Culture

The Government Can’t Love You

(Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

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 all the depressed Sex and the City fans),

As Tonto said when the Lone Ranger wanted to shoot his favorite grizzly, bear with me.

You may not have noticed, but a lot of prominent people have conducted themselves poorly in our public discourse lately. One need only dip a spoon into the bubbling caldron of asininity, crudity, and viciousness to illustrate the point.

The president of the United States alone has a greatest-hits album that we are all familiar with at this point, so I need not move on that subject like a b****.

His former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, not long ago made a mocking “wah wah” sad-trombone sound while someone described a child with Down syndrome being distraught over being separated from her mother and put in a cage. His former campaign chairman, Steve Bannon, told a crowd full of nativists, xenophobes, and racists, “Let them call you racist. Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honor.” On the same tour, the man who wanted his former website to be the “platform for the alt-right” and who made a defender of “ephebophilia” one of its early stars, praised the virility and fashion sense of Mussolini.

More recently, would-be Spartacus of the Senate Cory Booker said that anyone supporting the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh was “complicit in evil.” Last week, to cheers of many in the media, protesters relentlessly beclowned themselves in a Senate hearing, offering barbaric yawps to punctuate the more refined smearing and character-assassination perpetrated by elected officials. The same week, a senior official in the White House anonymously confessed to being part of a secret cabal working against an “amoral” president.

The other day, Hillary Clinton peddled a lie just to sow paranoia and rage. Supposedly serious commentators invoke polls of an uniformed electorate to argue that constitutional procedures should be ignored. Others argue for court packing, while less serious people ask, “Where’s John Wilkes Booth when you need him?” Others brandish a replica of the severed head of the president, apologize for it, and then apologize for the apology.

Once you start thinking about it, trying to come up with these kinds of examples becomes like trying to take a sip from fire hose.

Pastors have defended a child predator on the grounds that King David did something or other. Conspiracy theories now count as “Breaking News” on cable-news shows, and commentators float the idea that the people want a “dictator.” When the president behaved churlishly in response to the death of a war-hero senator, his defenders insist that the dead man started it.

Behold, My Decadence

I bring all of this up to explain why, when I read the opening sentence of R. R. Reno’s “review” of my book, you may have heard a guffaw from me so loud and sudden that it frightened pigeons from their perches and caused dogs to bark at an unseen threat: “Jonah Goldberg exemplifies the decadence and dysfunction of today’s public discourse.”

Now I will admit, I do have a tendency to wallow in my own crapulence. Indeed, I have a hangover right now, and I’m treating it with a cigar.

But that’s not what Reno has in mind.

The editor of First Things thinks my effort to defend the Miracle of Western civilization and the glorious principles of the Founding and to imbue people with a sense of gratitude for this nation is a sign of civilizational and moral rot.

I won’t go line by line through Reno’s typing, not least because I feel little need to respond to every distortion and dishonesty in a review written by someone who gives little sign that he actually read (or, at least, comprehended) the book. There have been a few of these sorts of reviews by people who are more interested in demonstrating their courage by slaughtering strawmen. But I will say that it’s an at-times truly shabby effort in which Reno takes words and phrases out of their context, rips away the explicit meaning I give to those words and phrases, and then slaps on different meaning in order to make a more convenient target. He’s a bit like a man who takes a bear out of its environment, sedates it, and then, after having it tied to a stake, shoots it from a great distance and declares himself a mighty hunter.

The only concession I will make is that I made it a bit too easy for some to indulge their instinct to be triggered. The book begins with the sentence, “There is no God in this book.” Alas, for some people, the first bite of an appetizer is enough for them to render an opinion on every course of the meal.

As I’ve explained many times now, including in the book itself, what I tried to do is offer an argument that can break through to people who do not believe in God or who cannot be appealed to through arguments derived from His divine authority.

In short, I tried to cut through the “decadence and dysfunction of today’s public discourse” and engage in good old-fashioned persuasion and argument. I admit that I’m not the twinned feminine reincarnation of Cicero that is Diamond and Silk, but I did my best.

But back to the rot. Contra Reno’s best efforts to insinuate otherwise, I write at considerable length about how many of our gravest problems stem from the shrinking of organized religion and the declining centrality of God in our lives. Indeed, I argue that most of our woes are caused by the fact that civil society — family, faith, community — is crumbling, and, as a result, we are looking to the government and politics for meaning in our lives.

And that appears to be what Reno — and many other conservatives are doing — too. Last year, Reno wrote:

Our political struggles over nations and nationalisms are best understood as referenda on the West’s meta-politics over the last three generations, which has been one of disenchantment. The rising populism we’re seeing throughout the West reflects a desire for a return of the strong gods to public life.

I agree with this. The only difference between us on this point is that I, the weakly observant Jew, lament it while Reno, the devout Catholic, welcomes the return of the old, strong gods. He welcomes the end of the “neoliberal” order in favor of something more “substantial,” specifically nationalism: “It is not good for man to be alone, and it is a sign of health that our societies wish to reclaim, however haltingly, the nation, which is an important form of solidarity.”

I find it amusing that Reno denounces me for saying that turning away from the Miracle of liberal democratic capitalism — toward socialism or nationalism — is “reactionary” when that is not only precisely what it is but also precisely what Reno is.

I won’t recount my arguments about nationalism here, save to repeat that I think a little nationalism is healthy, while too much is poisonous. It is worth pointing out, however, that the “strong god” of nationalism is a jealous god that demands fealty. Nationalist movements are every bit as capable as capitalism — and very often more so — of waging war on competing sources of authority. From Bismarck’s Kulturkampf to Hitler’s Gleichshaltung, German nationalists opposed particularity, pluralism, and, of course, liberty (a concept Reno puts remarkably little value upon).

Reno argues that we should look to Augustine’s concept of a “community of love,” which sounds fine by me. But nationalism’s record of fostering such communities is mixed at best, particularly when yoked to the power of a centralized state.

Which brings me to the most shocking and telling passage in Reno’s outburst.

Condemning every political challenge as a threat to “the liberal order” shirks responsibility.

In Goldberg, the habit of denunciation reaches absurd heights. He rehearses the tiresome conservative trope that Democrats are not true liberals but illiberal progressives. According to Goldberg, Trump voters are ingrates, moral hypocrites, and tribalistic “reactionaries.” So are Clinton and Sanders voters. He believes that ever since Woodrow Wilson, what goes by the name “liberal” in America has in fact been an anti-liberal form of reactionary regression from the Miracle. Anyone who defines Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt as enemies of the liberal order is a political propagandist, not a thinker concerned with understanding our populist-driven challenges.

Leave aside the irony of an author who opens with a denunciation decrying the “habit of denunciation.” Also, ignore the fact I do not consider every political challenge a threat to the liberal order or characterize voters the way he claims. That Reno is tired of hearing that modern liberals are not in fact classical liberals doesn’t make it untrue, and why an ostensible conservative would be racing to claim otherwise is astonishing.

Consider Woodrow Wilson, a figure I will never tire of denouncing. Wilson denounced the Bill of Rights and the classically liberal structure of the Constitution. In office, he created the first modern propaganda ministry in Western civilization. He unleashed undercover propagandists to whip-up nationalist war-frenzy. He jailed thousands of political prisoners, many for simply committing thought crimes. He shut down newspapers. He oversaw a wave of anti-German sentiment that makes even the most hysterical visions of an anti-Muslim backlash seem restrained and sober. He considered “hyphenated Americans” to be enemies of the people: “Any man who carries a hyphen about with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic whenever he gets ready.” He lent aid and comfort to violent, jingoistic vigilantism. He lamented that the South lost the Civil War, and he re-segregated the federal government. He admired Lincoln’s tyrannical means but detested the ends he sought. That sounds like an assault on the liberal order to me. It certainly doesn’t sound like a “community of love” either.

But since none of that seems to count for the editor of a Catholic organ, Wilson also had some choice words for the Catholic Church, calling it “an organization which, whenever and wherever it dares, prefers and enforces obedience to its own laws rather than to those of the state.”

FDR wasn’t the monster Wilson was — but the president-for-life who militarized the economy, tried to pack the courts, called for supplanting the Bill of Rights with a new “economic bill of rights,” who argued in the same speech that returning to the democratic “normalcy” of the prosperous 1920s would amount to a domestic surrender to “fascism,” and who in word and deed sought to transcend the order of liberty in the name of “bold, persistent, experimentation” was in no way shape or form a liberal under the old understanding of the word. Indeed, it was FDR more than anyone else who is responsible for the progressive hijacking of the word “liberal.” Progressives had so poisoned the label “progressive” with the American people that they needed to rebrand, leaving the word to be picked up and further soiled by Communists for the next few decades.

The New Statists, Same as the Old Statists

Reno is just one soldier in a larger rearguard assault from segments of the Right, who denounced phrases like “economic patriotism” when it passed Barack Obama’s lips but nod and cheer when similar phrases come out of the mouths of “nationalists.” They see the state as the key to fostering a new social solidarity because it alone speaks for their new idol — or “strong god” — of the Nation. Passionate nationalists, like passionate socialists, ultimately believe that the State can love you, and if the right people take it over, the divisions that are inevitable in a free society will be knitted together by some government initiative. But that is not love, it is lust. It is a lust for power and victory for your vision over all others.

And it’s not new. These same claims about capitalism or (classical) liberalism being a spent force or outdated or bankrupt have accompanied every attempt — failed and successful — to expand government or yoke it to the interests of some group that claims to have found a “third way.”

Their reactionary statolatry renders them deaf and blind to an idea obvious to the Founders and once obvious to conservatives committed to conserving the liberal order: You will not always have your hands on the reins, for you will not always be in the saddle.

Even now, you can hear the growing clamor for the government to take control of Facebook or Google because the libruls there don’t like us. I’m open to sensible regulation, and if more is needed, fine. But if the idea that bringing these businesses under the control of the state — make them utilities! — is merely economically and philosophically blinkered if Republicans are in office, it becomes an incandescent bonfire of insipidity when you realize that one day — perhaps one day soon — progressives will take charge. Thinking that the same people who favor silencing speech, spiking politically incorrect science, and using the government to punish institutions that are non-compliant with the progressive agenda (I’m looking at you wedding-cake bakers, birth-control-eschewing octogenarian nuns, and Catholic adoption agencies) would shirk from using these shiny toys for their own ends is absurd.

Moreover, as we learned — or should have learned — under Wilson and FDR, when the government “reins in” business, businesses often grab the reins of government. U.S. Steel, AT&T, and other corporate behemoths welcomed regulation precisely because they understood that the government was uniquely equipped to protect them from competition. Cartelized social media wouldn’t become friendlier to conservatives; social media would then have men with badges and guns to enforce their hostility to conservatives.

The liberal order depends on impersonal rules that do not change when the factions controlling the execution of those rules change. As I wrote earlier this week, this simple, glorious idea that as much as any other helped create the Miracle is melting away in partisan heat. We are weaponizing norms, using them as a battle shield when they can protect us and as a sword when they can hurt our enemies, but never honoring them when wielded by others. We want to simultaneously fight fire with fire and denounce our opponents for using fire. The only solution in a free society isn’t some final and eternal victory, but to use the torches not as weapons but illumination for the eternal threats to the Miracle: the unconstrained tribalism that denies others the right to be wrong.

I’ll close with my favorite scene from A Man for All Seasons:

Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law for my own safety’s sake.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: Last night at the American Enterprise Institute’s annual dinner, it was heartening, if a little weird, to have so many strangers come up to me and ask about Zoë and Pippa. I’d pass along all the kind words, but one of the great things about dogs is that they just don’t care. If I told Pippa that her fans on Twitter have a ball watching her adventures, all she would hear is “BALL!” Anyway, the beasts are good. I had the midday walk yesterday, and Pippa got to do her favorite thing in the world: “accidentally” drop a tennis ball in a muddy creek and then retrieve it. She’s also very fond of sticks lately. She likes to bring her favorite stick into the car with her, even if she has a little trouble sometimes. Both of them are fully adjusted from the cross-country adventure, even if that comes with the usual sense of entitlement and impatience or making due with more bourgeois pastimes. Zoe even got to harass her oldest friend, Sammi.

If you’re in St. Louis come see me Tuesday night. On Thursday, I’ll be in Oooooooklahoommmaa where the wind comes sweeping down the plains.

If you’re seeing this on Friday, I’ll be on Special Report tonight. If you’re seeing this Saturday, I was on Special Report last night.

I had a great conversation with Ben Sasse on the latest episode of The Remnant. Where else can you hear a sitting senator ask, “Do you think the cat thinks I have nipples on my back?”

On Tuesday, another essay adapted from the Apocrypha of my book will appear in Commentary as the lead article. Here’s the cover.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

Last week’s G-File . . . appendix?

The weaponization of democratic norms

Thanks, Will

No thanks, Pat

The latest GLoP

The latest Hillary lie

And now, the weird stuff.

Omar and Salty

When the Coast Guard led an evacuation bigger than Dunkirk

An eagle’s view of the sky

A cave home for millionaires

Giving a traumatized dog a new life

Rat pulls fire alarm

Telepathic drone swarms?

Thyroid Mona Lisa?

Don’t hold in farts

Sidney Blumenthal? Is that you?

Life imitates art

Detroit-area fatberg removed

Paul McCartney on his own music

Yes, teen birds also love sleeping in

Dorothy’s stolen ruby slippers recovered

The man who drew Middle-Earth

Hmmm . . .

When fighting pythons drop from the ceiling

Politics & Policy

None of You Idiots Is Spartacus

Sen. Cory Booker on Capitol Hill, January 2017 (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

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 all of you at Kasowitz, Benson & Torres to whom I may or may not have spoken about the Mueller investigation),

There’s not much new to say about Senator Cory Booker’s performance this week. The proud-yet-fake defiance of Senate norms and rules, the preening, and the bro-bravado (“bring it!”) — most commonly associated with dudes who know that their friends over by the keg will hold them back and barking poodles confident that they will not be let off their leash — have been well documented by numerous observers (including yours truly). But as a longtime admirer of the “World’s greatest deliberative body” (stop laughing!), I look to the wisdom of the great senator Mo Udall, who famously observed, “Everything’s been said, but not everybody has said it.”

So once more let me don my kicking boots and give this dead horse another whack, not simply because Booker deserves it or because I take joy in it, but because there’s a lesson here for everyone.

Our friends at the Free Beacon put together this helpful montage:

If we are going to plumb the depths of popular culture, however, I think Frasier Crane may offer a more apt comparison than George Costanza.

The only difference is that Booker, figuratively speaking, wasn’t running with scissors; he was running with a picture of scissors, or maybe a heretofore unknown discontinued Hasbro product: Nerf scissors.

For those of you who don’t know, Cory Booker heroically® (according to his P.R. operation) defied Senate rules and risked expulsion from that chamber in order to release confidential documents that the American people desperately needed to see. The people needed to understand what the dangerous bigot whom Trump nominated to the Court had written in an email about racial profiling while working in the Bush White House after 9/11.

There were only a couple of problems: The email in question was already cleared for public release (and Booker knew it), and the substance of the email revealed that the Monster Kavanaugh opposed racial profiling. It was as if Cory Booker — once a famous, if choreographed, good Samaritan — saw a mugging, leapt out of his car, tire-iron in hand, to save the day only to stop 20 feet from the assailant in front of some TV cameras, and proceed to smash the makeshift weapon into his own crotch. “I am Spartacus! Ow! I am Spartacus — Ooof!”

Like so much of life today, it all gets dumber. Booker is like the dweeby model student (treasurer of the chess club, three-years running!) who was “radicalized” by the edgy kids at theater camp and became determined to be a rebel for his senior year. The only problem: Booker seemed to have picked up his idea of being a bad boy by watching Saved by the Bell and various after-school specials. “Greetings fellow cool people: Check out my pleather biker jacket!”

On TV, Booker insists that he did in fact break the rules (“I am breaking the rules.”) but in committee, when it seemed like the Republicans believed him, he couldn’t stand his ground — even though he wanted to — and insisted that there was no rule that he had moments earlier boasted of violating. It was as if he were dragged before the principal and asked if he really had toilet-papered the math teacher’s house (as he had told people in study hall) only to confess that he was simply taking credit for it. Now, he’s back on TV reverting to his original story with a “How dare you ask if my awesome earring is a clip on?” tone.

Who Is Spartacus?

Perhaps the most telling sign that Booker cannot commit to his bad-boy routine is the actual quote so many people are inaccurately summarizing. Booker didn’t say, “I am Spartacus!” He didn’t even say, “This is my ‘I am Spartacus moment.’” He said: “This is about the closest I’ll probably ever have in my life to an ‘I am Spartacus’ moment.”

One of my ancient grievances about the pre-Orb GOP was the tendency of Republican politicians to read their stage directions rather than just play the part they wanted to play. George H. W. Bush literally read, “Message: ‘I care’” out loud. Bob Dole told an audience, “If that’s what you want, I’ll be another Ronald Reagan.”

Booker’s “this is about the closest I’ll probably ever have” formulation does something similar. His base wants a Spartacus. He desperately wants to be their Spartacus. But he can’t actually commit to being Spartacus because he has no idea how or it’s just too scary, requiring an authentic and sincere commitment that he only knows how to fake or pay lip-service to. He might as well have said, “My super-model girlfriend in Canada — who can’t make the prom — says I’m like Spartacus all the time.”

The Perils of Resistance

I’m also pretty sure that Booker has a thumbless grasp of what saying “I am Spartacus” even means (even though he didn’t say it).

While I was listening to one of the quirky, obscure podcasts that I sometimes dabble in, John Podhoretz reminded me that the “I am Spartacus” line from the 1960 Kirk Douglas movie was written by Dalton Trumbo, a committed Stalinist, who pushed the Soviet line at every turn. (When Stalin signed a Non-Aggression Pact with Hitler, Trumbo dismissed concerns by saying, “To the vanquished all conquerors are inhuman.”) Howard Fast, the author of the book the movie was based on, was also a Communist. I supposed I should note that Kirk Douglas tried to take credit for the line, but that that’s unlikely. I could also point out that Karl Marx considered Spartacus the “finest fellow antiquity had to offer.”

But, like so much of the universe these days, none of this matters. The whole point of the “I am Spartacus!” scene — which is great – is that Spartacus’s comrades showed existential solidarity with the real Spartacus. Crassus wanted to execute the leader of the slave rebellion, but Spartacus’s comrades were saying, in effect, “Take me!” It’s been suggested that the scene was inspired by the apocryphal story of the Danes donning yellow stars in solidarity with the Jews in Nazi-occupied Denmark.

How exactly, you might ask, is this remotely comparable to releasing publicly accessible emails exonerating Judge Kavanaugh of the insinuation that he supported racial profiling under the pretense that you’re breaking the rules? (No cheating off Marco, people.)

Take your time. I’ll go sculpt a model of Devils Tower out of mashed potatoes in order to figure out where the alien ship will land while you bust out the grease board to connect those dots . . .

Need help? Well, it’s a trick question. Because, on one level — the level Booker thinks he’s working on — it makes no sense whatsoever.

But on another level, it actually makes some sense. Here’s a hint: The heroism involved in saying “I am Spartacus” lies in the fact that it was a lie. Those guys weren’t Spartacus; they were pretending to be at great personal sacrifice.

Booker’s close-to-an-I-am-Spartacus-moment line was also based on a lie, but it was decidedly not in the form of tragedy — it was farce. Which is why the spectacle of all of those Democrats joining Booker in fake solidarity about a fake issue was so perfect. They were all shouting, “I’m Cory Booker!” and “Expel me too!” in the hopes his bravery would rub off on them, when there was none to rub off in the first place.

Booker wants to be president, and he thinks — rightly — that the base of the Democratic party wants a heroic rebel who will fight the Caesarian Trump at all costs and by any means necessary (yes, I know there were no emperors in the time of Spartacus, but shut up: I’m on a roll). The problem is that Spartacus lost, and all his fellow gladiator-slave compadres who said, “I am Spartacus” were martyred for a lost cause, too. Obviously, this effort to defeat Kavanaugh was a lost cause.

But the greater irony is that the Resistance is likely to be a lost cause, too — if it keeps going in this direction. Trump’s greatest vulnerability in 2020 stems from the fact that he never stopped being a chaos agent. Many current and formerly Republican-leaning voters hate all the drama that sustains the GOP base and radicalizes the liberal base. These voters — particularly college-educated white women — may like many of Trump’s policies and appointments, but they feel like they’re overdosing on crazy pills or trying to elude a monkey that escaped from a cocaine study. The more Democrats act like would-be Spartacuses, the more the craziness on both sides of the equation cancel each other out. That leaves a (presumably good) economy and the devil they know in the White House as a potentially preferable option to the devils promising “socialism” and a left-wing culture-war agenda.

Letting Your (Imagined) Enemies Define You

As I wrote earlier this week, liberals are increasingly desperate to live in an alternate reality in which calling themselves “the Resistance” isn’t ironic but heroic. For example, this week we literally saw Handmaid’s Tale cosplayers pretending they weren’t making fools of themselves, playing make-believe to own the cons.

We’ve seen this before, of course — just not on this scale. Naomi Wolf and her crowd were utterly convinced that George W. Bush was Hitler. It never dawned on them that if Bush were Hitler (or even Mussolini or, heck, Woodrow Wilson), people like her would never be allowed to say so. It’s bravery on the cheap. I don’t think anyone who reads this “news”letter needs to be reminded that I am not big booster of Donald Trump. But the guy isn’t Hitler, for any number of reasons, the most important of which is that Americans aren’t Nazis. We’re not even Germans. Hitler’s rule was possible because there was a market demand for a Hitler and a wider tolerance for a Hitler.

By all means, let us ridicule and ostracize the Tiki-Torch Brigades and their alt-right sympathizers. But cherry-picking your enemies and holding them up as representative of millions of Republicans and Trump voters isn’t merely slanderous, it’s incredibly stupid, and not only because it’s wrong morally and factually — it’s also wrong because doing so fuels radicalism on both sides.

(Let me head-off the Whataboutist assault: The same is true of many on the right who play the same game leftward. The Democratic party may have been the party of the Klan, but it’s not today. By the way, the weird overlap between left-wingers and right-wingers who think my book, Liberal Fascism, “proved,” or tried to prove, that contemporary liberals are Nazis is both dismaying to me and flatly wrong.)

The Nazi philosopher Carl Schmidt famously said, “Tell me who your enemy is, and I will tell you who you are.” I despise Schmidt, but he was brilliant nonetheless, and this aphorism has deep insight behind it. Whether you want to consult evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, or the literature on negative polarization, we live in an age in which many of us define who we are by who — or what — we hate.

This is a big enough problem on its own, but it gets monumentally worse when you liberate yourself from the shackles of reality. What tactic isn’t justified if you convince yourself that your opponents are “literally Hitler”?

Here’s what Senator Booker said when Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh, an eminently qualified judge who would have been on any Republican’s shortlist including, by the way, John McCain’s.

This “has nothing to do with politics” but with “who we are as moral beings.”

“I’m here to call on folks to understand that in a moral moment, there is no neutral. In a moral moment, there is [sic] no bystanders,” he said. “You are either complicit in the evil, you are either contributing to the wrong, or you are fighting against it.”

I bring up John McCain for a reason. We’ve just been through a melancholy riot for the lost world of John McCain, in which every establishment Democrat openly pined for McCain’s style of bipartisanship. Well that cuts both ways. McCain can’t be a hero for refusing to demonize his opponents while it’s okay to claim that anyone who disagrees with you about Kavanaugh is complicit in “evil.”

Booker’s you’re-with-the-forces-of-good-or-you’re-with-the-forces-of-evil shtick surely plays well with the base of his party, as does Donald Trump’s similar garbage rhetoric on the right. But that’s the point. They’re opposite sides of the same sh***y coin.

And say this for Trump: He seems to honestly believe it. Booker’s playing a role precisely because the politics of this craptacular moment demand it, and, like a leaf on the wind, he’s going where the strongest breeze takes him.

I very much doubt Booker will ride those winds to the White House, because he’s a fugacious firebrand, and the script we’re stuck in demands the real deal to the play the role. The sincerest form of flattery is imitation, and the Democrats now want their own Trump knock-offs (which is great news for celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti).

That’s always been the greatest danger of Trump’s corrupting influence on the GOP and the country: that his violations of norms would invite return fire, only more intense (just as Obama’s violations invited Trump). The next Democratic president (in 2020 or 2024 or whenever) likely won’t talk like Trump, but if we stay on the track we’re on, he or she will also act like a war president, where the real enemy isn’t a foreign power but fellow Americans the base doesn’t like. That’s the inevitable consequence when you define yourself by a caricature of your enemy.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: All is well enough at home. The beasts were definitely excited when we completed our 3,000-mile drive, but then it dawned on them that their schedule at home wasn’t going to be as thrilling as it had been in Montana, Idaho, and Oregon. The comedown wasn’t as severe as Al Pacino’s in Scent of a Woman after he got to drive the Ferrari, but there definitely was a sense of “We’re back to this?” It’s not all bad. I’ve been taking them on the usual morning adventures (though not as much as Pippa would like), and just today Zoë was reunited with her best friend Sammie. (For those who’ve asked what happened to her boyfriend, Ben: He had to leave the dogwalker pack for reasons related to being an intact male. Zoë was forlorn for a while.) And of course, things at home aren’t horrible either. Though Gracie wants to know who the dudes housesitting for us were.

There were two Remnant podcasts this week. The first was probably the most eggheady we’ve done yet. Peter Boettke, Hayek Master, came on to talk All Things Hayek. If you’re even remotely interested in such stuff, I think you might like it. It started a little intense, but I think it became more accessible pretty quickly. The second podcast is with just me and one of the dudes who took care of Gracie. It’s a weird one. You can find the links below.

Also, I have a bunch of speeches coming up in the next couple months, as the book tour restarts. I will be at Arizona State this coming Tuesday, and you can meet me in St. Louis at the Show Me Institute the following Tuesday. I’ll be at the Oklahoma Institute for Public Affairs on September 20. And I’ll be giving an address at the Philadelphia Society in Dallas on the 21st. On the 25th, I’ll be speaking at Claremont. On the 27th, I’ll be at the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. On October 7, I’ll be at the University of California, Santa Barbara. On the 9th, I’ll be at Cedarville University. On the 17th, I’ll be at Hofstra. Watch this space for more.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

Steve Bannon’s latest whatever

Why aren’t liberals patriotic?

Me on the Matt Lewis podcast

This week’s first Remnant, with Peter Boettke

Who wrote the op-ed, and why?

This week’s second Remnant

Our absurd confirmation hearings

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Wednesday links

A car made of LEGO

The pirates of the Great Lakes

Diving dog

A human tower

Britain’s smallest baby

A killer robot submarine

When the U.S. government tried to induce rain with dynamite

How realistic are sci-fi starships?

What was lost in the Brazil museum fire

Creepy-crawlers stolen from Philadelphia for some reason

The tree that bleeds metal

What it would be like to run a marathon on Mars: part one and part two

The science of Black Panther

Wearable robotic arms let two people share one body

“Fighting” corgis

Whales are old

Politics & Policy

On the Road Again

Sen. John McCain in Mexico City, Mexico, in 2016 (Henry Romero/Reuters)

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 all of the citizens of the World who should take equal pride in Neil Armstrong’s accomplishments. Thank you, Belize!),

I’m writing this from the passenger seat of a Winnebago heading East out of Burns, Ore. — which was named after the Scottish poet, Robert Burns, not the chinless wonder from M*A*S*H. Which reminds me, why didn’t the “H” in M*A*S*H get an asterisk? That always bothered me.

Burns looks like it’s seen better days, but it still appears much nicer than the neighboring “city,” Hines, Ore., at least from what we could tell (Burns’s taxidermist shops seem much more professional and less like the guy inside would be perfectly happy to stuff and mount a pseudo-intellectual demi-Jewish pundit from the Upper West Side). We stopped in Burns for the coffee, as one does, and to switch drivers. I got us from Bend to Burns and the Fair Jessica will take us into Boise. We didn’t plan on only stopping in places that begin with B, but that’s just one of the great things about the road: the serendipity of it all.

John McCain, RIP

John McCain is being held in state today and lain to rest Saturday. We intend to listen to the memorial service as we drive. I wrote a column earlier this week on McCain and Trump and the differences between them. It was one of those columns that was like pulling teeth for me to write because I had vacationitis and it’s hard to get back into pundit mode, particularly from an inconvenient time zone.

An additional point I wanted to make is that, while the differences between Trump and McCain are obvious and profound, they originate from an important similarity. I am honestly not sure what word best describes it: Vanity? Ego? Pride?

It’s worth recalling that McCain’s obsession with campaign-finance reform stemmed largely from his experience in the Keating Five scandal in the late ’80s. The details don’t really matter; McCain was cleared of all charges. But he felt that his involvement — even his mere association — with the scandal was a stain on his honor, and he spent the following decades trying to repair that wound to his reputation by becoming an obsessive on the issue of campaign finance.

Doubtless, he believed in the cause he fought for, but the passion he brought to campaign-finance reform was born of a certain kind of old-fashioned vanity that ranked personal honor higher than the mere facts or abstract principle.

One can find other examples of this sort of thing in McCain’s record, which is why McCain the politician could annoy so many conservatives. He loved being a “maverick,” and if you could convince him he was being a maverick in a moral cause, that’s all it took for him to become a bulldog. Sometimes he picked the right cause — the most obvious example being the Surge in Iraq — but sometimes he’d go a different way or he’d be so caught up with the narrative that he’d ignore some relevant facts (not every rebel in Syria or Libya was a “freedom fighter” for instance).

I don’t want to belabor the point, because anyone familiar with his history on the right knows what I’m talking about. McCain was deeply enamored with heroic narratives, no doubt in part because that was the story of his own life. The problem is that not every public-policy issue fits neatly into a good-vs.-evil framework, and McCain sometimes allowed himself a definition of heroism that won praise from the crowd that always celebrates when a conservative confirms liberal prejudices.

I don’t mean this to sound too harsh, or even harsh at all. I admired McCain a great deal. I certainly have no desire to lend aid and comfort to the swamp-dwelling ogres sending me bilious nonsense about how McCain was an “evil” man, while also saying that Donald Trump is a righteous instrument of Jesus.

Oh the Byrony

Which brings us to Trump. I will pay you the courtesy of presumed sentience and not run you through all of the evidence that the president has his own kind of vanity (nor will I go to any great lengths to demonstrate that the president is bipedal, an only slightly more obvious observation).

But whereas McCain’s vanity was invested in his commitment to certain ideals (or narratives) — patriotism, heroism, sacrifice, courage, etc. — Trump’s vanity is invested closer to home, as it were, to his ego. I’m not sure one could even describe him as a Byronic hero, because even the Byronic hero plays by his own rules, and it’s not obvious that Trump has many rules at all (and for the umpteen billionth time, I am not making these observations out of animus towards Trump; I’ve been writing about things such as “do-it-yourself morality, informed by personal passion rather than old-fogey morality” for quite a while).

While I think both men could be led astray by their vanity, I am not making a moral-equivalence argument. McCain was courageous; Trump is not, save for the fact that being shameless can be liberating — one is willing to risk embarrassment if one is incapable of being embarrassed. McCain subordinated himself to the needs of his country and his fellow POWs. As a senator, he visited war zones countless times, not to preen but to support the troops and their mission. Our commander in chief has yet to visit one. “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point,” C. S. Lewis wrote.

What I find interesting is how both men represent the way vanity, ego, pride, amour propre (I’m still looking for the right word) can take people in such different directions. Every politician has a robust ego or high self-regard, but the test is in what issues or causes they invest that ego — in themselves or in a cause.

I think David Hume’s famous line about how “reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions,” is often misunderstood. Hume certainly believed in reason. He simply understood that reason is a tool that must be made to further higher ends. We cannot scrub our passions from the crooked timber of humanity; we can only channel them productively.

McCain’s egoistic passion led him to surrender himself to the faith of his fathers, or a cause larger than himself, as he might put it. Trump’s egoistic passion is dedicated to making himself as large a cause as possible. The irony is that the former’s approach made McCain seem the larger man, while the latter gets smaller by the day.

Various & Sundry

This is the third G-File in a row written literally — and, I suppose, figuratively — at about 70 miles per hour. The feedback from long-time readers has mostly been along the lines of “Why does it take me so long to read? Do I have a disability?” Other readers familiar with this sub-genre of my “news”letter oeuvre understand where I am coming from. But some complained, either to me or on Twitter.

“It’s just a stream of consciousness!” they yell at me as if I were their waiter at a fancy French restaurant and I talked them into ordering the snails instead of those toasted cheese sandwiches they wanted. “Sir, there is a discussion of assless chaps in my absolutely free newsletter no one forced me to read! How dare you!”

So let me explain to folks who are new around here: Theyre all streams of consciousness.

Speaking of streams, about 15 minutes ago, we passed the sign for Stinkwater Creek and just now we passed the sign for Drinkwater Pass. Call me crazy but I think these things are way too close to each other.

Where was I? Oh right: Theyre ALL streams of consciousness! (Imagine me yelling this with veins bulging out of my neck like Mugatu sending back a frothy latte or Howard Dean revving up his followers after losing the Iowa caucuses or, come to think of it, the image of Dean sending back a frothy latte works well too). I write about 50 G-Files per year. Some are serious. Some are jocular. Some are like a centaur except where the top half is a grizzly bear and the bottom half is an electric AMC Pacer.

“That makes no sense,” you say.

Well, I have two responses to that: First, I know that the Pacer was never an electric car. And B) Forget it — it’s Chinatown. The point is that out of the 50 “news”letters I write every year, I might start one or two earlier in the morning than is their due. And when people tell me I can’t right goodly or that I’m not smaht based on this thing, I feel like they’re the little kid from Airplane! and I’m Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: “Listen kid, tell your old man to pound out this many nouns and verbs every Friday morning after drinking as much as I do the night before . . .”

Anyway, next week, we’ll get back to normal, which I am sure will be a great relief to the people who like pull-my-finger jokes and Chesterton quotes at a safer speed.

Canine Update: Oh man, oh Manoshevitz, are the dogs going to be bummed when we get to the acridly effulgent atmosphere of Washington, D.C. While the humans had a good time, the beasts had a truly great vacation, save for the fact that it’s not clear that they understood it was a vacation. I suspect they think this is our new life now: Long trips in the moving dog den, punctuated by strange beds and thrilling sorties into wild lands full of intoxicating sniffs and excellent places to get exhausted.

This trip definitely had the biggest effect on Zoë. Pippa was just like, “Oh this is a much better place to chase a ball (or stick). Why don’t we come here more often?” But for Zoë, it was like a switch had been flipped. She’s much more like the wild — and wildly jealous — dog she was a few years ago. We shared a house with my brother-in-law and their kids and their chocolate lab, Penny (who’s a lovely singer by the way). Zoë spent days keeping Penny from getting close to either me or Jessica or her food bowl — or Pippa’s. In other words, her position was: “These humans, their affections, and their food stores are mine, strange dog!”

The problem is that Penny, being a chocolate lab, is such a happy-go-lucky girl that she’d forget there was any conflict every ten minutes or so.

Penny: “Oh Hello, Hooman, would you like to pat me or maybe throw a ball?”

<cue “Flight of the Valkyrie” music> Enter flying snarling Dingo: “Away Canadian interloper!” (Penny’s actually from Washington State, but that’s not how Zoë sees it. She’s a bit of a nativist).

Repeat.

There were remarkably fewer tensions outdoors, though. Zoë didn’t want much to do with Penny outside, but she wasn’t a big concern. When you add in the thrill of being able to swim in cold, clean water, chase varmints, wake up to brisk weather, and go on very long hikes with the whole Goldberg pack, I think the girls had a grand time.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

This week’s (first) Remnant

Wednesday’s column

Thursday’s GLoP/Remnant

Friday’s column

And now, the weird stuff.

Lazy crocodile

Parasite vs. parasite

Three ways to destroy the universe

Canada’s mystery lights

How to make a water rocket

Artists with their dogs

The Mall to Y’all water tower

Giant Everglade snakes coming . . .

The surprising sex lives of Neanderthals

When rhinos roamed Washington State

When was the earliest Internet search?

Actual combat footage of the Battle of the Philippines Sea

St. Columba and the Loch Ness Monster

Nazi Germany’s most deadly fighter ace

Florida man arrested for tranquilizing and raping alligators

Florida political candidate says alien abduction doesn’t define her

Clever dog plays fetch with itself

Placebos . . . work?

Man accused of taunting bison sentenced to 130 days in jail

Security guard films all of his flatulence for six months

Sexually frustrated dolphin ruins French beach

Wasps getting drunk, going on stinging rampages

Politics & Policy

The Coalitional Instinct

President Donald Trump speaks at a “Make America Great Again” rally in Washington, Mich., April 28, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

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 (But not the guy who refused to get out of the left lane back in Minnesota. You’re dead to me),

I’m starting this “news”letter behind the steering wheel of a rented RV in a parking lot in downtown Sandpoint, Idaho. I have no idea where I’ll be when I finish, but I’ll update you as we proceed.

It’s very strange being on a family vacation out West during what many are saying is the craziest week of the Trump presidency. I’m not sure it’s true that this was the craziest week, though Tuesday was like Magilla Gorilla’s tasting menu: bananas. Conventional writers would never have had the Manafort verdict and the Cohen plea deal happen within minutes of each other. But part of the problem is that it’s so hard to tell what’s weird anymore. Really, ever since 2015, the writers of this timeline have gotten so desperate to keep the audience off balance that it’s hard to get your bearings. Everything is accelerated. Bret Baier likes to say that the news cycle needs to be converted into dog years. The Omarosa thing happened like two weeks ago. The Helsinki summit was last month. That Mike Pence press conference where he started pole-dancing in assless chaps in the Rose Garden to the tune of “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” to celebrate the latest Space Force victory was only like six weeks ago.

Oh whoops, sorry — that’s a sneak peek from the 2019 season finale.

(Oh that reminds me: You know how there are certain idioms that are irrational or illogical but nonetheless convey meaning? For instance “I could care less” makes no sense logically to express the idea that you don’t care at all. But save among pedants, it works just fine at conveying that idea. Well, “assless chaps” is another irrational term. After all, all chaps are assless. But for some reason, this term has emerged as the way to describe that gay-biker look of wearing chaps without any pants underneath. So just as “I couldn’t care less” is logically the correct way to express the idea that you don’t care, “assfull chaps” should be the correct term for the biker look. But, what are you going to do? Language is an emergent system not a slave to reason.)

So where was I? (Well, I was in the Sandpoint parking lot. I’m now on I-90 West heading, uh, west).

Oh right, everything seems off, like the roast beef at a Canadian deli or a universe where the Triumvirate touched the Orb. Time hasn’t just accelerated; it seems less linear. Odd moments from the past are suddenly relevant again. Who knew that the Clinton impeachment would be so relevant again? Who predicted that Lanny Davis would be brought back into this story like Bobby Ewing in the shower at the end of the ninth season of Dallas? I would never have guessed that Cory Lewandowski was the Three-Eyed Raven.

It’s like every morning we need episode recaps — “Previously on The Trump Show . . .” — to remind us what to look out for.

I’ve explained — at book length — that I think that this tendency to see politics as a form of entertainment goes a long way toward explaining why our politics have gotten so nasty. Entertainment is a shortcut to the more primitive parts of our brains, where the formal, procedural, and rational rules of the extended order have little sway. No one cares when the hero does something illegal in a movie or TV show so long as it’s clear that he or she is the hero.

Nowhere is this more true than in the mobster genre. Whether it’s Tony Montana, Tony Soprano, or some other criminal protagonist not named “Tony,” we cheer him on even if he does horrible things. This seems relevant given how The Trump Show has veered into some of the most clichéd writing of the series, with the president openly castigating snitches and praising omertà.

The problem is that this isnt a TV show.

American politics isn’t a TV show about the mob. And it’s not a courtroom drama either. One of the points I used to make all the time during the Clinton impeachment saga is that legality is a separate lane from morality. Speaking of flashbacks, here’s an excerpt from an essay I wrote for National Review 20 years ago:

Greta Van Susteren and her colleagues have carried this mode of analysis into the political arena. It has had a lobotomizing effect on civic discourse. For example, on September 21 on Larry King Live Judge Robert Bork asserted that a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court would be, and should be, impeached if he was sexually serviced by an intern in his chambers — even if he never lied about it. That someone should be punished for something that is not a crime flummoxed Miss Van Susteren to the point of incoherence, “Maybe if he’s a bachelor, may — have — what if he’s a . . . bachelor? . . . as consenting adults?”

There was a time when poor manners and dishonorable behavior were judged as reprehensible as committing a crime. In Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Claude Rains tries to commit suicide on the Senate floor because he has disgraced himself, not because he’s going to jail. Today if one has violated every tenet of decency but stopped short of violating criminal law — a constantly moving goalpost — then one is merely expressing oneself (like Larry Flint) or minding one’s own business (like David Cash, the vile Berkeley student who stood aside as his friend raped and murdered a young girl). We are greeted constantly with the images of scoundrels triumphantly leaving courthouses celebrating the fact that their repugnant behavior was found not to have technically violated the law.

Now the president of the United States benefits from this new standard.

(Fun fact: Van Susteren refused to ever look me in the eye or speak to me after I wrote that essay.)

In my Friday column, I try to make a point that seems very difficult for some people to understand: Rudy Giuliani’s defense of the president is entirely defensible because Giuliani’s job is to protect Donald Trump, full stop. But his arguments in defense of the president aren’t transferable. Donald Trump isn’t your client; Donald Trump is your president. In other words, your expectations of the president and the presidency are entirely different from Rudy Giuliani’s.

Imagine one of your kids drew a picture on the kitchen wall with a red Sharpie. You assemble the kids at the scene of the crime and ask the most likely culprit — the one with ink all over his hands — “Did you do this?”

Before the literally red-handed child can answer, his sister interrupts: “I have advised my brother not to answer your questions. I think you are trying to railroad my client into a perjury trap.”

You might laugh. You might not. You might admire your daughter’s loyalty to her brother. But you probably wouldn’t take it very seriously.

My point is not to compare the president of the United States to a toddler (that’s Dan Drezner’s beat). It’s simply to illustrate that standards vary with the context. Defense lawyers get a pass in our society to make horribly dishonest arguments in the name of keeping the system fair and just. But we’re not supposed to internalize those arguments as a standard in every realm of life. A Catholic in the confessional won’t get far with the priest if he declines to answer on the grounds that he wants to avoid a perjury trap. A husband with strange lipstick on his collar would be well advised to pursue a different defense as well.

It used to be a standard argument among conservatives that issues of right and wrong shouldn’t be replaced by legalistic arguments about legal and illegal. It’s in the president’s self-interest not to testify. It may be even in his interest to fire Jeff Sessions. But would it be right? Would it be consistent with his obligations as president?

There are non-ludicrous arguments for contending that the president’s self-interest and the national interest are aligned. But you don’t hear them much, do you? Oh sure, every now and then you hear that the president shouldn’t be distracted by the Mueller probe when he’s achieving peace in our time in North Korea and all the other winning. But the real passion of his defenders is all about the supposed persecution of the president and Whataboutism about Hillary. And even when you do hear the allegedly high-minded arguments, it might be useful to ask yourself: Would these people be making the same argument if Hillary Clinton were president?

When Evil Becomes Inconvenient

I know we’re pretty far along now (just outside Spokane in fact), but the point I actually wanted to make wasn’t about any of this stuff. In my first column of the week, I noted that nearly every political evil can be found on display in China: slavery, discrimination, religious persecution, xenophobia, tyranny, mass-political indoctrination, colonialism, cultural genocide, and so on. And yet, the outcry against these things in America and the West is a tiny fraction of what it was with regard to South Africa in the 1980s or Israel today. Why?

Some of the political answers are pretty obvious — and have much merit. A few that come to mind: China is non-Western, and many of these sins are supposed to be unique to white Europeans; China is a victim (or “victim”) of colonialism, and so we shouldn’t judge it harshly; China is very powerful, and realpolitik dictates that we be diplomatic; and so on.

But there’s another reason. As you may have noticed, I’ve become much more interested in evolutionary psychology of late, particularly the topic of coalitional instincts. The coalition instinct is the programming that helped us form strategic groups that advance our self-interest. We are a social species and cooperation is what helped us skyrocket to the top of the food chain. John Tooby, one of the founders of the field, explains, “The primary function that drove the evolution of coalitions is the amplification of the power of its members in conflicts with non-members.”

He continues:

This function explains a number of otherwise puzzling phenomena. For example, ancestrally, if you had no coalition you were nakedly at the mercy of everyone else, so the instinct to belong to a coalition has urgency, preexisting and superseding any policy-driven basis for membership. This is why group beliefs are free to be so weird. Since coalitional programs evolved to promote the self-interest of the coalition’s membership (in dominance, status, legitimacy, resources, moral force, etc.), even coalitions whose organizing ideology originates (ostensibly) to promote human welfare often slide into the most extreme forms of oppression, in complete contradiction to the putative values of the group. Indeed, morally wrong-footing rivals is one point of ideology, and once everyone agrees on something (slavery is wrong) it ceases to be a significant moral issue because it no longer shows local rivals in a bad light. Many argue that there are more slaves in the world today than in the 19th century. Yet because one’s political rivals cannot be delegitimized by being on the wrong side of slavery, few care to be active abolitionists anymore, compared to being, say, speech police. (Emphasis mine).

Note the causality here. The moral repugnance of slavery is derived from the fact that a rival coalition supports it. Now, I don’t think Tooby is saying that hatred for slavery is simply a product of coalitional us-vs.-themism. But I do think he makes a very good point that when some objectively evil practices are no longer convenient as cudgels against coalitional rivals, they lose much of their power and intensity. This is one reason why I think the anti-Israel movement will get much worse in the West in the near future — because support for Israel is becoming polarized between rival coalitions.

Much of the stuff that liberals hate about conservatives — and vice versa — is driven by similar coalitional dynamics. It helps explain so much of the seeming (and real) hypocrisy of our time. Bill Clinton was the Big Man of his coalition back in the day, and so feminists and other liberals who had spent so much time denouncing sexual harassment abandoned, bent, or suspended their principles in order to defend his behavior. Today is almost a mirror image of those days. Trump is the Big Man of his coalition. His sexual behavior — proven and alleged — is as inconvenient for the virtuecrat and “Character Counts” Right as Bill Clinton’s was for the feminist Left. The people who once defended — even celebrated — Clinton’s sexual escapades are now horrified by Trump’s, and the people once horrified by Clinton’s behavior are now insisting that King Solomon got a lot of tail on the side, too. The people who once hitched their wagons to petty legalisms are now waxing poetic about norms and the spirit of democracy and the people who once espoused commitment to higher authorities and deeper morality over the mere letter of the law are excusing behavior they wouldn’t tolerate from their plumber.

One can only imagine what’s in store in potential future spinoffs, such as Avenatti Presidency or The Pence Show.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: This could be a very long Canine Update, but as my laptop is almost out of power and cell reception may not last much longer, I’ll keep it short. The simple fact is that there have been days when it’s not so much that we took our dogs on vacation than that they brought us along for theirs (Pippa really loved Lake Michigan). And when we try to do any vacationing without them, They Are Not Amused.

Now, as I discuss in the next episode of The Remnant, one of the unforeseen problems on this trip has been the fact that Zoë and Pippa do not understand the point of the RV (BTW, we are not driving that behemoth pictured in last week’s G-File. That was a stock photo. We’re in a smaller vehicle — a Winnebago Trend to be exact). A big reason we opted to rent the RV wasn’t because we’re so into camping. I’m a great indoorsman raised in New York City. My wife is an Alaskan with a deep skepticism about camping in the Lower 48. No, a big part of the reason we got this thing was so that my daughter wouldn’t have to be stuck in the back seat for 6,000 miles with two, often stinky, dogs. Well, the stinkers didn’t get the memo. On the road, they spend all of their time crammed up front with us. Anyway, they had a grand time in Montana and an even better one in Idaho. Pippa has gotten to do an enormous amount of swimming and Zoë is giddy with all the varmint scents and critter chasing. Yesterday, we really wore them out at Green Bay (the one in Idaho, not the one with the socialist football team). Tiring out one’s dogs is one of the great under-appreciated satisfactions in life. Anyway, more to come, I’m sure.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

This week’s Remnant, on book publishing

China’s Jim Crow

Rudy Giuliani’s selfish defense of Trump

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

The 50th anniversary of “Hey Jude”

WWII shipwrecks around the world

Cowabunga

The first face transplant

Stranded cows

The universe is disappearing

The end is near

Cold War codebreakers

Because of the erotica? Why so many people still believe in Bigfoot

Why kids hate their vegetables

Venezuela hyperinflation

An escape through fire

A calculator made from rollercoasters in Rollercoaster Tycoon 2

What would happen if you detonated a nuclear bomb in the Marianas Trench?

Culture

Road Trip

(PxHere)

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 (Especially future contributors to my GoFundMe page),

I am currently in the passenger seat of our family fun mobile, passing mile marker 138 on I-70.

I will confess that the fun hasn’t actually kicked in yet. The daughter is not, uh, completely sold on the whole concept of RVing across America and, frankly, neither are the dogs. They’ve spent the first couple hours to Breezewood, Pa., jockeying for position and trying to get us to lower the windows. The daughter has been looking at a screen while perfecting her sighing powers (she can multitask!).

Even though I got up extra early to exercise the beasts before we got on the road, the doggos became so anxious that we felt we had to give them some mild tranquilizers because it had become clear that they had convinced themselves of some QAnon–type conspiracy theory: Apparently, we rented this massive family truckster to take them to a vet hundreds of miles away. It took a long time for the canine ludes to kick in. And even then, Zoë refused to get out of the front passenger seat or even lie down. She’d just stare at the open road until her eyes closed and her head dropped, like Vic Hitler the Narcoleptic Comic in Hill Street Blues or pretty much anyone tasked with reading 350 editorials on the threat to the free press. Meanwhile, poor Pippa keeps trying to hide in the foot space under the dashboard, only to occasionally pop up as if she forgot to tell you something really important, like, “Nobody Expects the Spaniel Inquisition!

Anyway, leaving Breezewood, we missed the correct exit and headed in the wrong direction for about 8,000 miles (at least it felt that way). When this trip is over, there will be a major Truth Commission to determine who was to blame for this human error, me or my wife’s husband.

Oh, and for those of you who don’t know, Breezewood, Pa., (Hellmouth 46.B according to the Department of Transportation), is neither breezy nor woody. While it does have a long tradition of existence, its charms can be summarized by its unofficial slogan: “All of the Amenities of Pedro’s South of the Border, None of the Entertainment Value.”

Our plan is to keep driving until we get to someplace past Chicago and then “camp” in the parking lot of a Walmart or some similar four-star patch of asphalt.

Our ultimate goal, of course, is to collect all of the Infinity Stones, but that’s not important right now. Our ultimate destination on this trip, however, is the Pacific Northwest, first the San Juan Islands (where we got married) and then Oregon.

People often ask me, “Why are you eating off my plate? Do I know you?”

But that’s not relevant either. Others ask me why the Goldberg Family takes to the road so often. This is a question that I’ve asked myself many times, usually somewhere in South Dakota. The short answer is we kind of have it in our blood. We’ve been doing it for a long time now. We were cross-country vets even before we drove from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Washington, D.C., in an old caddy . . .

[Cue flashback-sequence sound effect] The year was 2002. The Fair Jessica was pregnant with what would become the eye-rolling–sighing-machine in the back of the RV. Cosmo the Wonderdog was young and frisky and full of canine pride, having actually chased a herd of caribou in the Canadian Rockies. And then we had our run-in with the law.

Good times.

Anyway, as I’ve argued many times, I think it’s a particularly useful thing for people in my line of work to drive around this country. And I don’t mean in a reportorial sense, though that’s good too. I just mean that it’s useful to remind yourself how big and diverse this country is. And when I say “diverse,” I don’t simply mean in the rainbow-flag sense of different kinds of individuals — I mean in the full sense: There are diverse communities, diverse geographies, economies, traditions, climates, you name it. Whether you’re on the left or the right, it’s important to be reminded that it is literally impossible to run a country of this scope and breadth from Washington. Or at least it’s impossible without doing incredible damage to this country and its traditions.

I don’t want to get into a wonky or even partisan discussion here. Right now, both parties are full of people who think this country can be run by a relative handful of people — or even one person – sitting in Washington. They think they’re smarter than the market or the people closest to the problems on the ground. I’m sure you could drive across this country and still be confused about such things. But it’s got to be harder. And that’s a start.

Anyway, I’m gonna cut this thing short because I’ve gotta start driving again soon. If you follow me on Twitter, look for updates from the road. I don’t know how frequent they’ll be, but I’ll try to chime in from my patch of four-star asphalt.

Various & Sundry

Oh, speaking of asses and faults. Despite all of the stress of getting on the road and trying to figure out why the fridge doesn’t work already, coping with the fistful of dingo hair that I’ve already inhaled, and all of the other stuff that — so far — has us far short of whistling zippidy-doo-dah out of our nethers, I am still downright ecstatic to be getting out of Washington and away from political Twitter, if only for a day or two.

I feel like Morgan Freeman’s narration of my departure should only be interrupted by the thundering crescendo of “Solsbury Hill” playing in the background.

I’ll spare you all the details for now because I’m trying to use this trip like Andy Dufresne’s bar of soap after he emerged from that river of John Cardillo’s tweets.

But suffice it to say that I am stunned that so many people can simultaneously argue that Trump is a man of great character and that it is outrageous for me to suggest otherwise even though it doesn’t actually matter if he’s not a man of great character because character doesn’t matter, and yet I am a man of low character because I said character matters at a time when we’re at war, and saying “character matters” undermines Donald Trump even though character doesn’t matter and even if it did, he’s got character out the ying yang.

Anyway, I don’t want to waste any of your time or my time rebutting this nonsense in detail — I just hated leaving town without making it clear how incredibly stupid I think all of it is. (Also: Here’s a tip to the uninitiated: If you email me or tweet me horrendously vile things about my wife, daughter, dogs, or deceased family members, I’m not going to consider your character reference for the president very persuasive. I’m also not going to engage you in a lengthy conversation.)

Also, since there’s no canine update this week (you got that at the top), I needed to put something here.

Here’s the other stuff.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

Omarosa’s revenge

The racism double standard

The Trump White House NDAs

Me on Special Report

The latest Remnant, with Matt Continetti

Whither the center?

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Scientists find “world’s oldest cheese” in a 3,300-year-old Egyptian tomb, but you can’t eat it

The Bermuda Triangle mystery . . . solved?

A hero of the Holocaust

Coffee-wielding preteens defeat would-be kidnapper

Should the U.S. Air Force bomb forest fires?

How to fall asleep in 120 seconds

Illinois woman chooses Taco Bell for 101st birthday, is “hooked” on Nacho Fries

America’s hottest export is . . .

Robots falling down

Robots can hypnotize children

When people thought lambs came from plants

A mummy recipe

A history of the tube sock

Why elephants don’t get cancer

WWII Navy hazing rituals

Texas man claims 3-mile shot

Politics & Policy

When the Tide Comes In

National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr.

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,

Save Ike from the Kikes.”

I’d better explain.

This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of the Nazi troll armies’ march on Charlottesville, Va. To commemorate it, there will even be a march in Washington. No doubt many a parent’s fridge will be drained of provisions for the arduous journey to the nation’s capital.

While all attention will surely be on these sad events, it’s worth noting that we missed the 60th anniversary of another Washington protest just two weeks ago: The above-referenced “Save Ike from the Kikes” rally outside the White House on July 29, 1958.

It was led by George Lincoln Rockwell, the head of the National Committee to Free America from Jewish Domination.

The rally cost Rockwell some of his financial backers and hurt him with his own family too. But Rockwell, while shaken by the failure of the event, had his confidence restored when he was, in his telling, visited by Adolf Hitler in a series of dreams. He went on to found the American Nazi Party (and for a time tried to form a popular front against the Jooooz with the Nation of Islam. He called Elijah Muhammed the black Adolf Hitler. History is fun.).

But I get ahead of myself.

Right from the Beginning

That was 1958. In 1955, National Review appeared.

“A vigorous and incorruptible journal of conservative opinion is — dare we say it? — as necessary to better living as Chemistry,” wrote William F. Buckley in the mission statement in the first issue. Buckley also noted, “We begin publishing, then, with a considerable stock of experience with the irresponsible Right.”

That experience would only get more extensive over the years to come.

One of the first challenges came from the venerable magazine The American Mercury — of H. L. Mencken and Albert Jay Nock fame — which had been bought in 1952 by Russell Maguire, a thoroughly anti-Semitic crank, in the tradition of Henry Ford and other tycoons who thought that the perfidious Jews were behind all that was wrong with the world. (I’m sorry to tell Charlie Cooke that Maguire also counted the Thompson Machine Gun business among his holdings.) At first, Buckley would later recall, Maguire kept his Judeophobia out of his magazine. But as Maguire grew more confident, the once-admirable Mercury sank deeper into the swampy muck.

“In the first three years of National Review Buckley and the editors had expressed their antipathy to the ‘irresponsible right’ by ignoring rather than criticizing it,” John Judis writes in his useful biography of WFB. But by the spring of 1959, “he was forced to go further.”

In January of 1959, The Mercury had run an editorial “revealing” a Jewish conspiracy of world conquest along the lines of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Buckley was under pressure from backers of NR and others to publicly rebuke and denounce The Mercury. But some on the NR board worried that it would cost the fledgling magazine many of its subscribers. One board member, Mrs. A. E. Bonbrake, whom Judis describes as “a Forest Hills housewife whom Buckley had promoted to the board as a representative grass-roots activist,” asked, “Since when is it the job of National Review to attack supposedly anti-Semitic publications?”

(More about that “supposedly” later.)

“But Buckley felt hypocritical at remaining silent,” Judis recounts. “He wrote Bonbrake, “I do not feel comfortable criticizing Liberals . . . for not disavowing objectionable Liberals, when I do not myself [disavow objectionable conservatives].”

Buckley first settled for a compromise: National Review’s editors would not write for The Mercury nor would National Review publish anyone associated with it. If you were on their masthead, you couldn’t be on ours. Remember, The Mercury had long been a respected publication on the right, and many of the writers at National Review had cut their teeth writing for it. Many were on both mastheads, in one capacity or another. No longer. You can be with us or with them, but not both. All but one writer sided with National Review.

James Burnham and Whittaker Chambers enthusiastically agreed with Buckley. Chambers welcomed the memo as a “liberation.” “How good, and how strong, it is to take a principled position,” Chambers wrote to Buckley. “It defines, and defining, frees. Now what is good and strong outside us can draw to us, about whom there is, in this connection, no longer question, equivocation. The dregs will be drawn to the dregs, and sink where they belong.”

A few subscriptions were cancelled, but not many. Quickly, other leading conservatives followed NR’s example and repudiated The Mercury.

Maguire was furious that Buckley had broken the popular-front orthodoxy of the Right. Maguire soon shriveled up to a footnote in obscure books; Buckley went the other direction, to understate it dramatically.

Now, I am not trying to whitewash National Review’s history. NR would go on to make some morally grievous editorial errors, particularly on civil rights. It would also rally to the defense of cranks, anti-Semites, and demagogues on too many occasions, albeit on free-speech grounds or in the name of the noble cause of anti-Communism.

And with the advantage of hindsight, one can argue that NR dawdled in excommunicating other elements of the irresponsible Right. That is always an issue with conservatives, who, by nature and design, prefer to measure at least twice before cutting even once. (“I must bear with infirmities until they fester into crimes,” as Edmund Burke said.)

But the principle that National Review should see itself as a steward of the responsible Right was not only established, it was tested, often. For example, see Al Felzenberg’s excellent account of Buckley’s decision to defenestrate the John Birch Society or Buckley’s famous essay “In Search of Anti-Semitism.”

In other words, if you want to argue that NR imperfectly lived up to its ideals, I can offer no categorical refutation. But I am unaware of any human or human institution that can be exonerated from such a charge. Indeed, no realistic moral principle is wounded by the charge that humans fail to execute it perfectly.

I bring all of this up because I am fairly disgusted by the current state of affairs.

As I recount in my latest column, the debate over whether or not social-media platforms should ban or shun Alex Jones is a sweeping indictment of the collective failure of countless institutions and individuals in our present age.

I am not referring to specific arguments, pro or con, on the question of what Facebook or Twitter should be doing. I find merit on all sides of that debate. I find myself in the darkly shaded portion of the Venn diagram between Jonathan Last’s camp and David French’s.

What bothers me is how high these bucks had to go before anyone thought, “Maybe it should stop with me?”

I’ve been writing a lot about how entertainment values have corrupted our politics. As I write in my book, “When we suspend disbelief, we also suspend adherence to the conventions and legalisms of the outside world. Instead, we use the more primitive parts of our brains, which understand right and wrong as questions of ‘us’ and ‘them.’”

This helps explain so much of the kayfabe nature of the Trump presidency, including the “I’d rather be a Russian than a Democrat” swag among supposed “America First” “nationalists,” Laura Ingraham’s nativist remarks the other night, and this sort of nonsense from Jeanine Pirro.

This isn’t purely a literary or metaphysical argument. The world that the Internet and cable television created flattened the landscape. National Review may still see itself as a gatekeeper, but the high walls that housed the gate, and gave the gate purpose, have been toppled. Tribalism isn’t just about us-vs.-them, it’s also about deferring to fame and status, investing in personalities rather than principles. As institutions lose their hold on us, we put our faith in celebrities.

Fame becomes its own defense, and instead of invoking principles to stigmatize and shun the irresponsible famous, we yoke convenient principles to the cause of rationalizing our feelings. The round peg of the First Amendment is crammed into square holes. Populist and anti-elitist boilerplate is slapped together to protect the indefensible from criticism. So-and-so has an “authentic constituency,” “Who are you to say what is a legitimate point of view?” “Who put you in charge of policing speech?”

Or as Mrs. Bonbrake once put it, “Since when is it the job of National Review to attack supposedly anti-Semitic publications?”

Under the right conditions, swamps grow. Like water seeking its level, bogs claim whatever they are allowed to claim until stopped by nature or man. That “supposedly” is the rhetorical device that says, “Let the swamp grass grow, it’s not my responsibility to prune it.” There was no legitimate defense of The Mercury against the charge of anti-Semitism. But by saying it was only “supposedly” anti-Semitic, Mrs. Bonbrake was really saying, “I choose not to care about the true or the good; instead I will let evil thrive, sheltered by a benefit of the doubt both unearned and unwanted by the rightly accused.”

I am not a huge fan of the argument that says, “The only cure for bad speech is more speech.” But if that argument is to mean anything at all, it must be applied seriously. In other words, if you want to defend the speech of Alex Jones or the bigots swarming out of the swamps, you cannot then denounce, belittle, or mock the exercise of anyone’s right to condemn that speech.

When it falls to a bunch of giant corporations — or the federal government — to decide what speech is permissible, it is usually a sign that the rest of civil society has failed to do its job. It is axiomatic that in a free society with a limited government, customs and norms should be strong and robust. Authoritarian and totalitarian regimes require that all the rules be set from the top. The people have no right to organize institutions around values of their own choosing.

Back when Steve Bannon was still ginning up the alt-right and trying to turn Breitbart into a platform for it, the response from many on the right was to adopt a popular-front mentality and genuflect to the popularity and fame of performance artists such as Milo Yiannopoulos. Some of this was motivated by simple ignorance of the truth — an ignorance people such as Bannon and Yiannopoulos were all too eager to fuel. My view then, and now, is that everyone should not only be forced to choose between traditional conservatism and the alt-right but that they should force that choice on others. The correct response to the question, “Who am I to call out supposed bigots?” is “You’re a human being, an American, a Christian, Jew, conservative, liberal, or citizen.”

The same goes for cynical psychopaths such as Alex Jones. It was outrageous for Donald Trump to go on his show and praise him. It is outrageous and irresponsible that mainstream outlets blithely give airtime to clickbait hucksters and racist rabble-rousers.

The other day, I saw Candace Owens on several Fox News shows. I am not a fan of Owens, but my objection is not that she appeared on Fox or that Fox invited her to appear. My objection is that she has been a guest on Alex Jones’s Infowars.

Now, it is unfair to say that Owens should be banned for violating a rule that did not exist in the past. After all, lots of people have been getting the message that celebrity is its own reward and that anything done in service to your “personal brand” is justified if it “works” — in the form of getting you more clicks, ratings, or YouTube subscribers. But there would be nothing wrong and much that is right if Fox simply said, going forward, “If you exercise your free-speech rights by appearing on Alex Jones’s show, we will exercise our free-speech rights and bar you from ours.”

Oh, and if you think such niceties are unnecessary today because “winning” is the highest principle in an existential war with “the libs,” bear in mind that Buckley, Chambers, Burnham, and the other happy few conservatives at NR were far more outnumbered in 1955, and that the institutional forces arrayed against them were far more daunting, than anything conservatives face today. And yet Buckley understood, as he put it in Up from Liberalism, that “conservatism must be wiped clean of the parasitic cant that defaces it.”

Cultures are shaped by incentives. The GOP has been grievously wounded and deformed by the refusal of conservatives, in and out of elective office, to lay down the correct incentives. By refusing to defend conservative dogma against “supposedly” racist and nativist forces, our dogma is being erased like the battlements of a sand castle when the tide comes in.

Various & Sundry

About Rockwell: I did not mention it above because it was irrelevant to the point I was making. But I know that some will play Gotcha! and point out that George Lincoln Rockwell briefly (less than six months) worked for National Review around the time of its founding. He had nothing to do with the editorial side of things — he was hired as a contractor to sell subscriptions on college campuses. When Rockwell’s anti-Semitism and Hitlerphilia manifested itself, Buckley condemned him. Years later, when the Liberty Lobby accused Buckley of having a close working relationship with Rockwell, Buckley sued and won.

Author’s Note: I apologize for the tardy nature of this “news”letter. On Friday, I had to appear on Fox News in the a.m. from NYC. I’m here because I had to pick up my daughter at the NYC drop-off for summer camp. And tending to an emotionally and physically exhausted 15-year-old took precedence. She went to bed at her grandma’s house last night at 5:30. As of this writing (10:30 a.m.), she is still asleep.

Animal Update: Because I am here at my mom’s pad, I am hanging out with her very, very fancy cats. This is Fafoon, and she will not be trifled with. Paddington, meanwhile, is actually a very cheery and fun feline, but he has very strong views about selfies. I’d show you a picture of Winston, the Scottish Fold, but he despises paparazzi. Meanwhile, Zoë and Pippa are doing great. Kirsten has taken them on some wonderful adventures this week. Would that we could all enjoy the simple pleasures of being a well-tended spaniel. I particularly love this picture. There was only moment of drama this week, when Pippa, frightened by a thunderstorm, got herself stuck under our enormous and enormously heavy bed frame. I will be home tomorrow to resume normal protocols.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

Dude, where’s my God?

Sarah Jeong, Schumpeter’s child

David French is right about Alex Jones

Stephen Colbert is (was) wrong about Trump and me

Trump’s kayfabe

The latest Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast

My magazine essay about They Live (paywall)

Is Alex Jones our fault?

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Goat Simulator IRL

A low-speed chase

Double twin marriage

Florida Man achievement unlocked

New Ernest Hemingway short story being published

Rabid wolves attack helpless child

China’s bikeshare graveyards

How 2,000-year-old roads predict modern prosperity

D. B. Cooper mystery solved?

Abandoned Russia

Dogs steal package

How a textile shortage led to the invention of the bikini

How to steal a shark

The black sarcophagus opens

Swimming the English Channel

Aww

Man with Down Syndrome runs sock business

The black sarcophagus opens

Swimming the English Channel

Aww

Man with Down Syndrome runs sock business

Culture

Why Racism Begets More Racism

Sarah Jeong (Ars Technica/YouTube)

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 those poor benighted souls who think hot dogs are sandwiches),

When I was a youngish teenager, I went to the bank one day. (This was pre-ATM machines, kids.) I stood in line behind a very old, very properly dressed white lady, complete with the sort of fancy hat that I still don’t know the proper name for. When she got to the teller, I didn’t pay attention at first but, very quickly, my ears perked up.

She earned my attention because this prim old woman was passionately raining racial epithets at the bank teller, who was an Asian-American woman. I have no idea what the bank teller’s specific ethnicity was. But the old lady seemed to roam the waterfront between “nips,” “gooks,” “slants,” etc.

“You damn gooks killed my husband and my son!” I distinctly remember her saying. The whole thing was shocking to me, and to everyone else at the bank. The teller handled it very well, as did the manager who ushered the obviously distraught woman out of the bank as quickly as possible.

What’s the point of this story?

The old lady was wrong to do what she did. She may have had plenty of rationalizations and explanations for why she tormented that young woman — but none of them added up to an excuse.

It’s Okay When We Do It

I haven’t thought of that incident in years, but it came back to me when I read this defense of Sarah Jeong in the Washington Post on Friday morning:

“Part of the reason it was so easy for the outrage to be manufactured in the first place was it was completely decontextualized and ahistorified,” said Nolan L. Cabrera, an associate professor at the University of Arizona who will publish a book in the fall about racial attitudes held by white college students. “Then it was easy to drum up anger and say it looks like she hates white people. That only makes sense if you are willfully ignorant of 400 to 500 years’ history and contemporary social context and also the context from which the tweets were sent.”

It seems to me that the old lady at the bank had more “reason” to hate Asians than Jeong has to hate white people. But the simple fact remains that the individual American of Asian descent that the old lady at the bank attacked didnt do anything wrong.

Bigotry for Thee, Justice for Me

Sometimes I am well and truly baffled about why this sort of thing is so complicated. I mean, it’s not that the Left doesn’t understand my point.

For instance, when an Islamic terrorist murders people, there’s an instant rush to fret over and condemn any sort of “anti-Muslim backlash.” Never mind that such backlashes have been vastly rarer than we’re usually told, the principle is correct: It is wrong to blame innocent Muslims for the things other Muslims did.

Or just think about how much ink has been spilled arguing that it is unfair and unjust to assume that one black youth is a criminal or a threat just because he resembles in some way a negative stereotype. I’m not mocking this argument; I am agreeing with it.

As I’ve been saying until I’m blue in the face on my book tour, one of the greatest things about this country is the ideal — always in tension with the lesser devils of our natures — that says we should take people as we find them. My objection to identity politics is that it reduces millions of people to a single attribute or grievance. It assumes that, simply by accident of birth, some people are more noble or more evil than others.

If you think that all you need to know about an African-American person to size up his character or humanity is his skin color, then you’re a racist. Imagine some guy named Joe emerges from a block of ice and is trying to catch up on the news by talking to the first person he meets, David.

Joe: Who is Barack Obama?

David: Oh, hes a black guy.

Joe: Whos Thomas Sowell?

David: Another black guy.

Joe: Whos O. J. Simpson?

David: Black guy.

Joe: And this Willie Horton fella?

David: Typical black guy.

It shouldn’t take a genius to see that David’s a pretty hardcore racist.

You can run similar thought experiments about virtually any group. If all you need to know about Oscar Wilde is that he was a gay dude, just like Richard Simmons or Milo what’s-his-name, you’re a bigot. If Meyer Lansky and Albert Einstein are merely two Jews to you, you’re an anti-Semite. If Margaret Thatcher, Joan of Arc, and Lizzie Borden are just three chicks, you’re a sexist.

And again, historically, this is mostly a left-wing or liberal (both in the classical and modern senses of the word) insight. But for some bizarre reason, for many people, this idea evaporates like water off a hot skillet when you replace any of these categories with “white” or, very often, “male.”

Suddenly fancy words and phrases fly like sawdust from a wood chipper: “structures of oppression!” “decontextualized!” “ahistoricized!” etc. It’s all so clever and complicated. The same people who take to the streets at the slightest suggestion that Muslims can be judged by the evil deeds of other Muslims will lecture and harangue you for hours, mob you on Twitter, or condescendingly dismiss you for not understanding that all white people have it coming.

I am not denying the history of white racism in America. I’m more than eager to acknowledge it. But what these people are basically saying is that you can say bigoted things about all white people based on things other white people have done. And spare me the argument that some 70-hour-a-week truck driver in Appalachia has it coming because he’s a grand beneficiary of white supremacy.

Again, the old lady at the bank had a historically grounded reason to be bigoted against people of Asian descent. If we take the gobbledygook about “personal truth” even remotely seriously — and I’m not saying we should — she has a better set of grievances against Asians than Sarah Jeong has against whites, including against the bigots who trolled her, or, for that matter, than Ta-Nehisi Coates has against whites. (Coates’s one example of personal grievance in his book boils down to a white woman being rude to his son in an elevator.)

The upshot of almost all the defenses of anti-white rhetoric boil down to an argument about power.

I don’t think all of these arguments are ridiculous. There is a serious argument that white racism is different contextually from, say, black racism. What I’m saying is that these people are ridiculously changing the argument in order to justify glib bigotry.

Back to the Washington Post:

It is likely true, as many have pointed out, that if any minority group were substituted in the place of white people into Jeong’s statements, she would not have kept her job. Some edited Jeong’s tweets to hammer home that idea, replacing the words “white people” in her tweets with “black people” and “Jewish people.”

But Cabrera said the idea was “a complete false equivalence,” noting that whiteness isn’t a cultural identity the way being black, Japanese American or Jewish is. . . .

“You hear that all the time: Substitute white and put in minority group x,” Cabrera said. “The term ‘racism’ is not the equivalence of prejudice or bigotry. It’s an analysis of social inequality along the color lines and an analysis of power dynamics and social oppression. None of which has ever been in the hands of people of color or communities of color: There’s never been the social structure to be able to oppress white people.”

Culture and history are indeed complicated and complex. We invest different values and frequencies in different historical narratives and events. For many Jews, the constant analogies to the Holocaust that proliferate in contemporary debates are grotesque, because they belittle the unique evil of the Holocaust (we’re not marching Central American children to gas chambers).

For instance, I have nothing but sympathy for Ukrainians who bemoan that the Holodomor doesn’t have a fraction of the cultural power of the Holocaust. But a couple of points need to be made. It’s an entirely valid view, certainly from a Jewish perspective, that the Holocaust was “worse” than the Holodomor (and vice versa). But arguing that the Holocaust was “worse” than the Holodomor is not an argument for saying that the forced starvation of millions of Ukrainians (and the deliberate erasure of so much of their history) wasn’t profoundly evil, too. Family separation at the border can be really bad without rising to the level of Auschwitz.

If you want to say that white racism is worse than black, or Asian, or Hispanic anti-white racism, that’s a fine argument as far as I’m concerned. What I can’t get my head around is the supplemental argument: that anti-white racism is just fine, if not something to encourage.

Similarly, the conservative argument against double standards sometimes misses this point. The point needn’t be that all forms of racism or bigotry are equally bad. The point is that all forms of racism and bigotry are bad, even if some are worse than others.

Last, if you’re going to claim that racism is solely about power and structures of oppression, then you’re going to need to come up with another word for what most non-woke academics and social-justice warriors mean by racism. In other words, if black people can’t be racist, can we say that a black person can hate white people? No? Why not?

But identity-politics leftists don’t want to find that word. They want to have their cake and eat it too, claiming it’s always fine for them to be bigots because white people are just different. That is simply, structurally, historically, and logically a racist — sorry, “bigoted” — argument. “Oh, I’m very open-minded, I just think all Jews (or blacks, or Aborigines, or whatever) are different.”

Racism Begets Racism

But there’s a bigger problem. The social science is mounting every day that the more often people make these arguments, the more they are making white people think of themselves as white people. Please read this essay by Shari Berman, no screaming right-winger, in the Guardian. Berman writes:

Rather than being directly translated into behavior, psychologists tell us beliefs can remain latent until “triggered”. In a fascinating study, Karen Stenner shows in The Authoritarian Dynamic that while some individuals have “predispositions” towards intolerance, these predispositions require an external stimulus to be transformed into actions. Or, as another scholar puts it: “It’s as though some people have a button on their foreheads, and when the button is pushed, they suddenly become intensely focused on defending their in-group. . . . But when they perceive no such threat, their behavior is not unusually intolerant. So the key is to understand what pushes that button.”

What pushes that button, Stenner and others find, is group-based threats. In experiments researchers easily shift individuals from indifference, even modest tolerance, to aggressive defenses of their own group by exposing them to such threats. Maureen Craig and Jennifer Richeson, for example, found that simply making white Americans aware that they would soon be a minority increased their propensity to favor their own group and become wary of those outside it. (Similar effects were found among Canadians. Indeed, although this tendency is most dangerous among whites since they are the most powerful group in western societies, researchers have consistently found such propensities in all groups.)

Liberals despise any argument that claims that they are part of the reason we “got Trump.” But for decades now, numerous liberals have acted like members of a cult awaiting the fulfillment of a demographic prophecy that, one day soon, whites will be a minority in this country. When that happens, various versions of this prophecy foretell, white power and culture will be wiped away. This analysis has always been deeply flawed on a number of fronts, but that’s a topic for another day. My point here is that the rhetoric associated with this hope is profoundly dangerous because it flips the switch on whites to suddenly see themselves as white. As I discuss in my book, economic issues had far less to do with Trump’s success than feelings of cultural displacement. And Trump’s margin of victory stemmed in large part from triggering or activating many voters who invest large parts of their identity in being white.

You can come up with as many polysyllabic explanations as you like for why it’s okay for you to mock, demonize, or ridicule white people. You can prattle on to your Ph.D. adviser’s content about how whiteness is a social construct that needs to be dismantled. But maybe you should have the simple decency and common sense to understand that many people won’t see it that way, because the net effect of your “counter-trolling” is that it leads to the opposite of your stated goal: You are making white people feel threatened, and, as a result, you’re making at least some of them more racist. You are making whiteness a thing. And you are blaming today’s white people for things they never did. Just as the old lady at the bank did to that poor bank teller.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: Nothing terribly exciting to report. Zoë continues to rule her ottoman empire, inviting border disputes with Gracie’s roaming kingdom. I’m taking sweet Pippa to the vet today because she clearly has an eye infection, no doubt acquired from recent bouts of rolling in muck and/or mud. Hopefully, she’ll just need some eye drops. Sadly this means she can’t go with the dogwalker on the mid-day adventure. In order to spare her the agony of seeing Zoë go off with Kirsten, I’ll be taking her out solo just before, which of course will make Zoë seethingly jealous, which will undoubtedly lead to more dingo pouting. The torrential rains have been a mixed blessing for the beasts. Zoë mutters, grumbles, and curses like Muttley whenever she’s caught in the storm. But she loves to explore the recently felled trees because she knows that there are fresh squirrel bases in them. Pippa, of course, just loves to splash and waddle in the wetness.

We’re all looking forward to our cross-country RV adventure in a couple of weeks. If anyone has any suggestions for dog-friendly fun (or good restaurants, etc.) off I-90 or I-94 around Montana, South Dakota, etc., please let me know.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

This week’s Remnant, with Sonny Bunch

Steve Bannon’s hilarious criticism of the Koch brothers

Will Russia try to help the Democrats in the midterms?

Ron DeSantis’s painful Trump ad

Russian helter skelter

The truth about hot dogs

The Twitter-outrage mob

My appearance on Special Report this week

And on The Eric Metaxas Show

And now, the weird stuff.

The world’s oldest worms

The Bishop of the moon

How land is used across America

Smelly feet forced an emergency plane landing

A shark was smuggled out of an aquarium disguised as a baby

The man behind the sounds of Star Trek has passed away, RIP

Canadian man becomes a Canadian woman to get cheaper car insurance

Maybe the baby dingo ate your baby

A zebra can’t change its stripes, but a donkey can

This purchase is a head scratcher. And a head cutter

I’ll take a large coffee with cream and sugar and no cleaning fluid

What if Earth turned into a giant blueberry?

Guard pig foils robbery

The world’s largest cheeseboard

What zip codes stand for

A solid in-vest-ment

The Boston Typewriter Orchestra

Politics & Policy

Who Cares about Truth Anymore, Anyway?

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 (Particularly anyone running on the Bigfoot Erotica platform. “A Randy Gigantopithecus in Every Pot” — I mean Hot Tub),

Does anything mean anything real anymore?

You’ve probably heard of Plato’s Cave (not to be confused with Plato’s Retreat). In Plato’s allegory (described by Socrates in Plato’s telling), a bunch of people are chained to a wall in such a way they can’t turn their heads to see the fire behind them. All they can see are the shadows of real objects behind them as the objects pass by the fire. Because the shadows are all they know, they mistake the shadows for the real world, giving them names and ascribing great meaning to them.

For Plato/Socrates, the philosopher is the guy who breaks free of the cave’s shackles and sees the reality behind the shadows.

This is a nice plug for philosophers, but I’ve never completely bought it, for the simple reason that many self-styled philosophers strike me as folks who just see different shadows and call them the Truth. Certain Machiavellians, Nietzscheans, elite theorists, Straussians (I suspect), Marxists, and post-modernists — just to name a few — see “power”as the flames, and such notions as democracy, religion, merit, etc. as illusionary or delusionary “shadows.” Moreover, it seems to me that outsourcing to philosophers the job of separating truth from fiction and reality from illusion is an utter abdication of citizenship. We’re all supposed to care about the truth.

But we need not dwell on all that right now. Instead let’s talk about the wildly underappreciated movie Galaxy Quest, which is also a bit of a Platonic allegory. In the movie, a race of aliens called the Thermians receives the radio signals of a Star Trek-like TV series called “Galaxy Quest.”But they don’t realize the show is fiction. The Thermians think the episodes are “historical documents”and build their entire civilization around the premises and plot of the show. The Thermians (sort of) abduct the hackish cast of the show and treat them as near-gods.

The Trump Show

This all comes to mind partly because I huffed way too much Wite-Out this week. But also because it seems to me that lots of people are behaving like Thermians these days and a lot of politicians are playing along like the actors.

Consider the articles of impeachment filed against Rod Rosenstein this week. I am not disputing that there are serious people with serious complaints about Rosenstein. But this was not the work of serious people. I would think that reasonable people could agree that impeaching any government official is a serious thing. Impeaching this official in particular, given the stakes and the controversies associated with him, is a particularly serious affair.

And yet, the authors of this document dashed it off like a college kid trying to write a term paper at the last minute and striving to hit the required page length by submitting it in 18-point font.

My favorite charge is that “Under Mr. Rosenstein’s supervision, Christopher Steele’s political opposition research was neither vetted before it was used in October 2016 nor fully revealed to the FISC.”

In October of 2016, Rosenstein was a U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland. What was he supposed to do? Barge into the Justice Department offices and demand that a document he didn’t know existed be vetted more thoroughly? Rosenstein wasn’t appointed to his current position until 2017. And you know who appointed him? Donald Trump.

Which points to the real farce here.

The bulk of the complaint is that Rosenstein has not given Congress the documents it wants. In the abstract, this is a legitimate disagreement. And, as a general proposition, I’m all in favor of Congress reasserting its oversight power vis-à-vis the executive branch. But that isn’t what’s going on here. Congressional oversight of the Trump administration has at best been minimal,and some committees have acted like broom-pushers behind the elephants when the circus comes to town.

But Rosenstein is not a branch of government. The president is. And Rosenstein works for the president. Trump could order Rosenstein to hand over any documents he sees fit. He hasn’t done that. As Jack Goldsmith, hardly a left-wing loon, writes:

Impeachment, moreover, is not an appropriate remedy for Rosenstein’s alleged transgression of insufficient transparency. He, after all, works for the president, who is ultimately responsible for the information the Justice Department gives to Congress and who can order Rosenstein to disclose more on threat of removal. Congress is overstepping its authority in micromanaging the executive branch by seeking to impeach an official for refusing to turn over information that the president has not ordered him to turn over. Congress appears to have only once used the impeachment tool against an executive-branch official other than the president — in 1876, when it impeached Secretary of War William Belknap after he resigned for accepting bribes and kickbacks in office.

If the impeachers were seriously outraged — truly, seriously, outraged — by the executive branch’s behavior, they might be moving to impeach the executive.Or, at the very least, they would be imploring the president to order Rosenstein to hand over these materials or to fire Rosenstein for refusing to do so.

They’re not doing that. Why? Because they’re putting on a show. This impeachment effort is a prop in the passion play, a talking point for Hannity’s opening monologues and the president’s Twitter feed.

Similarly, as David French points out, if the recently declassified FISA warrant is the fraud the president and his most ardent defenders claim it is, there’s no reason to leave any of the redactions in it stand. The president has absolute authority to declassify anything he wants. I disagree with my friend Andy McCarthy’s interpretation of the FISA warrant — something I do with considerable trepidation — but if he’s right about the truth of the thing, let’s get the whole truth of it.

The Thermian Reaction

But back to my larger point. For months, I’ve been banging my spoon on my highchair about how the legislative branch is acting like a Parliament of Pundits. Senators and congressmen on the right and left seem more concerned with getting primetime spots on cable-news shows than actually legislating. As a result, politicians are using their positions to craft entertaining talking-points for TV debates and diatribes that have only passing relationship to reality. They’re going along with the Thermians, playing to their faith in shadows and making little effort to engage with the truth. On the left, the mess at the border can’t just be bad, it must be Kristallnacht and Auschwitz. On the right, the idea that the president colluded — whatever that may mean — with Russia is the “greatest mass hysteria” in American history and a “total witch hunt.”At least until very recently. This week, the allegation Trump colluded with Russia is suddenly no longer an insane conspiracy theory and slander, it’s not really a problem at all.

Consider the president’s trade war “win”this week. The president created a near-crisis and then agreed to stop, for now, and suddenly it’s a huge victory. We’re still basicallywhere we were before or even worse off than we were before, with many of the tariffs still in place, but Trump got the“winning” optics he wanted, and that’s all that matters.

Indeed, Trump’s entire understanding of trade is a shadow on a wall, having almost no resemblance to the reality of how economics works. Again, for Trump, when we buy things from abroad — and by we, I mean individual citizens and firms in a free country — we are literally being “robbed.” Jacob Sullum on the president’s Iowa speech yesterday:

“Our trade deficit ballooned to $817 billion,” Donald Trump said during a speech to steelworkers in Granite City, Illinois, yesterday. “Think of that. We lost $817 billion a year over the last number of years in trade. In other words, if we didn’t trade, we’d save a hell of a lot of money.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the president exaggerated the size of the 2017 trade deficit by 48 percent. But that’s a mere quibble compared to his fundamental misunderstanding of what that number means, which in turn reflects a zero-sum view of economic exchange that does not bode well for the outcome of a tariff war supposedly aimed at promoting free trade.

As Charlie Cooke points out on the latest Editors podcast, Trump’s trade defenders offer a verbal Escher drawing in defense of Trump’s trade policies. “Tariffs are great!” they say. “But Trump doesn’t really believe in tariffs, he wants “free trade,’” they add as well.Well if tariffs are great, why favor free trade? Why favor free trade if tariffs would save us a hell of a lot of money?

Look, tariffs don’t save us money. Cocaine Mitch needs Bolivian marching powder to sell. Raising tariffs on it would raise the price per kilo. That means he would have less product to sell at higher prices, which would mean fewer customers. Cocaine Mitch would lose money. Moreover, free trade wouldn’t eliminate trade deficits across the board (which is why Trump’s trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, is against free trade on automobiles).

In fiction, the plot is driven by human will. Trump — and Bernie Sanders and many others — have turned trade into a plot device in a movie adaptation or TV show about the real world. And the economists who say “that’s not how any of this works”are reduced to the nitpickers who complain that the most implausible thing about the TV series 24 is that the traffic in L.A. would make the whole story impossible. The nitpickers are right — it’s just that no one wants to hear it.

Meanwhile, on the Left

In my column today, I write about how charismatic personalities have replaced — or are replacing — traditional institutions as sources of information, morality, and politics. There’s no better example in the moment than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who strikes me as a kind of lame reimagining of a young Barack Obama with a woman in the lead. Cortez doesn’t know a lot about economics, beyond some handy buzz-phrases and shibboleths. She likes to brag about how she knows what the Gini coefficient is but thinks unemployment is low because people are working two jobs.

She thinks we can pay for what she calls socialism by hiking a few taxes to make the rich pay their “fair share,” and in the process reveals she has a thumbless grasp on not just economics but basic budgeting.

She did say one thing recently that I partially agree with, but for very different reasons. “Capitalism has not always existed in the world and it will not always exist in the world,” the Democratic congressional candidate told Firing Line. “When this country started, we did not operate on a capitalist economy.”

Now, the bit about America not being capitalist “when this country started” is embarrassing ackamarackus, flummery, and flummadiddle (and a terrible indictment of academic economists who made sure to teach her what the Gini coefficient is, but nothing about economic history). But if you read my book, you’d know I agree that capitalism hasn’t always existed — which is why we need to work very hard to keep it going, because it’s the only thing that has ever lifted the mass of humanity out of poverty.

But this all misses the point. Cortez isn’t working in the world of facts or arguments, she’s selling a story, a very old story. She buys into the old Marxist revision of the story of how the meek — i.e. the workers — will inherit the Earth. And her fans who would prefer that story to reality can’t even tell they’re looking at shadows on the wall.

I could go on about this, but I want to make one last basic point that keeps coming up in the discussion of my book, as well as Steven Pinker’s. I caught this exchange on Twitter the other day:

Now, I don’t make the mistake of taking the Socialist Party of Great Britain’s Twitter feed very seriously. But their error tracks the thinking of so many of these new socialists and anti-capitalists these days. The SPGB blames deaths from dirty water, hunger, and disease on capitalism. But what they are doing is comparing the status quo against a utopian ideal in the (alleged) future. The only serious benchmark isn’t some fantasy-land ideal or some mirage on a cave wall. The only true yardstick is the past. How many people died from disease, dirty water, and hunger before capitalism? How many died from violence?  Not only are those trend lines getting better, capitalism is the hero of that story.Liberal democratic capitalism is the cure to poverty, not the cause of the disease.

The Socialists of Great Britain are actually making a better, even smarter, argument than Cortez, because they’re at least looking at the right data; they’re just looking at it wrong. Cortez isn’t interested in data. She’s interested in telling stories and selling pie in the sky.

Cortez’s beloved Gini Coefficient is used to measure income inequality. And she is right to note that income inequality often gets worse under capitalism. But that misses the point. Under capitalism everyone gets richer — it’s just that some people get much richer, much faster than others. The socialists are like the clients who complain to their financial advisers that they aren’t billionaires. When the adviser responds, “Look I doubled your money, but there’s only so much I can do with an investment of 1,000 dollars.” As a purely economic system (as opposed to a necessary component of a political system of human liberty) capitalism is arguably much worse than socialism. It just has one debate-settling advantage: It works.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: I’ve been gone for most of the week, so I haven’t been with the beasties too much. I got home last night at 1:30 in the morning, and Pippa was somehow convinced that I got there just in time to play fetch in the backyard. I disappointed her. But I made up for it this morning. The torrential rains in D.C. have been providential for Pip because there are muddy pools of water everywhere, and she is determined to test out every one. That wouldn’t be so bad, because the Spaniel is an eminently washable beast. And she cleans up nice. And while I often talk like Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs when I hose her off, she doesn’t act like a terrified captive waiting to be turned into a woman suit. But she has also started rolling in fetid and foul junk quite a bit lately, and we can’t understand why. Zoë will do this on occasion, which always made sense because she likes to musk-up with foulness like Rambo hunting Charlie to mask her sent. But Pippa’s not a predator; she’s a lover. Regardless, it’s getting really out of hand. It may just be that she’s acting out because of all of our travel and the stress of being left behind.

Meanwhile, Zoë is becoming ever sweeter and (relatively) hassle-free in her middle age. She’s picking fewer fights and is even a bit mellower when it comes to chasing varmints (though this grading against a fairly barbaric curve). We’re even seeing a contemplative side to her.

I’ll be on Fox News Sunday this Sunday, Special Report Tuesday, and The Story Thursday.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

This week’s Remnant, with David Bahnsen (it’s got a little something for everyone)

Nationalism vs. statism part I

Nationalism vs. statism part II

The Wilson era was the true worst moment of mass hysteria in American history

Take the pro-Trump-Helsinki-performance polls with a grain of salt

America’s deference to charismatic leaders

And now, the weird stuff:

Debby’s Friday Links

Kitten Poop for the Soul

Which movies get time travel right?

Scientists have found a very big footprint

South Korean company claims to have found sunken Russian treasure

Score one for the geezers

Thousands have signed a petition to provide the basis for a future horror film

The Quietest Place

A Bulgarian man set the new world record for distance swimming while tied up and in a bag

I’m not crying, you’re crying

Man sued for lack of penis

Famous landmarks before they were finished

Ever wanted to watch a Sea Cucumber poop? Well here you go, you sicko.

Science provides more proof that dogs love their masters

All dogs go to heaven

Diagnosing the injuries of the Home Aloneburglars

The 50 greatest film special effects of all time

A nude man discovered the limits of the “judgement free zone”

Inside the lives of Europe’s family circuses

A race Jack could never win

National Security & Defense

A New World Disorder

President Donald Trump arrives to hold a news conference after participating in the NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium, July 12, 2018. (Reinhard Krause/Reuters)

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 (But not Allegra Budenmayer, may she rot in Hell),

Some of you may recall that my favorite essay by the late Tom Wolfe is “The Great Relearning.” The essay was about the Summer of Love and how it was followed by what you might call “the Autumn of Gonorrhea” (a chapter title in an early draft of Bill Clinton’s memoirs, I’m told). Wolfe writes:

1968, in San Francisco, I came across a curious footnote to the psychedelic movement. At the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic there were doctors who were treating diseases no living doctor had ever encountered before, diseases that had disappeared so long ago they had never even picked up Latin names, diseases such as the mange, the grunge, the itch, the twitch, the thrush, the scroff, the rot. And how was it that they had now returned? It had to do with the fact that thousands of young men and women had migrated to San Francisco to live communally in what I think history will record as one of the most extraordinary religious experiments of all time.

We need not delve too deeply into all of this, but Wolfe’s argument in brief was that “the hippies, as they became known, sought nothing less than to sweep aside all codes and restraints of the past and start out from zero.”

This meant abandoning all sorts of old-fashioned norms about hygiene, most glaringly about sex, but also everything from shared toothbrushes and sheets to food preparation. Unbeknownst to the hippies, they’d grown up benefitting from rules they took for granted and therefore assumed could be ignored. Without those guardrails, nature came rushing back in.

At times, I wonder if this was the initial inspiration for my book. Not to sound grandiose, but I can eat a lot of cheese. Sorry, that’s not important right now. But this idea — that civilizations sail against the current of nature — has been a theme of my writing for a long time.

Civilization isn’t the opposite of nature, any more than a boat is the opposite of a river. Sailors harness the wind and adapt to the currents to make their progress forward. But if you ignore maintaining the vessel, if you let the sails tear, if you ignore rot in the wood, nature will reclaim the boat, and you will be pulled backward in a direction not of your choosing. Healthy fish swim against the current; the dead float downstream.

The most famous Year Zero-ers were the French Revolutionaries. They wanted to sweep aside everything and reinvent humanity from the ground up. They wanted to throw away the book of history and the grammar of human nature to invent something wholly new. As both the Jacobins and the hippies learned, when you clear-cut the entire ecosystem of human institutions, you will invariably uproot the oaks and elms whose roots hold the soil in place and the grasses that store the water and sustain the creatures we rely on for our own sustenance. When you do such things, you do not chase out nature; you remove the bulwarks that kept the more brutal aspects of nature at bay. An English garden looks very natural, but it is actually a triumph of holding the totality of nature at bay so that only the things you want to grow can thrive. Culture and cultivation — both words are derivatives of the Latin cultura — require human will.

Every apocalyptic story is based the premise that the mostly invisible institutions of society — the oaks of the human ecosystem — fall apart. The reasons vary: nuclear war, zombies, whatever. But the story is the same: Nature — human nature — comes rushing back in.

Three Cheers for NATO

If you’re getting a little sick of all the metaphors and abstractions, let me get to a more concrete point. People are losing their minds.

Look, I get that NATO has its problems. For years, we’ve been subsidizing European welfare states by picking up a chunk of their defense costs. Arguably worse, European elites have acted as if the peace and prosperity that they’ve enjoyed over the last 70 years were invented around fancy conference tables in Geneva and Paris. I remember in 2002 reading a quote from Karl Kaiser, of the German Society for Foreign Affairs. “Europeans have done something that no one has ever done before: create a zone of peace where war is ruled out, absolutely out,” Kaiser wrote. “Europeans are convinced that this model is valid for other parts of the world.”

It’s not that Kaiser was entirely wrong; it’s that he left out the fact that this miracle would have been impossible without NATO and, by extension, the protection of the United States of America. Europe was allowed to cultivate its garden because we kept the totality of nature at bay. NATO was effectively a wall, and Uncle Sam was Colonel Jessup. The Europeans needed us on that wall.

And they still do. But here’s the thing: We need that wall, too.

I have no problem with the argument that NATO has become too big. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but it is a reasonable argument. And so is the argument that the alliance shouldn’t get bigger still.

But all the loose talk about how maybe we shouldn’t honor Article Five, which requires mutual defense if a NATO member is attacked, is insane. This bloody-shirt rhetoric about “Why should my son die for Montenegro?” is just a rehash of the pre–Second World War “Why die for Danzig?” trope. It also, however, misses the crucial point. If it came to war, the fight wouldn’t be for Montenegro, but for NATO. And that’s worth fighting for.

The point of NATO is twofold: to remove uncertainty about what would happen if someone attacked one of our allies and to raise the expected price of screwing with us to something unbearable. Weaken the first, and you lower the second. This week on Tucker Carlson’s show, President Trump made it sound as if honoring Article Five was a problem. In fairness to the president, he didn’t outright say we wouldn’t come to the defense of our allies. But that’s not good enough. Ask any bank president whether his bank could promise that it wouldn’t default on its depositors. The immediate response is unequivocal and unambiguous. Why? Because the surest way to guarantee a run on a bank is to suggest that the bank couldn’t handle one.

When Trump spouts off about changing libel laws, forcing military officers to commit war crimes, threatening domestic businesses, or getting rid of the Senate filibuster, it’s often bad and reckless, but we have laws, procedures, and institutions to hold such bad ideas at bay. The international arena is different. Despite what you may think, the international realm is still much closer to a state of a nature than our domestic politics. Sure, we have this thing called international law, but it’s ultimately non-enforceable if actual nation-states choose not to enforce it. The U.N. has no armies, thank God. The logic of the world outside our borders is far closer to the logic of the prison yard than it is to anything within our borders.

An Ode to Montenegro

I think letting Montenegro into NATO was a good idea. The fact that the Russians worked so hard to prevent it — they almost toppled the government in a coup d’état to stop the country’s accession to the NATO — suggests that they understood the stakes better than many Americans. Among other things, it goes a long way toward denying Russian access to the Mediterranean — at very low cost to us. As John Podhoretz notes on the Commentary podcast, if it is in our strategic interest to block Russian ambitions in that direction, including Montenegro in NATO is a lot cheaper than positioning U.S. aircraft carriers and troops in the region.

You often hear the argument that Montenegro only has a couple thousand troops, as if the idea were to rely on the “very aggressive” Montenegrins to defend us. That misses the point entirely. Think of it this way. When a Mafia family enlists some penny-ante crew on the outskirts of its turf, the revenue from the crew is relatively inconsequential. The main advantage from the arrangement is that it prevents a rival family from encroaching on its territory. And in exchange, the Corleones agree to make the crew’s enemies the Corleones’ enemies.

There are reasonable arguments against including Montenegro in NATO. There are literally no reasonable arguments for even hinting that we might not hold up our end of the bargain once they’re already in NATO. This is why Vito Corleone chewed out Sonny for hinting to Sollozzo that he might be hot for the drug deal: “I think your brain is going soft.”

A New World Disorder

I’m worried that we are entering a very dangerous chapter in world history. The idea that international institutions, built on the blood-stained rubble of two world wars, must give way to some glorious new era of nationalism is inflaming the minds of people across the West. It’s a very weird epidemic of Year Zero thinking on a global level. As a Burkean, I’m open to reform: gradual, thoughtful, incremental reform that improves on what we have already built. But the recent blunderbuss rhetoric isn’t about that. It’s a nearest-weapon-to-hand defense of a president who doesn’t understand how NATO even works.

When the Jacobins clear-cut everything in the name of Year Zero, what followed wasn’t some utopian society of perfect reason. What followed was an explosion of the worst aspects of human nature, including the Terror, wars of aggression, and, ultimately, Napoleon and even more wars of aggression. Without Napoleon, Germany would probably never have unified (all of the original German nationalists were rebels against French political and cultural dominance). And without a unified Germany enflamed by notions Teutonic exceptionalism, all sorts of obvious calamities — including both world wars and the birth of the Soviet Union — might have been averted. Of course, other bad things might have — would have — happened. But those things did happen. We wisely responded by setting up institutions to prevent those calamities from happening again — and it worked, in Europe.

There is this bizarre unstated assumption in so much of this nationalism talk that these U.S.-founded international institutions haven’t served our interests. That’s dangerous nonsense. Could they have served our interests better? Sure. There’s always room for better. But were we suckers for creating them? Of course not. To paraphrase the president, a prosperous and peaceful Europe is a good thing, not a bad thing.

There is zero evidence that wiping away these institutions would be a step forward to some utopian New World Order. It would more likely be a return to Old World Disorder of wars, protectionism, and the logic of a global prison yard.

I’m not saying that everyone rushing to come up with arguments to defend Trump’s cavalier blather about these issues is a utopian or a nihilist. Nor am I saying that every critic of NATO is wrong in every regard. I am saying this is a serious conversation that should be conducted seriously, because even having such conversations is dangerous. And if we’re not careful, this will get out of hand, and we’ll have an enormous amount of relearning to do.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: I leave in a couple hours for New England. I’m going to visit my daughter at camp, and I’m Daddily giddy about it. While I’m gone, our devoted dog-walker and house-sitter Kirsten will be minding the beasts. She’s the one who takes them on their mid-workday adventures, so they’ll be in good hands.

They’re doing just fine, though a shortage of tennis balls in the house has Pippa a little grumpy (don’t worry, another bulk purchase is on its way). Speaking of balls — get your mind out of the gutter — a lot of folks are surprised whenever I post video of Zoë chasing a soccer ball. She does it from time to time, but if Pippa’s tennis-ball addiction is a ten, Zoë’s interest rarely surpasses a three or four. There’s something, however, about the larger ball size that triggers her prey drive, which is why she usually just tries to kill the ball. But even then, she doesn’t get too into it. She usually only shows interest when she gets jealous of the attention I give Pippa. Sometimes it gets so bad she’ll actually chase Pippa’s ball and just take it just to deprive her of fun. But that’s rare; she usually just doesn’t care. She’d much rather try to psychically will a squirrel to fall out of a tree. Still, they do love each other, in their way.

Meanwhile, in exciting news, my buddy (and occasional NR contributor) Shannen Coffin has a new puppy coming soon. His wonderful dog, Snickers, recently passed away. Snickers was almost a cliché of a golden retriever, walking around saying, “Hello, I think I love you!” and, “Are you going to finish that hamburger? Because I love you.” No dog can be replaced, but the only partial remedy for the loss is a new one. Enter Bucky!
ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

The Mueller Indictments

Lose plutonium, get an award

When do words matter to Trump supporters?

A strong would

How will the pro-Trump pundits square their first reactions with Trump’s new comments on his Russia trip?

The likeliest explanation for the Helsinki debacle

Trump and the Russian hackers

No, Trump isn’t the toughest president on Russia

Some (qualified) praise for former president Obama

My Thursday appearance on Special Report

My Friday appearance on NPR

This week’s Remnant with NRO editor Charles C. W. Cooke

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday Links

What won’t they declare a world record for?

The front-runner for Cutest Video of 2018

The flaming of the shrew

The origin of Jaws’ most famous line

German town plagued by a monster catfish that’s eating everything that cross its path

The extinction of Chicago’s waterfalls

The Bloop: the loudest, most mysterious underwater noise ever

Moving a step closer to the world The Jetsons promised

Factory fire caused by spontaneously combusting tortilla chips

Crows are perverts

Forget spy drones, you should be worried about camera-wielding pigeons

Can the present alter the past?

All-nighters might cause long term damage to your brain

World

EuroTrip

President Donald Trump and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth inspect the Coldstream Guards during a visit to Windsor Castle in Windsor, Britain, July 13, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

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 (Especially everyone who got ripped off ordering that giant blimp online),

Imagine an alien race that built its civilization on the fact it literally defecated highly refined uranium, or super-intelligent and obedient nano-bots, or simply extremely useful Swiss Army knives.

Now imagine one of those aliens comes to Planet Earth. He doesn’t want to see our museums or factories. His first request: a visit to one of our sewage-treatment plants.

“What do your feces do?” the alien asks, cupping the ovoid ends of his seven tentacles around his three olfactory organs. “There must be a payoff for this smell.”

“Um, nothing really,” our Earth representatives answer. “We sometimes turn it into fertilizer. But that’s expensive, and no one wants to eat food grown with human crap. We just try to clean it up a bit before pumping it out into the water.”

“Wait, what?” the alien replies.

“Yeah, we don’t really have much use for it.”

“Wow, that is a lot of stupid, pointless, sh**,” the alien says with a look of disgust (which we’d recognize if we could interpret the aliens’ facial cues).

Which brings me to the week that was. I don’t know if I can remember a dumber week in which to follow the news.

Normally, like the cannibal working the night shift in a coma ward, I’d say, “Where to begin?” But in this case, the more pressing question is, “When does it end?”

Ironically, that’s what I kept asking myself yesterday. You see, I drove to the Adirondacks from Washington, D.C., yesterday, which allowed me to listen to the Strzok hearings for most of the day, which meant that from I-95 to I-87, my car left in its wake a long wisp of my burned-off IQ points, like a ground-level chem trail, all the way up the Eastern seaboard.

Mouth Sounds, How Do They Work?

Before I go on: Here’s a little glimpse into the exciting world of TV punditry. On many occasions, I’ve been on the set of, say, Special Report, getting ready to talk about the day’s news. Sometimes, however, there’s a new name to discuss, which I’ve only read in print, and I don’t know how to pronounce it. Well, there’s a nifty trick I’ve picked up over the last two decades: I ask someone something like, “How do you pronounce this person’s name again?” (It works every time.) If you don’t want to take my word for it, I can attest that I’ve actually witnessed the likes of Charles Krauthammer and Bret Baier do this too.

I bring this up because yesterday a remarkably large number of politicians had no idea how to pronounce Peter Strzok’s name. Now, I’ll admit: When I first saw his name in print, I had no idea how to pronounce it either. If you try to sound it out phonetically, you get the onomatopoeia for a guy trying to say “string” at the exact moment he sticks a fork in a toaster. But this guy has been in the news for 8 trillion years (I exaggerate for effect, but it does feel that way). Moreover, every single one of these Republican inquisitors and Democratic defenders of the faith have staffs larger than Beyoncé’s entourage. And yet, again and again, people pronounced it like they were encountering it for the first time, sounding his name out the way you would when you want to memorize your Croatian cab driver’s name for the cops because of the muffled cries for help you keep hearing in the trunk.

The worst, of course, was Representative Bonnie Coleman, who went on a stemwinder in defense of “Mr. Strozak,” saying “Strozak” with great confidence over and over. Did not one Comms Director think of telling the boss, “It’s pronounced ‘Struck,’ which rhymes with ‘truck,’ not ‘Strozak,’ which rhymes with ‘Prozac.’”?

I don’t want to suggest this was anything like the dumbest thing about the hearings; it’s just that I spent an inordinate amount of time screaming, “It’s STRUCK!” on various highways yesterday, as if I had discovered the secret identity of my arch nemesis. It was Struck all along!

On the drive, every now and then, I would give up and put on a podcast or start cutting myself, anything to feel alive. But then I would go back and turn it on again in the vain hope that we’d learn something new. And each time, I was momentarily convinced that it was a recap or that someone screwed up and replayed the tape from earlier in the day. It turned out that the Republicans kept asking the exact same questions, Strozooozle kept giving the same answers, and the Democrats kept doing whatever the Hell it was that they were doing. Everything that needed to be said was said, but we had to wait for every single one of them to say it. You can’t cut a campaign ad with someone else making an ass of themselves: You’ve got to get the footage of you doing it.

Just for the record: Yes, Strazaam was biased. Yes, Strabant tweeted those things. No, that isn’t evidence of acting on his bias. The idea that cops and FBI agents don’t form opinions about their targets is ludicrous. Fun fact: Elliot Ness was pretty convinced Al Capone was guilty. And, if Ness texted that to a lover, that wouldn’t suddenly make Capone innocent. Mark Furman said some dumb things to impress a girl. That didn’t make O. J. Simpson innocent. No, I’m not saying Donald Trump is like Capone or O. J.; I’m simply saying the relentless repetition of these text messages does not make Trump innocent of anything or Straboozle guilty of anything other than stupidly texting stuff, no matter how many ridiculous analogies the GOP can come up with. Yes, the Democrats have a point that the committee is shirking its oversight in other areas. Yes, the GOP is right that the Dems are shirking their oversight in this area. If the situation were reversed, the a**holery would be reversed too, but that’s not an excuse for the a**holery that was displayed.

Anyway, I don’t want to dwell too long on this deep harbor of feculent foolishness when there’s such a vast ocean of stupid sh** beyond.

The Supreme Court Freakout

Look, I get it. In 2016, Cocaine Mitch went on such a white-bag bender, there’s a donkey in Tijuana named after him (but that’s a different story). After he took care of the stinking Diaz brothers, he stole Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court seat. The Democrats are understandably pissed about it.

But now that the Oracle Kennedy is retiring, they’re terrified — and kind of losing their minds. The Supreme Court has been their Temple of Zeus for 40 years, granting liberals one wish after another that they couldn’t get at the ballot box, no matter how many oxen they sacrificed. And because they see the Court as an instrument of power, not as an interpreter of the Constitution, they can’t imagine that the Court won’t do from the right what they exhorted it to do from the left. (Hint: The Supreme Court won’t usher in The Handmaid’s Tale — that’s Mike Pence’s job.)

So now, almost overnight, liberals are panicking so badly that a line should be forming in the airplane aisle to slap some sense into them.

They want to term-limit justices. They’re penning Very Serious op-eds about how the Court is undemocratic. I particularly like the argument that Democrats must act immediately to pack the Court. No one said to them, “Hold on Skippy, we don’t control the Senate or the White House. If we convince people we’re okay with court-packing, we might get 20 Brett Kavanaughs, or even a few Justice Jeanines.”

But that can’t hold a candle to the magma-hot take that the Democrats should take Cocaine Mitch to court because the “McConnell Rule” has the force of law, and therefore the Supreme Court will make McConnell retract Gorsuch and put Garland on the Court. First of all, the only binding McConnell Rule is “don’t get high on your own supply.” But more importantly, if you took this op-ed and handed it out to a third-year law-school class and said, “take out your red pens,” the paper would simply come back red.

Then, of course, there’s the governor of New York, who vowed to sue the Supreme Court if it overturns Roe. Legally, this is like Emperor Hirohito reassuring his subjects by vowing to declare war on America if America defeats Japan in the Second World War.

Brett Kavanaugh Likes Candy for the Sweet, Sweet Taste

Shockingly, these arguments have not gained much traction, so the front has moved to the war on Brett Kavanaugh himself. Have you heard that he bought baseball tickets on his credit cards? What about the fact that he drank beer in college? Everyone knows that the most horrible demons of the stygian depths like America’s pastime and drink beer in college (it’s no coincidence they use blood-red Solo cups). When Stephen Colbert’s best attack on a guy is that he’s named “Brett,” it should be a sign that the larder is bare.

But, as the sewage-treatment manager told the alien, “Wait, there’s more.” The Washington Post ran an op-ed of Kavanaugh reporting that he is — wait for it — a good dad. The horror! How dare the Post humanize a human by suggesting that he cares for his young like some typical primate!? How dare anyone suggest that it speaks well of a man to praise his daughters!?

Not to inject too much seriousness here, but it is fascinating how many on the left feel so betrayed when the mainstream media treats Republicans with even a fraction of the respect it treats Democrats. It’s a bit like all of those stories about how Democrats get horribly offended when Saturday Night Live makes fun of them: We thought you were on our side!

EuroTrip

There’s so much more stupid out there, from the outrage over actors pretending to be someone else for a living and the need to memory-hole anyone who points out the idiocy of it all, to Playbill donning a veritable dunce cap for betraying the party line, to the Democrats ditching the winning issue of child-separation in favor of calling ICE the Gestapo and promising to abolish it, to the percolating theory that Deep State has sleeper cells inside college wrestling.

But I should say a few words about President Trump and the spectacle in Europe. I understand that there are people out there who think my job is to “get right with the electorate” and put my faith in Trump. In this telling, Trump is like one of those trick posters with a hidden 3-D image of space ships or something inside, and if you just relax your eyes just enough, you will see the genius in everything he does. Well call me Mr. Pitt, because I still don’t see it.

There are many good and much-needed arguments about how to improve the NATO alliance, but I’ve seen very little evidence that the president is particularly well-versed in them. As I wrote earlier this week, I think the Trump Doctrine is simply domestic Trumpism on the international stage. And I’ll be honest, it worries me.

His defenders argue (assert, really) that there’s a method to the madness — sorry, “disruption” — that will simultaneously restore manful nationalism around the globe and reinvigorate our alliances. Insulting allies, starting trade wars without any plan for finishing them or even an agenda for getting the concessions he claims to want — it’s all proof that he’s a maestro of a symphony our unsophisticated ears cannot hear. His left-wing detractors see a method too: doing Putin’s bidding by tearing apart NATO and the global order that the U.S. has built. I don’t see that either. I see a guy winging it. Sure, he’s got ideas about all sorts of things, but the planning always seems to be:

Step 1: Mess everything up and get a lot of attention for it.
Step 2: ?????
Step 3: Go down in the history books as the American Churchill.

Some of the ideas are okay — e.g., European NATO members should pay more for their own defense, China does steal our intellectual property and this should be stopped, etc. Some are nonsense. We aren’t robbed of billions of dollars by trade deficits. That’s not how they work. When Cocaine Mitch buys a cargo tanker of Peruvian flake, the Chinese Tongs he’s in bed with get money and Mitch gets the yayo. He’s not being robbed. It’s a win-win. Of course, it’s always better to get the money and the yayo, but that’s a different story. Oceans Eleven is a “heist movie” not a “trade-deficit movie.”

The human mind has a tendency to impose causation and narrative on random events. And lots of people do this with Trump. When he threw Theresa May under the bus on Thursday night (the same day he was boasting about a great letter he got from Kim Jong-un), the immediate response from many on the left and the right was that he was up to something. He wasn’t. He just didn’t know what he was doing. That’s why at the press conference on Friday morning, he walked it all back. There was no plan, there was just his id galloping freely out of his mouth.

Just look at some of the things that he’s said overseas. He made up countless statistics about NATO expenditures and contributions. He, again, went on about how he was the first Republican to win Wisconsin in ages — a vital issue to the NATO alliance — insisting that Reagan lost the state. Reagan won Wisconsin twice. He said his father was born in Germany. That was his grandfather. He said, again, that he “understands nuclear” because his uncle was a physicist. In the Sun interview — which he now insists is fake news — he said many strange things, but my favorite was this

“You know, a poll just came out that I am the most popular person in the history of the Republican Party — 92 percent. Beating Lincoln. I beat our Honest Abe.”

For what it’s worth, Gallup introduced the first modern poll in 1936.

In the press conference Friday morning, he was asked if he would take to Twitter on his way home on Air Force One and bad mouth his allies — as he did after the G-7 summit. Trump replied:

“No, that’s other people that do that. I don’t. I’m very consistent.”

“I’m a very stable genius,” the president added.

Look, it’s funny trolling, I guess. And his genius at trolling is indeed very consistent. But come on. This is serious stuff. We may need to rethink all sorts of things, and I’m open to serious arguments about doing so. But in order to seriously rethink such things, it would be helpful to have a serious president who thinks.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: Yesterday I got a text message from Kirsten, Dogwalker Extraordinaire, that was a bit panicked.

Whoa! Right when we got here Pippy was acting funny and running around like she was chasing a chipmunk then flushed out a fledgling Robin . . . all hell broke loose . . . the parents were dive bombing her I was shrieking and of course Zoe jumped in there but you know what? They didn’t kill it!! I even picked it up and no puncture wounds. Go figure. Phew.

The parent robins acted like the Kavanaughs of the avian world, protected their offspring, and kept dive-bombing Zoë and Pippa. When they got clear, Kirsten texted this picture and said of Zoë: “She is getting heaps of praise for not murdering it!”

The rest of the week was pretty uneventful. The heat is a burden for the doggers, but the mission never rests. I’m in the Adirondacks through the weekend, so I won’t be tweeting the girls too much. Fortunately, I’m hanging out with these guys. I look forward to my greeting when I get home.

As I alluded to above, this week I responded to Michael Doran’s rejoinder to my criticisms. It’s gotten a lot of attention, but I should say I am growing weary of this whole genre, in part because of my consternation as to why I seem to vex so many people more than other conservatives who come down on these things in just about the same place as I do. It’s particularly annoying because the stated reasons for why I should be singled out are so often wrong, made up, or offered in bad faith. If the attacks were grounded in things that I’ve actually done or said, I’d probably respond less often. But when so many people pretend to know my motives and views — and then get it so wrong — I feel I have to respond. I’m not an expert on much, but I am the world’s foremost authority on what’s going on inside my own cranium.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

My appearance on NPR’s Morning Edition

The week’s Remnant: Identity Politics Yahtzee

Some thoughts on the McConnell Rule

The limits of democracy

The Trump Doctrine is MAGA on an international scale

The SCOTUS candidates list was the smartest thing Trump has done

Some applause for the conservative legal community

The myth of “cosmopolitan conservatives”

My appearance on The Glenn Beck Program

My appearance on Special Report

Scarjo’s transgender contretemps

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday Links

A heatwave in England is revealing ancient remains

Millennials’ new favorite TV show

A shark vs. alligator battle caught on video

World record holder sells 30-foot-long fingernails

The lost constellation

How pie-throwing became a comedy standard

Earth’s oldest color

Paging Rick O’Connell!

A spider-legged robot plant

The secret chamber in Mount Rushmore

The rise and fall of the family vacation road trip

Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster contingency plan

The world’s most dangerous book

Hillterns sent on wild goose chase by Taylor Swift

How to build a time machine

Politics & Policy

When Patriotism Loses Its Universality

(Pixabay)

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 everyone trying to keep cool),

I’m in Nantucket working on some hot new limericks. More about that later. Later today, I’m hoping to make the arduous trek along the Ted Kennedy Trail into the heart of Martha’s Vineyard, in the hopes of bringing Alan Dershowitz the much-craved social approval he’s been so cruelly denied. I will have to go in mufti, of course. Wearing Nantucket Red shorts — not by coincidence, the same color as MAGA hats — would be a dead giveaway that I’m an outsider. If caught by the locals, there’s no telling what they would do to me. They might serve me unchilled Chablis or — <shudder> — serve red wine with fish.

Anyway, on the Fourth of July, I attended a really wonderful event: the public reading of the Declaration of Independence. Of course, because everything has to be politicized these days, the woman who read the passage about immigration put a lot of righteous stink on it — because Trump. This is the part I mean:

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

A bunch of people applauded and cheered at this — but also the stuff about judges:

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

As the woman read these lines with great vengeance and furious anger, confident that she was “owning” Trump, it felt a bit like when John Oliver’s audience laughs at a joke it doesn’t understand, because they’re still confident it’s aimed at the right target. I mean I get it, but is it really that clever? Or necessary? I don’t stand up and high-five my friends at the reading of the Second or Ninth Amendments. Take that libs!

Anyway, I bring this up because, first of all, I so rarely do any reporting these days. Second, because it’s a good example of how politics infects so much of life. And, third, because it casts a little light on the perils of turning nationalism or patriotism into a political program.

The Disenchantment of the World

Michael Brendan Dougherty visits a topic I’ve been dwelling on quite a bit of late — and for the last ten years: How things like socialism and nationalism are serving as enchantment creeds or, to put it less grandiosely, as substitute faiths to make up for the decline or deterioration of civil society, religion, and family.

Last week, I wrote about how we often use words such as “censorship” or “dogma” to describe only the forms of censorship and dogma we do not like. Nearly all of us believe in some censorship, and literally all of us have some dogmatic convictions, but we reserve those labels for the bad stuff or for the things our foes want to do.

Nationalism and socialism work in somewhat similar ways. Conservatives denounce progressive nationalism as “socialism,” and liberals denounce conservative socialism as “nationalism.”

Those Were the Days

Throughout the 20th century, most progressives were nationalists. This fact is often ignored in the conservative critiques of liberalism for a few reasons. One of them is that Marxist — and Marx-ish — intellectuals had an outsized influence in public debates, particularly in the second half of the 20th century. The Cold War made arguing with Marxism seem more important and, let’s face it, more fun.

That’s one reason why conservatives loved to talk about the New Deal as if it was some kind of ersatz Commie plot, when the reality was that it was a thoroughgoing nationalist affair. From the art of the WPA, to the militarism of the Blue Eagle and WPA, to FDR’s refusal to cooperate with allies to fight the Great Depression at the London Economic Conference, the New Deal was wrapped up in the aesthetics and economics of statist nationalism. That’s one reason so many useful idiots followed Stalin’s fatwah — the theory of social fascism — and labelled FDR, John Dewey, and other American progressives “fascists” for a time. According to the theory of social fascism, any progressive or socialist movement that wasn’t loyal to Moscow was objectively fascist. It didn’t matter if you wanted to nationalize industry or socialize medicine, if you weren’t part of the global Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist coalition, you were fascist. That doctrine changed only after Hitler invaded Russia.

But the intellectual attraction of Marxist thinking was harder to wash away. Richard Rorty, a consummate left-wing intellectual, wrote about — and lamented — this tendency in his book Achieving Our Country. The left-wingers who looked to Russian Bolshevism as a model — and the subsequent generations of intellectuals who adapted Marxist modes of thinking to identity politics and “power relations” — did a disservice to the progressive cause and to America generally, Rorty argued. Better to revive the progressive tradition of Richard Ely and others who were very much dedicated to socialism — but to a kind of socialism grounded in American soil.

I should also note, lest I lose my membership in the International Order of Woodrow Wilson Haters, that the New Dealers were, almost to a person, Wilson-administration retreads. While Wilson may have pushed an “internationalist” foreign policy to justify entrance into the First World War, it was sold domestically as unbridled, and often authoritarian, nationalism. From Liberal Fascism:

Meanwhile, socialist editors and journalists — including many from the Masses, the most audacious of the radical journals that Wilson tried to ban — rushed to get a paycheck from Wilson’s propaganda ministry. Artists such as Charles Dana Gibson, James Montgomery Flagg, and Joseph Pennell and writers like Booth Tarkington, Samuel Hopkins Adams, and Ernest Poole became cheerleaders for the war-hungry regime. Musicians, comedians, sculptors, ministers — and of course the movie industry — were all happily drafted to the cause, eager to wear the “invisible uniform of war.” Isadora Duncan, an avant-garde pioneer of what today would be called sexual liberation, became a toe tapper in patriotic pageants at the Metropolitan Opera House. The most enduring and iconic image of the time is Flagg’s “I Want You” poster of Uncle Sam pointing the shaming finger of the state-made-flesh at uncommitted citizens.

Today’s progressivism has shed almost all of this. The virus of identity politics has made anything like national pride a form of heresy in some quarters. Of course, when Democrats run the show, it creeps back a little. The same liberals who today have suddenly discovered the merits of free trade in order to oppose Donald Trump’s “economic nationalism” cheered Barack Obama’s “economic patriotism.” Obama thought it was patriotic to help solar-panel companies. Trump thinks it’s patriotic to favor coal companies. You can argue about the comparative benefits of the policies, but it’s still industrial planning and picking winners and losers.

And that gets me to my point.

Many of my friends and colleagues are eager to turn nationalism, variously defined, into a political program for the Republicans. Now, as a matter of purely political — i.e., partisan — strategy this might be a good idea. Wrapping yourself in the flag has been a profitable partisan strategy for generations. Wilson, FDR, and JFK used appeals to patriotism to great effect. Truman’s 1948 victory was a triumph of demagoguery, now largely airbrushed from memory, in which he demonized Thomas Dewey (!) as a front man for Hitlerism. Eisenhower didn’t need to use patriotism because he personified it. Ronald Reagan’s sunny “Morning in America” was a major part of his appeal. George H. W. Bush used the Pledge of Allegiance to pummel Michael Dukakis. Donald Trump’s blunt and divisive version of nationalism helped him win the presidency, and it’s what sustains his popularity with the base of the Republican party.

But something happened along the way. Patriotism lost its universality.

The reasons for this are many and complicated. One partial explanation — or result, depending on how you look at it: Appeals to patriotism work better on older, whiter Americans, nostalgic for a national unity that looms larger in gauzy memory than in fact (something that has not gone unnoticed by marketers). Trump’s fan service to “my people” only highlights and amplifies the trend.

Like appeals to divine authority, appeals to patriotism only work on people who recognize the authority of patriotism. And the more you invoke patriotism as a substitute for fact-based arguments, the more you drain the power from patriotism. The more patriotism is used to sell an explicitly partisan agenda, the more patriotism is seen as a partisan phenomenon.

But there’s also the broader philosophical problem with nationalism as a political program. If your defining concept of politics is “national unity,” it is almost impossible not to succumb to the statist temptation over time, because the national government is the only institution that claims to speak for all of the people. But by definition, there are very few things in a democracy that enjoy anything like national consensus, which means the party out of power will feel steamrolled and lied to (see: Obamacare). And from a conservative perspective, some nationalistic things — like, say, nationalizing or socializing industries (which are the same thing) — shouldn’t be done even if there is a national consensus. The same goes for patriotism. Nationalists or populists might want to round up, say, Japanese Americans and put them in internment camps, but I like to think patriots would have objections.

When nationalism-sold-as-patriotism becomes the primary rationale for any party in power, the toxic process of polarization and partisanship gets worse, and the language of patriotism gets cheapened, because everything the party in power wants to do is gussied up in red-white-and-blue bunting. When Barack Obama was in office, conservatives understood this better, or, at the very least, were freer to say what we understood without being called traitors. Here’s Kevin Williamson in 2014:

Which is to say, what the economic nationalism of Benito Mussolini most has in common with the prattling and blockheaded talk of “economic patriotism” coming out of the mealy mouths of 21st-century Democrats is the habit of subordinating everything to immediate political concerns. In this context, “patriotism” doesn’t mean doing what’s best for your country — it means doing what is best for the Obama administration and its congressional allies.

Today, everything the Trump administration wants to do is tarted up with the drag-queen lipstick of MAGA. The swamp, the fake news, the deep state, globalists, and every other familiar euphemism for “enemies of the people” are daily cast as unpatriotic because they disagree with, or dislike, the president or his policies. Even Harley Davidson is being scorned as “unpatriotic” because it is making decisions in its business interests that run against the grain of Trump’s political interests. And don’t get me wrong: Some of Trump’s critics do suffer from a lack of patriotism — but not because they criticize Trump.

I agree wholly with those who argue for the need to restore a sense of national unity and civic pride. Megan McArdle writes:

If we are to fight our way back from this soft civil war, we will need a muscular patriotism that focuses us on our commonalities instead of our differences. Of course, such a patriotism must not be either imperialist nor racialized [sic]. Which means we desperately need the flag, and the anthem, and all the other common symbols that are light on politics or military fetishism and heavy on symbolism. We need much more of them, rather than much less — constant reminders that we are groupish, and that our group consists of 328 million fellow Americans with whom we share a country and a creed, a song and a flag, and the deep sense of mutual obligation that all these things imply.

I also agree with Richard Rorty when he writes that “national pride is to countries what self-respect is to individuals, a necessary condition for self-improvement.”

Michael Brendan Dougherty is entirely right that the social treasury is being depleted, and, as a result, people are racing to things such as socialism and nationalism (and partisan politics generally) in the hopes that they can find connectedness and solidarity that they can’t find in faith, family, and friends. I believe that patriotism is one of the better antidotes for this crisis. But the hitch is that you cannot restore patriotism from above, particularly at time when negative polarization defines our national politics. It must be restored from below, and that requires replenishing the social treasury, which can’t be done from above, either.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: Before we get to the usual fare, I want to address a disturbing new study. Researchers studied the genes of a wide variety of dogs and found that none of them have more than 4 percent of the genes associated with the dogs that lived in America prior to European contact with North America. Well, almost none of them. One individual Carolina Dog did have 30 percent of “pre-contact” genes, but apparently that was an inexplicable anomaly. Meanwhile, typical Carolina dogs and Chihuahuas do not exceed the 4 percent mark:

However, as with earlier work, Ní Leathlobhair et al. find almost no genetic traces of precontact dog ancestry in modern dogs, whether purebred or American village dog. Modern Arctic dogs are not descended from precontact dogs, but instead are part of a sister clade brought into the Americas within the last 1000 years (see the figure). None of the village dogs, Carolina dogs, or Chihuahuas could be confidently shown to have precontact dog ancestry of more than 2 to 4%.

Now, I don’t want to go all Kenniwick man here, but this is an outrageous assault on the American Dingo, contradicting earlier studies that found genetic evidence to support their claim to ancient dingoness. For now, I will hold off telling Zoë any of this.

In the meantime, reports from home are that the doggers are doing well, despite the horrible heat, though, as often happens these days, the unpleasant weather encourages trolling and creeking. This is encouraging because the dogs were very happy until they realized that we weren’t taking them on this trip. There are few things sadder than a pouting spaniel.

The good news for them is that the Goldbergs have a fun adventure in store for them in August. We’ll be renting a small RV and heading West with the beasts.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

On the Anthony Kennedy retirement conspiracies

Dan Rather’s LeBron conspiracy

Yet another “Never Trumpers” screed

Trump must stick to his list for the SCOTUS pick

My Reason.TV interview on Suicide of the West

The latest Remnant

What is patriotism?

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Independence Day Links

Inside the temple from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Dogs delicately eating watermelon

Spiders use electricity to fly

A history of protestors climbing monuments

Now this bear knows how to do summer

A taxi service that accepts singing instead of money

Real life chestbursters

Psychic octopus fails to predict its own murder

The mutant wolves of Chernobyl

Get high on Trump

Hero kangaroo ends soccer game

Scientists design the perfect human body. It’s creepy

Pool noodle fights are about to get epic

The return of the floppy disk

Armadillos are perverts

RIP one of the best boys

Why the Fermi Paradox doesn’t matter
That Ben Sasse has quite the view

Culture

In Defense of Dogma

Pro-Choice supporters rally outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Detroit, Michigan, February 11, 2017. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

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 those of you not cursed to endure the sweatpant-fog climate of Washington, D.C.),

Sometimes we use certain words only to describe the forms of that word we do not like.

Let me explain: Let’s imagine that my daughter says, “French food is awful.”

I respond: “What do you mean?”

She replies, “Snails, Daddy. They eat snails.”

To which I retort, “Oh, I agree. We never should have let them talk us out of those toasted cheese sandwiches, that time. But you love duck confit and croissants. That’s French food, too.”

Daughter: “That’s different.”

The same dynamic plays itself out in many political and policy debates.

My go-to example of this is the word “censorship.” Over my many years of debating with intense libertarians of the left and the right, I’ve heard many times that “all censorship is wrong” or “I am 100 percent against censorship.”

“Oh really?” I ask. “So riddle me this: The FCC prohibits hardcore child pornography on Saturday-morning TV. Are you against that?”

The answers tend to vary, but one very common retort is something like, “Oh come on. That’s not censorship; that just reasonable regulation. Besides, no one is proposing doing that.”

To which I reply — and I’m going to stop using quotation marks because this is getting silly — of course it’s censorship. You just approve of it, so you don’t call it censorship. As for the fact that nobody is proposing running kiddie porn in the cartoon hour doesn’t mean much. If someone did propose it, you’ve conceded that it would be reasonable to proscribe it. Ergo (an incredibly douchey word to use in debate over beers, by the way) you’ve conceded that you’re not 100 percent against censorship. Censorship, in other words, is the word we use for censorship we don’t like.

Now, I’m being unfair to people who have better or more interesting responses to my case, but that’s okay because a) that’s very rare and b) I’m not here to discuss censorship.

Dogma, Again

There are all sorts of words that work this way in our politics. Every day I hear people say that one shouldn’t be “dogmatic,” or that their political opponents are dogmatists, or some such. But as I have written many times, everyone subscribes to all manner of dogmatic convictions — and they should. People not dogmatically opposed to genocide, premeditated murder, rape, etc. aren’t brave and pragmatic free-thinkers. They’re sociopaths.

The accumulation of dogma — good dogma, duck-confit dogma, not-snail dogma — is the process by which civilizations advance. In a state of nature, man is open to all possibilities if he can be convinced he will gain an advantage in a bid to survive. With no controlling moral authority beyond the basic programming of our genes, we were free to take the shortest route between any two points, so long as we believed it would work out well for us. Even after the Agricultural Revolution, civilizations defined morality largely according to what benefitted the rulers. Child sacrifice — common around the globe for millennia — seemed like a plausible way to get better crop yields, so why not go for it?

Over time, through the process of trial and error informed by reason and faith, we accumulated some conclusions about how society should operate. These conclusions became dogmas. Dogma is simply the word we use for settled questions we no longer want to reopen. Not all dogmas are good. Some are evil, to be sure: child sacrifice, slavery, etc. But the process of refining our dogmas is what makes us, if not human, then certainly humane. Conversely, the process by which we unthinkingly smash dogmas without understanding their function is the fastest route to barbarism. The Bolsheviks rejected the dogma of universal human dignity and slaughtered people with an abandon more closely resembling the Aztecs than anything resembling secular humanism.

Here’s how Chesterton put it:

When [man] drops one doctrine after another in a refined skepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.

When I was flying over the North Slope of Alaska with a bush pilot nearly 20 years ago, the pilot told me how he once discovered a field of dead moose, almost entirely intact, save for the fact that they had their bellies ripped open. He explained that a grizzly bear or bears had killed all the females just to eat the unborn calves out of their bellies — because that was the tastiest part. Rather than eat just one whole moose, the bear was simply guided by the turnip-like dogma of its instincts. The history of humanity is full of stories where people, likewise, lived with such undogmatic cruelty. Of course, it’s unfair to describe the bears as cruel, because they have no concept of cruelty. They think it is good to eat your face, because that is their nature. We do have a concept of cruelty, and we have dogma to thank for it.

So when I hear people say that they don’t like dogma, what I hear is that they don’t like the dogma of people who disagree with them.

The same goes for ideology.

A Tale of Two Ideologies

In the last 48 hours, amidst the flop-sweat panic over Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, I’ve heard one abortion activist after another — including many who play objective journalists on TV — insist that abortion opponents are crazed ideologues who want to impose their ideology on others. I have no doubt that these talking points test very well in focus groups. I also have no doubt that these talking points are sincerely held.

Last night, I saw a tweet from the president of NARAL and responded to it:

The replies are instructive.

Ideology is the first draft of dogma. The good kind is merely a set of preferences, grounded in conviction, evidence, experience, or reason, that helps guide us when we think through an idea or when we encounter new problems or facts. Progressives have an ideology. Conservatives have an ideology. Libertarians, socialists, and, yes, pragmatists have ideologies, too.

Part of my ideology is the idea that we should err on the side of protecting individual liberty. I am not categorically opposed to restrictions on individual liberty, however. I favor a military draft when it’s necessary (and I am ideologically opposed to one when it is unnecessary). I believe in putting rapists in jail and executing the most heinous murderers. But part of my ideology holds that we should only do so after providing due process. My concern isn’t that we might be unfair to a rapist or murderer, however. My concern is that without such systems in place, there’s too much potential to be unfair to someone falsely accused of murder or rape. The mob hates due process.

The debate over abortion revolves around a question of fact — or interpretation of fact — that then determines the ideological course of action like the first choice in a “choose your own adventure” book. If you conclude that the unborn, either at conception or at some later point of the pregnancy, acquires moral status and rights, you go down one path of thought. If you believe, like Barbara Boxer does, that it’s not really a baby until you bring it home from the hospital, that sets you down another path.

Both sides in this dispute share some dogmatic and ideological convictions. They just apply them differently. The hardcore pro-abortion crowd uses the language of individual liberty about the mother: How dare the state tell me what to do with my body!? In order to make this argument, however, they must define away that other life as nothing more than uterine contents, a glob of cells, or some other euphemism. The hardcore anti-abortion crowd starts from the premise that the fetus is an individual human being and as such deserves protection from harm. And it is the state’s first obligation to police or regulate violence.

Both of these positions are ideological. One common response to this claim, peppering the replies to my tweet, is that abortion isn’t ideological for the pregnant woman. There’s some truth to this, in the sense that we often shed our abstract commitments when pressed with real-life choices or difficult circumstances. That’s why we have the saying, “There are no atheists in fox holes.”

The progressive who pounds the table in defense of public schools but sends his own kids to a private school is one example. The conservative CEO who talks a great game about the free market and the evils of crony capitalism but barely hesitates to accept a subsidy is another. This hypocrisy is entirely human, and our capacity to rationalize such things is often infinite.

And one of the most common ways we grease the skids for our retreat is by simply switching one ready-made ideology for another.

Bad Ideology

Bad ideology, like bad dogma, is a very real thing as well. Bad ideologies confuse is and ought. They hitch themselves to an unproven or unfalsifiable conviction about the way things should be. The worst ideologies assume humans are clay, dispensable when insufficiently pliable. They heap scorn on the hard-learned lessons of civilization in favor of glorious castles built in the air. Opposition to their agenda is seen as an evil desire to deprive people of happiness not attainable in this life.

Other ideologies are just silly — not in the desirability of their aims necessarily, but in the belief that they would work. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won her congressional primary contest in New York this week by championing one such ideology. It basically boils down to what someone called “open-borders socialism.” It is grounded in an ancient romantic notion that economics — the science of competing choices amidst finite resources — is a con. We can do all the good things simultaneously. Everyone can become an American, and every American is entitled to free housing, free school, guaranteed work, and every other good thing. It is the ideology of the child or the aristocrat — often the same thing — that holds we can of course have our cakes and eat them too. And as with the more evil forms of ideology, its advocates assume that those opposed are motivated by a desire to deprive the deserving of something they could easily give them.

In a world of infinite resources, it would indeed be a crime to deprive others of their fair share of the infinite. But we don’t live in that world. Part of the job of parents is to explain to children that “We are not made of money” and even if we were, we could not or would not satisfy our children’s every whim.

But we live in a time of epidemic childishness, working on the assumptions that we can borrow money forever and that the government is made of money. “Example is the school of mankind, and he will learn at no other,” says Edmund Burke. What he meant by that is people must learn from actual events: They must be shown, not told. This doesn’t mean that every generation must relearn first-hand the mistakes of the past. It means they must be taught about the mistakes of the past. That’s what parents do with their kids. And it’s what grown-ups do in politics.

But there’s a marked shortage of grown-ups these days, which is a real calamity when childishness runs free.

Various & Sundry

I know the G-File has been lacking of late in the jocularity some folks look for in this “news”letter. My apologies. Between the grueling travel, the death of Charles Krauthammer (so fast on the heels of my father-in-law’s passing), and a slew of hopefully minor health issues, I’ve been in a remarkably dyspeptic mindset of late. I’m going to the beach next week, so hopefully I will come back refreshed with a full tank of pull-my-finger jokes.

Canine Update: A few months ago, Megan McArdle and I briefly discussed dog economics on the Remnant podcast. I don’t mean the canine-care or dog-food industry. I mean the actual economic calculations of dogs themselves. Without consulting Thorstein Veblen’s work on conspicuous consumption or Fred Hirsch’s concept of positional goods, dogs nonetheless model it very well. Here’s a good explainer from Big Bang Theory.

If you’ve ever spent time in a dog park, you know that there are enough sticks for everybody. But the dogs tend to focus on a single stick — the one possessed by one of the dogs. That stick is a positional good. And all the dogs chase the one who has it. Our dogwalker Kirsten (back from vacation, thank God) has several fetching-machines in her pack. She used to ban balls from the hikes on the grounds that once the fetching protocol was activated it couldn’t be stopped and the dogs wouldn’t play with each other. But recently she has surrendered to populist demand. One day this week she brought enough tennis balls for all three fetching machines (Zoë is famously uninterested in such things). But very quickly, the dogs concentrated on a single tennis ball, which Samson possessed, filling Obi and Pippa with a fierce determination to get it back.

Anyway, everything else is good with the doggers. The vengeful in-house pooping has stopped. Pippa is spanieling with spanielly abandon (though she does make time to chill). And Zoë is giving full flower to her sense of entitlement.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

The latest Remnant, The Sweet Mystery of Anthony Kennedy

The latest GLoP, The Retiring Types

Liberals finally come around to a natural rights understanding of parental rights

My theory on Harvard’s Asian discrimination

The re-enchantment creed of politics

Conrad Black vs. Jonah Goldberg Part II: Electric Boogaloo

Kennedy’s retirement could return the Supreme Court to its original purpose

The Silliness of the Biden and McConnell Rules

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday Links

Which states exercise the most

Disney moves us one step closer to the robot apocalypse

The island nation that never was

Why you should eat popcorn with chopsticks

27 of the most amazing (and terrifying) places to hang a hammock

Scientists are growing neanderthal brains in the lab

The story behind Mr. Rogers flipping children the bird

Meet the contestants of the World’s Ugliest Dog competition

The rat who stole $19k from an Indian bank

Aliens might be rearranging stars to fight dark matter

The luckiest man in the world

The secret river caves of Slovenia

Do we really need “anatomically correct” stuffed animals

The world’s fattest hedgehog just got put on a diet

Don’t try this at home. Or anywhere. Just don’t do this

Sleeping man gets stuck on drawbridge as it opens

He’s not a useless guard dog, he’s just friendly

Some people just deserve to get conned

A timeline of the colors of Mr. Rogers’ sweaters

Culture

Krauthammer’s Take on Life

Charles Krauthammer (Fox News/YouTube)

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 members of the Remnant everywhere),

My plan was to do something new this week: Write a “news”letter in which the number and ratio of consonants to vowels in each word advanced in accordance with the Fibonacci sequence until, like a pointillist painting, seen from afar this “news”letter would have the definitive take on Scott Pruitt’s tactical pants.

But Charles Krauthammer died last night, and I figured I should follow his advice and not change a thing with the Goldberg File.

When Charles first revealed to me that he read the G-File, it filled me with a kind of embarrassed dread, like finding out your father-in-law saw a video montage of your college frat parties, or when your favorite English teacher reads the note you passed to a friend out loud to the whole class. Because, that’s sort of how I’ve always thought about this thing — as a note passed to a friend. If I went into it thinking, “Charles Krauthammer is going to read this” or — the still terrifying — “Is George Will going to read this?” there would be remarkably fewer pull-my-finger jokes, never mind satirical porn titles. (My favorite still being the necrophiliac gay porn film inspired by the Florida recount: Hanging Chad.)

Still, this was back when I didn’t know Charles well, and I assumed he was the imposing figure I admired from afar. I soon learned that the Charles you saw on TV was just a sliver of the whole person.

The Charles you saw on TV was a bit dumber than the Charles you saw in real life — but that’s only because TV makes pretty much every smart person seem a little dumber because of the demands of the medium (though the margin is far, far less than the degree to which TV can magically make some very dumb people seem quite smart).

But more to the point, Charles Krauthammer could sniff glue all day long, frying brain cells like Michael Cohen throwing files into a burning garbage can, and still be one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met. He could toss out IQ points like the flight attendant on Jeffrey Epstein’s plane, distributing tetracycline to the passengers en route to Tijuana, and still be sharper than a Ginsu knife cutting through a tin can like butter.

Where was I? Oh, right. The point was that as smart as Charles was on TV, he was so much smarter in person. But you noticed his brilliance more on TV both because he was so frick’n brilliant and because he mostly had to keep the other sides of his personality in check. Once he got off the set, however, his intelligence became just one jewel of the mosaic. He had this amazing sense of humor, of which viewers only saw glimpses and hints of on TV. He had a depth of empathy that was shocking, particularly in a town and profession where empathy seems to shrink as reputations grow.

I wasn’t qualified to talk to him about baseball, so we talked more about history. We also talked a good deal about dogs, weird words, oddball trivia, and gossip. Charles liked gossip. Not mean or sordid gossip, but intellectual, professional, and political gossip. He was a real student of humanity and gossip is — or at least was in Charles’s hands — a major resource of the field.

There’s been a lot of talk about how Charles was the most important and influential conservative columnist of the last 30 years, or as Chuck Lane put it last night, since Walter Lippmann. I certainly think that’s defensible, but I have some quibbles. Charles was certainly a conservative, and he definitely was one of the most influential columnists ever. But I think it’s worth noting that not only would some of this praise make him uncomfortable, he might also have disagreed.

He had deep admiration for his friend and collegial rival, George Will, and he talked about him in ways that might suggest he thought George deserved the crown. I suspect Charles would have also thrown Bill Safire into the mix and probably Bill Buckley, too. But my real point is that the power and influence of his writing didn’t come from an effort to come up with the best conservative take on a subject. He approached the page, literally and figuratively, almost completely free of doctrine or dogma — which is ironic given that some of his most famous work was on defining the Reagan and Bush doctrines.

Now, I like doctrine and dogma — but what Charles did was bring the reader along as he thought through an idea or an argument. Lots of pundits do most of their reasoning first — if they really do it at all — and then pass off their conclusions as if they were arguments. When you read a Krauthammer column, you might still disagree with him but you never had any doubt about how he got to his conclusion or that his argument was formulated in good faith.

When I told him how uncomfortable it made me to think that he was reading the G-File, he laughed. He was very kind and generous about it, giving some advice about how more writers need to have fun, how the only audience you truly must satisfy is yourself, and that the ability to make people laugh was an important way of making people think. (There’s a reason jokes are ruined when you explain them. The laugh often comes from that sort of magical epiphany when your brain discovers a relationship between two things that you always saw but never connected. It’s why I always thought philosophy and comedy were more closely related than people realized. We talked about that for a while.)

As I mentioned on the Remnant podcast last week (and on TV this morning), one of my goals was to make Charles laugh on the Special Report panel. I had once said about someone — I have no idea who — that he was “a couple fries short of a Happy Meal” or something like that. And Charles cracked up. He’d bring it up every now and then, like it was an inside joke. Well, to mutilate the metaphor horribly, Charles — a truly happy man in the broadest sense — had more fries in his Happy Meal than any man I can think of. He had more reason to be bitter or haughty or vain than the next 100 men, and yet he overflowed with eudaimonia. He couldn’t use most of his body, but he was a man in full. And just being around him made me feel lucky — like finding that mysterious curly fry amidst all the normal ones.

The Remnant Is Smaller

Earlier this week, Kristen Soltis Anderson wrote a column offering a taxonomy of Washington Republicans. The first three are: the Trump enthusiasts, the Establishmentarians, and the internal opposition. The enthusiasts sing Trump’s praises and welcome his agenda and his personal excesses. The Establishmentarians go with the flow and skim their winnings and collect their vigs where they can. The internal opposition works to undermine Trump and salvage the ancien regime. What unites these three groups is that they have resources and infrastructure of some kind.

It’s not symmetrical, of course. The enthusiasts have the White House, the RNC, and a big swathe of right-wing activist groups and nearly all of the opinion side of Fox News in their corner. The Establishmentarians have a big chunk of Congress, K Street, and the Chamber of Commerce at their disposal. The Internal Opposition has some email lists, Twitter accounts, and a smattering of institutional and financial resources. There are some people in the Internal Opposition I admire and sympathize with, such as Bill Kristol. There others who I think have become unhinged, such as Evan McMullin.

Meanwhile, the fourth species of Washington Republicans, in Kristen’s telling, has virtually no infrastructure at all. She writes:

But there is a fourth group. For lack of a better name at the moment, I will shamelessly steal the name of the excellent podcast hosted by columnist Jonah Goldberg: “the Remnant.” Goldberg in his introductory episode notes that his show will be neither pro- nor anti-Trump, but rather something for those who feel left behind by the other factions, who live in a constant state of feeling that everyone else around them seems to have gone crazy.

The Remnant is the least organized or easy to describe of the four types of Republican in Washington today. The Remnant does not have meetings. It does not have an agenda or a manifesto or a super PAC or a c(3). When they feel the president has done something good, they will praise him. When they feel he has erred, they will criticize him.

The trouble for the Remnant is that taking things issue by issue, day by day, is a perfectly admirable thing to do from an intellectual perspective but is nearly impossible to organize around politically. But for a thriving ideological movement — not a political movement, which prizes choosing sides — perhaps the Remnant is the most interesting group of them all.

Nock, Nock

I wouldn’t necessarily describe things exactly this way myself — not least because I’ve never much cared about the GOP label — but I think this is basically right. It’s true we don’t hold meetings. Indeed, this is in keeping with the grand tradition of the Nock Society, inspired by Albert Jay Nock, whose first rule was “no officers, no dues, and no meetings.” Nock adapted the term “The Remnant” from the story of Isaiah. From my essay on Nock:

At the end of King Uzziah’s reign in 740 b.c., the prophet Isaiah was tasked with warning the Jews of God’s wrath. But, in Nock’s rephrasing of the Biblical text, God gave this disclaimer: “I suppose perhaps I ought to tell you that it won’t do any good. The official class and their intelligentsia will turn up their noses at you and the masses will not even listen. They will all keep on in their own ways until they carry everything down to destruction, and you will probably be lucky if you get out with your life.”

Isaiah asked why he should even bother, then? “Ah,” the Lord said, “you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it.” For Nock, the Remnant was his audience. At times, the idea of the Remnant is unapologetically elitist, but in a thoroughly Jeffersonian way. The Remnant were not the “best and brightest,” the most successful, the richest. Rather, they were those occupying the “substratum of right thinking and well doing” (in Matthew Arnold’s words). “Two things you do know, and no more: First, that they exist; second, that they will find you. Except for these two certainties, working for the Remnant means working in impenetrable darkness.”

Now, I think Nock’s vision was a bit too bleak, fatalist, and, truthfully, too arrogant (and I am not convinced it was entirely sincerely held). But what I take from Nock’s Remnant is the recognition that arguing for the right principles is right in itself.

The larger point of his Remnant — and my own less grandiose version — is that it’s worth making a long-term bet on conservative ideas for two reasons: 1) It’s wrong to lie or compromise core convictions for popularity, expediency, or even — dare I say it? — to own the libs; and 2) Because, if our ideas don’t win in the long run, we’re screwed anyway, and at least we’ll be able to live with ourselves. I am not saying that supporting Trump or donning a MAGA hat amounts to some profound moral compromise. I know plenty of people who have done that to one extent or another and remain decent and honest people. But you shouldn’t put your faith in princes, nor should you let your ideas become servants to a person.

(I guess there’s a third reason, too. Young conservatives are disproportionately members of the Remnant, for reasons Ben Shapiro lays out here. You wouldn’t know this from the new crop of opportunists, hucksters, and connivers working their way up through MAGA Twitter and elsewhere. But it’s true. And they need to be shown that this stuff isn’t normal.)

This morning, I was on Fox talking about Charles, and I got a little emotional towards the end. I am fully open to the idea that my remorse got in the way of my clarity. But the point I was trying to make is one I am happy to reiterate here: It’s great and good that people are praising Charles. But it would be nice if more people on the right thought for a moment about why his insights and contributions were so valued. Charles came to play. He brought facts with him and he never went beyond them. He never caved on principle, either. In short, he didn’t pander to his audience. He told them what he thought they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear. Moreover, Charles was never mean or conspiratorial or demagogic. There was not an ounce of cruelty in Charles Krauthammer, yet we live in a moment when too many people think cruelty is a form of strength.

When I was trying to make that point, I referenced Corey Lewandowski’s mockery of a story about a little girl with Down syndrome locked in a cage (a grotesquerie Lewandowski has refused to apologize for, because, in his doofus-bro culture, apologies are a sign of weakness). In response, I was deluged by a torrent of Twitter jackassery.

What does it say about people like this, or the moment we’re in, that they take offense on behalf of Donald Trump — a man I never mentioned — because I pointed out that some people behave like jerks? Are their consciences so dirty that any denunciation of crudeness and meanness makes them immediately defensive about Donald Trump?

My point on Fox was that Charles Krauthammer modeled behavior that I think is sorely lacking today, including among many of the people heaping praise upon him. These responses proved my point.

I’m happy to acknowledge that I fall short of his standard — I hope not too much these days, though I know I have in the past. But people learn and they grow — or at least they are supposed to. Instead, we live in a time when too many are unlearning and regressing into bullies, brutes, and champions of mob-thinking — and boasting about it on TV.

I know — not think but know — that Charles was part of the Remnant. I know it because we talked about it. But I also know it because, as Charles said, “You’re betraying your whole life if you don’t say what you think, and you don’t say it honestly and bluntly.”

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: Zoë will often follow a squirrel running on a power line or through the tree canopy on the off chance it will simply fall from the tree to the ground by accident. You would think this is an exercise in futility. I mean, how often do you see squirrels just fall from the sky? Well, over the years this technique has worked out surprisingly well for her. It’s almost as if she’s putting out signals that make the squirrels leap to their doom. Or maybe, she knows that if she locks her radar on them, the squirrels will be so scared they’ll be looking down at the dingo below and not watch where they’re going and fall. Or maybe the gods favor dingoes over squirrels. Whatever the reason, the technique worked for her yet again earlier this week. She followed a squirrel for a while. The squirrel jumped, botched the landing on the next branch, and fell into a swirling maw of swamp dog. Paint another tree rat on her fuselage.

Now, I don’t like it when she kills anything. Partly because I’m a sucker for animals (so was Charles Krauthammer, by the way. He would put out bowls of dog food in his backyard so the raccoons would come and put on a show for him). But also because I have no idea what they put in those things. Not to mention the fact that if Zoë had her druthers, she would take the carcass back to the car, bring it home, and nom-nom it on the living room rug. But she knows she can’t do that, so in a sign of her growing maturity, she no longer tries to eat the whole thing before we get the jaws of life to pry the corpse from her jaws of death. Instead she goes and hides the trophy somewhere she thinks we’ll never find it (which is technically true because we never go looking). Despite the layup nature of the kill, Zoe was very proud of herself which is why she tweeted this herself.

Then, this morning, there was even more drama (and I don’t mean the fight over who gets to sit shotgun, that’s a settled issue). While still in the car, Zoë spotted a rabbit. When I opened the door, she rushed out while I made Pippa stay inside. Zoë has far fewer rabbit kills than she has gopher and squirrel kills. In fact, I don’t think she’s caught once since the Hillsdale incident years ago. Since this is already long, you can just follow this Tweet thread.

Anyway, everything else with them is fine. And Pippa buttwaggling is going ever more viral.

Finally, because Kirsten is out of town this week, I had doggo duty this afternoon as well. I “let” Pippa get as dirty as she wanted because I took her straight to the hairdresser afterwards. Behold her new summertime doggy ’do (I said ’do!).

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

The latest Remnant: Comfortable, Smug, but not Comfortably Smug

Child separation at the border

In honor of Father’s Day, the eulogy I wrote for my father

Trump’s administration is as swampy as it gets

Can the nation-state fulfill our tribal longings?

No, don’t fire Mueller

It’s time for reasonable politicians to take a serious look at immigration

Was the Enlightenment racist?

My appearance on Monday’s Special Report

And Special Report’s tribute to Charles Krauthammer

And now, the weird stuff:

Debby’s Friday links

A lot more people would run marathons if they still included this

The cities that never existed

Just the bear necessities, the simple bear necessities

This is why you don’t eat broccoli

A drone with a flamethrower, the most terrifying/fascinating thing you’ll see today

Who would win in a battle of the boroughs?

The lost ovens of the Revolutionary War

What your dog does when he thinks you’re not looking

Phille Phanatic injures fan after shooting her in the face with a hot dog

Like carbs? You could have been a gladiator

Jumping soccer fans cause a minor earthquake in Mexico

A dust storm blankets the entirety of Mars

Burger King offers a lifetime of free Whoppers to women impregnated by World Cup players

The world’s largest tree house

The Czech president invites you to watch him burn some huge red underpants

Words of wisdom from Chris Pratt (including advice on how to poop at parties)

Four-term dog mayor of Minnesota town announces retirement

The world’s most expensive milkshake

And the world’s most expensive joint

Culture

Staying on the Path

(Wikimedia Commons)

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 those of you who are no longer my personal lawyer),

Almost 20 years ago, I wrote in this space that the movie A Simple Plan was one of the most conservative movies of the 1990s.

In case you haven’t seen it, the plot is pretty straightforward, almost clichéd. It focuses on three men in rural America. Two are a bit down on their luck: The first is kind of dimwitted, the other is the town drunk.

The third, played by the late, great Bill Paxton is slightly more prosperous but still struggling. He’s hardworking and a straight arrow with a pregnant wife. They discover a pile of drug money in the woods. The drunk says that they should keep it. “It’s the American dream!” he declares.

Paxton replies, “You work for the American dream. You don’t steal it.”

To which the drunk replies, “Then this is even better!”

The men come up with a simple plan to keep the money. It requires a simple lie and a little secrecy. Needless to say, it doesn’t work out well for any of them.

What I liked so much about the movie is that it shows how easily life goes off the rails when you deviate from boring, stodgy, bourgeois morality. One of the more reliable themes in literature and popular culture is the idea of “staying on the path.” In Breaking Bad, Walter White plays a decent, hardworking high-school chemistry teacher. By the end, he’s a mass-murdering drug lord. The journey, like all such journeys, begins with a simple plan to take a single small step off the path.

As I wrote at length here, Walter’s transformation truly begins when he decides — thanks to the arrogance of his own intellect — that he can be his own arbiter of morality. Staying on the path is for lesser, weaker men. As I wrote here, in Sons of Anarchy, the bikers — inspired in part by the anarchist Emma Goldman — collectively decide to live in the wilds of human nature, far from the path of civilization. Once encamped there, “free” from the protection and demands of the law, all questions are settled by force, and morality is determined by what is good for the tribe.

In one sense, staying on the path is the simplest thing in the world. But as anyone who has tried to stay on a diet, go to the gym regularly, or start writing that term paper well ahead of the deadline can attest, the simplest things in life can often be the hardest. As Al Pacino, after his late-in-life graduation from Over-Acting School, says in Scent of a Woman, during the final “trial” scene:

I’m not a judge or jury. But I can tell you this: He won’t sell anybody out to buy his future!! And that, my friends, is called integrity! That’s called courage! Now that’s the stuff leaders should be made of. Now I have come to the crossroads in my life. I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew. But I never took it. You know why? It was too damn hard. Now here’s Charlie. He’s come to the crossroads. He has chosen a path. It’s the right path. It’s a path made of principle — that leads to character. Let him continue on his journey.

If you’re sick of all the pop-culture references, consider the “success sequence.” From my book: 

Ron Haskins, also of the Brookings Institution, has identified what he calls the “success sequence”: “at least finish high school, get a full-time job and wait until age 21 to get married and have children.” If young people do just these three things, in that order, they are almost guaranteed to climb out of poverty. “Our research shows that of American adults who followed these three simple rules, only about 2 percent are in poverty and nearly 75 percent have joined the middle class (defined as earning around $55,000 or more per year).”

This is the path that almost guarantees a relatively decent life for poor people. And yet, many don’t follow it. Why? One reason: because it is hard. The pull of human nature is strongest when we are young — all those hormones! All of that adolescent arrogance! We think — feel, really — that the rules are for other people and that we can handle all of the possible consequence of indulging our glandular impulses. (Another reason more people don’t follow this path: Our culture and many of our elites heap scorn on it.) 

Staying on the path may be the most conservative concept there is. “What is conservatism?” asked Abraham Lincoln. “Is it not the adherence to the old and tried against the new and untried?” People who think conservatism is opposed to all change miss the point entirely. Paths go places. They might not get us where we want to go as fast as we would like. But the conservative is deeply skeptical of shortcuts and simple plans to save time or effort. The rationalist temptation to “out think” the simple rules — what Oakeshott called “making politics as the crow flies” — may not always lead to tyranny or oppression, but the odds that it will are too great to justify the attempt.

The whole point of my book is that, for 250,000 years, humans wandered on the wrong paths — or without any paths at all — and then, accidentally, we stumbled through a miraculous portal that has delivered once-unimaginable prosperity and liberty. But rather than have a sense of gratitude for our good fortune, we bathe ourselves in resentment for the path we’re on and where it brought us. The rationalist progressives think they’re better cartographers and can map a better route. The hard or nostalgic nationalists want to double back to a shady bend in the road behind us. The ugly racists want to march even further backward. The sophomoric socialists are convinced that everyone should throw their kits onto the road and divvy up our wares more equitably. Others of a socialist bent are convinced that we can somehow get on a bus to the future, sparing us the effort and providing equal seating for all. The identity-politics obsessives think the path is a private road benefitting only white people or white men. But the path is for anyone willing to stay on it. 

The Moment We’re In

Before you smash my guitar against the Delta House wall, let me bring this down to earth a bit. Believe it or not, when I started writing this “news”letter, I planned to dive straight into a discussion of the news of the day. I wanted to use the A Simple Plan reference to set up a basic point: We’re in the mess we’re in because too many people — people who should know better — have strayed off the path.

John Podhoretz tweeted this yesterday: 

He is absolutely correct. I’d only expand the indictment. Every moment has deep roots. And while I love to read conservatives who place all our current woes on Machiavelli or Joachim of Fiore, the current state of our politics can be more immediately traced back to rise of the House Clinton, the Tudors of the Ozarks. I’ve written my fill — for now — about Bill Clinton and the priapistic prodigy of prevarication’s perpetual straying from the paths of propriety, both personally and politically. Suffice it to say that Bill always believed that norms were for other people.

Of course, he doesn’t deserve anything like all of the blame; conservatives often responded to his norm-breaking with norm violations of their own. The culture itself was ready for a president like Clinton, and that is its own indictment. Indeed, as Bill has often suggested, he was a victim of a breakdown in media practices and other norms that once would have protected him. That’s why he loves to hide behind whataboutist arguments about JFK’s transgressions. But it wasn’t just the sex. He broke norms, legal and otherwise, like a tornado ripping through town. Shaking down foreign donors , the White House travel-office firings, “Filegate,” selling pardons, the list goes on.

And Hillary Clinton wasn’t just standing by her man baking cookies. She was part of the racket. From her impossible genius at playing cattle futures, to her insidious cultivation of Sidney Blumenthal and David Brock, to her off-book email server, Hillary Clinton has always seen norms as something that should constrain other people. Since Bill left office, the Clintons monetized government service like no one in American history had, in both scope and scale.

If Hillary Clinton, a terrible politician but a terrific bureaucratic and backroom conniver, hadn’t largely rigged the nomination, both literally and figuratively — and if the Democratic party, including Barack Obama, hadn’t let her — the FBI would never have been in the position it was put in. Even more specifically, if she had simply followed the rules about classified material that have sent lesser mortals to jail, the people running the Justice Department and the FBI would have had no reason to break the rules in their handling of her case. This is no exoneration of the FBI, which clearly strayed from the norms John describes above. Rather, it simply illustrates that norm-breaking is contagious. Broken-windows theory applies to politics, too.

I know liberals hate any “This is how you got Trump” take that strays beyond the comfortable notion that an army of racists, hypocritical religious zealots, and gun nuts voted for him, but nothing in politics happens in a vacuum. At an intensely populist moment on both the left and the right, a moment when the healthy dislike of political dynasties had metastasized into an almost lethal phobia about elites’ self-dealing, the Democratic party nominated the poster child of self-dealing elites.

Donald Trump cast himself as a capitalist übermensch, who transcended the rules of a corrupt system he boasted about being a part of. He was one giant middle-finger to the norms, and he has invited a responding counter-attack on norms — from journalists, judges, and, it seems, at least a few FBI agents.

For instance, in a normal time, a man with his sordid sexual history could never get near the Republican nomination, never mind the presidency. But we live in a moment of whataboutist asininity when hypocrisy is considered a worse sin than the actual transgressions we’re hypocritical about. It’s as if a murderer, who had a history of preaching against murder, is seen as more of a villain for violating his principles than for killing someone. No wonder Donald Trump could neutralize his transgressions simply by pointing to Bill’s. The common denominators cancelled out the numerators. The process of erosion didn’t end with Hillary’s defeat — it spread. It may feel like ancient history now, but, fairly recently, avowed Evangelical Christians were defending Roy Moore’s preying on teenage girls for the simple reason that the norms had broken from their moorings.

The Contagion Spreads

So now we have Trump, whose single most important mandate was to not be Hillary Clinton. And, because that choice must be psychologically ratified, the single greatest sin in the new Church of the Right is a failure to cheer at whatever the man does. That is why a traditional and principled conservative such as Mark Sanford lost in his primary and why Jeff Flake has been pelted from the public stage. That is why the head of the RNC, a woman who dropped “Romney” as her middle name because it vexed the boss, proclaims: “Complacency is our enemy. Anyone that does not embrace the @realDonaldTrump agenda of making America great again will be making a mistake.” That is why countless pundits wave off criticism of Trump’s preening over dictators and murderers by attacking the alleged motives of those who offer the criticism. It is why Trump’s blinkered views on trade have been subsumed into a larger argument about the culture war.

Point out that no reputable economist thinks we lose money from trade deficits the way Trump constantly insists, and the retort is, “Why don’t you want to make America great again?” Hell, I could say “two plus two equals four,” and if that were somehow inconvenient to the president, the immediate response would be, “I’d expect a Never Trumper to say that.” Point out that Trump Inc. is making money off the presidency in ways that would make the Clintons green with envy, and the reply is either eye-rolling or a fecal fog of whataboutism.

To paraphrase Nietzsche: Norms are for losers. Fighters make their own norms. Unity is the creed of MAGA, and its mantra of the One True Prophet is the order of the day. And if that means supporting a white-nationalist wannabe for the Senate, so be it. Campus conservatives used to define their intellectual rebelliousness by their support for certain ideas, now some define it chiefly by their fawning over a single politician.

I have praised many of the things Donald Trump has done, but like Jeff Flake’s and Mark Sanford’s voting records, that counts for nothing if you don’t go whole hog. For 20 years, I have been arguing that unity in general is amoral and overrated and that the great strength of the conservative movement has been our willingness to argue among ourselves and not ape the progressive tendency to blind ourselves to our own dogma. Now, the defining argument of conservatism is “Shut up,” even from people who agree with me.

To Hell with all that — I’ll stay on the path as best I can.

Various & Sundry

It’s been an absolutely grueling week on the road. But I want to thank all of the great folks who turned out at my events last week. The fake media will never report how big the crowds were at the events hosted by Economic Forum of Palm Beach County and the Tiger Bay Clubs of Orlando and St. Petersburg. But I’m grateful for them nonetheless. I’d love to come back to Florida again, just not in the summer!

You can look up future speaking events at JonahGoldberg.com.

Canine Update: I am sad to inform you that there have been some norm violations here at Chez Goldberg. One of the beasts strayed from the path while I was gone and pooped in the house on at least two occasions (at least we think it was only one of them and not a team effort). Neither seemed outwardly ill, so I fear it was editorial comment on all of my travelling. Of course, they each point the damning paw of blame at each other. I suspect it was Pippa, in part because she lacks the Dingo’s fastidiousness, but also because she’s been behaving oddly.

In our bedroom, we have a very large wooden bed frame, and Pippa knows that whenever she goes under the bed, she gets stuck there — sometimes for a long time if we’re not home or don’t notice. And yet, twice while I was gone, she got herself stuck, forcing the Fair Jessica to use the jaws of life by herself for the purposes of spaniel extraction. Jessica’s probably correct theory puts the real blame on Zoë. She’s gotten some special chew treats lately (a trachea and a bully stick). And Zoë is extremely protective of such treasures. If a cat gets near one of these disgusting things, Zoë will race over and get it, even though the cats want nothing to do with them. When Pippa gets near them, Zoë growls, and that always terrifies Pippa, which is probably why she went to her sub-bed bunker in the middle of the night.

It just wasn’t Pippa’s week. As longtime readers know, on weekdays the beasts get a big midday romp in the woods with Kirsten and the dogs in her dogwalking pack. Earlier this week, Obi, a gentlemanly older Golden, took Pippa’s tennis ball, causing her to breakout in an unladylike torrent of canine expletives. But it also inspired this absolutely fantastic tweet:

Anyway, all is well at home now. They were very happy to see me last night, and they were delighted to get back to their core mission with me this morning. Though Pippa was a bit cross that the mud puddles had dried up, even though their absence spared her another early morning hose-down.

There’s still time to get a copy of Suicide of the West for Father’s Day, by the way.

Oh, and speaking of Father’s Day, as per tradition, here’s a link to the eulogy I delivered for my Dad. The 13th anniversary of his passing was a few days ago. It still feels all-too-fresh to me.

My appearance on Ben Shapiro’s “Sunday Special” show is now available.

Last week’s G-File

The latest Remnant: Purple Hayes

The latest episode of GLoP : Blame Canada!

In defense of Edmund Burke

What to make of the North Korea summit so far

Picking a fight with Canada sends the wrong message to the world

Trump’s put himself as the focus of the peace talks

About Bret Baier’s Trump interview

North Korean propaganda about the Singapore visit

Ben Carson, Scott Pruitt, and the trappings of power (Whether you like this column or not — I haven’t made up my mind — I am kind of proud of the fact I churned it out in 49 minutes at the St. Petersburg airport.)

What eluded who now?

My appearance on Fox News Sunday

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Biologists eat monkeys for the sake of science

Florida man calls the police on drug dealer on suspicions of selling him fake meth

(Different) Florida man dies in meth-lab explosion after lighting his farts on fire

Why a 60-year-old spy plane still matters

I forced a bot to read thousands of Neil deGrasse Tyson tweets, and it wrote this article ruining the “I forced a bot” joke

A Canadian boy reports his parents to police for serving him a salad

Chinese fishermen catch a fish with the head of a bird

An amputee cooks and serves his own foot to dinner guests

Kitten in animal shelter turns out to be a bobcat

Welcome to the Hotel Influenza (such a lovely place)

The little raccoon who could

Cat plays Jenga

Dog tries watermelon

Are we getting dumber?

Van Morrison’s revenge

Where cruise ships sail above cars

Do bees understand the concept of zero?

Oh, deer!

Fecal road rage

Politics & Policy

Bill Clinton’s Me Too Reckoning

President Clinton at a White house ceremony in 1998. (Win McNamee/Reuters)

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 (Particularly unrepentant yoga-pant wearers),

Except for a few superficial similarities — I like my brown liquor, I’m a National Review reader, I’m bipedal — I fully realize I’m no Jack Kerouac. But I’m thinking I’m gonna do this “news”letter Kerouac-style. I don’t mean that I’ll write it drunk (or rather, too drunk) or that I’m going to copy his voice. Rather, I simply mean I’m going to forgo the normally polished and precise, meticulously organized style of this “news”letter and just go stream-of-consciousness in the grand tradition of Kerouacian “spontaneous prose” and old-fashioned cocaine addiction (I gotta get home to make the tomato sauce).

Remember last year when — <checks notes> — remember this week when Bill Clinton had that awful Today Show interview with NBC’s Craig Melvin?

A few thoughts:

First, as indicated above, it’s rather amazing how long ago barely five days ago seems.

Second, I have to say that the most annoying thing about Bill Clinton’s performance didn’t have anything to do with the lies or the narcissism — it was that something has happened to Bill Clinton’s mouth. When he talks, he makes these smacking sounds like his mouth is full of spackle or the detritus from a saltine-cracker-challenge fail. It makes it hard for me to concentrate on the words, because all I can hear is his tongue peeling off the roof of his mouth like the wallpaper in a Rangoon brothel.

Tertiarily, Bill’s still Bill. I won’t belabor the point because everyone else has. But time after time, Clinton has spun the Lewinsky thing into a story about how he was treated unfairly during this thing that simply occurred while he was president.

This is how he put it in his “do-over” interview with Stephen Colbert: “But the important thing is, that was a very painful thing that happened 20 years ago, and I apologized to my family, to Monica Lewinsky and her family, and to the American people.”

He uses a version of this locution all of the time. The scandal was a thing that “happened” as if he was not the author of it. It reminds of that scene in Diner where Steve Guttenberg (“What an actor!” — The Stonecutters) makes his fiancée take a football-trivia test to prove she’s worthy of marriage. If she fails, Gutenberg explains, “it’s out of my hands.”

For Clinton — both of them — all of his or her misdeeds were scandals because other people, nefarious forces, Comstocks and prudes, vast right-wing conspiracies, talk-radio critics, et al., unfairly turned them into scandals. For Clinton, the real story of the impeachment drama was that he did nothing wrong. “I did the right thing,” he said. “I defended the Constitution.”

Yes, that is totally how history will remember that chapter.

I wonder how many times Bill told one of his paramours: “Lie back and think of the Constitution.”

Speaking of history, I particularly enjoyed when Bill snapped, “You think President Kennedy should have resigned? Do you believe President Johnson should have resigned?”

This is precisely the argument Clinton used on Donna Shalala and the rest of his cabinet the day after he publicly admitted he’d been lying — and had forced his cabinet to lie — about his groping for trout in a peculiar river with an intern for over a year. Here’s how I put it not long ago:

When Bill Clinton had to “apologize” to his cabinet for playing baron-and-the-milkmaid with an intern and lying about it, he asked if anybody had a problem with it. Donna Shalala foolishly assumed he was being sincere. She chimed in and said she had a problem. He berated her for her effrontery, explaining that her prudish standards would have prevented JFK from being president. And while those of us not ensorcelled by the cult of that charismatic mediocrity might respond, “Yeah, so?” this was a debate-settling argument for many liberals.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was under the impression that the whole premise — right or wrong (I think right) — of the Me Too movement is that being powerful or even doing good things professionally is no excuse for piggish, exploitative, or abusive behavior. Clinton’s rhetorical question about Kennedy and Johnson proves that he doesn’t actually agree with the Me Too movement. Or, to be more accurate, he agrees with it — so long as it doesn’t apply to him. Which is just about the purest distillation of Clintonism — in both its Bill and its Hillary strains — you could come up with.

Me Too? More Like Me Somewhat

But speaking of Me Too, I do have a problem with the Today Show interview. I’ve been following the mainstream media’s celebration of Melvin’s “courage” for bringing up the Lewinsky episode. But you know what he didn’t bring up? All of the other allegations — including rape — against Bill Clinton. If we are to take Me Too seriously, then surely, say, Juanita Broaddrick deserves a hearing, no?

As much as Clinton didn’t see it that way, focusing entirely on the Lewinsky stuff was a great favor to Clinton, because it allowed him to cite polls and offer his bovine-turd-taco claim that he was “defending the Constitution.” Was he standing up for the Madisonian vision of the constitutional order when he told Broaddrick to put some ice on her lip?

Still, the liberal media should be congratulated for trying to resolve their cognitive dissonance. Indeed, I think Bill Clinton is partly correct when he says the press is “frustrated because they’ve got all these serious accusations against the current occupant of the Oval Office, and his voters don’t seem to care.” It’s not just the current occupant of the Oval Office — but it seems obvious to me that the liberal punditocracy would not be turning on Clinton so much if he weren’t inconvenient to the anti-Trump narrative.

And since we’re on the topic of cognitive dissonance and sexual politics, let me refer you to my column today. I’ll wait while you read it. Okay, for those of you who didn’t bother, my basic argument is that I think the new Miss America policy of not judging outward beauty — at all — is kinda ridiculous.

In the 1990s, I used to go to a joint called “Burrito Brothers.” They had great burritos. One day, a friend of mine got the tacos, something that no one had ever dreamed of doing in human history. Fascinated, I asked him, “How are they?”

My friend replied, “Meh. I think there’s a reason they don’t call them ‘Mexican Food Brothers.’” I’ve always used this as an illustration of the idea that organizations should stick to what they are good at, i.e., what their purpose is.

Turning the Miss America Pageant into a contest to find the most confident, woke, and earnest young woman regardless of her looks strikes me as a silly idea, along the lines of Burrito Brothers getting into the heating and insulation business.

Anyway, I was quite honest in the column about my shameful secret: While I’m not a big fan of pageants, I like looking at very attractive women. More to the point, the charge that Miss America “objectified” women never bothered me much. The point of beauty pageants is to judge beauty. That’s how they started. Judging people on their earnest wokeness is why we have Oberlin.

I don’t celebrate the fact that beauty matters, I simply acknowledge it. It is undeniable that every culture cares about attractiveness, and denying that is simply ridiculous. We shouldn’t go overboard with it. But thinking that we can just badger people into abandoning sexual desire or notions of beauty strikes me as more than a little totalitarian and entirely idiotic. (An extreme version of this is the occasional claim one finds in the wokier swamps that heterosexual men who are uninterested in dating transgender women are bigots.)

I haven’t done a survey, but it seems that a lot of the people who like to mock and belittle “science deniers” and “creationists” are the very same people who insist (hetero)sexual desire, beauty, etc. are entirely socially constructed. I concede that social forces play a significant role — Reubenesque women were once the standard of beauty and all that — but I find it bizarre and anti-science to deny that sexual desire is an important part of human nature.

But that’s not the reason I bring all this up. While I was getting into Twitter spats with people denouncing the objectification of women at beauty pageants, a much louder and larger mob was denouncing Rudy Giuliani for daring to judge a porn actress.

If there is a single industry in all of Christendom that does more to treat women as sexual objects without meaningful agency or dignity, it’s the porn industry and, relatedly, strip clubs. Yeah, yeah, I get that Stormy Daniels is an assertive, independent businesswoman. And, as I am not a close student of Stormy Daniels’s particular contributions to this oeuvre, it may be the case that Dripping Wet Sex IV is full of empowering messages for women, but I’ll remain skeptical until I review the evidence.

Look, I also get that what Giuliani was doing was quite ugly and dishonest. And I get that he’s no moral exemplar. And I am happy to concede that I think Daniels is telling the truth. But we are in a strange world where beauty-pageant swimsuit competitions are evil relics of toxic masculinity — but porn stars are glorious examples of womanhood at its finest.

Various & Sundry

As I was writing this, the news broke about Charles Krauthammer. I knew this was coming (I got an email about it at the reception for my father-in-law’s funeral, which was not ideal). But I was still unprepared for the reality of it. There will surely be an outpouring of remorse, praise, support, and reminiscence of Charles in the weeks ahead. I don’t have the emotional energy to even attempt any such thing right now. I started to cry writing a tweet. But I will join the chorus more fully when the time is right. Until then, let me just say that Charles is one of the most impressive and decent people I have ever known. He is a mensch in every sense. And while he is almost never wrong, I hope and pray he is wrong about his prospects. The world needs Charles Krauthammer.

Canine Update: I feel sheepish following that with a report about my dogs, but Charles is a fan of the G-File (one of the highlights of my career) and he is a fan of dogs, so I know he will not object. The beasts were very happy when we came home from Alaska. Some people have surmised that the dogs like the Fair Jessica more than they like me. I think this is irrefutable. I have many theories why, but one factor is probably that she is in charge of their weekly portion of ice cream. The spaniel continues to spaniel. Because the weather was nice for most of this week, I tried to keep them company and work from home in the backyard. The only problem is Pippa and Zoë have a different idea of “work.” Meanwhile Gracie, the good cat, is much more cooperative (though she does have high standards when it comes to jewelry). Because I’ve had to be up terribly early several times this week, I pulled the great switcheroo and woke them up.

I will be in Chicago this Saturday and in Florida next week. Consult JonahGoldberg.com for more details.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

Ruminations on the presidential self-pardon

Last week’s Remnant: The Age of Double Standards

And this week’s Remnant: Get Me Another Shapiro!

Can Trump get away with murder?

Vladimir Paul Gavora, RIP

The problems of the self-pardon

Don’t let labels do your thinking

President Trump and the Mueller investigation

Anti-Semitism vs. Islamophobia

Taking the “beauty” out of beauty pageants

Depressing thoughts can be contagious

My appearance on Monday’s Special Report

And Wednesday’s

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday Links

The birth of Ziggy Stardust

Authorities capture bear using waffles and syrup

The real-life gangsters behind Goodfellas

Norwegian company gives employees pawternity leave to bond with new pets

Yale graduation speaker breaks up with her boyfriend during speech

Follow the monkey (poop)

Good boys like being called good boys

Rotting-fish exhibit explodes and catches fire in modern-art gallery

The new golden age of Tiki bars

Grifter season 2018

Oregon man gives new meaning to high-speed chase

Why it’s harder to think in the summer heat

The 200-year treasure hunt

Hemingway’s house bunkers down for its 168th hurricane season

The super-bacteria living in NASA’s Clean Rooms

Nerd alert!

What to eat before you swim 5,500 miles

Scientists move us one step closer to having robot overlords

When you think you can reverse the flow of time . . .

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