Culture

A Free People Must Be Virtuous

From the cover of Why Liberalism Failed, by Patrick Deneen (Yale University Press)

Dear Reader (Even those of you who didn’t seem to notice or care that I failed to file this “news”letter on Friday),

So I’m sitting here at Gate C6 at O’Hare waiting for my flight home. I am weary, pressed for time, in desperate need of a shower, and filled with a great sense of dread for the work ahead of me, sort of like the stripper with an hour left on the clock realizing that Eddy “Sweaty Sponge” Spaluko just walked in from his job draining Porta-Potties.

Meanwhile, a few minutes ago (which would actually make it erstwhile), I saw a man eating a pre-made salad — no doubt put together in some giant salad sweatshop outside Cicero, Ill. He dropped a crouton, covered in so much dressing it looked like some strange sea creature that exudes creamy ranch as a defense mechanism against predators.

When the crouton hit the blue airport carpeting, time slowed to a crawl, the background sounds of a busy airport vanishing as if the Almighty Himself had hit the mute button. The man picked it up barehanded, unconcerned by the squid-ink defenses of this soaked bread product. He looked around, mouthed something I can only assume was a silent prayer to the god of the Five Second Rule, and slyly popped it into his mouth.

In my mind’s eye, I pointed at him like I was Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers but shouted, “Noooooooo!” like Bruce Campbell at the end of Evil Dead 2.

In reality, I just sat there (here actually) and stared. I kept staring, even as he walked out of my field of vision, wandering off to some future where many a soggy floor-nugget repast awaited him. Perhaps it was the deep contrast between someone inclined to both eat sensibly — a salad! — and insensibly: Every strand of airport carpet lint is a feudal city state inhabited by hydrothermal worms, and ranch dressing is known to cause severe cases of worm-gigantism in them.

Perhaps it was because I am so overwhelmed with weltschmerz that I could find myself day-dreaming even as a ranch-dressing metamorphic hydrothermal worm ate my foot.

But, whatever the reason, I just sat here, numb to the horror.

Comfortably Numb

Numb is a funny word — and not just when the “b” isn’t silent as when spoken by Mushmouth in Fat Albert. Its original meaning is “taken” or “seized” from the Old English niman: “to take, catch, graspin the way one is taken by palsy, seized by paralysis or shock, or, especially, overcome with cold. What’s interesting about this is that a loss of feeling wasn’t central to the word. Rather, it’s the sense that some powerful affliction takes over you and, I presume, renders you indifferent to other sensations or feelings. As when you feel so cold that you grow numb — and I assume that’s where the modern meaning comes from.

One of the oldest critiques of modernity is the claim that it breeds a kind of numbness of the soul. We become seized or grasped by the demands of the disenchanted modern world, and we in turn become deadened to the important things that give life meaning.

That’s essentially the point of Patrick Deneen’s book Why Liberalism Failed. For Deneen, this condition is an inevitable product of liberalism — and here he and I mean the liberalism birthed from Locke and Hobbes, Hume and Bacon (mmmm Bacon). But for Deneen, it’s also the liberalism of Rousseau and Dewey. He believes the political arguments between left and right these last 500 years are far narrower than most of us think. What he calls “progressive liberalism” and “conservative liberalism” are both at the end of day poisonous fruits from the same tree:

The only path to liberation from the inevitabilities and ungovernable forces that liberalism imposes is liberation from liberalism itself. Both main political options of our age must be understood as different sides of the same counterfeit coin.

I think this is profoundly wrong. But this is not to say that I think Deneen’s book is profoundly wrong. In a panel on Thursday night, I compared Why Liberalism Failed to The Road to Serfdom — a deeply valuable and prophetic book, which detractors often mock because Hayek’s prophecy turned out not to be true (yet). But prophecies are not scientific predictions; they are warnings. And when a people heed a prophecy, the prophet’s cataclysm is avoided.

Prophets and Losses

I want to write a longer essay on all of this, so I won’t dwell on Deneen’s argument here. Instead I want to dwell, briefly, on what I think Deneen gets right: the prophetic part. Like a biblical prophet, he surveys American society and catalogs the numbness of it all. People are seized, grasped, taken by a spirit of a distorted, selfish individualism that expresses itself as the satisfaction of appetite and the desire for status, and in the process, they are growing numb to the real sources of human flourishing.

At the end of the day, happiness is derived from love — love for others and others’ love for you. When I say “love” I do not mean simply romantic love, though that is obviously one of the greatest wellsprings of true happiness. I mean the love one feels from friends, and the love for places and things that brings people together for shared purpose.

Deneen chronicles how individualism was once understood as both the culmination of, and dependent on, virtue. The law was conceived of as a device, a technology, for making the virtuous path easier. But it was always understood that liberty comes with obligations. As the line goes in “America the Beautiful,” Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law.

This idea, which I write about at length in my book, recognized that the great enemy of virtue and individualism rightly understood is human nature itself. Classical liberalism is very different from classical or pagan libertinism. Adam Smith and John Locke never wrote anything like, “If it feels good, do it.” This is why I placed so much importance in my book on the idea of “God-fearing.” A free society, in which people act as if God is always judging them, will look very different from a free society in which the only god you care about is your own gut.

When you are your own priest, it’s always easier to get a dispensation for whatever is you want to do.

This is one reason why I do not see the “progressive liberalism” of the romantics — who glorified the primacy of feelings — or of the more modern pragmatic philosophers such as Dewey — who heaped scorn on all metaphysical, cultural, or traditional constraints on egoistic reason — as part of the same project as classical liberals.

In fairness to Deneen, he concedes that the classical liberals would never have thought that the “If it feels good, do it” mantra was part of their project either. He just argues that it was inevitable that one would flow from the other.

And I think that’s wrong. Indeed, we both agree that at least one solution to our problems is to foster more localism (and I gather all of this is in Ben Sasse’s new book, which for some reason I haven’t seen yet. If only I knew someone over there).

The modern doctrines of diversity and multiculturalism are a kind of homogenizing totalitarianism. Its acolytes want every institution to be filled with people who look different but think alike. What our society needs is not more “diversity” of this sort but more variety. Different communities and institutions need to be able live differently, because it is only with this kind of variety that a diverse people can find places where they all feel at home and where they can all find a kind of meaning that suits them as individuals.

To put it in the language of economics, institutions and communities need to be able to exploit their comparative advantages. It’s not just that the Marine Corps demands more from its members than the Peace Corps; it’s that the Marines demand different things. For some people, being a Marine would be a kind of living Hell; for others it is a reason to live. That’s what the individual pursuit of happiness means.

One of the great things about liberalism is that it allows for more paths for just that pursuit. In tribal society, there was little to no division of labor beyond what was rooted in age and sex. In feudal monarchies and modern totalitarianisms alike, there is division of labor, but it is imposed on people by rulers: “You will be a soldier.” “You will be a fry cook.” “You were born to be a slave or a serf.” In a free society, you have choice. It’s not perfect: You can’t choose to be a Marine if you do not meet the requirements, but you are free to try. And it is precisely those requirements that make the pursuit desirable. Not all people want to strive, but all people who’ve succeeded in life recognize that the striving was what made the success precious.

Arbeit Macht Tugendhaft

The new socialists insist that capitalism is not that different from authoritarian or totalitarian regimes because it makes us work. “The socialist argument against capitalism isn’t that it makes us poor,” writes Corey Robin. “It’s that it makes us unfree.”

When my well-being depends upon your whim, when the basic needs of life compel submission to the market and subjugation at work, we live not in freedom but in domination. Socialists want to end that domination: to establish freedom from rule by the boss, from the need to smile for the sake of a sale, from the obligation to sell for the sake of survival.

There are two major problems with this view. The first is that there has never been a society in all of human history where the average person did not have to work. Sure, some crapulent prince could lay around all day and do nothing, but everyone else had to till the soil or pound the anvil or carry a spear.

Second, work is good. Work is virtuous and inculcates virtue. Work gives people a sense of meaning and of being needed. Obviously, not everyone feels such satisfaction in the job they have now, but that dissatisfaction is precisely the motivation people need to find the job that might provide it. That motivation inspires virtue, too.

Some people work just to make the money to support the other things in their life that provide meaning, be it a family or a cause or a hobby that may seem silly to you or me but is central to their individual pursuit of happiness. Some people don’t work for money at all. Priests, stay-at-home parents, and volunteers in a thousand different institutions aren’t pursuing wealth; they are pursuing meaning through love and love through meaning.

The socialists are romantics in that they want to curate their lives entirely based on their own feelings. Marx saw the division of labor required by a free society as a form of slavery that put each laborer in specific role. “Each man,” he writes, “has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood.”

Marx imagined a utopia at the end of history where each individual could do whatever he pleased, because “the society” controlled the means of production. Thus Communism “makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.”

The first obvious problem is that this is batshit crazy. Who in this “society” is baking the bread — when everyone wants to fish? Collective ownership of the means of production must give power to someone in order to make sure people can eat. And that someone will invariably abuse his power:

The real problem, however, with this vision is that it gets it exactly backward. The only society in which it is remotely possible for people to design their lives in the manner Marx fantasizes is one that is incredibly rich and incredibly free. We are nowhere near there yet, but it’s worth pointing out that if you plucked any laborer from another era and toured him or her around America today, they’d think that we were remarkably close.

What I like about Deneen’s argument is that he recognizes this, and he finds it wanting. It’s easier than it has ever been to imagine a Jetsons or Westworld–like society where robots do all of the work for us, and we are “free” to indulge our wants and desires on a whim. But just as that kind of world is coming into view, so is the realization that it might not make us happy. Because a world without necessity is a world without striving. A world where there is no limit on our personal appetites is a world where virtue is too hard and other people are too much work. Why buy the cow when you can get the sex robot for free?

Various & Sundry

My apologies for the tardiness of this “news”letter. Last week’s schedule was beyond brutal. I think it’s the first week in over a decade when I couldn’t even post to the Corner. My travel schedule isn’t a walk in the park yet, but I promise to be a bit more regular going forward.

Canine Update: The celebrity of Zoë and Pippa continues to grow. When I got to my hotel at Notre Dame the other night, there were two goody bags in my room. Much to my chagrin, neither contained brown liquor, but one contained presents for Zoë and Pippa, who could not attend the conference, alas. One of the great things about dogs is that they are not plagued by the vices of modernity. Their bond with humans is literally prehistoric, and they still value the things that bring true happiness: friendship, work, and the simpler pleasures. So, I’m happy to tell you that they do not care one whit that they are canine celebrities (Zoë doesn’t even think it’s a big deal she can walk on water). Indeed, while I was finishing this “news”letter, Pippa was doing everything she could to prevent its completion. Still, I suspect the cats wouldn’t mind more public adulation.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

Our politics will get uglier than the Kavanaugh fight

The latest Remnant

Nikki Haley’s excellent timing

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Debby’s Wednesday links

Debby’s Monday links

NSFW: Neutron star collision

Liam Neeson’s horse friend

When dinosaurs roamed New Mexico

What would happen if you vaped Venom goo?

Animals love the suburbs

Corgis!

A friend of Pippa’s?

First they came for the squirrels . . .

CPR Spotify playlist

The oldest shipwreck in Lake Erie?

The Butlerian Jihad must begin before it’s too late

Life imitates The Prisoner?

Law & the Courts

The Price of Victory

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, September 6, 2018. (Alex Wroblewski/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 everyone I threw ice at in my youth),

One of the articles of faith of my personal definition of conservatism is to be deeply distrustful of enthusiasm. Chalk it up to misanthropy or enochlophobia if you like, but whenever crowds — real or figurative — get worked up, I grow suspicious. It’s why I don’t like populism or pep rallies; the worst political sins are almost always accompanied by the cheers of one mob or another.

That is one of the reasons I have been so appalled by the riot of anti-Kavanaugh hysteria that has spread these last few weeks. But it is also why I have misgivings about the price of victory.

I believe that confirming Brett Kavanaugh is vital, but I also believe it is the least bad option before us. Herewith, a screed-y walkthrough of my thinking. I still find myself largely agreeing with this thread:

Kavanaugh’s “partisan” defense of himself, while wholly justified on human and emotional grounds, poisoned the well for many people. It does not matter, as I wrote last week, that their arguments are substantively absurd and often drawn from bottomless reservoirs of cynicism and bad faith.

Judges are not typically expected to remain dispassionate when they’ve been accused of gang rape, nor should they be. If you don’t believe me, let’s haul, say, Justice Breyer before the Senate and see how he responds to unverified, uncorroborated, and patently ludicrous allegations — hyped endlessly in the press — that, when in high school, he kept a bunch of kidnapped girls in his basement and pimped them out to biker gangs.

“Senator Feinstein, thank you very much for your input. While all perspectives are valid, I feel that if you scrutinized my record you would find yourself in significant error,” Justice Breyer said while trimming his cuticles.

But the fact remains that millions of people, including many leading legal lights, have fallen back on this preposterous version of sexual McCarthyism that we might as well call “Bed Baiting.” Accuse someone of rape and then use whatever response they offer as proof that they’re unfit for the job or simply a monster. When Martha MacCallum asked Kavanaugh about the gang-rape allegation, he was too calm and dismissive. And his attempts to explain himself were then picked apart as fresh evidence of new deceits. When the Senate asked about them, he was too angry.

It’s like a high-stakes version of the Wayne’s World bit where Mike Myers mumbles, “Sphincter says what?” and when the person responds, “What?” everyone giggles.

Democrats proclaim, “Rapists say, ‘How dare you!?’” Then they call Kavanaugh a rapist, and when he says, “How dare you!?” Democrats say, “Ah-hah!”

Hourly, we hear people say with invincible confidence and a tone of haughty feigned reasonableness that this Supreme Court confirmation process is nothing more than a “job interview,” when they must know that if Kavanaugh were to withdraw, it would be the end of his career, the end of his reputation, and a total victory for the people deploying these tactics — setting a precedent for their use again and again. When you point out how unfair this is to Kavanaugh, the response is eye-rolling or even  “Boo hoo.” When you point out how dangerous this precedent is, you get such a spray of bovine excrement that it becomes a fog of nonsense.

When Merrick Garland Is Blocked, All Is Permitted

My favorite fecal nugget in the fog is the reply, again offered hourly, that Republicans have no right to complain about “hardball tactics” because Mitch McConnell declined to give Merrick Garland a hearing. Even if you concede — which I emphatically do not — that what Cocaine Mitch did was an outrage, this argument is so obtuse, so morally stunted, so non-sequiturially nonsensical it fills me with a vein-popping rage that would ruin my chances for confirmation as dog catcher (for which I am eminently qualified, by the way). “Two wrongs don’t make a right” barely scratches the surface of why this is so wrong. No conservative magazine ran articles painting Garland as a drunkard or rapist. Fox News didn’t run round-the-clock discussions based on the assumption that rumors of Garland’s rapeyness should be taken at face value. Even if blocking Garland was wrong, the response from Democrats is like an apocalyptic version of the “Chicago Way”: If they bring a knife, we bring a ten-kiloton warhead and wipe out the city.

You can’t have it both ways. If a confirmation hearing is “just a job interview,” denying someone a job interview cannot be an outrage on par with setting out to destroy Kavanaugh by any means necessary. In fact, it cannot be an outrage at all. Employers deny job interviews all of the time, and the Constitution gives the Senate all the authority it needed to deny Garland one. The Senate has yet to offer me a job interview for anything, and I’m not miffed about it one bit.

Meanwhile, the Senate minority leader said out loud that “there is no presumption of innocence” in the Kavanaugh fight. That alone should tell you all you need to know about the danger of letting Chuck Schumer’s party win this contest. Oh, and before you get your knickers in a twist, I realize that the full quote is, “There’s no presumption of innocence or guilt when you have a nominee before you.” It’s all about fact-finding. What a reasonable guy.

The problem is that Schumer is lying (you could tell because his lips were moving). Countless members of his party were quite open about how they were working from a presumption of guilt. Every senator who said, “I believe Dr. Ford” or, “believe all women” or celebrated Ford’s courage for “speaking truth to power” was openly declaring that they also believed Kavanaugh was guilty. Senator Hirono (D., Liberal Bubble) told Jake Tapper (one of the handful of mainstream journalists who hasn’t grabbed a torch or pitchfork and joined the mob) that she believed Ford because Kavanaugh’s judicial philosophy magically makes unsubstantiated charges of rape plausible. Where the fffffff**k is the fffffffact-fffffffinding there?

What about the Facts?

The liberal response to all of this is that I am taking for granted that Kavanaugh is innocent of the charges against him. So let me address that.

It’s basically true. What I mean by “basically” is that I think the things he’s provably guilty of shouldn’t matter. I think he drank “too much” in high school and college (so did I). I don’t need The New Yorker to tell me that because he has admitted to it. He’s also admitted that, when he was young and immature, he behaved immaturely. I am sure he threw ice at a bar. But while I am at least very skeptical about whether he drunkenly exposed himself at a party in college, even if he did, the evidence suggests that this was a piggish prank that is retroactively being turned into sexual assault. If it really took Deborah Ramirez, the second accuser, six days of lawyer-guided meditation to convince herself it happened, we can presume it wasn’t nearly as scarring an event as is now being claimed. If it happened at all.

Here’s the thing I’m not agnostic about: While The New Yorker humiliated itself by running not one but two stories on the allegation, neither of which corroborated the allegation in any way, the stories did corroborate that The New Yorker has lost its mind. They used a rumor to “corroborate” the allegation and then, in a follow-up story, found the alleged source of the rumor, who promptly declared that he has no idea what The New Yorker or Ramirez were talking about.

The Julie Swetnick gang-rape allegation was and is unbelievable codswallop. When interviewed by NBC, what started as a claim that Kavanaugh was the Cruise Director of the H.M.S. Gang Rape turned into a charge that he might have been seen standing by a door or a punch bowl or something. Michael Avenatti’s only defense for his scam is to feign outrage that a “survivor” isn’t being taken at her word. Kavanaugh should sue him, and Avenatti should be disbarred so that he can spend his time selling waterbeds as God intended.

Then there’s Dr. Ford, whose claim is the only one that is both serious and sufficiently credible to warrant serious consideration. And that is what she got.

Still, what evidence there is about the time period in question, outside of Ford’s testimony, overwhelmingly supports Kavanaugh. The relevant witnesses at the time either do not corroborate or affirmatively refute key facts. Her story lacks crucial details, and other crucial details have changed over the years.

Moreover, many of Ford’s claims about why and how she came forward are profoundly fishy. Was she really never told that investigators would come to her in California as an alternative to the televised Senate hearings? Her story about the polygraph gets weirder with the slightest scrutiny. Her claim that she’s claustrophobic and terrified of flying has been rebutted both by sworn witnesses and plain facts. The only documentary evidence she had, her therapist’s notes, which she referenced in her testimony, she now refuses to hand over to the Senate — unless the FBI takes a very long, and very politically convenient, time collecting it. Joseph McCarthy used to say that he had a documentary proof of his charges — “I have in my hands a list of Communists” — but when asked to provide the list, he always found an excuse to keep it secret.

I still believe something terrible may have happened to Ford. I still think it’s not impossible that she’s telling the truth — but she has been behaving in a way that suggests that she is more eager to play political games, or that she is willing to let her lawyers play political games on her behalf, than she is in telling the complete truth.

Meanwhile, the Boofer-Truther Media has endeavored mightily to argue that, while Ford’s story may be unprovable, you have to look at the totality of the allegations against Kavanaugh. Hence, the desperate attempt to chum the waters with innuendo and insinuation: He must have blacked out from drinking (because that would mean his memory is unreliable); if he threw ice while drunk, that proves he was the kind of belligerent drunk who could rape somebody or even run a rape gang; if “boof” means buggery, he’s a sexual reprobate; and if “Devil’s Triangle” means a three-way, it means he wasn’t a virgin, and, again, “Raaaaape!”

But even if these inventive interpretations were true — they’re not — it’s not proof of anything other than the fact that his yearbook page was juvenile. The press, however, has worked tirelessly to insist that no single allegation has to be proved true; what matters, according to them, is that the totality of unproved slanders, insinuations, and innuendos should be taken as a miasma of guilt, a soup of slander. The boof, they insist, is in the pudding.

Perhaps the greatest proof of the media’s malfeasance can be found in that fact that, according to new a Harvard poll, when voters are told that there is no corroboration for the allegations against Kavanaugh, support for him spikes 20 points. Thank God for pollsters doing the hard work journalists won’t do.

The Downward Spiral

For these and countless other reasons, I want the anti-Kavanaugh mob to lose. I’m less enthusiastic about the pro-Kavanaugh forces winning.

Chuck Schumer was technically correct in his floor speech Friday morning. There are plenty of other judges who’d be just as good, or possibly better, on the Supreme Court from a conservative perspective. And, if all the senators and journalists complicit in this grotesque scandal were to publicly apologize and atone, like Henry in the snows of Conossa, for what they have done, vowing to never do it again, and admitting that they’ve been fiendishly unfair to Kavanaugh, I’d willingly swap another contender from Trump’s list for him.

Kavanaugh the man is not indispensable, and even though I think his critics are wrong, his presence on the Court will have costs. It will lend credibility — unwarranted in my mind — to arguments about the illegitimacy of the Court and any decisions that break 5-4 with Kavanaugh as the deciding justice. I absolutely agree with my colleagues, however, that these concerns are overblown and disingenuous when offered by anti-Kavanaugh forces, who will say anything to win. But the mere fact that they feel so free to say it has consequences is because actual American citizens will believe it.

The Widening Gyre

When a bunch of lawyers announced that Kavanaugh’s “temperament” disqualified him from the Supreme Court, Glenn Reynolds replied:

Obviously, I think there’s truth to this. But I think such issues are better understood with dynamic scoring. I’m on record arguing that Trump has had a corrupting effect on conservatism and democratic norms, generally. I still believe that, rather passionately.

But the point here is that whatever blame Trump deserves needs to be set in the context of a wider corruption. Trump was nominated and elected in substantial part because many conservatives rightly believed the system was already corrupt. Hillary Clinton, the matriarch of the Medicis of the Ozarks, was a profoundly corrupt figure. As was the vast network of organizations dedicated to extending the Clintons’ grift back into the White House. Donald Trump didn’t invent the Right’s animus for the press, he simply concentrated it into a kind of barbaric yawp.

Sick of a Republican party that tried too hard to work within the borders of what the mainstream media deemed acceptable rhetoric and tactics, his voters loved it when he gleefully singled out reporters by name, like a kid going after ants with a magnifying glass on a summer day. As I wrote earlier this week, the press has been asking for this treatment — literally for decades.

The problem for journalists is that, having refused at every turn to learn their lessons, from Walter Duranty to Daniel Schorr to Dan Rather, they have repeatedly responded by doubling down on their worst instincts and groupthink. And now, as Trump turns his MAGAfying glass on them, they are intensifying their worst habits.

But it’s not just the press; it’s everybody. In other words, it’s not so much that Trump has exposed the corruption of various institutions and individuals; it’s that everyone feels warranted to respond to his norm-breaking with norm-breaking of their own. The New York Times’ Anonymous op-ed writer did something terrible because he thought Trump gave him an excuse to do it. Cory Booker lacked the testicular fortitude to actually be Spartacus, but he rightly recognized that everybody wants either to be a Spartacus or to rally to one.

If Kavanaugh is confirmed, you can be sure that liberals will feel entitled to respond with even more grotesque violations of norms. After all, if denying Merrick Garland a hearing justifies — in their minds — the witch-hunt against Kavanaugh, what horrors will they come up with if he’s confirmed? Already Michael Avenatti, that Torquemada of sleaze, is calling for packing the Supreme Court should the Democrats take back the Congress.

Again, I think the Senate should — must — confirm Kavanaugh, because the consequences of rejecting him are worse than the consequences of confirming him. But there will be bad consequences no matter what, because we now live in a world where sub-optimal outcomes are the only choices available. It’s crap sandwiches all the way down the cafeteria menu, everybody — you just get to choose your condiments.

Various & Sundry

I am exhausted. In the last few weeks, I’ve been to St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Fort Worth, Dallas, Claremont, Phoenix, and Milwaukee, just to name a few. I got back this morning from Boston, or I guess Cambridge. I spoke to the Institute of Politics there last night. And Saturday, I leave for Santa Barbara where I will be speaking this Sunday at UCSB. If you’re in the area, it’d be great if you could come on out. It’d be nice to have some friendly faces in the audience. Oh, and on Tuesday, I’ll be at Cedarville University. And on Thursday and Friday, I’ll be at Notre Dame<. I’ll be having a conversation with Charles Kesler about Donald Trump and on a panel discussing Patrick Deneen’s new book.

And on that note, let me say how deeply grateful I am to all of the folks who came out to these other events. I know from experience that the folks who really hate me don’t show up at these things, so the sample is skewed. But the turnout has been great, and the encouragement almost makes up for all the hassles of travel. It also gives me a good deal of hope.

Canine Update: Oh, so speaking of travel, it’s always great to hear from people who tell me to stay the course or stick to my guns. But it’s funny how vastly more people tell me — almost in a threatening tone — that I’d better not listen to the haters who say I should stop it with the dog tweets and canine updates. It’s just funny how big of a deal the canine duo has become. About two weeks ago, when I was out of town, my wife was driving the beasts back from their morning perambulations, when someone pulled up next to her and yelled, “Hi Zoë! Hi Pippa!” and then drove off. Then, yesterday, the same thing happened to me. It was particularly funny because, when the guy looked at me, he acted like I might as well have been an Uber driver or some celebrity’s assistant. Just a little nod was all I got.

Anyway, the doggers are excellent. They still get super mopey whenever I take out the luggage, which is all-too-frequent. Pippa had a bit of a limp earlier this week but it seems to have been a temporary glitch. She was in rare form when she got back from her midday adventure today (and even Zoë busted out the playfulness). This is one of the weird things about Pippa; even when she gets back from a real workout, she gets a sudden burst of energy for about 10-15 minutes that needs to be ignored so that her rest subroutine can kick-in. Similarly, one has to tread with caution when she’s in rest mode — very different than full-sleep mode — because she can be triggered into spazzy “where’s the tennis ball?” mode very easily. Meanwhile, Zoë’s having a great time chasing foxes, getting reunited with her best friends (Pippa’s more of a sister), and chasing bunnies, even though Pippa keeps ruining it for her. Zoë’s even being slightly more tolerant of Pippa taking her coveted spots. But don’t worry, Zoë still gets the scritches.

The latest Remnant is out, and I think it’s definitely one of the best conversations we’ve had in a while. Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff are really impressive, and their book is insanely important.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

Kavanaugh is not a tribalist automaton

My latest Special Report appearance

The latest Remnant, with Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff

How the press has made the Kavanaugh spectacle worse

My interview with Chris Stirewalt on Pat Buchanan populism

Justifying Kavanaugh’s “anger”

The press’s Kavanaugh groupthink

SS-GB is great

The latest GLoP Culture podcast

Kavanaugh wouldn’t be a partisan justice

And now, the weird stuff.

A horse walks into a bar . . .

Royal drama

What could go wrong?

Obscure VHS tapes

Magnetic fields are powerful

Selfie deaths

Fat-bear week

Academic hoaxes

Drunk birds

Urine-addicted goats

Hoarding acorns

Dancing raccoons

We have our queen

Europe’s oldest intact book

Charles Dickens’ pet ravens

The bubble nebula

Line-based illusions

The most Swedish thing ever

Guy adopts stray dog that ran with him

Politics & Policy

The Moral-Panic Phase

Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee, September 27, 2018. (Win McNamee/Pool via 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 everybody who’d just like a time-out),

Maybe it’s because I’ve been getting so much grief from left and right for the alleged sin of “both sides-ism” over the last few years, but Thursday (yesterday for me) was both clarifying and cathartic. Oh, don’t get me wrong: It was horrible and possibly tragic for the Court and the country, but it was also oddly — and probably momentarily — liberating, at least for me.

Because, finally, there was a left–right fight about which I am largely un-conflicted. This wasn’t a brouhaha about Trump or any of the usual stuff. The issue here was that the Democrats and their abettors in the media simply behaved atrociously.

For example, on Thursday, nearly every conservative and Republican was respectful towards Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, finding her testimony moving and credible. But when Brett Kavanaugh spoke, also movingly and credibly, the instantaneous response from much of the liberal and Democratic chorus was “Ermahgod! Raaaaaapist!” or “How dare he be angry!” or “You can’t have a partisan madman like this on the Court!”

Look, I actually agree that Kavanaugh’s anger towards Democrats in the hearing — though morally and emotionally justified — isn’t a good thing over the long run if he were to make it on the Court. But this idea that he can’t be a Supreme Court justice because he wasn’t dispassionate in the face of multiple bogus allegations that he’s a rapist is both grotesque and grotesquely dumb.

First of all, is there any doubt in your mind that, if Kavanaugh had been coldly dispassionate, dismissive, and reserved, the Jen Rubins of the world would be screaming, “See! He’s an emotionless monster! He doesn’t even have the basic human decency to take offense at being called a rapist!”?

Second, contrary to the tsunami of smug sorrowful opining, judges are not expected to be cold and dispassionate in the face of charges about themselves. That’s why they recuse themselves from cases in which they have personal interests. Here’s an idea for you: The next time you’re in a court of law, shout at the judge that he’s biased because he’s an alcoholic rapist perv. See what happens.

Dianne Feinstein — who is more to blame for this three-ring-fecal-festival than any other actor — began her questioning of Kavanaugh by raising an allegation that he ran a rape gang. He responded angrily. And now she’s offended by the partisanship? Please. Judicial nominees aren’t supposed to be like the guards at Buckingham Palace: “Let’s see how many absolutely horrible things we can say to his face before he loses his temper — and then when he does, let’s berate him for not doing his job.”

This is what I mean when I say that the hearing was clarifying. It’s no secret that I’m a Trump critic, but I do my best to stay rational and fair about it. I keep hearing from other, even more ardent, Trump critics that people like me should vote for — and endorse — the Democrats because the Republican party has been utterly corrupted by Trump. I get that argument, and I don’t think it’s as insane as some of my friends on the right do — at least on paper. But when you actually look at how the Democrats have behaved . . . Great Odin’s Raven, I don’t want anything to do with any of that.

I’ll stay in my Remnant, thank you very much.

The Blame Game

At a 30,000-foot level, I do think Quin Hillyer has a point.

As I’ve been saying for a long time, when the president violates norms, it creates a permission structure for everybody to violate norms, including in his own administration. Every bad act by one party is over-interpreted by the other party, and the urge to counter-punch twice as hard is indulged.

But here’s the thing: Virtually any other Republican could have or even would have nominated Brett Kavanaugh, and most of the garbage we’ve heard over the last two weeks — he’s evil, he doesn’t deserve the presumption of innocence, he must be guilty because other men or white men or prep-school men are sexual predators, he’s guilty because Mazie Hirono thinks his rulings on abortion are proof of rapey-ness, he floats on water just like wood, etc. — would be spouted by these people all the same. Sure, you can put some of the blame on Trump for the climate in Washington. You can blame him for making it harder to speak credibly about sexual misbehavior since there are so many credible allegations against him.

But you can’t blame him for Democrats believing that Brett Kavanaugh ran a rape gang in high school. Nor can you blame Trump for all of the liberals who know it must be a lie and refuse to say so. That’s on them.

Let’s stay on that, because unlike the Ford question, which I think reasonable people can disagree on, the idea that Brett Kavanaugh helped run a regular rape operation is true witch-hunt groupthink. Why not just accuse him of having turned someone into a newt or moth with his blood magic?

Brett Kavanaugh’s Rape Club

I truly and sincerely don’t want to make light of sexual assault. Rape is evil. Which also means that false accusations of rape are evil. And treating each additional, wholly unverified accusation as if it is more proof is evil.

But it’s worth thinking about the hysterical stupidity of the moment we are in.

In a morally ordered republic loosely bound by the rules of logic, reason, and what was once called common sense, men in white jackets would have escorted Michael Avenatti to a quiet, padded room for observation long ago. This week we should have seen at least one of his television interviews cut short by a tranquilizer blow dart hitting him in the neck.

“I’m telling you! The Fs in Ffffffffoooooourth stands for fffffff…<thud>.”

I want to be open-minded. So I will concede that the allegation is not theoretically impossible, given the depths of depravity that humans in every generation and every civilization and at all strata of class and privilege are capable of.

But it would be highly unlikely, to say the least. I say this having some insight, however imperfect, into the social milieu from which Kavanaugh hails. I didn’t grow up in Washington, but I did technically go to a prep school.

(My school was not as prestigious as Georgetown Prep. There was always a raging debate about my alma mater: Was it the best school on the B-List or the worst school of the A-list? But it was a prep school.)

I knew kids at various schools like Kavanaugh’s. They could be, to borrow a term from social science, dicks. I’m not saying he was. But even if he was, that doesn’t mean he was a rapist. Though, to listen to various liberals, you’d think stereotypes about sex, race, and class are always true so long as you’re talking about white preppy Christians.

Still, I will confess I have my own biases. I never took high school too seriously, so I had a certain amount of resentment towards those who did. The kids who constantly worried about their permanent record; the kids who did everything they could to please teachers or gussy-up their college applications; the kids who seemingly without much effort checked boxes as both jocks and academic grinds; the kids who were always worried about getting in trouble for fear of having to go to a state school: These were kids that I didn’t gravitate towards precisely because I couldn’t be one of them. But I will grant them this: They seemed really unlikely to organize rape gangs if for no other reason than that such things look really bad on your application to Yale.

Again, I don’t mean to be unfair to Brett Kavanaugh. I have no doubt that a regular churchgoing kid had other reasons not to do the logistical heavy-lifting of drugging and raping teenage girls on a regular basis. I’m just assuming the worst while still employing Occam’s Razor. And I just have a hard time believing that the Rapey McRapeFace who Avenatti and his fans describe is the real Brett Kavanaugh.

Virgin Territory

Here’s the thing: When Brett Kavanaugh admitted that he’d been a virgin in high school and the mob took it as corroboration that he was a rape-gang impresario, that’s when I knew we were looking at the madness of crowds and figured it was time for me to start cutting myself again.

In fairness, many were simply too excited to check that Kavanaugh was responding to a question specifically about being a part of a rape gang, and instead went to town on a false assumption, “well, actuallying” everyone about how being a virgin doesn’t mean he couldn’t have assaulted Ford. Others suggested that admitting he was a virgin was damning:

Others just lost their damn minds:

As for Avenatti, who is perversely invested in the plausibility of this allegation, both because he could be sued for his role in popularizing slander and because he thinks his metaphysical ass-clownery is his primary qualification for being president of the United States, he insinuated that Kavanaugh’s admission might just be a legalistic evasion. Kavanaugh could have done all sorts of other things, Avenatti insisted in his “oral” presentation, delivered with his usual restraint. After all, only the most profane rapists try to deny the charge of really raping someone by falling back on the — dare I say it? — Clintonian legalism that they never did, you know, that stuff.

One problem with this neck-vein-popping theory is that it makes people want to drink drain cleaner. Another problem is that Kavanaugh would have needed to consider this technicality valuable when he was a teenager. This was nearly two decades before Bill Clinton came up with the novel theory that a woman servicing him could be considered to be engaged in sexual relations with him but that, so long as he stayed very still, he wasn’t having sexual relations with her. Are we to believe that beer-loving Brett maintained this distinction in his own mind while organizing gang rapes at one party after another?

“You guys go ahead — I’m gonna stay a virgin and just do the other stuff to these girls we drugged because I have to make sure this doesn’t go on my permanent record.”

Why?

Why the Hell are people losing their minds? I don’t know. Why did St. Vitus’ Dance sweep Europe? Why did tulips get so expensive during the Tulip Craze? Why did the witches hang?

I suspect what’s happened is a convergence of things. First the #MeToo movement, which mostly has been a force for good, is entering its moral-panic phase. Second, the Internet accelerates groupthink and extremism for all the familiar reasons. Third, a lot of Democrats have concluded that the only way to win the party’s presidential nomination is to prove you can be the most fearless jackass in the herd (See, Cory “Almost Spartacus” Booker) and the presence of Michael Avenatti in the market has put inflationary pressure on everyone’s asininity. Fourth, as I keep writing (even at book length), we are turning politics into a form of tribal entertainment where it’s easy to convince ourselves that our opponents are existential monsters.

And fifth, as politics has become a secular religion, the Supreme Court has become like a Roman Temple and people are terrified that Kavanaugh is a less indulgent priest. If the Supreme Court wasn’t the institution where a single swing justice — not coincidentally the one Kavanaugh is slated to replace — decides how human beings should define themselves in the world, people wouldn’t be freaking out nearly so much.

But here we are.

Various & Sundry

Alas, the Canine Update will have to be truncated. I’ve been on the road all week, and I have to head to AEI to debate nationalism with my friend and colleague Michael Brendan Dougherty. But the beasts are good and had a nice time while I was gone. I got to see them for a few minutes before heading back out. They were almost as happy to see me as I was to see them.

Oh: I’m heading to UCSB in a week. It would be great if folks in the area (or out of it) could come out. I know costs a little money, but I promise to do my best to make it worth it.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

My appearance last Sunday on Meet the Press

The Kavanaugh hearings and the nature of belief

Should the FBI investigate Kavanaugh?

My controversial NPR hit from earlier this week

On Avenatti’s “claims”

My appearance on The Adam Carolla Show

Me on Trump’s “doctrine of patriotism”

The latest Remnant podcast

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Tuesday links

A sign of the end times

Texas shelter puppy finds home

The first animal was . . .

The best picture of 2017’s eclipse

Spider web takes over Greek beach

Behold the fire tornado

What happens when you give octopi ecstasy?

The spice must flow

How coming close to death affected William Shatner’s life

Bees!

82-year-old fights off robbers

Kyle MacLachlan on his most famous roles

The dead beneath London’s streets

Dogs welcoming their owners home

What dogs do when they’re home alone

Dog feeds carrot to three rabbits and a pig

WWII codebreaker buried in Nebraska with U.K. military honors

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!

Not a movie

All right all right all right

Dissecting the dad joke

Politics & Policy

The Zero-Sum Thinking Behind Group Rights

(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 (Including my guilty doppelgängers),

On my many travels this year (I am writing this quickly from the bar and lounge area at the Fort Worth Hilton), I have made what I believe to be many crucial observations. For instance, have you noticed that, increasingly, most Starbucks only put out the carafe of half-and-half these days, not bothering with whole milk or that semi-translucent bluish saccharine filth known as “skim milk”? This is fine with me, as I only use half-and-half. And, at home, we use heavy cream in our coffee because nutritionally skim milk is sugary garbage water that literally looks and tastes like the liquid that accumulates at the bottom of dumpsters.

But none of that is important right now. I’ve also noticed that there’s a whole lot of crazy out there (“Right, unlike here in your head where it’s totally normal” — The Couch).

I wrote my column yesterday (sitting under a tree outside the Oklahoma City Policy Center so that I could smoke a cigar) on how the Kavanaugh hearing is causing the Democrats to throw out millennia of moral and political progress in the name of tribal passion.

I’m not going to rehash all of that here. But there are a few points I’d like to explore further. I saw this tweet last night:

Like the man said when he went to the vet to pick up his dog only to be given an aardvark on a leash, “I have questions.”

What does Ms. Cummings think the state of mind of women 6,001 years ago was? And where exactly are we talking about? Is this some feminist Rousseauian idea that, prior to some “wrong turn” in Western civilization or the Judeo-Christian tradition, women lived an idyllic life free of fear of men?

More to the point, does she really think that society would be better off if men live in fear of women? Why?

It seems that the answer for many people is, Yes.

It’s like we’re living in one giant feminized version of Seinfeld, where all manner of things can be justified for spite.

I know this one tweet isn’t worth dwelling on when it is but one drop in an ocean of intellectual skim milk. But look at one of the popular replies:

Yes, that will be a much better society.

I find the concept of historic grievances fascinating. There is something very “sticky,” in an evolutionary sense, to the idea of getting payback for the crimes committed against your ancestors. If you find this to be an astonishingly novel insight, here’s a list of history books you should read: all of them.

The human — never mind the Hebrew — in me can relate to some of this (Damn Jebusites, you haven’t suffered nearly enough!). But a Jew born in, say, 1980 shouldn’t have any hate in his heart for a German born the same year, never mind an Egyptian. A German born four decades after the Holocaust isn’t responsible for the Holocaust any more than an Egyptian today is responsible for Hebrew bondage millennia ago.

I am making a moral point rather than a political or geopolitical one. Nation-states, for example, can hold grievances against other nation-states on all sorts of issues. It is right for Armenians to demand an apology from Turkey for the Armenian genocide, even if it was long ago.

But at the ground level, intergenerational guilt is one of the oldest and nastiest bigotries, because it is among the most natural. For much of human history, people were born into communities that were in large part defined by their hatred for other communities.

We see it all over the place on the issue of race. Some argue that white people today should carry some of the guilt for slavery. Never mind that many white people today are descended from people who: did not immigrate here until after slavery ended, were not slaveholders in the first place, were not considered “white” when they moved here, etc.

But, as much as I find such arguments unpersuasive and often ludicrous, I can at least understand them on an emotional level.

I can’t quite get my head around the idea that men today should suffer or be treated unjustly to make amends for how men, now long dead, treated women, now long dead.

And yet, this is now the very definition of a woke take.

Someone get Matt a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird stat!

One common response among the more asinine rejoinders to my column is that I am arguing for “men’s rights” or some such. I’m not. First of all, I don’t believe in men’s rights, because I don’t believe in group rights. I believe in things such as natural rights, human rights, American rights, or, simply, individual rights. I understand that this can get tricky when whole groups or classes of people are denied rights wholesale. This is why, for example, it was perfectly proper for suffragettes and early feminists to talk about “women’s rights.” But while the bigotry that is associated with the denial of group rights is offensive, the bigotry itself isn’t the crime or injustice, the denial of individual rights is.

Second, whenever I see a man receive a Nobel prize or win an election, I don’t pump my fist in the air and yell, “Yes! Another win for the Penis People!” Nor do I wave my “Men No. 1” foam finger in the air.

I understand that many people, not just women, do have this kind of reaction when women achieve important things, and that’s usually fine by me. But what I really don’t get is the zero-sum thinking that says men must suffer or be punished simply because they are men.

It shows you how frayed or even severed our connections to traditional — or simply, normal – forms of identity and association have become that we can demonize whole categories of people who are our fellow citizens, co-religionists, and, most importantly, our fathers, sons, and brothers.

Maybe liberals have sent their Rawlsian veil out to the cleaners, but a big part of the rule of law and justice is the idea that, when you walk into a court of law, your class, your heritage, and your connections should not matter. That’s why judges wear black robes and sit up on a high bench — to signal they are partisans of no cause or class. It is absolutely right to say that we do not always live up to that ideal; it is quite another to say we should discard that ideal to get some payback.

The notion that we should automatically believe the accuser because the accuser is white, black, male, female, or whatever is wrong, full stop. To argue that we should be wrong in the “other direction” to make amends for past wrongs is a perfect distillation of the tribal thinking running amok in Washington and the country.

What is really remarkable is how easily people can turn this thinking off and on as the moment requires. Yesterday, my friend and colleague Ed Whelan, justifiably furious at the effort to destroy Kavanaugh with unverified allegations, made a mistake by making unverified allegations against someone else. Ed, to his credit, realized his mistake and apologized.

I wish Ed hadn’t done it, but judged purely on its merits as trolling, it was spectacular. The very people who have been insisting that it is not only acceptable but morally necessary to destroy someone with unverified allegations were suddenly aghast by the use of unverified allegations.

We live in an age where any rule, custom, or norm that benefits the people we hate is wrong or irrelevant and any rule, custom, or norm that benefits the people we support is vital to the health of our democracy.

Last week, I ended this “news”letter with a quote from Thomas More in A Man for all Seasons. I should have saved it for this week. But since I can do whatever I want in this space, I’ll just use it again:

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: I’ve been on the road most of this week, and I feel terribly guilty about it, in part because this was a bad week — and month — to leave the Fair Jessica with all of the canine and other domestic responsibilities. These beasts can be demanding. More to the point, I don’t have a whole lot of canine updating for you (though I do talk about the doggers at length at the end of this week’s podcast). I do miss them mightily and I hope they miss me too. Kirsten was out sick at the beginning of the week, so I had the midday walk on Monday. It was insanely muddy, particularly on one section of the trail. I barely managed to keep from falling over in the muck. So, when I came back around, I took a fork in the trail to avoid that spot. Instead I discovered a perfectly formed mud hole for Pippa. Anyway, I will see them tomorrow and Sunday before I have to head back out on the road. I will try to get in a week’s worth of dog tweets.

I’ll be on Meet the Press on Sunday.

I’ll be on the Adam Carolla podcast . . . soon.

I will be speaking at Claremont on Tuesday

I will be in Milwaukee speaking at the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty Gala on Thursday.

Check out JonahGoldberg.com for more upcoming things.

ICYMI . . .

My latest Fox News hit

Last week’s G-File

It’s not the economy, stupid

Socialism is so hot right now

Discussing my book with Mark Reardon

Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh

Dianne Feinstein is the only unambiguous villain in the Kavanaugh saga

Discussing my book with St. Louis Public Radio

The latest Remnant

The Kavanaugh saga and partisan politics

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Wednesday links

Boy dying of cancer gets one last Christmas

Why women live longer than men

Snail kidnappers

The uselessness of Spidey Sense

William Shatner reflects on his career

Baby squirrels rescued

The man who swims to work

Don’t try this anti-aging method

How to get mice to kick the cocaine habit researchers gave them

The creepy midnight nursery rhyme

Lake Michigan shipwrecks

Noah’s school bus

Whoa

The creation of the original Predator costume

Dog finds treasure

Texas grandma kills twelve-foot gator to avenge death of her miniature horse

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 uninformed 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

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