Politics & Policy

The ‘Lifestylization’ of Politics

Disagreements become insults when politics becomes a statement about who you are.

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 Covfefe,

I will admit upfront that I have a pretty good gig, writing-wise. No one really tells me what to write, particularly in this “news”letter. I have no lane, as it were. I can go anywhere I want — Alger Hiss was guilty! I like eating cold chicken over the sink! Cows, when cooked properly, are delicious! Hail Orb! Etc!

Still, even as a generalist, there are some topics that aren’t a natural fit for me. I rarely write about sports. I can’t remember the last time I weighed-in on relations between Peru and Singapore or why I might spare One Direction’s lives if I were czar. I don’t review video games, miniature-horse rodeos, or Canadian pornography. But I will confess that, if I wanted to, I could. And, if someone out there wants to pay me to share my musings I will be happy to discuss terms.

I bring this up for the simple reason that I want to head off a specific asinine rejoinder that is so prevalent in this remarkably stupid moment: “If it’s okay for you to do it, why can’t I?”

My short response to this is: “Because this is my job.”

This is a long way around to get to what should have been my lede: Stay in your lanes, people.

The other day, the guy behind one of my favorite Twitter feeds, @Dog_rates, announced that he would donate half of the proceeds from a jokey anti-Trump hat to Planned Parenthood. I was among the first to criticize him. I didn’t dispute his right to do what he had in mind, but I said it was a terrible business decision for the rather obvious reason that Planned Parenthood is polarizing.

There’s a reason why lots of businesses don’t want to be seen as political — i.e., because they want to maximize the number of their customers. If you start hawking “liberal” widgets, you are closing yourself off to conservative widget buyers, and vice versa. Of course, some business models involve finding market niches, but ideally you want to sell to everyone. A dog-themed Twitter account is already something of a niche, but since only monsters don’t like dogs, it’s a pretty broad niche. Picking sides on one of the most divisive issues of our time — abortion — may be a principled thing to do, but purely on business terms it was a bad idea, as anyone who’s watched Seinfeld could have told him.

What’s interesting to me is the way that people talk about rights as if they have moral content to them. “How dare you judge me for exercising my rights!”

There is an infinite menu of things I can do with my rights that would be immoral or unethical, just as there is an infinite menu of things scientists can do with science that would be immoral, unethical, and illegal.

Americans have the right to say horrible things on Twitter in response to a terrorist attack on a bunch of young girls. They have the right to associate with Klansmen. They have the right to worship Satan. They have the right to do all manner of gross, tacky, weird, and unspeakable things with their own property and in their own homes. Indeed, they have the right to sit around all day wearing Indy 500 Rompers and eating lettuce jam while watching Donnie Darko. But in these and in so many other things, I have the right to make judgments and to criticize based on those judgments. Whether my judgments are fair and my criticisms are sound has no bearing on whether I have the right to them.

Why should the Fifth Amendment be any different? The Fifth Amendment is the right that ensures a fair process. That’s all. It’s not a source of meaning or moral direction outside that process.

Whether my judgments are fair and my criticisms are sound has no bearing on whether I have the right to them.

Morality only enters the picture when you look at the system as a whole. The trees can be bad, but the forest is good. As I wrote in this much better “news”letter, the essence of conservatism can be defined as “comfort with contradiction.” People have the right to do wrong and people have the right to condemn, shame, and boycott people who do wrong. Saying you had the right to do x is a universally valid defense in only one venue: a court of law. Outside the dock, there are higher standards — or there should be.

The problem with the lifestylization of politics — most acutely on college campuses — is that people want to clear away the contradictions. They want a unity of goodness where all good things go together and bad things are given no quarter. This has chiefly been a problem on the left, but it has become increasingly bipartisan. Why? Because right-wing populism is a lifestyle too:

Now, if you’re like me, you may be wondering why he left me off that list. Maybe Kevin knows something I don’t know? But putting that aside, he’s making an important point. National Review has writers who exult in Donald Trump and it has writers who don’t. I don’t think we have any writers who take a position of blanket opposition to him. There are no members of the “resistance” here. But there are plenty of people who understand that conservatism is more than a lifestyle, better than pure team partisanship. In short, we believe in making arguments, standing athwart GroupThink. And the fact that so many friends and readers have trouble with this is a testament, at least in some small part, to the extent of the lifestylization of American politics. If you feel that way, you’re probably not reading this anyway.

But if you appreciate it, if you think America needs more institutions that think arguments and facts matter — even when they are insulting to people on the left or the right — then we would be extremely grateful if you could show your appreciation. If you can’t, we understand. Life is complicated, which is sort of the whole point.

Canine Update: Things have been a bit complicated on the dog front this week. Pippa developed a bad limp earlier in the week, but seems to be on the mend. It’s a sign of how traumatized my wife and I were by the Late Great Cosmo The Wonderdog’s medical troubles that we greet every limp as a potential crisis. Cosmo was beautiful, tough, and smart, but he was also built like an East German car. Before he died, Cosmo was about two surgeries shy of being fully bionic. We don’t know how the Spaniel hurt herself, but we fear it might be that Zoë and Pippa might play too rough when the humans are gone. My wife’s new job has necessitated a lot more alone time, and there’s evidence to believe that Zoë takes out her boredom on Pippa much like Ramsay Bolton did on Reek. We hope that’s not the case. But I’m sorely tempted to get a nanny cam to get to the bottom of it. Meanwhile, it means that when we’re home, Zoë is far needier.

In other news, Zoë is fascinated by turtles and covfefe. In feline news, when the Fair Jessica and I were in New York over Memorial Day, our dogwalker/sitter/aunt reported that around 11:00 o’clock at night, Zoë went bonkers and started barking out an open window. Kirsten looked outside and saw that Gracie, the Good Cat, was staring down a fox in the middle of the street. Between Zoë’s barking and Gracie’s willful glare, the fox turned tail (literally!) and ran away. It could have ended very badly. But now Zoë and Pippa look upon Gracie as a kind of folk hero.

Head’s Up: I’ll be on ABC’s This Week on Sunday.

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File.

My short (mostly negative) review of Alien: Covenant.

My response to Dennis Prager’s take on Trump’s right-leaning critics.

Why government-provided health care doesn’t necessarily lead to better health.

L’affaire covfefe.

My Special Report appearance from Wednesday night.

Why can’t Hillary accept blame for her 2016 loss?

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Two mating camels cause a traffic jam in Dubai

Little girl rescues runaway dog with love

When deja vu is strong enough that you don’t know what’s real

A garden of poison plants

When Nazis tried to bring extinct animals back to life

Behold: a new species of carnivorous sponge

Great White shark launches itself into Australian fisherman’s boat

Science: Your meanest friend just wants the best for you

School in France testing facial recognition tech to keep students paying attention

Love-hormone injections turn gray seals into best friends

What does the edge of the universe look like?

The strange and surprising second life of Harambe

Five hundred years after the Protestant Reformation began . . . a robot priest

The most misspelled words in every state

Mathematical proof that your life is interesting

Newborn walks minutes after being born

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