’s had a lot of help from his friends in talk radio and elsewhere. To listen to his supporters — and Cruz himself — Republican animosity towards Cruz can be explained as wagon-circling by the “Washington cartel.” Cruz is the principled man in a dirty town, according to this story.
No doubt there’s some truth to this version. But not everyone subscribes to it. There are a lot of very conservative and principled politicians and activists who don’t like or support Cruz — and not because they’re “RINOs.” They see him as a calculating politician willing to set the house on fire for his own political self-interest, not for the party or the cause. Wherever you come down on the government shutdown, the only thing everyone can agree on was that it was good for Ted Cruz.
The charge that he was lying about his immigration amendment in order to cram in a poison pill against amnesty may or may not be persuasive, but it is not the kind of explanation that helps maintain his brand. (And, I suspect, he will have a similar problem down the road if/when Donald Trump finally jumps the shark and Cruz has to explain that he never really meant that “Donald is great” he was just saying it for strategic reasons.)
Wherever you come down on the Story of Ted (I think both versions have merit), as a political matter, it does not help Ted Cruz to have people debating whether his purism stems from strategic calculation rather than conviction.
Fear & Loathing in Washington, D.C.
As I mentioned above — and wrote about in my column today — I didn’t like the premise of the debate; namely, America is terrified of ISIS. For the most part, I don’t think a lot of Americans are terrified of ISIS, but I do think a bunch of us are worried that, through a combination of ideology, inertia, and incompetence the government can’t or won’t take the threat of ISIS seriously:
But the president himself is a symptom. The whole system seems to have lost its mind. That there’s even a debate about whether security officials should be allowed to look at the social-media posts of immigrants is a sign that our bureaucrats have such open minds their brains have fallen out. We should have seen this coming five years ago, when we learned that Obama told the new head of NASA to make one of his top priorities outreach to the Muslim world.
Terrorism is a big concern, but this sense that the political system is unresponsive, unaccountable, and operating on its own self-interested ideological agenda is bigger.
One point I couldn’t flesh out — not least because I was so high on cough syrup when I wrote the column — is that I think the government, along with the countless remora-institutions that live off it, have become a ruling class unto themselves. It is a kind of secular aristocracy that resents efforts from the masses to dictate what government should do. Obviously, this isn’t a new idea. But if there’s one thing that arouses sympathy in me when it comes to support for Trump, it is the idea (exploited by him) that America is a nation and deserves to act like a nation.
#related#John O’Sullivan has a great piece in the 60th Anniversary issue of NR in which he takes exception to the near-universal talking point that “America is not just a country, it’s an idea.” The problem with that formulation — which has an ancient and venerable pedigree — is that it tends to obscure the fact that we are, in fact, a country too. We have a culture. We have a history. John prefers it this way: “America is not just an idea; it is a nation.” And so do I.
It’s not that I don’t love the idea of America. I do, passionately. But without some respect for the nation, for the tribal attachments that translate the idea into cultural norms, the idea will die. No nation of ideas can sustain its ideas without sustaining some sense of being a nation. My problem with Trump is that he goes too far the other way. He gives no indication he cares ones whit about the idea of America, beyond its past record of “winning.” His comments this morning celebrating Vladimir Putin as a “leader” even though he kills journalists and political opponents, were exactly what you’d expect from someone who only cares about strength, power, popularity, and “winning.”
Anyway, my point is that the people running the government, the bureaucracy, higher education, much of the media, etc. seem to have turned their backs on the very idea of America as a nation. The ideology of transnational progressives occasionally lines up with American self-interest, but that alignment is more accidental and — in their minds — regrettable than anything else.
Various & Sundry
Dingo & the Lady Update: Last week I told you about how Pippa jumped out the window of my car. It’s weird, she’s only a compete psycho on the morning trip to the park. She won’t stay in the cargo hold. She won’t stay in the back seat. She won’t even stay in my lap. But she will jump from one to another and back until we get to the park. I don’t trust Pippa not to jump out the window. So until I get some sort of fence-divider thing for the back of the car, I’ve resorted to putting the harness on Pippa and doing this. Meanwhile, I trust Zoë to maintain her dignity when in the car (and pretty much no place else).
I know it’s a busy time of year for everybody. But it’s busy at NR all year long. If you’re in a giving mood, and want to send some cheer our way for all the work we do, here’s where to go.
Speaking of Christmas, The Christmas Virtues has been out for a while, but here’s the link to our panel on the book at AEI. It was a lot of fun, despite the fact I really stunk up the place as the moderator (it’s not my core competency). I blame my failure on the fact that they only served wine at the bar. Rob Long’s wrap-up at the end was the highlight. But James Lileks — really the only pro on the panel — had a great start. And who can help but love Mollie Hemingway’s rage.
Oh and speaking of Rob Long, the latest GLoP podcast is out. I don’t want to spoil the fun, but Rob has a very strange New Year’s resolution at the end that J-Pod and I didn’t really know how to respond to. Also, you’ll get to hear me do my first gold commercial. No joke (call for your free brochure from Lear Capital and mention GLoP. Whether you buy any gold is up to you. But order the brochure!).
Given that next Friday is Christmas Day, and the following Friday is New Year’s Day, this will be the last “news”letter for a while (I think NRHQ is closed on New Year’s Day, I’ll check). My wife and daughter leave for Hawaii on Friday, leaving me here alone to work on my book and perambulate the canines. I can’t promise that time off will result in this “news”letter rising above the incredibly low standards I set for it, but I do expect there will be a lot of new Dingo updates by then.