U.S.

G-File Mailbag: The Results of a Bad Idea

(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 those of you just standing there eating Zarg nuts),

I had a bad idea. It wasn’t a terrible idea, like asking a meth addict to housesit or swimming with alligators to commune with nature (“these stoic guardians of our wetlands are so misunderstood!”). But it was a bad idea.

I thought it would be fun to ask NR readers (specifically that anointed tribe of lightworkers known as “NRPlus members” to pick the topic of this august “news”letter. Well, it’s 10:07 a.m. — and I just got the list. There are 294 requests. I have no idea whether that’s the raw junk, or if the guys in New York cut it down or stepped on it with baby powder (Sorry, I just re-watched The Wire and that’s where my head is at).

To get a sense of why this was a bad idea, let me review quickly a few entries almost at random. (Query: If there is no such thing as true randomness, can something be “almost random”? Isn’t saying “almost random” like saying “nearly infinite” or “mostly unique”?)

One reader suggested I write about “The continued baleful influence of German philosophy in American political and cultural life” — and then proceeded to offer an 800-word exploration of Santayana’s essay on German freedom. Another reader requested, “Anything about Melania, good, bad indifferent.” Another asked, “Does anyone actually like Christmas pageants?” Another asked, “The reasons NR has become the latest to succumb to Stockholm Syndrome under Trump — why is HR starting to sound like Trump’s Greek Chorus?” One person just wrote, “La Société pour L’encouragement des Autres,” while another flew this up the flagpole: “The inherent conservatism of fantasy (e.g., Star Wars) vs. the (seemingly) inherent radicalism of sci-fi (e.g., Star Trek). And where those boundaries break down (e.g., Robert Heinlein).” I was particularly intrigued by this request: “Make an argument that people of color should be oropendola to conservative thought.” And a sage named Cliff asked, “Write about how soliciting NRPlus for G-File ideas is totally not like the scene in Boogie Nights where Burt Reynolds and Heather Graham make a porno in the back of a limo with some random guy pulled off the street.”

Let me work through some of these right now so none can say I was totally unresponsive.

Better in the Original German

I am torn about the topic of German philosophy’s baleful influence on American political and cultural life. On the one hand, I think it’s absolutely true. As I have written at great length elsewhere, American progressivism represented a flowering of German ideas in America. Thousands of the academics who formed the intellectual backbone of progressivism studied in Germany or under German or German-trained academics. A generation or two later, another wave of German thought infected America. What Alan Bloom called “value relativism” crossed the Atlantic and remains the rage in many quarters. It wasn’t all bad, of course. It made it possible for Bloom to write this sentence: “The image of this astonishing Americanization of the German pathos can be seen in the smiling face of Louis Armstrong as he belts out the words of his great hit ‘Mack the Knife.’” More recently, as the reader suggests, many of the most serious and passionate defenses of nationalism can be traced directly back to Johann Fichte and Johann Herder (and presumably to some other Teutons not named Johann). Santayana’s point that the need for collective identity can masquerade as freedom has a lot of explanatory power. You can see this in the rhetoric of “national liberation” movements that use the language of liberty to defend both the sovereignty of nations and the legitimacy of nationalist regimes to claim that statism is a form of freedom when it is pushed in the name of “self-determination.” The problem is that self-determination for a nation can lead to the negation of self-determination of individual citizens. Mussolini wanted self-determination for Italy but not for individual Italians.

On the other hand, my views on how intellectual history works have been evolving of late. I think people use ideas to justify their desires more than the ideas shape their desires. But that’s a topic for another day.

Fair Melania

I like Melania Trump, to the extent I can figure out what she’s really about. I am not afraid to admit that one of the things I like about her is that she is very nice to look at. She’s certainly the most striking first lady of my lifetime. And, I suspect that she’s the best-looking first lady ever, no offense to Abigail Filmore.

Beyond the way she pings the radar of the male gaze, I like that Melania seems to have a very low tolerance for B.S., including, one suspects, from her husband.

Two Cheers for Christmas Pageants

I can’t say I am a huge fan of Christmas pageants per se, but I love local parades and virtually any other expression of local civic engagement. So I come down on the pro-pageant side. I have no idea if that is the majority position in America, but I doubt I am a minority of one on the issue.

Hostages to Trump?

I don’t think NR is suffering from Stockholm syndrome under Trump (and I assume HR is a typo, unless I’ve missed a bunch of MAGA memos from Human Resources). I do have my disagreements with some of my colleagues on specific facets of the stygian disco ball that is the current moment, but a few specific examples notwithstanding, I think what the reader is seeing has more to do with the battles various writers at NR are picking than their actual personal views. What I mean is, this is a conservative magazine with a heterodox group of writers. Many choose to spend their time arguing with liberals and liberal positions which, after all, is one of the reasons we’re here. For those who feel very strongly that the only issues worth debating involve Trump’s shortcomings, this can often seem like a defense, and sometimes it is. But, in a sense, to write is to choose what not to write about. Last week, I wrote a G-File about climate change. I heard from a bunch of people complaining that I should have been writing about whatever the controversy of the day was about Trump. They seemed to think that not writing about Trump amounted to giving Trump a pass. That’s not how it works. We live in a moment where lots of people only want to hear Trump praise or Trump criticism. It is impossible to get it right with some people in that climate.

Oui

I’ve never heard of “La Société pour L’encouragement des Autres,” and my very weak French tells me this means, “Make room, the Germans are coming.”

But Google Translate tells me that this means “The Society for the Encouragement of Others.” This sounds like a very nice society, and barring some new information, I am for it. Indeed, I think they should hold a Christmas pageant.

[SATURDAY MORNING UPDATE: Since this came out, I’ve heard from a bunch of people explaining what this is and why I’m a dufus. Sometimes the dufus claim is related to this section, and sometimes it’s not. And I will admit: I do feel like dufus. The “society” thing threw me off. But as a bunch of folks have noted this is a reference to the Voltaire quote which, once reminded of it, makes me feel dumb for needing to be reminded of it.]

Ecce Homo

I really like the question about the conservatism of fantasy and the radicalism of sci-fi. I’m not sure the distinction is a hard and fast one. There’s a lot of conservatism in sci-fi, because there’s a lot of conservatism in fiction. I don’t mean conservatism in the political, programmatic sense. I mean in the more fundamental sense that human nature is the universal constant of all literature. It is what makes the events on the page, whether in Mordor or on Mars, relatable to the reader. The idea that human nature cannot be perfected, that the interior life of human beings is guided by the same doubts, desires, and concerns we all share (to one extent or another) is what makes literature speak to larger truths. There is a radicalism that finds purchase in some sci-fi, because the dream of the perfectibility of man is the defining feature of utopianism, and most forms of the Enlightenment-influenced radicalism. Whenever I hear Jean-Luc Picard talk as if humans had moved past the atavisms of status, money, etc., I want to say, “Oh yeah, like you wouldn’t complain if you were busted to ensign?”

Ironically, fantasy lends itself more to realism about human nature precisely because it simply plucks humans out of a familiar world and places them in a different one. Perfectibility would ruin the conceit, so it’s left for elves or whatnot.

Whither the Oropendola?

I am fascinated by this question: “Make an argument that people of color should be oropendola to conservative thought.”

At first, I assumed this was just a typo and the reader meant to say “open to.” But oropendola is an actual word. From professor Wikipedia:

The oropendolas formerly comprised two or three genera of South and Central American passerine birds in the Icteridae New World blackbird family.

All the oropendolas are large birds with pointed bills, and long tails which are always at least partially bright yellow. Males are usually larger than females.

Maybe autocorrect changed a typo to oropendola? If so, I have a strange new respect for autocorrect software.

Anyway, I do not think people of color should be passerine birds towards conservative ideas, unless that implies they should flock to conservative ideas, in which case I am all for it. Conservative ideas about race, at least in the classical-liberal tradition (which should be the only way conservatives should think about such things), are the only moral and sustainable path forward for a diverse society. As a matter of coalitional politics, there are short-term gains for various groups trying to get more from government. But in the long run, this society can only survive if we take to heart the idea that we should treat people as individuals and not representatives of different groups, especially with regard to government policy. Coalitions will always exist, but they should be coalitions of belief, tradition, and shared interests grounded in the institutions of civil society, not abstract and arbitrary characteristics. The Founders recognized this, which is why they took coalitions — a.k.a. factions — into account.

But conservatives need to take their own ideas and rhetoric into account as well. I believe passionately in assimilation, but the definition of assimilation can’t be dictated by old white people nostalgic for one version of America that didn’t actually exist the way they remember it. The Madisonian vision creates room for different groups to live as they wish so long as they don’t become a powerful faction, using the power of the state, to impose their One Way of living on others. That means conservative Christians and social-justice warriors alike should have the freedom to live according to their values, but they should also have the imagination and tolerance required to let other communities go their own way.

It seems to me that this vision should appeal to people of color as much as anyone else, and in some cases more than most. Identity politics puts people in cages of meaning, reducing them to someone else’s idea of what a black (or Asian or whatever) person should think and do. Identity, whenever put to the test, always becomes an argument about loyalty to a group identity or abstract idea.

An oropendola can never be anything more than what it is. The behavior of one essentially describes the behavior of all. Humans are animals, but we are not just animals. Identity politics, taken to its extreme, reduces humans to animals.

Boogie Punditry

And finally, there’s Cliff’s Boogie Nights analogy. I thought it was really funny, in part because it’s kind of true. I don’t mean that in an insulting way. No offense to the profession, but there’s less skill to pornography than some might assume. Sure, you have prodigies like Ron Jeremy who can autofellate (a charge metaphorically leveled at this “news”letter from time to time). But basically, porn stars don’t do anything normal people can’t do. They may gild the lily with six-inch heels and trapezes or whatnot, but the main attraction is pretty universal.

The vast majority of questions I got were from basically normal people, and they were good questions. I am going to save the list for column and podcast topics down the line. Journalism, including opinion journalism, is a bit like pornography. It’s a specialty but not a science. The constitutional right to commit journalism isn’t a special right for a select few (despite what some in the guild might tell you), it’s a right we all have, just as the right to bear arms isn’t reserved solely for police. Over the years, I’ve learned more from NR readers than I have from any single professional expert. Indeed, my readers are in fact experts, some on a specific subject, but all of them are experts on their own views and concerns. Asking them for suggestions doesn’t feel debasing at all. It feels like a privilege.

So why was this a bad idea? Because there was no way to deal with all of these questions. I feel like Robin Williams in Moscow on the Hudson shopping for coffee.

But I also feel like I’m talking to a madman. I don’t mean this as an insult to anybody. It’s a problem I’ve had for years. From the earliest days of the G-File, I’ve had a tendency to lump all of my readers into a singular entity, like I’m writing to a single person. This is one reason why this “news”letter is so unpredictable and oropendola.

This also explains why every now and then I get persnickety with some reader who doesn’t deserve my persnicketiness (Persnickitude? Persnickitality?). I can get 20 emails complaining about something, and the 21st complaint triggers that defense mechanism that goes off when you feel like someone won’t leave a topic alone; “You keep saying that! Shut up already!”

The thing is the 21st emailer only said it once, but it feels like the 21st time to me. I had this problem on the recent NR cruise. A whole bunch of great people wanted to talk to me about the guy in the Oval Office. Individually they were all perfectly polite and sincere, but when you get the same question — or the same assertions — over and over again, it can be a drag. I really love the cruisers — and they love NR, if not always me — but it was a struggle for me to wait patiently as I heard the same arguments over and over.

I’ll close with a bit of an epiphany I had on the cruise. Over dinner, a lovely woman complained that many of the panels seemed to be avoiding the elephant in the room — i.e., Trump. I’m not sure I agreed with the complaint, in part because she also told me she walked out of a panel that was almost entirely about Trump. Regardless, I explained that even on a NR cruise, Trump is a divisive and polarizing figure. What I hadn’t really realized is how divisive and polarizing he is, not just among people but within them. The woman who walked out of a panel because someone had been too critical of Trump went on to explain how much she hates Trump’s behavior. A man at the table began a conversation about how the country will be ruined if Trump isn’t reelected in 2020 (prompting me to gird my loins for a lengthy argument about Flight 93ism). But over the course of dinner, he vented about how much he wished Melania or Jared could get him to stop being so crude, particularly on Twitter. In other words, there’s a huge amount of cognitive dissonance even among Trump’s biggest supporters.

Many of the most articulate Trump defenders will often use a rhetorical tactic of conceding Trump’s shortcomings, usually in compact “to be sure” asides (“Obviously, Trump’s tweeting isn’t always helpful,” “It would be better if Trump could articulate his position more artfully,” etc.). Once they’ve checked that box, they proceed to go hammer and tongs against any critics on the right or left who are less dismissive of Trump’s foibles. In other words, they concede the critique — but they just consider it less important than others do. I get the reverse criticism. I’ll praise his judicial appointments or offer support for regulatory reform, but I won’t ignore or minimize his defects or attribute to him nobility or genius his defenders claim to see behind his superficial shortcomings.

What I find simultaneously maddening and reassuring in all of this is the fact that what a lot of conservatives really want is way to reconcile these conflicting realities. It’s not that they all disagree with me about the man’s character, it’s that they wish I didn’t remind them of it. But I could stop writing tomorrow and the underlying problem would endure. Conservatism is being wracked by the collision of different tectonic plates. The need to celebrate the leader of the tribe is smashing into the need to defend not just ideological commitments but traditional notions of leadership and decency. The desire to push back on the left is crashing into the need to remain intellectually consistent. The subsequent earthquakes aren’t just on display on screens but in our own heads. And sitting motionless in the hope that will all be over soon, like Mike Pence in the Oval Office, won’t get anyone through. The process is just going to have to play itself out. My only hope is that we’ll have more than rubble to build on when it’s all over.

Various & Sundry

Me Update: I can’t tell you how delighted I am to be winding down my crazy travel schedule. Since Thanksgiving alone, I’ve been to New York City twice, Ithaca, Syracuse, Chicago, the Caribbean, and Concord, NH. I haven’t had a full week at home since September. I do have a bunch of travel coming up, but it’s all for and with family (minus quadrupeds, alas), and I’m so giddy about it I feel like Morgan Freeman should be narrating my walk on a beach. Still, I shouldn’t complain. It’s a good problem to have, given the givens.

Canine Update: The beasts are good but getting needier by the day.  It’s probably because I’m a sucker for them after being on the road so much. But they’re keeping their priorities straight. One strange development: I think Zoë knows that my phone takes her picture and she’s increasingly reluctant to hold still for photos like this (though if I bribe her with scritchesshe’ll put up with it). She clearly has a much richer interior life than Pippa. Though sometimes she does seem to be thinking something other than “Ball.” Sometimes she’s thinking “one more hour until Ball.” Pippa’s eye seems to be completely on the mend, which is great. And, since people keep asking me, Zoë has stopped expressing interest in tennis balls.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

Legalism and morality in partisan debates

My latest NPR hit

My latest Fox News hit

Legalism and morality in partisan debates

Chocolate river

Pence the Destroyer

Political standards after Trump and Clinton

Why are we antagonizing Vietnam War refugees?

Mea culpa

The latest Remnant, with Tyler Cowen

Trump can’t win in 2020, but Democrats can lose

And now, the weird stuff.

Friday links

The Chicago way

Good news, everyone

How Middle Earth shaped classic rock

RIP the ripped kangaroo

Bad news, everyone

Not what I ordered

Cursed beer

The urban/rural divide deepens

You’re driving wrong

This house outdoes yours in Christmas spirit

Mr. Dickens goes to Washington

Thor’s Well

Millennials have peaked

Last item:

Heart’s in Seattle

Energy & Environment

Identifying the Problem

A man carries an inflatable Earth balloon at the People’s Climate March in New York City in 2014. (Mike Segar/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 passengers on Spaceship Earth),

So, as often happens, a weasel crawls up your tailpipe (I mean of your car, sicko). It then gets caught in the doohickey connecting the thing to thing that goes mmmm-chicka. And now your car is busted. The mechanic says it will cost $5,000 to de-weasel your diesel engine.

But you don’t have five grand lying around. So what do you do?

Obviously, you ask the mechanic how to raise $5,000. I mean, he’s an expert on how to fix your car, he must also be an expert on how to pay for it. Right?

Of course not.

My point here — or at least my first point — is that expertise doesn’t necessarily transfer over from one field to another.

A second point: Some problems cannot be undone simply by reversing the steps that led to the problem in the first place.

If someone stabs you in the chest with a metal spork (very difficult to find, by the way), you don’t necessarily want to pull it out immediately. That could cause you to bleed out. You can’t un-spill milk or un-spork your victim.

That leads me to a third, closely related, point. Just because someone can identify a problem — a weasel in the tailpipe, a spork in the chest, whatever — doesn’t mean they know the best way to fix it.

I’m no doctor, but if I see a spork handle protruding from your chest, I can give you a pretty good diagnosis of what your problem is — at least your medical problem. I may not be able to tell you why someone thought it necessary to stab you with a spork in the first place. But, beyond saying, “Dude, you should probably get that looked at” or, “I think you need to have that removed,” I’m not going to be a hell of a lot of good to you, save perhaps as a ride to the hospital.

I love those scenes in movies and TV shows where the medieval king or Roman emperor is sick with a fever or some other ailment, and the doctors come in and do a pretty good job of identifying the symptoms, if not necessarily the underlying malady. But when it comes time to prescribing treatment, they might as well be toddlers with beards. “Have his excellency eat the tails of four newts every morning before the sun clears the horizon. Then he must snort the dandruff of a Corsican beggar no older than half the King’s age minus seven. But not if the beggar is a ginger, for they are touched by the devil.”

A fourth point: Some enormous problems have no immediate solution, which means that committing massive amounts of energy and resources to fixing them now is a waste. When I was a kid, I read a science-fiction short story about humans embarking on an interstellar trip to a far-off habitable planet. The hitch: They didn’t have faster-than-light technology. I can’t remember whether their solution was to use suspended-animation chambers so that they could sleep for the several centuries it would take the ship to reach their destination or whether they planned to reproduce en route so that their descendants would colonize the planet (both standard devices in these kinds of stories). Either way, just as they were on the outskirts of the solar system and about to fully commit to the journey, an alien spacecraft appeared on their scanners or out the window (again I can’t remember). And then, suddenly, the alien ship vanished — traveling faster than light speed.

The captain’s response always stuck with me. “All right, let’s go home.”

The captain didn’t want to go home because he feared anal probing or anything like that. Rather, he realized that taking 500 years getting to some other planet was an enormous waste of time. Now that he knew it was possible to travel faster than the speed of light, there was no point to their journey. By the time they — or their great-great-great-great-great grandkids — made it to Alpha Centauri, or wherever they were heading, humans on Earth would surely have cracked the puzzle. Indeed, the fact that he knew it was possible made it infinitely more likely they’d figure out the technology because they now understood it was doable.

So what am I really getting at here? I’m trying to explain how I think about climate change.

Among the Believers

Max Boot, as part of his conservatism-renunciation tour, has been pestering me about climate change. Once a skeptic, he now proudly shouts all of the shibboleths of climate-change alarmists. He “believes” in science. And science speaks in one voice about the issue. The scientists — a monolithic bloc in his telling — have not only incontrovertibly diagnosed the problem, but they have also prescribed the only solution. And anyone who disagrees with either the diagnosis or the prescribed remedies must be doing so for one of two reasons: They are either prostitutes for the fossil-fuel industry or science-denying brainwashed ideologues.

Much like a man who thinks he can ride a wild polar bear to work because that way he can use the HOV lanes and park in the electric-car spots at his office garage, this is a stupid idea, I think, for a lot of different reasons.

First of all, while Boot’s depiction of Big Oil might be music to the ears of the green Left that still thinks the world looks like a Thomas Nast cartoon — with titans of industry portrayed as pigs at a trough or fat cats in fancy suits — that’s not the reality. Max wants a carbon tax. That’s an intellectually defensible position. But you know who else favors a carbon tax? ExxonMobil. You know what else ExxonMobil does? They spend huge amounts of money on low-carbon R&D. They just closed on the biggest wind and solar deal in the industry.

As for the notion that everyone else who disagrees with him is an ensorcelled science-hating ideologue, Boot needs to get out more. There are scads of people who are vastly more well-versed in the science than either of us who reach an array of different conclusions other than those of the chicken-little caucus. That doesn’t mean they’re all right — they can’t all be right because they have meaningfully different points of view — but it also doesn’t mean they’re all luddite ideologues. Roger Pielke, John Horgan, Judith Curry, Matt Ridley, Bjorn Lomborg, Ronald Bailey, Steve Hayward, and many others are serious people, many of whom concede the reality that man is changing the environment and climate in undesirable ways, but they get demonized by the climate-change industrial complex for poking holes in, or dissenting from, the groupthink.

From where I sit, it looks like Max, understandably dismayed by the realization that the people he relied upon to do much of his thinking for him are not who he thought they were, has simply decided to let a different group of people do his thinking for him.

But enough (already) about him. My own view of the climate change issue is that it is real. I do not think it is a hoax, though I do think there are plenty of people, institutions, and interests that use the tactics of hoaxers to hype the problem. I assume that the vast majority of them are what you might call “hoaxers in good faith”: They think the problem is grave enough that it is worth exaggerating the claims, hyping the threat, and hiding contrary evidence in an effort to rally public opinion. Others suffer from confirmation bias, immediately believing the worst-case scenarios from wildly complex — and historically unreliable — computer models without checking the math. Just last month, the authors of a widely publicized study saying the oceans were heating up much faster than thought had to issue a major correction.

The 2007 IPCC report claimed “science” proved the Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035. In 2010, they had to retract the claim:

The UN’s climate science body has admitted that a claim made in its 2007 report — that Himalayan glaciers could melt away by 2035 — was unfounded.

The admission today followed a New Scientist article last week that revealed the source of the claim made in the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was not peer-reviewed scientific literature — but a media interview with a scientist conducted in 1999. Several senior scientists have now said the claim was unrealistic and that the large Himalayan glaciers could not melt in a few decades.

Three Cheers for Skepticism

There are really two kinds of skepticism at work here. The first is the skepticism about the science itself, the other is skepticism towards the vast array of interests that benefit from climate hysteria, psychologically, politically, or economically. Both forms of skepticism are utterly defensible. But they shouldn’t be lumped together.

Science is skepticism. Science is questioning, testing, replicating, and re-verifying. Yes, there are some things that are “settled science” — the decay time of some isotope, the existence of gravity, the superiority of New York pizza — but what science is primarily about is unsettling settled science. All — all of the great scientists in human history were, to one extent or another, great because they shattered or transformed the scientific consensus of their time.

The second skepticism isn’t about science, but about scientism — the effort to use the language, techniques, constructs, and imagined mindset of science to do things science cannot do. “Scientism,” writes the philosopher Edward Feser, “is the view that all real knowledge is scientific knowledge — that there is no rational, objective form of inquiry that is not a branch of science.” I would go slightly farther and say that scientism is a form of religious thinking that thinks it is unreligious because it rejects traditional notions of religion. Back when engineering was considered the cure-all to our problems, “social engineers” (once a positive term) argued that they should be empowered to guide human affairs because science was the only legitimate source of truth.

In this way, scientism is a kind of priestcraft — a term coined by the writer James Harington to describe the way clergy would use their divine authority (back when everyone saw God as the ultimate source of truth) to serve their own interests. Or as Bill Murray says in Ghostbusters, “Back off man, I’m a scientist.” Neil deGrasse Tyson is a leading practitioner of this secular priestcraft, arguing that we should pick up where the Jacobins left off and organize society around the rule of scientific reason as determined by people, well, like him.

There is a profound irony at work when people such as Boot insist that his opponents are driven by self-interest when they disagree with him. Is it inconceivable that, say, Al Gore — who has made hundreds of millions as a climate-change Jeremiah — has a vested interest in climate change? This isn’t to say that Gore is lying. I’m sure he believes what he’s saying. But couldn’t he be a bit like Colonel Nicholson in Bridge over the River Kwai? A man so invested in a single idea he can’t see the costs of his actions or the possibility he’s taken a good idea too far?

Ultimately, I have no fundamental problem with people who think climate-change “deniers” are suffering from groupthink of some kind. What enrages me are the scientific practitioners of priestcraft who cannot imagine the possibility that they suffer from the same human foibles. I mean, they aren’t even consistent champions of science. They cherry-pick the issues where science lends political and cultural power to the stuff that they want to do anyway. When the issue is sex and gender, many of these same people might as well start a bonfire using medical and biology textbooks as kindling. The science has been slipping away from these people when it comes to abortion, particularly late-term abortions, for decades, but you won’t find these “believers in science” changing their positions any time soon.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is pushing a “Green New Deal.” As I’ve written 7 trillion times (give or take), progressives have wanted a “new New Deal” even before the first New Deal was over. Painting an age-old progressive idol green has nothing to do with science and everything to do with marketing.

So What Would I Do?

As I suggested in the bit about the science-fiction story, I don’t think there is very much to do right now. Oh, I am very much in favor of R&D for all sorts of things. Cold fusion would be the equivalent of discovering faster-than-light travel. Personally, I am very interested in geoengineering — the science of actually fixing the problem. I am convinced the world has a low-grade fever that could get dangerously high in the future. That fever isn’t all bad by the way: E.g., it extends growing seasons and accelerates tree growth.

But if you eat bad clams and get a fever, doctors treat the fever. They may also talk to you about your diet, but they first address the illness. We don’t have anywhere near the expertise or confidence to start seeding the atmosphere with particles that would reflect more sunlight, but we could get there in the next generation or two. The funny thing is that whenever I talk to people about this sort of thing, the science worshippers suddenly freak out and say, “What if the scientists are wrong!” That’s a great question. But not only when someone proposes something you don’t like.

And I’m open to a carbon tax and things of that sort, but the thing people lose sight of is that the United States really isn’t the big problem. They want a New Deal regardless, and the green part is just a rationalization. Meanwhile, China, India, Africa, etc., very much want to be rich (or at least not poor), and they will not agree to anything that substantially deters that mission. And we should want them to get rich. Wealthy societies protect their environments as treasured luxuries, poor societies use their environments as useful resources (and don’t get me started on the violence the first New Deal inflicted on nature).

In the meantime, climate change is crowding out concern for, and resources from, all sorts of other problems that have far more immediate effects. I worry far more about eroding biodiversity, over-fishing, ocean acidification, plastic pollution, and the like than I do about climate change. Climate change contributes to some of these problems, particularly ocean acidification, but these are far more fixable right now. Elephants aren’t being wiped out by climate change. And a Green New Deal won’t save them.

Various & Sundry

I’m writing this from the verandah of my cabin on the R.M.S. Oosterdam. It’s been another lovely and fun National Review cruise with a bunch of great people. If you’re wondering why I didn’t even mention Donald Trump in this “news”letter, it is because I am unbelievably exhausted with the topic (also, news seems to be moving fast on the Trump front, and I’m not too dialed into what’s happening). There has been all manner of fruitful, fiery, yet always friendly conversations about the man and the times, and I just couldn’t muster anything more on the subject. Also, I don’t have much to add to what I wrote last week.

Canine Update: The night before I left for the cruise, my wife and I were having dinner in front of the TV to watch the final episode of this season of Man in the High Castle, when Pippa came up to request a piece of the Fair Jessica’s steak. Normally, in these times, Pippa deploys her most powerful weapon: her puppy eyes. But there was a problem: One of them seemed to be looking off in the wrong direction. Given that she was abnormally tired to begin with, we thought she might have had a seizure or some kind of stroke or something. So, I rushed her to the money depository that operates as a veterinary hospital. Zoë was enraged that I was taking Pippa at dog-walking hour without her. The Dingo was clearly convinced that we were going to some canine amusement park, where instead of whack-a-mole, you get to play crunch-a-mole. Anyway, Pippa was very excited for a car ride at first but was more terrified than I’ve ever seen her when we got to the vet. She ran to the back of the beat-up Honda Element that is our dog car and curled into a quivering ball. In the waiting room, she kept jumping up and crawling over me like there must be some hidden bunker in my body that she could hide in. It turns out that she probably had an infection or maybe an ulcer than causes Horton’s syndrome, which can make an eye go droopy. She’s in no discomfort as far as we can tell, and she should be fine, but it was a bit scary. I really want to express my appreciation to everyone on Twitter who showed their concern for the girl.

I don’t know whether readers actually follow the links to the doggo pictures, but if you do, I’m sorry I can’t do it this week. Twitter is not loading for me right now.

I will be on Meet the Press on Sunday.

Last week’s G-File

RIP GHWB

GHWB in NR

My all-Goldberg Constitution Center panel

What was PETA (group-)thinking?

RIP GHWB, part II

The latest Remnant, with Charles Cooke

What AOC and DJT have in common

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Wednesday links

Debby’s Friday links

Arizona man thinks he’s a Florida man

Old liquor

A happy ending

I thought this was America

Fiat lux

Civic activism

Nerd wish-fulfillment opportunity

RIP Vishnu

Chick-fil-A supercentenarian

Cheesecake Factory uprising

Hot grease fight

Sloth history (cc: @senatorshoshana)

The Butlerian Jihad must begin now

The last French sword duel

White House

The Wars to Come

Robert Mueller on Capitol Hill, June 20, 2017 (Reuters/Aaron P. Bernstein)

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: The quickening is upon us. What I mean is that, while few people really have any clue what is going on, many are certain that It’s About to Go Down.

And so the Great Loin-Girding has begun.

In Green Rooms, in Editorial Rooms, in Conference Rooms of every hue and shape, and even in bathrooms where stewed bowels are uncorked like a confused drunk opening the emergency exit at 35,000 feet, people are preparing for what can only be described as the Mother of All Shinola Shows, only it won’t be shinola on the main stage. Reporters are rereading ten-year-old New Yorker profiles of bit players just so they can be ready to drop an obscure reference about a Russian oligarch. A striver at Breitbart is researching Robert Mueller’s family tree going back to the Duchy of Pomeria. Behind the scenes at Fox & Friends, things are more somber: There are a lot of prayer circles and quiet moments of solitude, as various hosts and producers stare out the window onto Sixth Avenue and ask themselves if they are ready for what is to come.

Over at Morning Joe, the preparations are more animated, as they contemplate the prospect of entering Cable-News Valhalla.

On the Hill, House Democrats, flush with the stench of midterm victory in their nostrils, are storming the vacated bunkers of the former majority, like Vikings sweeping into an unprotected English village or the caddies into the Bushwood pool on Caddy Day. The walls are being covered with photos of Trump and his associates, each held up by a pushpin and tied by red string to another pushpin holding up another photo and another, until a batwing-shaped web connects Trump to Vladimir Putin, the Saudi crown prince, Roy Cohn, and, thanks to Senator Cruz, both the Zodiac Killer and the real culprits in the Kennedy assassination.

Over on the Senate side, Chuck Schumer walks into a conference room and spots a fresh-out-of-Harvard self-styled freedom fighter, hunched over next to an oil-drum fire, sharpening pencils with the blade of a pair of child-safety scissors.

“All that hate’s gonna burn you up kid,” Schumer says.

“It keeps me warm,” replies the former senior-class president, as he throws an 8-by-10 glossy of Roger Stone into the fire.

Meanwhile, Republicans across the Hill are grabbing everything they can to bunker-in and target-harden. Book cases full of the proceedings of the Senate? Slide those mofos in front of the doors! Studies showing the scope of the fiscal crisis ahead of us? We may need that for toilet paper. Hapless tourists from Osh Kosh or Eugene visiting the rotunda are knocked over and shoved aside, their selfie-sticks clanging on the cold marble, their Smithsonian shopping bags full of astronaut ice cream and miniature Washington Monuments sent flying, as young Republicans roll giant water-cooler bottles down the hallway to prepare for the siege. “Sorry, ma’am, I don’t think you want to be here,” one of the more polite kids from Orrin Hatch’s office yells as they barrel past. “This is going to be bad.”

For reasons no one knows, but everyone understands, an old lady is standing outside the gallery shouting, “Flores! Flores para los muertos!”

Meanwhile, over at the White House, everyone is sweating like they ate gas-station sushi an hour ago and don’t have any change left for the coin-operated bathroom stall. You can’t even make a Downfall video joke without John Kelly screaming, “Stow that crap soldier!” Cigarette burns mar every desk and carpet, the smoke blending in with the stench of panic and intern urine. In the hallway, Mike Pence barges past a meeting trying to catch a chicken. No one bothers even to ask why.

Stephen Miller hasn’t been seen for days, but staffers hear the familiar rapid-fire sound — whock-whock-whock-OW! — emanating from his office as he plays Mumblety-peg with the pointy-end of a Statue of Liberty paperweight.

And then there’s the Oval Office, where the president keeps re-watching DVR’d episodes of Lou Dobbs, pausing every 15 seconds to growl at Rudy Giuliani: “See! Lou gets it! Why can’t you say something like that!? I should make him attorney general.”

Rudy’s constant, uncontrolled, and unprovoked laugher, punctuated by broad flashes of his new teeth, is as disorienting as it is hypnotic. “It’s all going great!” Rudy says with an enormous smile, tears streaming down his face.

“It’s all fine . . . this is fine.”

Two and Half Cheers for the Sidelines

Okay, I exaggerate — a little.

But the truth is that it really does feel like things are coming to a head.

I have no idea what Mueller will reveal, and I have no idea what Trump will do in response. But I am sure that we’re going to hear a lot of “Whose Side Are You On?” once Mueller walks to the cameras in his Grim Reaper’s cloak and swings his scythe.

For me, the answer is simple: I’m on nobody’s side. I don’t have a dog in this fight. To mix metaphors like a special blender for metaphors, I’m going to play the ball, not the man — or men. What I mean by that is that if the truth or facts or evidence is on Trump’s side, I’ll defend that. If it’s not on his side, I won’t be either.

That’s not going to be true for a lot of people who, for one reason or another, have invested way too much in Donald Trump and in the idea that he deserves their loyalty. That ain’t me.

I’ve spent the last couple years perhaps a bit too vexed by some of those people. I’ve finally figured out a way to make peace, in my own mind, with at least some of their behavior.

In print and in podcast, I’ve been talking a lot about how the two parties are shells of what they once were and how outside groups and institutions have filled the voids left behind by their shrinkage. The parties used to choose candidates and issues. Parties educated voters. Over the last 50 years, that function has essentially been outsourced to interest groups, media outlets, think tanks, etc. As a result, the dividers between different lanes shrunk or vanished. Writers and intellectuals on the left and the right became de facto political consultants and party activists. Many political consultants acted like public intellectuals or pundits. Intellectuals became entertainers and entertainers pretended to be intellectuals. Politicians quit their jobs to be TV talking heads, and TV talking heads run for office.

I look back on the last two decades, and, in hindsight, it’s easy for me to see all of it now, not just in others but in myself. Back in 2016, I didn’t understand how so many people, who had basically the same job description as I did, could reach such wildly different conclusions. Now, I feel like I understand it better. In this business, people like me wear a lot of different hats, figuratively speaking. Among the hats we wear: journalist, writer, author, TV pundit, intellectual, partisan, etc. In those roles, one can sometimes be a critic or a cheerleader for a party or a politician or a policy.

The point is that most of the time, it’s pretty easy to switch out one hat for another without feeling conflicted. Making the Republican case and the conservative case often seems — or seemed — like the same thing. In hindsight, I think I was too much of a partisan during the Iraq War, but it didn’t feel like I was being partisan at the time. I just thought the party and the president deserved defending from their critics on the left.

You Can Leave Your Hat On

Lots of people have argued that the rise of Donald Trump was a stress test for various institutions, and I think that’s right. But whereas I once thought a lot of people failed the test, I see it a little differently now.

The rise of Trumpism demanded that everybody decide which hat they were going to wear. Or to put it a little differently, they had to decide which hats were they willing to take off when push came to shove. For some people, the party hat (I don’t mean the type that kids wear at birthday parties) was the one hat that they wouldn’t take off. For others, it wasn’t so much a GOP thing as it was a populist thing. They hated the “establishment” — especially the Republican establishment — and because “Donald Trump” popped into someone’s head when Gozer demanded, “Choose the Form of the Destructor,” they went with him even though many might have preferred a different vessel. For many religious and social conservatives, they had to discard the Public Scold Hat (or at least the Credible and Morally Consistent Public Scold Hat). When you believe all of that “It’s War” crap, the only hat you’re supposed to wear is a helmet. And a lot of people, strapped one on for the cause.

For others, including self-described “Never Trumpers,” they — we — chose to discard the party hat and the populist hat. I don’t know the right label for the one I’m stuck with, in part because they all sound pretentious: intellectual, journalist, conservative, whatever.

I don’t know if thinking about it this way is helpful for anybody but me, but I find it clarifying and a bit reassuring. We all have lots of different roles or identities in us, and when a test comes, some people will choose one identity over another. I’m not going to lie, some people have disgusted me in how they’ve made “Trump-loyalist” their primary identity, jettisoning principles, reputation, and rationality in order to nimbly defend the guy. But a lot of people haven’t done that. They’ve simply tried to make the best out of a difficult situation.

There’s a reason why the Kavanaugh spectacle was the only time the broader American Right has unified during Trump’s presidency; it was because Donald Trump wasn’t the issue, even if he at times tried to make it about him. It was the one-time moment when all of the hats could converge or overlap each other.

There are those on the right who very much want the coming donnybrook to be like that again. It’s possible it will. It’s possible the Democrats will overreach or that Mueller will live down to the slanders grifters on the right have concocted about him. But I doubt it will happen. This will be about Trump. And while impeachment may not be warranted, he will not look good in this fight, because his true nature — and the nature of the creatures he surrounds himself with — will once again be exposed.

I’m not going to the mattresses in any of this, because I see no reason to give the president — or many of his most rabid opponents — the benefit of the doubt, never mind loyalty. The only major player here who deserves the benefit of the doubt right now is Robert Mueller. Because while we may learn that he made mistakes or overstepped, as of now, the one thing I know he cares about is the facts. About his slander-spewing right-wing critics — and to some extent his left-wing sanctifiers — I know no such thing.

Various & Sundry

Update: All of the above was written on Friday, in drips and drabs, as I wended my way from Syracuse to Chicago to home. Amidst all that, I tweeted an NPR story about Donald Trump Jr. that turned out to be wrong. Some Trump defenders pounced. That’s fine. The only thing remarkable about it was that many people seemed to think that I had some deep investment in the story or that I had egg on my face for tweeting a link to a news story. I just don’t see it that way, for several reasons. The first reason, you can find above; whatever the truth turns out to be is fine by me. Second, it was an entirely plausible story. If you don’t think it’s possible that Donald Trump Jr. might lie to Congress — you’ve been watching a different show than me.

But since we’re on the subject: There is this fascinating tendency among Trump’s praetorians to seize on every false or flawed news story — and there have certainly been many — as if it proves all of the stories about Trump are false. They simply aren’t. But, more to the point, some of these praetorians make it sound like they care very, very, very much about telling the truth. And yet there is precious little, if any criticism, about the president when he lies. And he lies very often. Then — when Trump lies — we get a lot of treacle about how “the American people knew what they were getting” or “he’s a disruptor” or “that’s just his style.” I concede that it’s a little bit apples and oranges. The press is supposed to be dedicated to reporting facts, and when journalists get it wrong, they should be held accountable. But the president should be held accountable too, particularly by people who are also in the press. If you only object to untruths when they are inconvenient to the president, you don’t actually care about the truth. You just want to use it to protect someone who doesn’t care about it either.

Canine Update: Something very strange is going on that may have reverberations in the Goldberg family for years to come. For as long as we’ve had her, Zoë has not cared much or at all about chasing tennis balls. Even after we got Pippa, Zoë didn’t get what the big deal is. Then, this week, Zoë decided that she had had enough.

The question is: “Enough of what?” Enough attention being heaped on Pippa? Enough with the incessant barking and bouncing? We don’t know. But Zoë’s suddenly interested in the tennis ball.

Just today, Kirsten (our invaluable dogwalker) took them out with the pack. She texted this (light typo fixes notwithstanding):

This is Zoë’s face after she grabbed the ball from Obi, Sampson and Pippa then danced around with it for 3 minutes THEN she proceeded to bury it, and as we were walking away Pippa ran back but Zoë beat her to it and laid down on top of where she put it making stinky faces. I finally dug it up and confiscated it, and this is her at the empty burial site. She is perplexed to say the least.

There’s even some late breaking video.

This report suggests to me that dog economics has finally kicked in. As Megan McCardle and I once discussed on The Remnant, dogs are deeply invested in the concept of the positional good. A stick only has value because other dogs want it. That’s why, at the dog park, you’ll see a long train of dogs chasing whoever has “The Stick,” even though there are more than enough sticks for everybody. What matters is to have The Stick — or in this case The Ball — that the other doggers want.

Now, it’s possible that this is just Zoë being a jerk. That wouldn’t be unprecedented. She’s a bit of a kick-down, kiss-up kind of gal. But that doesn’t explain another monumental development. On Thursday, Zoë let Pippa think that she was the “predator” in a grand game of dog-zoomie-hide-and-seek (over 77,000 views so far).

We think she may be having a midlife crisis or maybe some kind of epiphany. I just hope Pippa can cope.

Oh, and if you wanted to hear a genuine Carolina dog “arrooo,” this is it. Apparently, it can be triggering to other dogs, so play it in private (or send me video of them responding).

ICYMI . . .

The previous G-File

My C-SPAN Book TV interview

An AOC Theory

The pre-Thanksgiving Remnant, with James Kirchick

The poison of “stolen election” narratives

Trump’s odd definition of “America First”

A conflict of visions

The perils of symbolic nationalism

In re: Max Boot

Hillary Clinton almost has a point

The racist orcs are back!

The latest Remnant, with Mike Gallagher (and a bonus Jack Butler solo performance at the end)

America’s history of rejecting identity politics

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Thanksgiving links

A good man

Dart farts

Bear propaganda

Drunk curlers

Panoramas

Exorcise more

A happy ending

Strangely satisfying

The ocean’s Twilight Zone

LEGO digestion

A good dog

Avoid NYC subways

Another good dog

A piece of musical history

Good dogs

The origin of the sloppy joe

Florida Men — 1 Disguised in Bull Costume – Allegedly Tried to Burn Down Ex-Boyfriend’s Home With Spaghetti Sauce

Bee closeups

Bob Seger says goodbye

I’m not crying, you’re crying

Politics & Policy

Basta La Vista, Baby

Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, on CBS This Morning. (CBS via YouTube)

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (And especially Martha McSally’s dog),

As I often note, I increasingly tend to see the political scene as a scripted reality show in which the writers don’t flesh out the dialogue so much as move characters into weird, wacky, confrontational, or embarrassing positions. It’s a lot like The Truman Show, except most of the cast isn’t fully in on it. Sometimes I imagine some writers’ room in the sky where a bunch of exhausted hacks with coffee breath struggle amidst the pizza boxes and broken pencils to figure out how to ratchet up the intensity from scene to scene or season to season. “Let’s have them just leave Reince on the tarmac!” “How about we put Jared in charge of Middle East Peace!” “Let’s have some fun with George and Kellyanne, I think there’s huge sitcom material there.”

“If only Roger Stone were still alive.”

“He is.”

“Whoa. Call his agent. We gotta have him on. A little goes a long way with that guy, but he could steal the show like Christopher Walken in Pulp Fiction talking about that watch he kept up his own a**, except instead of the watch we can use Stone’s whole head.”

The writer who came up with the whole “Anthony Weiner texting junk pics” got a lot of grief for a storyline that was a bit too on the nose, as it were, given Weiner’s name. But it was a ratings killer, and it set up much of the story arc for the next couple of seasons.

The trick is often in the little details that make this seem like a fully realized alternative reality, like the grittiness of Mos Eisley in the first Star Wars, or, more apt, the fake movie trailers at the beginning of Tropic Thunder.

Or, for example, the Trumpy Bear commercials.

Personally, I think this latest subplot with Jim Acosta and Donald Trump has been really boring. It would have been much cooler if President Trump owned the libs by pressing a button that opened a trap door beneath Acosta, and for added drama maybe he tried to grab hold of the microphone-carrying intern to prevent his fall. All we hear is a thud and then lions roaring. Or maybe Acosta falls alone but is only injured and just complains a lot like Will Ferrell when Dr. Evil sent him to his doom.

If I had to bet, the writers will have CNN credential Stormy Daniels next season, so she can ask weird sex questions — I mean weird questions about sex, not normal questions about weird sex. (BTW, “What’s the difference between erotic and kinky? Erotic is when you use a feather; kinky is when you use the whole chicken.”)

There are other times, when I like to imagine it’s less like a mashup of the writers’ rooms at the Sid Caesar Show, Desperate Housewives, and WWE, and more like we’re living in the world of the Gamesters of Triskilion, in which disembodied heads gamble with our puny lives for fun and profit.

“10,000 Quatloos they claim Acosta assaulted the intern!”

“20,000 Quatloos Corey Lewandowski pretends to be outraged by the manhandling of young women for partisan reasons.”

“No bet.”

“Okay, understandable.”

Basta!

I don’t want to beat a dead horse — unless it’s a zombie horse, in which case that might be necessary. But I cannot make up my mind about whether or not the Michael Avenatti storyline is one of the comedic subplots or part of the main dramatic narrative.

I have no idea what to make of the news that he was arrested for domestic abuse. His denials might be legit. The testimonials from his ex-wives seem credible to me. But I’m also skeptical that the LAPD would arrest a celebrity porn lawyer on completely bogus charges. And while I would love for Avenatti to be telling the truth when he accused Jacob Wohl of setting him up, I’m skeptical about that too. I mean, Wohl’s not as dumb as he looks, but that’s setting the bar very low. When it comes to organizing conspiracies, Wohl seems as useful as a white crayon.

I’m very conflicted about Avenatti because on the one hand I would very much like him to just go away. He started out as kind of interesting, but he’s turned into a really grating character. It’s like someone took the staggering self-regard of James Comey and wrapped it around a part-time Viagra-commercial actor who does all of his shopping at Duty Free boutiques at Middle Eastern airports. And that catchphrase — Basta! — is so unbelievably grating that he’s sort of turned into the Poochie or Urkel of this storyline, only with the oily sheen of a made-for-Cinemax movie about a creepy porn lawyer.

On the other hand, there’s part of me that really wants him to be innocent of these charges for the simple reason that when he tried to destroy Brett Kavanaugh he used the “Believe All Women” mantra as way to hide his impressively dishonest and unethical behavior from the press and the public. It would be wonderful to watch the smoke come out of his android brain-processor as he dealt with the feminist version of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy: “All women are telling the truth but this woman is a liar . . . zzzztt spork, sizzle.”

It Would Take a Heart of Stone Not To Laugh

Before you get all sanctimonious about me making light of domestic abuse or sexual assault, let me say “pull my finger.” No seriously, I take domestic abuse and sexual assault very seriously, and if Avenatti is proven guilty he should face the full weight of the law. But, more broadly speaking, what choice does one have but to laugh at the endless spray of crazy that streams out of every iPhone and TV screen like water out of a giant clown’s fake flower on a daily basis?

This is why I respectfully disagree with Bill Kristol here:

This is all technically correct, I suppose. But it misses the point. Just because some Republicans may be hypocrites for chortling at Avenatti doesn’t mean he’s not chortle-worthy. Nor does it mean that the most important thing about Avenatti’s continual self-beclowning is Republican hypocrisy. That hypocrisy is grating, of course. But let’s not lend aid and comfort to one jackass in a misplaced desire to condemn someone else’s jackassery.

Everyone Needs to Lighten Up

The single most exhausting feature of the Trump era is the soul-crushing humorlessness of so many Trump critics and Trump defenders. For many Trump critics, particularly but not entirely on the left, everything is a crisis of existential proportions. For Trump defenders, any criticism of Trump is a direct attack on his supporters.

I usually understand where it comes from, I think. Trump does represent a serious stress test not just for conservatism and “democratic norms” but also for many of the assumptions that liberals held dear about the arc of history. Few things are scarier than being knocked off the horse of your teleology. It’s a bummer when you think you have a rendezvous with destiny, and you end up waiting for Godot.

For Trump defenders, it requires incredible effort to keep yourself convinced that he’s the man you want him to be rather than the man he actually is. Orwell was right when he said, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” But the opposite is often true as well. It is incandescently obvious that Donald Trump is not the world’s best negotiator or an honest person, among other glaring truths. But for people either emotionally or professionally invested in Trump, any admission that the Trumpian eminence front is a put-on is a threat of one kind or another. Maintaining the fiction that the emperor’s new clothes are glorious and resplendent takes a lot of effort, too. (For instance, imagine the energy it takes even to attempt to argue that Trump’s accidental “covfefe” tweet was a “genius move that is a very powerful demonstration of his ability to persuade”).

I’m convinced that one of the things that causes Trump disciples to get so angry at conservative Trump critics is that we make it so much harder to sustain the fiction. Of course, Trump makes it much harder than we do, but Trump gets a pass because he is the object of the adulation, while we’re supposed to be in the pews yelling, “Amen.”

The order of the day is to maintain message discipline with Pence-like dedication. That would be hard enough without us snickering and jeering from the cheap seats. This explains the wildly veering claims about “Never Trumpers” (a label I reject, but that doesn’t matter to them). We’re at once utterly irrelevant and incredibly dangerous saboteurs, fake conservatives and ridiculously doctrinaire ideologues, who’d rather prattle about “muh principles” than rack up so many wins we’ll beg Trump to stop all the winning. We’re the ignorable pests they cannot ignore.

In Defense of Bill Kristol

Again, Bill Kristol is a friend of mine and I like and respect him a great deal. When people claim he’s not a conservative because he’s not a reflexive cheerleader for the president, I have to cover my ears for fear my eyes will roll out of my head. But that doesn’t mean I always agree with Bill on how he’s responded to the Trump era (something I can say about 92 percent of my fellow conservatives, in both the pro- and anti-Trump camps). But my disagreements don’t fill me with rage or drive me to grab a partisan Billy club so that I can chase him out of the Right. The effort to claim he’s not a conservative — solely because he’s a Trump opponent — is precisely the sort of thing I wrote about in last week’s “News”letter:

Indeed, more and more, liking Donald Trump is coming to define whether you’re on the team, and if you don’t like him — by which I mean, if you don’t celebrate his whole catalog the way the Bobs celebrated Michael Bolton’s — you’re part of the problem. Heck you’re not even a conservative.

Consider the fact that no president in American history succeeded in bending conservatism to his personality more than Ronald Reagan. And yet Reagan had plenty of critics on the right. Richard Viguerie lambasted Reagan. Howard Phillips called him a “useful idiot for Soviet propaganda.” Joel Skousen, the executive editor of Conservative Digest, said in 1983, ”Mr. Reagan is now seen as untrustworthy by many conservatives who believe he has betrayed his own principles in an effort to appease his critics.”

George Will, William F. Buckley, and numerous writers at National Review were personally fond of, or close to, Reagan, and usually supported him. But when the situation required it, they could be quite blistering in their criticisms. And yet, no one — or no one serious — claimed that Will and Buckley weren’t conservatives.

What changed? Well, lots of things. But one of them has been the populist takeover of the conservative movement. (I have an essay on this in the latest issue of NR.) Populist movements can vary in ideological content but they all share the same psychological passions. Independent thought, naysaying, and insufficient ardor are seen as a kind of disloyalty. Better and earlier than most, Matt Continetti recognized the crisis of the conservative intellectual this takeover represents.

I know I’m repeating myself, but it is just remarkable how the definition of a conservative for many people is primarily measured by support for Trump and/or hatred of Trump’s critics. My disagreements with Bill are entirely tactical and tonal, but I am at a loss to understand how any of my disagreements make him any less of a conservative today than he was five or 15 years ago. Bill Kristol is a conservative. About the people who say he isn’t one just because he won’t say the un-obvious, I’m not so sure.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: Because all of our go-to house- and pet-sitters are selfishly going home to be with their families on Thanksgiving, we’re probably going to have to bring the beasts to my mom’s for the holiday. It’s not ideal for a number of logistical reasons, among them the fact that Grandma has three extremely aristocratic cats. We can’t put them in a kennel because Zoë does not deal well with kennels. When she came out of one last time, something bad happened and she turned extremely hostile to other dogs. It took months to train that out of her. Pippa doesn’t deal with strange dogs very well either. Recall that when Zoë got into a scrap with some Corgis in apparently terrifying glow-in-the-dark collars, she ran more than a half-mile home to our house (crossing any number of streets). This brings me to a squabble I got into yesterday. A fight over at the D.C. bureau of the Daily Beast spilled out onto Twitter. Asawin Suebsaeng‏ argued that cats are superior to dogs because they are more convenient pets.

I responded:

A large number of people took me way too literally (I like Suebsaeng), but that happens on Twitter. But they should take me seriously on this point: I have two dogs and two cats. I love three of them (I’m merely fond of my wife’s cat). Cats can be affectionate. It’s far more debatable whether they are “loyal” in any meaningful sense. And cats are definitely more convenient. But convenience is not everything. Anyone who’s read this “news”letter or followed me on Twitter knows I invest a lot of time, money, and energy in my dogs. And that’s not for everybody, so by all means get yourself a cat until you’re ready for the major leagues of pet ownership. But dogs give back far more than cats do. I could get all poetic about this, but science is on my side. Dogs love us. They evolved to love us. They picked a side. As I wrote 17 years ago:

The dog is the only animal that volunteers for duty. If we want other animals — horses, oxen, mules, falcons, bears, or parrots — to come to our aid, we must either force them or bribe them. You might even call horses our slaves: Their spirit must actually be broken before they will agree to do anything for us. And, if the comparison of the jovial dog to the jovial Briton is a fair one, then the conclusion is unavoidable that cats share many attributes with our friends the French: They are coquettish when called, unavailable when needed, and always self-interested. If Lassie had been a cat, the barn would have burned down and Timmy would have starved to death at the bottom of the old well.

Anyway, my wing-gals are doing great. They continue to love the weather and express that love with zoomies and smiles and even a little soulful contemplation. The other day, Pippa lost her ball on the trail (it happens). So we had to resort to some old school stick throwing, to get the ya-yas out of her. She was particularly fond of one stick, which is now in the back of our car. But she’s found others, too.

They’re good dogs, and dogs are good.

Now for the sundry.

I’ll be on Special Report tonight.

I’ll be speaking at the Miami Book Fair tomorrow.

Oh, and next week we’re going to try something fun. By now you’ve heard of NRPlus, and if you haven’t signed up yet, you should. As an added bonus for NRPlussers, we’re going to let you decide what next week’s G-File should be about. I will take requests and try to accommodate as many of the suggested topics as possible while not descending into a pure Ask Me Anything listicle. We’ll announce details on the Corner next week.

Last week’s G-File

2020 will be crazy

Remembering Stan Lee

And now, the weird stuff.

Spy pup

Ralph Bakshi vs. LOTR

Where you can eat with your dog in NYC

Politics and porn: A history

The Crenshaw Moment

No jury would convict

On the other hand…

Hmmm. . .

Cats and art

Movie hacking

The first synthesizer

LEGO Helm’s Deep

Just don’t step on it

How to get a role in Bill and Ted 3

Nature is weird

Japan’s understanding of American history, circa 1861

Politics & Policy

Shooting the Stragglers

President Trump at a campaign rally in Indianapolis, Ind., November 2, 2018. (Carlos Barria/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 (And those of you who identify as Readers),

I’m on a flight to Florida, and I have to get an essay done for the magazine and work on a new speech for tomorrow, so as Jeremy Corbyn said when asked to provide a list of things he loves about the Jews, I need to keep this short.

I keep seeing all of this stuff about how the midterms were everything from a blip to a huge victory for Trump and that he’s more likely than ever to get reelected. Ehhh . . . maybe. I can see the argument. I just don’t understand the confidence. Just consider the fact that were it not for the Benghazi hearings, Hillary Clinton would probably be president today — because it was those hearings that put her server in play.

I’m a skeptic about the Russia-collusion stuff, but the notion that there’s nothing for a subpoena-powered Democratic House to find in Trump’s closet just strikes me as nuttier than Mr. Peanut’s pool party.

Also, Trump won with a minority of the popular vote. He’s less popular today than he was in 2016, and the Democrats are way more motivated. The GOP coalition has shrunk while the Democratic coalition has expanded. I get that the Democrats have remarkable a gift for screwing things up. But I just can’t understand why anyone would have any confidence about predicting what happens next. The writers of this timeline, after all, put a huge emphasis on the crazy. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if in 2020 the president of the United States were a talking flounder.

But instead of looking at the fact that the Democratic coalition is bulging with young people, while millions of Republicans are leaving the GOP due to the ironclad rules of life expectancy, people are looking at things like Trump’s press conference as proof that 2020 is in the bag.

For example, here’s my friend Hugh Hewitt in the Washington Post:

President Trump will win reelection. Anyone who watched Wednesday’s presser after Trump’s big night Tuesday knows in his or her bones that it will happen, because the president is getting better and better at the job.

I found the whole column so strange. As Hugh admitted to me in a Twitter exchange, the point wasn’t to be empirical. Fair enough. We can chalk up the sweeping claim that anyone who watched the press conference knows in his or her bones that Trump will get reelected to poetic license. I mean, I don’t know that, though in fairness I didn’t watch the whole thing. I merely listened to a bunch of it on the radio, so maybe there was something subliminal in the video — like in The Ring or in those Silver Shamrock commercials from Halloween III — that compels one to believe he will be reelected simply by virtue of the fact that he displayed his usual press-bashing vindictiveness towards Republicans who don’t suck-up to him, and his usual, often entertaining turd-polishing of bad news.

But the fascinating thing about Hugh’s column is that he has redefined the job of the president into “combatant in chief.” What Hugh says about the political culture is largely true. Americans like combat — political, virtual, mortal (Finish him!), etc. — but I don’t understand why Hugh should celebrate the idea that the president of the United States should encourage and amplify that tendency. I’m sure he’d be more critical of a Democratic president doing anything like what Trump does. Moreover, just because the president is “good” at combat doesn’t mean his combativeness attracts more voters to him. Rather, it activates combativeness in his opponents. Not a lot of Democrats are going to say, “I love combat. Trump is better at combat than Nancy Pelosi. Therefore, I will vote for Trump.”

Beyond the wishcasting, these kinds of arguments — which are everywhere on the right these days — seem like Trump-norming to me. In gender-norming, women are rated on a curve. A female applicant can only carry a 110-pound dummy through an obstacle course? Let’s make that the standard for women on the firefighter’s test! Donald Trump can’t act presidential? Make “combativeness ”the new standard for presidents. We take the measure of the man — and make the man the new measure.

What Went Wrong

Let’s talk about the content of Trump’s combativeness. Jonathan Last has an interesting essay on the midterms, arguing that the combat closest to Trump’s heart is with the GOP itself:

It is important to understand that for all the talk about how Trumpism is a reaction to leftism and social-justice warriors and political correctness, the truth is that it is principally an intra-party fight. It’s the final crackup of Cold War Republicanism; a cultural revolution in which the lumpenproletariat seized control of the party from the pointy heads and exiled them to the labor camps. And like the Maoists, the Trumpers aren’t really interested in picking a fight with the other superpower. They’re much more concerned with controlling the near abroad — which is to say, the Republican party. That’s why they tend to focus their hatred on Republicans and conservatives who decline to get on board, rather than on Democrats and liberals. Jeff Flake is the enemy; Kamala Harris is just a random nonplayer character.

Always remember that Trumpers — the people who believe in him, not the remora fish looking for their bits of chum — care very little about the left. Their real opponents are other Republicans. Seen from that perspective, Tuesday’s vote was a huge success. Because for Trumpers, it’s never a binary choice. Wherever a Trump-skeptical Republican was running against a Democrat, Trumpism couldn’t lose.

I think Jonathan overstates a few things, but his central point strikes me as largely correct, particularly when it comes to Trump himself. He mocked candidates who lost because of him but insisted they really lost because they failed to embrace him. This is not a brilliant strategy for winning in 2020; it’s a blunt strategy for Trumpifying the party further. It’s also ridiculous on the merits. The idea that if only Barbara Comstock “embraced” Trump more, her D.C.-suburb constituents would have changed their mind is ludicrous. As Jonathan notes, Carlos Curbelo has a 72 percent Hispanic district, half of which is foreign born. No doubt they voted Curbelo out because they wanted more talk about diseased foreigners and sh**hole countries, not less.

But Trump either believes that the GOP loss of the House proves “people like me” wrong or he at least wants you to believe that. And it’s working.

Indeed, more and more, liking Donald Trump is coming to define whether you’re on the team, and if you don’t like him — by which I mean, if you don’t celebrate his whole catalog the way the Bobs celebrated Michael Bolton’s — you’re part of the problem. Heck you’re not even a conservative.

That’s why Katie Arrington, who defeated Mark Sanford in a primary by promising to be a loyal foot-soldier for Trump, blamed Sanford for her loss of a reliably Republican seat:

“We lost because Mark Sanford could not understand that this race was about the conservative movement — and not about him.”

I heard my friend Mollie Hemingway on Fox refer to the traditional suburban Republican voters the GOP lost as basically “Never Trump elitists.” I know Mollie has very strong views about how Trump-skeptical pundits shouldn’t be given much airtime anymore, but why write off the voters the GOP needs to be a majority party?

Conservatism Norming

My friend Henry Olsen, who is a brilliant election analyst, doesn’t quite do that. In today’s Washington Post, he notes that:

The party’s devastation in traditional, high-income suburban bastions is unmistakable. Nearly every House seat it lost was in these areas. Districts in suburban Atlanta, Houston and Dallas that voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 by between 15 and 24 points went Democratic. Districts that Republicans had held for decades outside Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia fell. The blue tide even swept away a GOP seat in Oklahoma City. This trend was more than a coastal fad.

Henry argues that the GOP is “irretrievably on a new path. Either it re-creates a William McKinley-style coalition based on the working-class voter or it dies.”

As a matter of pure political calculation for the GOP, I think Henry’s analysis and prognosis has a lot of merit, and if my overriding concern were winning elections, I might sign up. But Henry’s prescription has some problems if that’s not your only concern. I have no principled problem with the idea of the GOP putting the working class at the forefront of the GOP coalition (though as a policy matter, refusing to deal with entitlements in order to pander to the working class seems like a bad idea). But he wants to launch a long-term transformation of the GOP (and by extension, the conservative movement) based upon Donald Trump’s personality. His term for the working-class voters he wants behind the driver’s seat is literally “Trump Is Great Republicans” or TIGRs.

Henry wants some suburbia-friendly policies in the platform “but not to the extent they conflict with TIGR priorities.”

Can you see the problem yet?

Many — most? — of the people who think Trump Is Great are not primarily driven by public policy. The folks who watched that press conference and said, “This is awesome!” or shouted, “What a statesman!” do not think Trump is great because of policy X or Y. They think policy X or Y is great because Donald Trump says so.

The opposite is true as well. The voters who are horrified by Trump’s style, rhetoric, or personality are not going to be won over with policy. The college-educated suburban women who fled the GOP because of Trump aren’t going to be won back with child-tax credits, at least not as long as Trump is around.

Henry is absolutely right that there is an opportunity here for the Republicans — in the abstract. But in reality, Trump isn’t the guy to sell it. Trump’s chief priority isn’t anything like creating a lasting William McKinley–style coalition; it’s to be the center of attention.

What I find so interesting is how so much has changed so quickly. Just a few years ago, all of the arguments on the right were about how to better bend the GOP to conservatism. Jim DeMint said that he’d rather have 30 pure conservative senators than 60 squishy ones. Now, almost in the blink of an eye, the argument is how to bend conservatism to the GOP. If a woman can’t meet the physical standards, change the standards. If the GOP can’t meet the standards of traditional conservatism, change conservatism.

I have problems with both points of view. The DeMintian position was ridiculous. Majority parties always have diverse coalitions, because it is only by collecting a diverse coalition that you can assemble a majority. FDR’s coalition had everyone from socialist Jews and blacks to Klansmen in it. Goldwater’s coalition was much narrower, and he was trounced.

But the idea that all conservatism should be is a branding operation for the GOP to win elections is an awful idea too. Because that means its ultimate concern is winning, not being right.

Of course, humans have an almost bottomless capacity to convince themselves that they are right about whatever serves their interests. So, I have no doubt we would see such rationalizations about whatever path we went down.

This isn’t just conjecture.

Exhibit A: American liberalism. The starting point for American liberals, for generations, has been: “In our hearts we know we’re right” so therefore the priority shouldn’t be arguing about principles but arguing about how to get or keep liberals in power. The underlying principle was power as its own reward.

Exhibit B: The GOP right frick’n now.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: The girls are doing just fine. They continue to love the fall weather, though Pippa enjoys the autumn rains — and puddles — more than Zoë does. That’s not to say the Dingo won’t partake of such joys on occasion. The beasts are back at home, being watched by my researcher-producer-amanuensis-majordomo Jack Butler. I believe he understands the full scope of his responsibilities.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

Midterm humility

China’s national kibbutz

Who are the RINOs?

Midterm chicanery

More midterm chicanery

DeSantis and felon voting

On the Ross Kaminsky Show

Our weak parties

The 69th Remnant

Max Boot’s confusion

An encomium for Jeff Sessions

The second Remnant of the week

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Elephant listens to piano

Roman toilet humor

Tilda Swinton’s spaniels

Conspiracy theory for sale

Stanley Kubrick for sale

Humanity is good sometimes

When you get drunk one night and wake up in another country the next morning

Chasing Bigfoot

A lost duet, found

Llama salvation

That escalated quickly

Cool dog vest

Ducklings on a water slide

Florida man

This seems dubious

I’d like to be, under the sea

The dogs of Capitol Hill

Election Day and porn habits

Politics & Policy

A Conspiracy of Dunces

Jack Burkman (left) and Jacob Wohl at a news conference in Arlington, Va., November 1, 2018. (Josua 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 (Especially all incompetent conspiracy plotters),

When I was in eleventh grade, my English teacher, Mrs. Bab, made me sit in the front row right by her desk to keep me from getting into trouble or talking to friends. One day, when we were reading Beowulf, Mrs. Bab called on my friend Henry (I’ll leave his last name out of it) and asked him to summarize the story so far. Henry was a very capable B.S.er, but he was no match for Mrs. Bab.

Henry, who had not done the reading, offered an improvisational tour de force, repeating back random words he picked up from the classroom conversation. “Grendel and the Geats are fighting with Wiglaf for blah blah blah . . .”

Mrs. Bab offered a two-word rebuke: “Dreadful, Henry.”

But Henry didn’t pick up that he was being rebuked at all. He thought that she was giving him a hint. “Right,” Henry replied. “And then the Dreadfuls came down from Denmark . . .”

At this point, all time slowed down for me. I turned to Mrs. Bab and, with my best Puss ’n Boots eyes, I plaintively whispered, “Please. Let. Him. Go. On.”

I wanted to hear Henry go on and on about the marauding Dreadfuls. Perhaps after a while, he could have added the heroic tale of Sir Awful and his band of Incompletes and Unacceptables. But it was not to be.

I hadn’t thought about all that for a long time, but that rich bouillabaisse of feelings — schadenfreude (joy at the misfortune of others), fremdschämen (embarrassment for others who don’t have the good sense to be embarrassed for themselves), and plain joyful mirth and glee — came rushing back to me recently. This time, however, there was the added spice of Justice and Comeuppance in the broth. (Henry was at least my friend.)

The Limits of Civility

Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman are awful people. Now, let me admit my own hypocrisy here. As part of my growing disillusionment with partisan politics and disdain for raw tribalism, I’ve been trying — with only modest success — to pull back on the sort of casual mockery and demonization that was once part of my kit bag.

But the essence of serious thinking is the ability to make serious distinctions between superficially similar things (and finding similarities between superficially different things — such as nationalism and socialism). And if we can’t mock denizens of the coprophagic phylum inhabited by parasitasters such as Wohl and Burkman, then no one save the inhabitants of the handful of lower orders of garbage people — Nazis, terrorists, pedophiles, various Florida Men — can be mocked. That’s not a world I want to live in. Civilization isn’t achieved by eradicating social stigma, but by training it on the most worthy subjects.

Let’s Just Do It and Be Legends, Man

So, as I was saying: For the last 48 hours or so, these two jackwads have been beclowning themselves across such a broad spectrum of asininity that the mind reels to capture the glory of it. Only Hollywood could come up with a visual metaphor of their almost Nietzschean will to so completely live down to their reputations.

I suppose that I should back up. Jacob Wohl (rhymes with troll — for a reason) is a Twitter gadfly and former financial grifter who once claimed at the age of 18 to have had decades of experience as a hedge-fund manager. Jack Burkman’s first claim to fame came when he led an astroturf freak-out about an NFL quarterback being gay. Burkman’s own (gay) brother explained that it was “just an attention grab and a media grab to pander to those folks who pay him to lobby on their behalf.”

Perhaps in the same spirit, Burkman became even more famous by peddling conspiracy theories that Seth Rich was murdered because of his involvement in the leak of the DNC emails. I should also add that they both became Trump sycophants from afar, no doubt sensing opportunities for grift and the fame that could create more opportunities for grifting.

Which brings me to this week. Burkman and Wohl announced that they had learned of evidence that Robert Mueller had “brutally raped” a woman named Caroline Cass.

This evidence came from Surefire Intelligence, a supposedly highly regarded investigation firm.

Before their Thursday press conference, Wohl denied having anything to do with Surefire Intelligence. “I don’t have any involvement in any investigations of any kind,” he told NBC News.

But Wohl apparently had no idea that the journalism profession contains individuals who know how to use the Internet. Many of the photos on the Surefire Intelligence website were stock photos, including one of the Israeli model Bar Refaeli. Another shadowy image, when brightened, revealed Wohl himself. When NBC called the listed phone number for Surefire, it went straight to Wohl’s mom’s voicemail.

John McCormack has more details, but you get the point. These guys are idiots. Yes, they are funny idiots because it’s always funny when idiots celebrate their idiocy as genius. Burkman defended Wohl’s age at the press conference, insisting that “Jacob is a child prodigy who has eclipsed Mozart.”

(FWIW Mozart’s first public performance was at the age of five. At six, he played for the royal court. By seven, he played across Europe. At twelve, he wrote his first opera. And so on).

When Wohl was pressed for evidence that Mueller’s accuser even exists — she almost surely doesn’t — he offered a picture of a woman with her face blocked out.

It turns out that, again, Wohl underestimated the wizardry of the computer age. The woman in the picture was his “girlfriend.”

I put that in quotes because that woman denies she ever dated him.

It’s like Wohl is in his own Choose Your Own Adventure book, and every direction he goes leads him to a room where he has to punch himself in the crotch, while women he never dated point and laugh. No wonder this guy was Gateway Pundit’s ace reporter.

But just because they are idiots, that doesn’t mean they aren’t evil. Cesar Sayoc, the mail bomber from last week, was apparently an idiot too. We don’t know for sure yet, but it appears he really did think his bombs would work. If that’s the case, his incompetence has no bearing on his villainy. Likewise, these wormtongued rantallians wanted to falsely accuse Mueller of rape.

If you were outraged by what Brett Kavanaugh’s enemies tried to do to him, you should be no less outraged by what these peddlers of malicious jiggery-pokery tried to do. By all means laugh, I certainly am. But these guys need to go to jail all the same.

Maybe in prison, Wohl can fulfill his destiny as a child prodigy by inventing toilet-brewed pruno that Mozart could never have imagined.

Identity for Me, Not for Thee

I loved this line from CNN’s Don Lemon:

“We have to stop demonizing people and realize the biggest terror threat in this country is white men, most of them radicalized to the right, and we have to start doing something about them.”

As I said on Twitter, that sentence is like a snake eating its own tail. In a funny way, it reminds me of John Locke’s “Letter Concerning Toleration,” which was a hugely important advance for mankind and the ideas of religious tolerance and pluralism. Paraphrasing it in Lemonesque terms, Locke said, “We have to stop oppressing people of different faiths and realize that the biggest religious threat in this country is from Catholics, most of them radicalized by the evil pope in Rome, and we have to start doing something about them.”

In fairness, if you listen to the broader context, Lemon’s not quite as demonizing of all white men as it seems from just that one soundbite. But it remains the case that if a Fox News host said virtually the exact same thing but replaced “white men” with “black men” or “Muslim men,” you can be sure that Don Lemon would be among the first to decry the racism or bigotry on display, and no appeal to broader context or data would change his mind.

Oh, and about that data: Color me skeptical. The chart most frequently tweeted showing that right-wing white-male terrorism is America’s most serious threat begins in 2007, which is a pretty convenient date. But my skepticism isn’t really about the numbers. It’s the effort to lump in all of these different mass shooters as “right-wing” “white male” “terrorists.” For example, this article at Vox includes in its list of white-male killers the Las Vegas shooter and the Republican baseball-practice shooter. The former’s motives are unknown and the latter’s were left-wing. Again, I think that white-nationalist or white-supremacist groups are a real threat and that they should be taken seriously. But that’s not typically how it’s discussed on cable news or Twitter. In part because of Trump hatred but also Trump’s rhetoric, enormously important distinctions are blurred, and sweeping guilt by association is the order of the day.

Consider the understandable passion around the Squirrel Hill synagogue shooter. You would get the sense that anti-Semitic hate crimes in America are the sole provenance of angry white men. But anti-Semitic incidents (none nearly as horrific as the synagogue shooting) are remarkably common — far more common than anti-Muslim hate crimes. In New York City, where most of the media figures decrying the anti-Semitism unleashed by Trump live, not a single anti-Semitic act has been attributed to far-right groups in the last 22 months. And, again, anti-Semitic incidents are frequent in the Big Apple.

Contrary to what are surely the prevailing assumptions, anti-Semitic incidents have constituted half of all hate crimes in New York this year, according to the Police Department. To put that figure in context, there have been four times as many crimes motivated by bias against Jews — 142 in all — as there have against blacks. Hate crimes against Jews have outnumbered hate crimes targeted at transgender people by a factor of 20.

It’s almost as if anti-Semitism is a huge problem only when it can be used as a partisan cudgel.

The notion that white men — about a third of the U.S. population — are a terror threat is a real “Big, if true” statement. The problem with Lemon’s claim isn’t the point he was trying to make but the glibness of how he stated it — and how he thinks about it. And he’s hardly alone. You can find similar lazy bigotry on MSNBC and CNN daily.

Tucker Carlson made this point last night on Fox.

I agree with a lot of what Tucker says here. My only problem is that you can find the “right-wing” version of the same phenomena on Fox and elsewhere on the right all the time. Though, I will say that it’s less naked, in part because of the double standards we have about what you can and can’t say about white people and non-white people. And, unlike Lemon who has doubled-down on his comments, when Fox hosts cross a line, they often — though hardly always — apologize.

Party Proxies Everywhere

But there’s one thing Tucker said that I would like to focus on.

If you want to know what Democrats are thinking, watch CNN and MSNBC. Which over the past couple of years have come to function much as the DNC used to function, as the Democratic Party’s Brain Trust and mouthpiece.

I think this is indisputably true. I’ve been amazed of late to hear the folks on MSNBC’s Morning Joe openly exhort viewers to vote Democrat. It’s not remotely subtle anymore.

But can anyone dispute that something very similar can be said about Fox News?

There’s an important distinction to be made. There’s an asymmetry between Fox and MSNBC and CNN. Fox has a distinct separation between its opinion shows and news shows. The separation can get fuzzy for viewers, depending on what pundits are asked to come on as guests. But the actual news anchors — Bret Baier, Shepherd Smith, Chris Wallace, Bill Hemmer, etc. — do not hector viewers to vote Republican or go on opinion-laden stemwinders about how Comrade Trump will deliver the greatest wheat harvests man has ever seen. With a handful of exceptions, mostly at CNN (Jake Tapper and Wolf Blitzer come to mind), many of the news people at CNN and MSNBC often indulge in sweeping partisan punditry. I think Chuck Todd tries to be even-handed, but people such as Lemon, Chris Cuomo, Stephanie Ruhl, Andrea Mitchell, and Christiane Amanpour go back and forth across the line between news and opinion constantly.

This is one reason why Trump’s “fake news” and “enemy of the people” rhetoric works. Viewers see people who claim to be heroic guardians of objective reporting go on endless anti-Trump tirades that often drift into sweeping denunciations of Trump voters and even white people generally.

That said, the opinion side of Fox and Fox Business — where I still have quite a few friends — is top-heavy with people who serve as the de facto Brain Trust and mouthpiece for Donald Trump (with the most notable exceptions being Dana Perino and Neil Cavuto, both of whom I have a lot of respect for). There’s a reason why Fox & Friends is called the “President’s Daily Brief.”

My point here is one I keep returning to these days. Each team wants to say that the other team is violating norms — and they’re right. And each team says in response, “You’re a hypocrite” or, “Who are you to cast stones when so-and-so said X.” And they’re right, too.

Career-wise, it’s probably insane for me to write any of this. But I just don’t care anymore. This timeline is so bizarre that if I saw an old-fashioned British phone booth in my driveway, I’d jump in and hit every button I saw.

Maybe if I was lucky, it’d take me to the timeline where Mitch Daniels is president. Or maybe, even better, it’d take me to Spaniel Heaven.

Various & Sundry

There are two — two! — new Remnant podcasts this week. The first Remnant with Reihan is a freewheeling wonk-a-thon on immigration, nationalism, conservatism, and Reihan’s dismaying Bismarkian tendencies.

The second is double-whammy: a conversation with laid-off Uber driver Ben Sasse, and then some purely rank punditry from me.

Canine Update: The beasts love Fall. They love, love, love, love, love, love it (the cats like it too). We do have to look them over for ticks quite a bit these days, but they are on the junk that keeps the pests from actually attaching. A staple conversation between the Fair Jessica and me is how much Zoë and Pippa would like this place or that. Whenever we drive past a farm or ranch, we’ll say, “Oh, the Dingo would like it there” or some such. I’ll often say Zoë would like some place because it looks like it’s full of critters that she can hunt and kill. But my wife has always argued that Zoë’s true earthly Valhalla is suburbia. And it’s true. She loves being off leash running around through people’s yards chasing critters that think they are safe. We can’t really let her do that in our neighborhood because there are too many small dogs around, and Zoë has a number overlapping prejudices. She’s very territorial about her neighborhood — no other dogs but Pippa should be allowed here. She’s also a bit of a kick-down/kiss-up type. She’ll growl at big dogs on her turf, but she knows her limits. Nonetheless, I’ve always thought — with some evidence mind you — that Zoë’s semi-wild status came out most gloriously on mountain hikes and the like.

I’ve come to change my mind. The other morning, I had to get to the NPR studios very early. So we did a walk around the neighborhood around 5:00 a.m. I know from experience that no one walks their dogs that early around here. So I took a chance and let her off the leash. And Oh My Stars and Garters did she love it. She zoomed up and down the block, investigating one rumored rabbit bunker after another. She zipped around silently mouthing, “This is great! This is so great!” She didn’t catch anything. But it did dawn on me that not only was my wife right, but that this only buttressed her serial-killer status. So many of the great serial killers — Michael Myers, Freddy Kruger, the dude in the closet in When a Stranger Calls — preyed in suburban hunting grounds.

Meanwhile, Pippa’s a lover, so her favorite thing about suburbia is running up to people and dropping tennis balls at their feet. He true joys are water, mud, and tennis balls, preferably in combination. And while the water can’t come to Pippa, she’s perfectly happy chasing a tennis ball in the backyard or a tennis court or pretty much anyplace else.

Gracie meanwhile is more refined. Which Zoë and Pippa can appreciate.

ICYMI . . .

The latest GLoP

Last week’s G-File

Howard Dean is foolish

Trump is corrupting nationalism

My UNC–Chapel Hill speech

Trump didn’t cause the Pittsburgh massacre, but he’s not helping

John Locke on zombies

The upside of Trump’s Twitter obsession

My interview on Planet Hawkins

When NR’s fastest talkers collide

America shouldn’t become a parliamentary system

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

American saves Magna Carta

Americans drink Iceland’s beer

Fried brain sandwich

Are cats evil?

Are dogs good?

Well . . . are they?

A house of the future . . . as envisioned by 1945

The world’s first car

The last lighthouse keeper in Capri

If the Pentagon tried to build the Death Star . . .

Mr. Feeny for the win

Deep-sea octopi

Forgotten Supreme Court history

Zombie ants

Beauty can be yours

Champagne supernova

Reagan was awesome

Politics & Policy

The Tribal Appeal of Conspiracy Theories

President Trump greets reporters outside a meeting with congressional Republicans in Washington, D.C., March 21, 2017. (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 the creepy dude in the raincoat who keeps asking people to inspect his suspicious package),

Last year I went through an IRS audit. I got through it okay. But it was exactly as much fun as you’d expect. Then last week, I came home from a grueling trek on the road to discover I was being audited again, this time for two different years’ tax returns — one of them for the year I had just been audited for! In case the IRS is reading this, let me say I am overjoyed to once again work with the fine and upstanding patriots of the Internal Revenue Service to ensure that I am paying my fair share.

It’s also a wonderful opportunity. At the risk of being charged with over-sharing with you, my dear readers, I am also in need of a colonoscopy. I am going to try to schedule it around the same time so that I can test the accuracy of a commonly used metaphor regarding these fiscal inspections.

Anyway, I bring this up because I keep getting asked, usually half-jokingly, “Do you think it’s because you criticized Trump?” My short answer: “No.”

Causation and Correlation

It’s a very human reaction. Superstition and reason are often pitted against one another as opposite forces, but they are both born from an evolutionary adaptation that allows us to connect dots. In our natural environment, our understanding of cause and effect often boiled down to the fallacy of correlation equaling causation. Countless dietary and hygiene rules were based on the fact that certain benefits accrued to those who followed them. Kosherism is more than a guide to healthy eating — but one can see how staying Kosher thousands of years before pasteurization, refrigeration, etc. might correlate highly with better outcomes.

But one of the key points at which superstition and reason part company is the fact that superstition is non-falsifiable. If the king sacrifices an ox to Baal in the hope he will end the draught, and it rains, Baal will get the credit for the rain. If it doesn’t rain, Baal doesn’t get the blame. Instead, it must be that Baal wanted two oxen — or maybe a virgin maiden or the head of Alfredo Garcia, whatever. If you keep offering sacrifices, it will eventually rain, and when it does, “Praise Baal!”

The Seduction of Conspiracy

Superstition takes many forms in modern societies — not just carrying around rabbit feet and playing lucky numbers at the casino. Conspiracy theories are a form of superstition. They work on the assumption that bad things must be willed by human actors. What makes conspiracy theories so compelling is that they are like a complex molecule in which Reason and Superstition stick to each other in just such a way that they can get passed the blood-brain barrier and, like a virus, wreak havoc in our minds. They make us think that we are reasoning our way toward some deeper truth: All those Post-It notes and red strings connecting 8×10 glossy photos can’t be wrong!

The central fallacy here is the idea that conspiracy theories are reasoning toward anything at all. It is in fact a form of pseudo-reasoning: thinking backward from the proposition that a bad event must have been caused by dark forces, which (allegedly) benefit from it. Like the drunk who only looks for his car keys where the light is good, the truth-seeker only looks for evidence to support the proposition. The levees in New Orleans did not hold, Spike Lee observed, so it must be because George W. Bush had them bombed.

Of course, everything becomes so much more complicated by the fact that sometimes there are conspiracies. But they are rare, they are almost never vast, they usually fail, and when they succeed it is most often more from luck than will. Whenever you hear someone insist that “there are no coincidences,” they are revealing that they live in a world of magical realism where powerful unseen forces are treating us all like pawns. It’s a form of secular demonology.

The Unravelling of the Conservative Mind

I’ll be honest: I am far more annoyed by conservatives who traffic in conspiracy theories than liberals who do so. My reasons are twofold. As a practical matter, it bothers me because they make conservatives look bad, and I consider myself more invested in protecting my “side” from making an ass of itself. More generally, it bothers me because conservatives are supposed to understand, as a matter of philosophy, the limits of planning.

For instance, it’s one thing for liberals to claim simultaneously that George W. Bush was an idiot and that this idiot nonetheless managed to orchestrate a massive conspiracy to attack the United States on 9/11. It’s another for conservatives, presumably trained in the laws of unintended consequences, the limits of reason, and the fatal conceit of planning, to argue that the hijackers were just a bunch of patsies for an operation that would have involved hundreds or thousands of American agents — without a single whistleblower among them. This can best be visually represented by someone turning Occam’s Razor into a heavy spoon or soup ladle and beating Friedrich Hayek about the head and neck with it. But that’s what happened to people such as Morgan Reynolds and Paul Craig Roberts. Worse, these people have to believe their colleagues and ideological comrades — whom they knew and for whom they often worked — were in fact brilliant mass murderers.

In the latest example of the massive race to be wrong first that spontaneously erupts after any mass shooting, terrorist attack, or similar calamity, a host of conservatives and “conservatives” sprinted to shout, “Cui Bono!?”

“Cui Bono” — literally “to whom is it a benefit” — is like the starter’s pistol for conspiracy theorists to strap on their helmet lamps and go spelunking into their own posteriors for an explanation that affirms their superstitious view of the world.

A case in point: Lou Dobbs.

“Fake News — Fake Bombs,” he tweeted from deep behind his own sphincter. “Who could possibly benefit by so much fakery?”

Ironically, I found the exact text of this tweet at CNN.com because Lou has blocked me. (It’s pretty funny that I had to go to a supposedly “fake news” source to find out what Dobbs actually said about fake news.)

Dobbs was hardly alone, and I’m not just referring to Candace Owens, Rush Limbaugh, and Donald Trump:

I’m referring to the millions of people who create a market incentive for pundits and politicians to float this garbage.

I am rethinking my glee over Alex Jones’s social-media defenestration, because it’s almost as if his banishment left a vacuum that more mainstream figures feel the urge to fill.

And while I enjoy watching a man scream at excrement in the middle of the street as much as the next guy — who can forget Isaiah Berlin in ’46 laying into that mound of manure? — I still feel like there are slightly better uses for Jones’s time. Besides, you’re not supposed to yell at your food.

All of this stems from the tribalism of the moment, where each side has concluded that persuasion is impossible and total victory is the only option. They work on the assumption that anyone who is not “us” is “them.” But the reality is that most Americans are neither, and any serious political movement should be interested in attracting the people in the middle to our side. Instead, by embracing our most unattractive façade, we make it that much easier for the other side to say, “See, they’re all like that.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I thought it was possible — though very unlikely — that some lone left-wing kook took it upon himself to send these bombs (or “bombs”) as a one-man “false-flag operation.” There are enough racial hoaxes on college campuses alone to demonstrate that some people are so desperate to make the world fit their paranoid vision that they will do whatever it takes to midwife it into reality. But the idea that George Soros or “The Democrats” or “The Fake News” plotted this out in some organized way is just staggeringly insipid and paranoid. How would that work? Would Soros, Maxine Waters, Robert De Niro, et al. meet like the Legion of Doom and plot to commit a felony that could put them in jail for the rest of their lives?

The Trump Contagion

Earlier this week, the president was nigh-upon insistent that the Democrats must be behind the immigrant caravan heading our way, with all of the speed of a steamroller in an Austin Powers movie. To be fair to Trump, it’s possible this is just rank cynicism given that the caravan is — or at least was — a political gift to Trump, not the Democrats. But the people who believe it don’t have that excuse.

And that’s why I increasingly feel more like a spectator to American politics than I ever have before. It’s really quite liberating, if exhausting. Because I have zero personal loyalty to, or emotional investment, in Donald Trump, I feel no need to defend him from legitimate criticism, never mind bend my understanding of conservatism to his behavior and rhetoric. This was a point I tried to make in my debate with Charles Kesler about the Trump presidency. Because humans are wired to believe that their leaders are worthy of being the leader, they bend their views to extol the character traits and priorities of the leader. Today, definitions of good character are being bent to fit Trump’s character, and the yardstick of what amounts to being presidential is being shaved down to a nub to match Trump’s conduct.

(Similarly, because I have no investment in the Democrats or the Mainstream Media, I feel no compulsion to rush to their defense either. As far as I am concerned, they are all living down to my expectations. They’re all making things worse, too. I’m certainly not going to do what Max Boot at times seems to be doing: constructing a revisionist history of conservatism to fully justify his abandonment of it. To be fair, Boot hasn’t gone Full Jen Rubin, but he does seem to be struggling to find a foothold on his descent in that direction.)

Newt Gingrich is a great example of how everything must be bent to the president’s personal needs. The man who led the expansion of NATO and the passage of NAFTA long ago cast aside these essential parts of his legacy, like so much ballast, in order to stay afloat on the Trumpian tide. But on Thursday, he reached a new low. When asked about a possible Supreme Court fight to release Trump’s tax returns, Gingrich said, “We’ll see whether or not the Kavanaugh fight was worth it.”

I’m sorry, the 40-plus-year fight to get constitutionalists on the Court wasn’t about protecting Donald Trump from embarrassment or criminal jeopardy. The reason why the Kavanaugh fight united nearly the entire conservative and Republican coalition wasn’t about circling the wagons around Trump. Indeed, the only reason the Right unified around Kavanaugh was that it wasn’t about Trump. If Trump had picked Jeanine Pirro, you would not have seen the Federalist Society, The Weekly Standard, Commentary, National Review, et al. rush to support her. During the confirmation fight, before the sexual-McCarthyism phase, conservatives — including, most emphatically, Kavanaugh himself — insisted that the charge that Kavanaugh would be a Trump crony on the bench was everything from wrong to an outrageous slander. Newt himself described the stakes very differently. When the fight was on, it was all about decency and patriotism.

Now that the fight is over, Newt is saying “never mind.” None of it would be “worth it” if Kavanaugh doesn’t protect the president’s tax returns — which candidate Trump said he would release! It profits a man nothing to lose his soul for all the world, but for Trump’s tax returns?

Tribalism is a helluva drug.

Transactional Shmansactional

This is the fatal flaw with the “transactional” defense of Trump. Very few people seem capable of sticking to it. The transactional argument holds that one can be critical of the man while celebrating what he is accomplishing (or what is being accomplished on his watch by Cocaine Mitch and others). In private, most of the conservatives I talk to around the country offer some version of this defense. And I find it utterly defensible, as far as it goes. Indeed, my own position of praising the good and condemning the bad is a version of the transactional defense, even if I was a critic of making the transaction in the first place. But anyone who actually acts on this view in public is instantly pilloried for his or her refusal to “pick a side.”

Indeed, the president’s job description is being retroactively rewritten as Media Troll in Chief.

And, as always happen with tribal logic takes over, the next phase of the argument is, “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” or, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

I’m gonna take pass on all of it. I’ll strap on my helmet and defend what’s worth defending, and criticize what’s worth criticizing, from a conservative worldview. And if that pleases neither side, that’s alright with me. Sometimes you have to stand athwart the asininity.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: As many of you know, when we first adopted Pippa, Zoë’s immediate reaction was the canine equivalent of the robots in the old video game Berserk. “Intruder Alert! Intruder Alert!” For the first several months, constant vigilance was required to keep Zoë from annihilating Pippa. Those days are over, but once every now and then, they get into a scrap. I hate saying that it’s always Pippa’s fault for not understanding she’s not the alpha, but it’s pretty much always Pippa’s fault for not understanding she’s not the alpha. That’s because, if Zoë shows aggression to Pippa, Pippa will usually back down. But if Pippa shows aggression to Zoë, Zoë pretty much will never back down. So it escalates quickly.

The other day, I took a nap after the morning walk because my plane didn’t get home until crazy late. Both doggers joined me. Pippa up on the couch with me, Zoë on the floor below. Everything seemed fine. But about 20 minutes after I fell asleep, I awoke to growling. It was Pippa growling at Zoë, and Zoë sorta growling back, more bemused than angry: “The spaniel can’t possibly starting something with me.” But she was. I don’t really know what happened, but my best guess is that Zoë grew tired of being in the beta spot on the floor, and Pippa, all snugly in a blanket and at my side, thought she shouldn’t have to relinquish her spot. The growling got worse, with Zoë starting to curl her lips in that canine gesture that means, “It is about to go down.” I grabbed Zoë and pinned her to the floor, which Pippa insanely mistook as my signal to make this a two-on-one situation. Pippa went after Zoë and the Dingo was like, “On no she didn’t!” and tried to go after Pippa. The Spaniel, shocked that I was now holding down the two of them, one arm apiece, looked at me like I was pulling a “Leeroy Jenkins,” blowing her carefully crafted plan to depose Zoë from her throne. It was crazily tense for a minute or two, until I kind of tossed Zoë backwards and dragged Pippa away, forcing her to go upstairs. All the while she was fuming, “This is our shot! You’re blowing it!”

Pippa went and sulked in her fancy kennel and Zoë was like, “That was weird.” And it ended. But it really put me on edge for a while. The last time something like this happened was when we were out of town and Zoë and Pippa got into a fight over some pieces of gutter chicken (not a euphemism: People, when you throw chicken bones in the street you are inviting bad things for dogs). Pippa ended up needing stitches. And again, it was because Pippa wouldn’t back down when Zoë, like the toughest guy in prison, said, “This is mine.”

Anyway, now they’re fine, sharing Zoë’s love for logs, and Pippa’s for hilarious jokes, and having a wonderful autumn with the pack (when they’re not fighting crime). Just today, they joined me on the very same couch to hear me record the latest episode of GLoP. They weren’t riveted. But they’re always excited to see the real alpha of the house. Zoë doesn’t always hold me in the same high regard.

My apologies for last week’s missing G-File. The travel schedule finally caught up with me, and there was just no way I could get it done. But given the relative dearth of complaints, I’m not sure it was particularly missed.

Thanks to everyone across the country who has come out to my various appearances. In general, the crowds have been among the best I’ve ever had — either qualitatively or quantitatively.

Things are slowing down a little bit. I only have one out of town gig next week — at UNC Chapel Hill. If you’re around, come on by.

ICYMI . . .

In defense of ideology

On voter apathy

The latest Remnant

The Saudis and Khashoggi

On The Axe Files with David Axelrod

Our vendetta politics

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Thursday links

Dog gets legs

Would traveling back in time destroy the universe?

A hero passes

Giant spider?

Runners live forever

The history of horror movie music

Furious mongoose

Stolen colon

Miracle dog dies

Behold: Titanic II

Crime smells

Rectangular iceberg

Arctic agony…

Frank Sinatra’s spaghetti and meatballs

Pokémon Go to Church

An octopus on ecstasy

Pregnant Minnesota woman gives birth after performing CPR to save husband

Naughty Marines

Bee parasite

Ancient shipwreck

Rational response

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?

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