The Hedges of the Garden of Liberty

A member of the Boy Scouts of America holds flags to be placed at graves to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, Cypress Hills National Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, May 23, 2015. (Eduardo Munoz/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 Emmett Flood, who won’t stop attending my meetings),

Let’s say for the sake of argument that Joe Blow (not his real name) gets a call from a pimp, specializing in the usual stuff, who says, “I have just the thing you’re looking for.”

Joe Blow responds, “Bring her right over. I’ll get the gang together, and we’ll be waiting for you.”

When the pimp and his surprise arrive, Mr. Blow and his rat pack of friends are eagerly waiting. He tells the front desk at his building to send his guests up right away. The doorbell rings, Mr. Blow opens the door, and the pimp is standing there with a beautiful woman.

Joe Blow takes one look at the sultry lady of the evening and angrily exclaims, “What the Hell is this?”

“Your surprise.”

“C’mon man — you know what I’m into. I dig fish; lovely, sensuous sea life.”

What’s the point of this hypothetical?

Well, it’s partly a veiled Troy McClure reference, but that’s not important right now. The main point here is that — going by these facts alone — we can conclude a couple of things: Mr. Blow wanted the pimp to bring some sort of aquatic paramour — and I don’t mean of the Shape of Water variety. Second, we know that he was disappointed when he was presented with something other than one of Poseidon’s scaly daughters.

The reason I bring this up is to illustrate a simple fact. Whatever happens with the Mueller investigation, whether or not there’s any evidence — or additional evidence, depending on your point of view — that the Trump campaign truly “colluded” with the Russians in the 2016 elections, we already know that the campaign wanted to collude with the Russians.

The now-infamous meeting with a Russian emissary at Trump Tower — attended by three of the most senior members of the Trump campaign, chairman Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., and Jared Kushner — was supposed to be about colluding with the Russians. Rob Goldstone, a Trump crony working as an intermediary, had promised Don Jr. that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton. When the Russian agent started talking about adoption — code for Russia’s unhappiness with Magnitsky Act sanctions — the Trump crew was disappointed.

From the AP’s write-up of the recently released transcripts of Senate Intelligence Committee testimony on the Trump Tower meeting:

Though Trump Jr. may have been dissatisfied with how the meeting turned out, the interview and his own emails make clear that he had high hopes going in. After music publicist Rob Goldstone promised him “very interesting” information from a well-connected Russian lawyer, including documents “that would incriminate Hillary,” the president’s oldest son responded via email, “if it’s what you say I love it.”

Afterwards, Goldstone was reportedly mortified that he couldn’t deliver on his promise. He told Emin Agalarov, the cheesy Russian pop star who put Goldstone up to it, “This was the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever asked me to do. I’ve just sat in a meeting about adoption.”

Now, none of this proves there was any subsequent meaningful collusion. Nor is there direct proof that Donald Trump was in on this meeting, though commonsense and some circumstantial evidence suggests he was briefed either before or after. And it’s been reported that Donald Trump Jr. also met with some Arab princes who offered to help Trump win the election.

I don’t want to belabor the point, but the simple fact is that from what we know, the Trump campaign intended, wanted, sought, and desired to work with foreign powers — some allied, some clearly not — to win the 2016 election. Stupidity and the desire to prove himself are possible excuses for Trump Jr. After all, Fredo didn’t really plan to betray Michael, he just wanted to show that he was smart and that he deserved respect.

But Paul Manafort certainly can’t use the Fredo excuse — he’s made millions as a willing agent of Russian interests. The jury is out on Kushner.

The only reason I bring this up is that for many people — with the president at the top of the list — the mere suggestion that the Trump campaign would ever think of colluding with Russia is simultaneously a grave slander and an absurd conspiracy theory. It may not be true, but it’s neither absurd nor a slander.

Going by the hypothetical at the beginning of this “news”letter, there’s no direct evidence to support the claim that Joe Blow & Co. actually diddled mackerel. But it is neither a slander nor absurd to say that Joe Blow & Co. wanted to get jiggy with a flounder or that they’re the types of people who are perfectly capable of getting their freak on with fish.

Walking as the Crow Flies

The Constitution is a bit like the blueprint for a hedge maze. It lays out on paper the paths for the travelers who trod through it. But the Constitution itself is not a hedge. Those plants grow from the ground up, rooted in the soil. The blueprint “works” because the hedges do their part. But what if the hedges start to die from lack of care? When big holes in the green walls appear, shortcuts will become all the more tempting. And when the hedges disappear altogether, people will start walking as the crow flies, taking the shortest route to their desired destination.

The Founders made any number of assumptions about the country that they were imposing their Constitution upon. Among the most significant, however, was that the people themselves were constrained by the requirements of virtue, a fear of shame, and the belief that the fear of an all-knowing, all-seeing God would help regulate the society. These were the hedges of the new garden of liberty that the Founders were constructing.

America has always had political scandals, and it always will because all scandals derive from human nature and human nature isn’t going anywhere. Basically, there are only two ways to avoid scandal. The first is not to do anything wrong in the first place — to let virtue, probity, and fear of shame keep you from indulging your baser instincts. The second is to keep your wrongdoing secret.

Again, you cannot legislate away the propensity for scandalous behavior — if men were angels and all that. But you can regulate them by ensuring that the people — both the wrongdoers themselves and the people themselves — maintain their ability to be outraged, offended, or, in the case of transgressors, ashamed when the truth comes to light.

John F. Kennedy behaved scandalously with women, but the press and his court kept it all a secret on the reasonable assumption that if the public found out, it would destroy Kennedy’s presidency. What this says about the press corps back then is the subject for a different seminar. But it seems likely to me that if the news had gotten out, the country and the political class would have turned on JFK. Likewise, I suspect Kennedy himself would have concluded, like John Profumo, that he had no choice but to resign.

Bill Clinton went another way. Being president was more important to him than his party or his country, and he vowed to stay put to the bitter end.

Richard Nixon boasted often that he was not a quitter, but by the end he understood that he had no choice but to leave office — to spare himself, his party, and the country the ordeal of impeachment. Nixon lacked the shame to avoid traipsing as the crow flies, but he had enough to do what was right when the secret was out. And the leaders of his party had their share as well.

Bill Clinton went another way. Being president was more important to him than his party or his country, and he vowed to stay put to the bitter end. That decision had a corrupting effect on his party and the country, but his party and the part of the country that opted not to care also had a corrupting and enabling effect on the president. Liberal partisans invented new standards of personal conduct that made legions of feminists, liberals, journalists, and pundits look like craven hypocrites. It was Gloria Steinem, after all, who minted for Bill Clinton the “one free grope” rule after years of insisting on a zero-tolerance policy in the work place. When I went to college, it was a dogmatic article of faith that women “don’t make up” rape or sexual assault. But when women accused Bill Clinton of various sexual crimes, eyes rolled. John Tower’s nomination to be George H. W. Bush’s secretary of defense was rejected because he was a “womanizer.” But the blame for Bill Clinton’s womanizing was chalked up to “bimbo eruptions.”

Even after the Clintons left office, they still believed the hedges were for the little people.

As Josh Barro notes in an excellent column, one of the reasons the scandalous nature of Donald Trump’s pay-for-play administration hasn’t gotten more traction is that the Clintons had normalized so much of that kind of thing.

Making America What Now?

I’m not playing whataboutism here or even heaping the blame for today’s scandals on the precedents set by Democrats. I think it’s all bad. Rather, my point is that the hedges are drying up all around us. We hear so much about Making America Great Again and what, exactly, that is supposed to mean. But it seems lost on the people who shout the phrase most loudly and sincerely — and even wear it on their heads — that back when America was great in their eyes, Americans would have pelted a president from public office for bedding Stormy Daniels or running a campaign filled with crooks, grifters, and would-be collaborators with foreign powers.

Likewise, back when America was great, the Founders’ assumption that members of Congress would be interested in investigating malfeasance, skullduggery, and incompetence in the executive, regardless of which party controlled either branch of government, was still operational. Back when America was great, our leading intellectuals would not feel the need to explain why a bad man can be a good president. They might be right in their argument, but that they feel the argument needs to be made is a profound concession — one that would be unimaginable even a few years ago.

To be sure, back in the Arcadia of American Greatness, football players stood for the National Anthem. But they also didn’t need to be forced to do so. With the flesh and sinew of civil society shorn from the skeleton of the body politic, culture-war victories now come with the sound of bone grating against bone. People cheer the restoration of greatness for its utility as a political “win” but fail to recognize that such wins are a sign of a much greater loss.

Various & Sundry

After the weekend, I leave for Alaska for the funeral of my amazing father-in-law. I don’t have the required energy or time to write anything remotely deserving of him here. I just don’t have the words right now. But I will try, soon. He was a larger-than-life person and one of the most impressive — and intimidating — people I have ever known. I’m still trying to get my bearings about him being gone.

Canine Update: All is well here. They were both very happy to see me this morning. Zoë is finally playful again. And curious! Pippa is not a great writers’ assistant. I just don’t have too many stories to share because of all the chaos around here. They do love the warm weather but cope with it in different ways, including maybe hatching a plan to go get frozen yogurt. Meanwhile, the murderous cat has an untroubled heart.

Oh, and here’s my father-in-law with Kipper, doing what Pippa was meant to do.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

The week’s Remnant, Numb as a Podcast

Why it would be a bad idea for Trump to end the Mueller probe

Dogs, loneliness, and the breakdown of civil society

Parsing through the Trump–Russia Investigation narratives

Conservatives should argue about ideas instead of Trump

My appearance on Special Report

I’ll be on Fox News Sunday this, uh, Sunday.

You can go to for other upcoming appearances and the like.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Wednesday Links

Debby’s Friday Links

Stink bug-flavored jelly beans

City sends out zombie warning to residents
The poop train finally pulls out of the station (this is not a euphemism)
Canadian gardener becomes king of a West African tribe

Police arrest pig on charges of stalking

Scientists have a new plan to find the Loch Ness Monster

A museum dedicated to hats

The White House gets swampy

Were-pups of London

Kangaroo spotted along Highway 28

High-school basketball all-star turns out to be a 25-year-old man

The greatest senior prank of all time

How Cap’n Crunch led to Apple Inc.

High school brings a tiger to prom

Is this the perfect video?

Man tricks the Postal Service into thinking his apartment is the UPS headquarters

Why armpit sweat stains look so dark
Time travelers get invite to Stephen Hawking’s memorial service

Kidnapper finds a new weapon: an alligator
The science behind good music


The Tribe’s Useful Idiots

Palestinian protesters at the Israeli-Gaza border, May 18, 2018. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/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 subhuman animals who hear Yanny),

I’m writing this with a pretty stiff cold-medicine-and-Irish-whiskey hangover, married to some dismayingly early cigar smoking chased down with coffee. Don’t judge, I need the nicotine and caffeine because I am beyond exhausted: In the last ten days, I’ve given talks or interviews in New York, Chicago, Austin, Dallas, D.C., San Francisco, Yorba Linda, and Los Angeles, half of it with a head cold and the other half with the head of Alfredo Garcia in a duffel bag. (Sorry, that’s the hallucinatory cocktail of cold medicine speaking.) But I am also your humble servant, and I want to hold up my end of the bargain with you, my Dear Readers. So let’s see what I can come up with.

I’ve always been fascinated by useful idiots — and I don’t mean interns who are good at fetching coffee or pumicing my feet. I mean “useful idiots” in the Leninist sense (even if Lenin may not have in fact coined the term). Useful idiots, according to lore, were the Western intellectuals who could be counted on to defend or apologize for Bolshevik or Soviet barbarisms and other crimes.

The Soviet effort to cultivate, feed, and support useful idiots is an absorbing tale in its own right. But the fascinating part is how the real heavy-lifting was done by the Western intellectuals themselves.

I’m reminded of Randolph Bourne’s famous line about the receptivity of progressive intellectuals to the First World War. Describing a “peculiar congeniality between the war and these men,” Bourne said that it was “as if the war and they had been waiting for each other.”

As I took in snippets of the coverage from the Gaza–Israel border this week, it was as if the bloodshed and the usual suspects had been waiting for each other. It wasn’t so much a case of the facts on the ground not mattering as it was a case of only certain facts mattering a great deal — and others not at all. Israelis were shooting Palestinians; the rest was commentary.

Another apocryphal quote, which I first heard ascribed to Rodin — that’s with an “I” for the artist not an “A” for the daikaiju monster — goes like this:

Q: How do you sculpt an elephant?

A: Simple. Take a block of marble and remove everything that isn’t an elephant.

This is how so much coverage of Israel seems to work: Take an event and remove all the facts that don’t fit the desired final product. By now, the examples of what I’m talking about should be familiar enough: the Palestinian cripple who could suddenly walk; the confession — from Hamas itself — that nearly all of the “innocent victims” of Israeli “murder” were in fact terrorists; the admissions from the Hamas cannon fodder that their intentions were violent. But none of that mattered. Nor did it catch the media’s attention that there was no rioting in the Fatah-controlled West Bank, but only in Hamas-controlled Gaza. That Hamas has been fomenting this macabre publicity stunt for weeks didn’t seem to matter either.

The articles hadn’t been written but the plot had already been agreed upon.

The far more plausible explanation that this was all a barbarically cynical effort — sponsored by Hamas’s patrons in Iran — to foment outrage against Israel on the backs of Palestinian human sacrifices was too plausible to contemplate. Instead, the same tired story of authentic and spontaneous rage against oppressors by indigenous victims just had to be unfolding in front of our eyes.

As I write this, news has broken of a school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. I checked Twitter to see if the familiar mad rush to pan the river of events for golden nuggets to adorn a preferred narrative is unfolding once again. It took seconds to see that it was:

On another front, the great fight to prove that either President Trump colluded with Russia to steal the election or that the “Deep State” conspired to in effect frame the president is really just an ugly contest of two groups of storytellers desperate to definitively print the legend — their legend.

This effort is a subplot of a larger story in which supporters or opponents of Trump believe that the master plot will culminate in a climax of vindication for one side or another. The idea that Trump — and by extension his supporters or opponents — will be proven neither heroic nor villainous is too terrible for some to contemplate.

Every Tribe Is a Story, Every Story Has a Tribe

Reason as a distinct mode of thinking is a fairly new thing in human history. This is not to say we didn’t have the faculty to reason for hundreds of thousands of years. But the teasing out of reason as a stand-alone system of thinking is quite recent and actually much harder to sustain than we moderns assume. For most of our existence, we thought in terms of stories. Story-telling is how we learned to hunt cooperatively. Stories were — and are — how we understand ourselves, our history, and our place in the universe. Every great religion is encased in a series of tales about prophets, tyrants, and redeemers. The idea that there is a right side to history boils down to the faith that, in the long run, the great novel of man will end on terms we like.

Robert Wright has an interesting essay on the stubbornness of tribal thinking (and Sam Harris’s belief that he can transcend it). According to Wright,

We all need role models, and I’m not opposed in principle to Harris’s being mine. But I think his view of himself as someone who can transcend tribalism — and can know for sure that he’s transcending it — may reflect a crude conception of what tribalism is. The psychology of tribalism doesn’t consist just of rage and contempt and comparably conspicuous things. If it did, then many of humankind’s messes — including the mess American politics is in right now — would be easier to clean up.

What makes the psychology of tribalism so stubbornly powerful is that it consists mainly of cognitive biases that easily evade our awareness. Indeed, evading our awareness is something cognitive biases are precision-engineered by natural selection to do. They are designed to convince us that we’re seeing clearly, and thinking rationally, when we’re not. And Harris’s work features plenty of examples of his cognitive biases working as designed, warping his thought without his awareness. He is a case study in the difficulty of transcending tribal psychology, the importance of trying to, and the folly of ever feeling sure we’ve succeeded.

Another way to put it: Tribal thinking is commitment to a story about how the world works. Steven Pinker has a story. I have a story. We all have stories that we believe are correct, and we look for facts that support them. This is unavoidable, because if we did not generalize or streamline our understanding of the world to a set of facts that we believe to be the most important, we wouldn’t be able to think at all. There’s just too much data out there. Without the craft of editing and sifting through the data, we’d be left with what William James called a “blooming buzzing confusion.”

The prerequisite for useful idiocy isn’t malice or villainy: The apologists for the Soviet Union were not knowing traitors for the most part (though some were). Rather, they simply became too invested in the story they want to tell, like Colonel Nicholson in Bridge over the River Kwai, at least until he has his epiphany and says, “What have I done?

When the story fully takes over, reason takes itself out of the game. All that matters is the ultimate resolution of the narrative. For Hamas, the story of national liberation is all that matters. Marxism is not a system of thinking but a romantic story (in all the different meanings of “romantic”) about the progress of humanity that ends with all contradictions being eradicated in the last chapter, titled “The End of History.”

The problem with this sort of thinking is that it is dehumanizing — because it assumes that individual human beings are simply acting out some foreordained narrative. One of the great clichés of writing is that you have to be willing to “kill your children”: Erase, cut, yank out anything that does not advance the story. The same process of killing your children — for the greater good — all too often applies to the self-anointed authors of human affairs, sometimes literally, but more often figuratively.

Which brings me back to where we started. The people who insist that the Palestinians are unalloyed victims remove human agency from them. According to this thinking, they are not making choices; they are playing their parts. How dare you ask why someone would bring a (very sick) baby to a riot? How dare you suggest that there is subtext to the story of Palestinian righteousness? If you point out that the real villain in a shooting isn’t the inanimate object but the person wielding it, you are muddying the plot. Populists always tell a story about the righteousness of “the people,” but they invariably mean only “the right people”; the rest are barely people at all.

To a lesser extent, such thinking can also dehumanize the people employing it. George Orwell saw this clearly. In “Politics and the English Language,” he pointed out how the language of the stories we tell can take over like an auto-piloted algorithm and do our thinking for us.

When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases — bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder — one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved, as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favourable to political conformity.

You cannot eliminate the drive to craft stories. The best you can do is have some humility and some openness to the possibility that there are facts and experiences contradictory to your own. I’ve written at length about how I think one of the defining features of conservatism is “comfort with contradiction”:

At the very core of conservatism lies comfort with contradiction, acceptance of the fact that life is not fair; that ideals must forever be goals, not destinations; that the perfect is not the enemy of the good but one standard by which we understand what is good in the first place –though not the only standard.

The best story of America isn’t the one where America is always right. The best story of America is the one where Americans collectively and as individuals have the freedom to make mistakes and then learn from them and then improve. This is the best story not because it casts us in the best light. It’s the best story because it is true.

Various & Sundry

I don’t have much firsthand stuff to report on Canine Squadron Alpha One. But a trend seems to be developing. Even before I left, Zoë seemed to be losing a little of her mojo. We don’t think she’s sick. We think she might be — gulp — growing up. At some point, most dogs shed their silliness. Zoë seemed different because, well, the dingo factor. But she’s less likely to play with her friends in the dog pack the way she used to, and she’s much more reluctant to even go outside than she was (Sammie had to taunt Zoë to get a rise out of her). Maybe it’s all because she’s realized she won’t see her boyfriend Ben anymore and she’s just heartsick. But I don’t think that’s the case. It may also just be a phase. I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile both of the dogs are developing more acute thunderphobia. The other morning, the Fair Jessica kept calling for the doggers to go on the morning walk, and Pippa didn’t come. It was because she had hidden under our bed and, well, she doesn’t fit under our bed, and she got herself stuck. Anyway, that’s all I really have, save for some fun proof-of-life pics from home, including this Peak Spaniel shot.

The book continues to sell quite well — so THANK YOU — but it fell off next week’s NYT list because there were four big new books that came out. I think and hope it will pop back on down the road. Fingers crossed (which makes typing hard).

My sincere thanks to all the great folks who came out to see me in California under the banners of NRI and AEI. I want to give a particular shout-out to my gracious hosts at the Nixon Library. I got a great tour there. I also recorded an episode of Ben Shapiro’s “Sunday Special” show and finally got asked some fun questions — about religion and the enlightenment — you don’t get at normal media outlets. That should be out in the next week or two. But our recording of The Remnant went out today. I was so unbelievably groggy I completely forgot to ask him about the ONE THING I went in planning to discuss with him — this Intellectual Dark Web thing. Oh well, maybe next time.

I’m off to the Weekly Standard shindig at the Broadmoor and then home for a day or two (my Phoenix gig was cancelled; bad for book, big relief for me to be honest).

Here’s other stuff:

Last week’s G-File

The week’s first Remnant, a Jet Lag Q&A

The latest Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast, sans P

Conservatives and young voters

My appearance on the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s podcast

This week’s second Remnant, with Ben Shapiro

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

British World War II bomber radio chatter, classy as Hell

Each state’s favorite ’90s sitcom

Dog jumps over high wall

Why do we have butts?

Psychedelic salt mines

The largest wave ever

Violinist imitates animal sounds

Dog enjoys ball pit

History of the Universe in 13,799 Dominoes

Psychedelic octopus

I’d like to race, in outer space, in an octopus’s spaceship . . .

Cannonball GoPro

Dog rescues dog

The lexicon of Tom Wolfe

The creation of the sounds of sex scenes in movies

Snail memory transfer?

Volcano golfing

Adopt a Chernobyl puppy

Metaphor alert

Mankind and its teeth

PC Culture

Turning Windmills into Giants

Statue of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in the Plaza de España in Madrid, Spain. (Pixabay)

Dear Reader (Including those of you who hired Michael Cohen for “accounting advice”),

The great thing about fighting windmills on the assumption that they are actually evil giants is that you get to celebrate your courage without risking very much in the process.

Thursday, on a website called “Twitter,” there was a lot of discussion of puppies so cute people couldn’t even. But that’s not important right now. Another discussion involved a young woman who stripped to her underwear to protest the “The Patriarchy.” From Reason’s inestimable Robby Soave:

A female student at Cornell University stripped down to her underwear — twice — before presenting her senior thesis to professors and other students.

The student was attempting to strike a blow against the patriarchy, repudiating her media arts professor’s advice to dress up for the presentation. . . .

The student, Letitia Chai, was practicing her presentation in class while wearing cutoff jean shorts. That outfit, The Cornell Daily Sun reports, drew a rebuke from professor Rebekah Maggor, who asked, “Is that really what you would wear?”

“I do not tell my students what to wear, nor do I define for them what constitutes appropriate dress,” Maggor later clarified in an email to the Sun. “I ask them to reflect for themselves and make their own decisions.” Indeed, the syllabus warns students to “dress appropriately for the persona” they plan to present.

Maggor apologized for the remark anyway, after Chai stormed out of the class. She eventually returned, stripped down to her underwear, and continued with the presentation.

Chai stripped again during her actual senior thesis presentation, in front of students and professors. She said she “stood in solidarity with people who have been asked to ‘question themselves’ based on others’ perception of their appearances.”

First of all, if your response to the question, “Is that really what you would wear?” is to go all Ms. Stompy Foot and storm out of a room, I can’t wait until you get a job at Chotchkie’s and they ask you, “Is that really all of the flair you want to wear?

Here There Be Giants

Now, about this “Patriarchy” thing: I’ve been hearing about it for a very long time, in part because I went to a former all-women’s college. (That’s right: Jonah Goldberg, Gender Integration Pioneer.) The school had a female president and many female administrators and faculty chairwomen. And the male administrators and faculty were extremely feminism-friendly. Oh, and the female students outnumbered the males by about 34 to one. And yet The Patriarchy was doing terrible things everywhere. Or so I was told. Often.

The funny thing is, though, I could never find The Patriarchy’s office or get invited to the meetings. It was kind of a creepy feeling: to be told constantly how the Pale Penis People of The Patriarchy were running the show but to find very little tangible evidence of their existence.

That, however, is one of the funny things about conspiracy theories: A lack of evidence is considered the greatest proof of their success. To be fair, I know I’m being tendentious.

I know that patriarchy used to be a big thing — and still is in many parts of the world. I know that there are patriarchal concepts and words lingering around that bother people. But the idea that there is this actual human institution filled with actual human beings working to advance The Patriarchy is sort of nonsense.

Less than a week after the 9/11 attacks, Eugene Volokh Stewart Baker made a really interesting observation:

If you’d asked Queen Victoria about the threats her society faced, she’d probably have worried aloud about a breakdown in sexual and other morality. Ask a Hollywood producer the same question, and he’ll cite the threat of sex-hating moralists. Every age seems to warn itself most sternly about the risks that are least likely to do it harm.

We live in the most non-patriarchal moment in all of American history, if not all of Western history, if not all of human history. And yet so profound is the need to fight this terrible foe that, across the landscape, Donna Quixotes are constantly tilting their lances at mirages of their own imaginations.

Why? Well, partly because that is what we teach them to do. Our institutions also reward it. Having a good service record in the war against patriarchy is a real comparative advantage when it comes time to apply for college.

But also: because it’s fun. I don’t mean “fun” the way one says that riding jet skis or playing Call of Duty is fun. I mean fun in the sense that the battle imbues the protagonists with meaning and fulfillment, a sense of adventure and the pride that comes with dedicating yourself to a noble quest. A quest gives people a reason to get out of bed, to make courageous stands, and to feel indispensable to a great cause.

Cervantes describes a wonderful exchange between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza:

“Destiny guides our fortunes more favorably than we could have expected. Look there, Sancho Panza, my friend, and see those 30 or so wild giants, with whom I intend to do battle and kill each and all of them, so with their stolen booty we can begin to enrich ourselves. This is noble, righteous warfare, for it is wonderfully useful to God to have such an evil race wiped from the face of the earth.”

“What giants?” asked Sancho Panza.

“The ones you can see over there,” answered his master, “with the huge arms, some of which are very nearly two leagues long.”

“Now look, your grace,” said Sancho, “what you see over there aren’t giants, but windmills, and what seems to be arms are just their sails, that go around in the wind and turn the millstone.”

“Obviously,” replied Don Quixote, “you don’t know much about adventures.”

The fact that the adventure is closer to playacting than anything that could be objectively described as a true struggle doesn’t matter because the people doing it aren’t in on the joke. For the most part, the witch-hunters know in their hearts that there be witches out there, and any mockery or evidence to the contrary is merely proof of how insidious the rule of witches really is. The few who know, or least suspect, that the facts are not on their side do not care, for the cause of witch-hunting gives the witch hunters great power.

That’s one reason that hate-crime hoaxes proliferate on college campuses. As Michael Brendan Dougherty argues in a recent issue of National Review, being a victim confers great authority today. There is an aristocracy of victimhood forming all around us. And aristocracy is one of the most ancient forms of power politics. The hoaxer knows he’s extorting others for social currency; the throngs of woke students and faculty around him don’t. When people want to be knights in the great adventure, they are willing to do all of the work of turning windmills into giants.

One of my favorite examples was at Oberlin a few years back. A young lady wrapped herself in a blanket on a cold day as she walked across campus. Some young Don Quixote saw the flowing white cloth in the distance and immediately assumed the windmill in front of him was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The school went into a full panic and cancelled all classes that day, as everyone grabbed their lances and went off in search of the terrible giant (or gathered together in group hugs to ride out the attack). What an adventure!

Between Calhoun and Coates

I won’t rehash all of David French’s points about Ta-Nehisi Coates’s essay on Kanye West in The Atlantic, I will simply endorse them in their entirety. I thought Coates’s essay was grotesque. Yes, yes, we must all genuflect to his prose and his infectiously controlled outrage. I will therefore concede that it was well-written. Although, given that he goes to the same argument over and over and over again, I think the more apt compliment would be that it was well-rewritten.

I will also say that I thought Kanye West was a musically talented huckster and controversy merchant before he had some kind words for Donald Trump and Candace Owens — and I still think he’s a musically talented huckster and controversy merchant. What I don’t think he is, however, is a race traitor. Indeed, I think the whole idea of race-treason today is a form of racism. It is one thing to think that black collaborators with slavery were traitors. It is quite another to say that, in 2018, all black people must be loyal to a single person’s — or even a group of people’s — idea of what authentic blackness is.

Coates (re)writes often that white people want to deny the humanity or agency of black people. Well, if you subscribe to the notion that it’s evil for black people to violate some party line, you are doing exactly that. Or at the very least, you are doing it far more than the average white person is in 2018. Similarly, if you sweepingly lump together all white people as participants in some evil conspiracy, you are denying the individuality of white people.

In George Orwell’s “Notes on Nationalism,” one of the greatest essays ever written in the English language, Orwell struggles to come up with a word for identity politics — or really the emotional state that makes identity politics so seductive. Because he couldn’t come up with a better term, he uses the word “nationalism” to describe

the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled “good” or “bad.” But secondly — and this is much more important — I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests.”

Coates argues for simultaneously making racial essentialness both a permanent abstraction and concretized reality. He is ensorcelled by a comment from John Calhoun, the famous defender of slavery and racism.

“With us the two great divisions of society are not the rich and poor, but white and black; and all the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals.”

As I write in my book, one of the greatest things the Founders did — wildly radical at the time — was to get rid of titles of nobility.

As Helen Andrews notes in a brilliant essay, this is “precisely Coates’s own game” [emphasis hers]. Coates has a distinctly Marxist vision — he just replaces the proletariat or the workers with blacks. In the Marxist vision, the ruling classes plunder and exploit the workers, denying their humanity. In the Coatesian vision, “whites” do the same thing to “blacks.” A rich black man, according to Coates, is still unhuman compared to a poor white one, denied agency by the abstraction of white supremacy.

As I write in my book, one of the greatest things the Founders did — wildly radical at the time — was to get rid of titles of nobility. The idea of “noble blood” is one of the oldest and most enduring forms of identity politics because it says that whole categories of people are better or more deserving than other categories of people because of an accident of birth.

Originally, the American defense of slavery borrowed from the Roman tradition, which said that slaves were not born, they were made — from conquest, debt, etc. The child of a slave did not inherit that status. The first American slaves were conscripted into slavery with similar justification. But over time, as Michael Munger argues, the slaveholders realized that this rationalization for the evil of slavery was problematic. So they reached back to the Greek, Aristotelian argument that slaves were born less than fully human: They were slaves “by nature.” Americans — mostly white Americans — fought a brutal war to overthrow that evil idea. We then amended the Constitution and launched a century-long struggle to purge the last vestiges of such notions from our society. Is that work completely done? Of course not. But that is a heroic story. And Coates seems bent on rewriting it to the point where we are supposed to believe that Calhoun won the argument and that, simply by some accident of birth, “whites” — including immigrants and the descendants of abolitionists and Union soldiers — are complicit in an evil committed by other white people generations ago. It is an argument for inherited ignobility.

Coates sees white windmills on the horizon and sees the arms of evil giants:

I came to see the streets and the schools as arms of the same beast. One enjoyed the official power of the state while the other enjoyed its implicit sanction. But fear and violence were the weaponry of both. Fail in the streets and the crews would catch you slipping and take your body. Fail in the schools and you would be suspended and sent back to those same streets, where they would take your body. And I began to see these two arms in relation — those who failed in the schools justified their destruction in the streets. The society could say, “He should have stayed in school,” and then wash its hands of him.

Kanye West’s sin was to act as if Coates’s vision of America is not true. That an individual black man — a spectacularly rich individual black man — has human agency outside of an all-encompassing abstraction grounded in historical grievance and an accident of birth. This is Coates’s great power: to herd people into what Orwell misnamed “nationalism.” The irony, of course, is that Coates derives that power from his own individual talent. I just wish he’d try using it for something else.

Various & Sundry

Thanks to everyone I saw on the road this week — five cities in five days! I could not be more exhausted. Check to stay up to speed on the book and the tour and all that.

Canine Update: Since I’ve been gone all week, I don’t have many first-hand stories to tell (other than that the Spaniel continues to find ways to make herself filthy). But there is something very dramatic and interesting going on. I’ve noticed it myself over recent months, but our dog-whispering dog-walker Kirsten has been reporting all week that Zoë and Pippa are now cooperating in their critter hunting. The Spaniel’s innate ability to flush quarry and the Dingo’s innate drive to catch it have started to come together. On more than one occasion now, Pippa has driven chipmunks and squirrels toward Zoë. I’m not aware of any confirmed kills, but the coordination is becoming more and more, uh, professional.

Once this week, Pippa chased a chipmunk straight to Zoë. Seeing the means of its destruction ahead of it, the chipmunk did a quick 180 and almost literally jumped into Pippa’s mouth. Pippa is no killer, so she almost instantly spit it out, causing Zoë to be utterly disgusted with her partner. Other than that, all is apparently well with them, and they are enjoying the warm weather greatly, although Zoë is a bit concerned about the proliferation of snakes. Fortunately, Carolina swamp dogs apparently have an innate respect for the danger they pose. Meanwhile, my sister-in-law’s puppy Ollie is apparently a little scared of car rides. Fortunately, she has an emotional-support human.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

Father Coughlin, then and now

Politics as entertainment

What is the “Intellectual Dark Web”?

The Mueller morass

Remnant: EconTalked — Part I

Concentrated power invites political backlash

Remnant: EconTalked — Part II

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Saint’s bone discovered in garage

Science: Puppies cure disease

What would happen if the Moon suddenly disappeared?

The glow-worm tunnel

Herman Melville’s lost classic

Dumb college freshmen attempt to understand European history

Harbor seal that made mostly wrong Super Bowl picks dies

The secret cities that created the atomic bomb

Nature is scary

Gallons of chocolate spill on road

States ranked by drinking

Organ-regeneration progress continues apace

Wild boars retake Japan as population sinks

When alligators roamed the earth . . . oh wait, it’s today

A hangover pill???

Editor’s Note: Stewart Baker, not Eugene Volokh, made the observation regarding Queen Victoria and the threats her society faced. Additionally, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s first name was misspelled when this article was originally published. We regret the errors.

Politics & Policy

War on the Right

President Donald Trump makes a fist as he boards Air Force One after attending the National Rifle Association Convention in Dallas, Texas, (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 Buyers,

Normally I save the overtly gratuitous book-plugging (not to be confused with car-plugging — a very different thing) for the end. But this week, in lieu of that, I’d just rather start off by saying, Thank You.

And now, Dear Readers (would that the two groups fully overlapped!),

For over a decade, I’ve been running around like that woman in The Twilight Zone screaming, “To Serve Man! It’s a cookbook!” about the dangers of an idea: the Moral Equivalent of War.

Normally, I’d go on for several paragraphs — or pages — demonstrating how MEOW has been the central idea of American liberalism for over 100 years: from John Dewey’s “social benefits of war,” to Woodrow Wilson’s “war socialism,” to FDR’s explicit embrace of martial organization to fight the Great Depression, to the New Frontier and the War on Poverty, straight up to Barack Obama’s call for America to be more like Seal Team Six. Instead, I just asserted it in a single sentence. The idea can simply be understood as the progressive version of nationalism, minus the word “nationalism.” When you say, “We’re all in it together” or, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country,” you’re making a nationalist argument, even if you think, as so many liberals do, that the word itself is icky.

While many causes associated with the moral equivalent of war are well-intentioned and honorable in spirit (fighting poverty, conservation, etc.), the problem with the idea itself is that it is totalitarian — in a psychological, if not always in a political, sense.

William James, who coined the term, believed that war brought out what is best in people (men, mostly) and society in general. It causes us to lay down our petty individual pursuits to rally to a unifying cause larger than ourselves. But James also understood that war itself is horrible. What he wanted was to keep the esprit de corps and self-sacrifice of war while removing all the bloodshed and destruction. “Martial virtues must be the enduring cement” of American society: “Intrepidity, contempt of softness, surrender of private interest, obedience to command must still remain the rock upon which states are built.”

James sincerely believed that:

The martial type of character can be bred without war. Strenuous honor and disinterestedness abound everywhere. Priests and medical men are in a fashion educated to it, and we should all feel some degree of its imperative if we were conscious of our work as an obligatory service to the state. We should be owned, as soldiers are by the army, and our pride would rise accordingly. We could be poor, then, without humiliation, as army officers now are.

All that was required to mold citizens into obligatory servants of the state was patience and the willingness of progressive leaders to make sure that they didn’t let good crises go to waste. “It is but a question of time, of skillful propagandism, and of opinion-making men seizing historic opportunities.”

If you’re a conservative, never mind a normal American, and can’t see the inherent illiberalness or at least the potential for illiberalness in the idea that “skillful propagandism” should be deployed by the state so that citizens feel “owned” by the state as soldiers feel “owned” by the army, and that “surrender of private interest” and “obedience to command” of the state must be the rock of our republic, I’m not sure what I can do to convince you.

War, What Is It Good For?
Still, William James was a brilliant philosopher and psychologist, and his insight into the power of war as an idea to transform the mind was entirely correct. In many respects, humans could be described as Homo belligerans. We rose to the top of the food chain because we learned how to cooperate as hunters and fighters.

Darwin himself recognized this. He noted that if one tribe consisted of selfish or autonomous individuals and another tribe included “courageous, sympathetic and faithful members, who were always ready to warn each other of danger, to aid and defend each other,” the latter tribe would “without doubt succeed best and conquer the other.” We’re all descended from killers who worked with other killers to kill less skillful or less lucky killers.

This is just one reason why martial metaphors are so sticky and enduring, particularly in politics: Air campaigns in battleground states are opening salvoes with warning shots aimed at hot-shot opponents paid for with war chests.

Martial metaphors are also all over the place in sports, particularly football. I’ve always liked George Carlin’s bit on the differences between baseball and football.

It dawns on me, however, that Carlin’s routine might be more insightful than I gave him credit for. Baseball, as Al Capone explains in The Untouchables, is a game that marries team effort with individual achievement. But the team effort is only on defense. On offense, the player stands alone. Carlin was right that baseball is 19th-century pastoral and football is 20th-century technological. I think there’s an interesting discussion to be had there.

But we’ll skip that for today, because I want to talk — rant perhaps — about something else.

War on the Right
As I suggested at the outset, the moral equivalent of war isn’t only a rationalization for expanding state power, it’s also a psychological phenomenon that can ensorcell the minds of people who are out of power and possess all sorts of movements, institutions, and organizations — from environmentalists to Antifa to prison gangs to conservative intellectuals.

Over at The Federalist, someone writing under the pseudonym “John Ericsson” has penned an essay titled “It’s Time for the Right to Realize the Left Is a Much Greater Threat Than Trumpism.” I’ve already ranted about this at the end of the latest Remnant podcast, so let me try to be more composed.

Ericsson argues a number of things that I have no quarrel with on the merits, though I do bristle at the idea that he thinks I need a tutorial from him on such matters, as I’ve been making many of these arguments in literally thousands of columns and in three books over the last quarter century. So, yes, I agree that the Left is the aggressor in the culture war and that leftists pee from a great height on tradition-minded Americans. As someone who’s been saying for years that the single most fascistic thing commonly said on American campuses and elsewhere is “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” this did not strike me as a thunderclap insight, even if Mr. Ericsson thinks it’s something new. Maybe it is, to him.

Regardless, Ericsson starts from this conventional conservative insight to argue, as the headline suggests, that Trumpism isn’t as bad as the Left and that the Left poses a greater threat to America than Trumpism does. For Ericsson and his admirers, this is a profound and powerful mic-drop truth. Moreover, they think that all action from conservatives should flow from this assumption. In short, this is war. Ericsson writes:

If Goldberg and [Bill] Kristol want to secure a future for individual liberty and human flourishing in American life, they’ll need to learn the lesson that allowed Elliot Ness to realize his goal in The Untouchables. Ideas and persuasion alone — the path forward Goldberg offers –are as insufficient to stem the tide of illiberalism sweeping across the country as a few liquor raids were to bringing down Al Capone. To echo the challenge made to Ness by Malone, the streetwise Chicago cop who helped him bring down the crime boss, “What are you prepared to do?

Now, I should say that I suspect Ericsson’s real target here is Kristol, and I should also note that I don’t agree with everything Bill has done or said. Bill wears more hats than I do: He’s a writer, institution builder, and a political operator. So, for example, I would never do something like this. Now, Bill can defend himself quite ably. But on the major questions facing conservatism, I agree with him — if not with all of his tactics and techniques.

So, let me concentrate on what I find so tedious and tendentious about Ericsson’s argument, which is nothing more than a warmed-over version of Michael Anton’s “Flight 93 Election” essay — also written from the safety of a fake name. Which brings me to my first objection. Just as Anton denounced conservatives who make a fraction of what he made on Wall Street for selling out and not being willing to fight in the political arena, while hiding his identity lest he pay any price at all for his own words, Ericsson asks me what I am prepared to do as he sits at his desk in some lobbyist’s office (sorry “government affairs” office).

The commonplace insinuation that Trump-skeptical conservatives, as a group, lack courage or commitment is insultingly dumb on the merits (just ask all the writers at RedState who were let go for failing to pick up the pom-pom). It’s of a piece with the schmaltzy populism of multimillionaire Sean Hannity, who used to rail against the “Jonah Goldberg class” as he flew private from one lucrative event to another.

What are you prepared to do, Mr. Ericsson, if you’re not even willing to put your name where your mouth is?

And then there’s the larger point. Ericsson’s analogy to The Untouchables is basically a moral-equivalent-of-war argument, just like Anton’s “Flight 93” schtick. Presumably, neither of them takes the analogy to its logical conclusion. As with so many things, we are supposed to take it “seriously not literally,” since a literal reading would wholly justify violence against our political opponents. (My friend Dennis Prager struggled to thread this needle when he insisted that America is in the middle of a real “civil war” not a figurative one.)

Against the Popular Front
Still, the analogy isn’t a form of thinking; it’s a form of unthinking. Its utility lay in closing off nuance, avenues of thought, and alternative arguments in favor of the logic of the Popular Front and “No enemies on the right.” At least when Anton was writing, there was a pending election, and the “It’s a binary choice!!1!11!” yawp had some real relevance.

In the Popular Front days, liberals were told that they couldn’t criticize Stalinists because they needed to be united against the common enemy of fascism. That idea nearly destroyed American liberalism. Not long ago, many conservatives were arguing we needed a popular front with the identitarian racists of the alt-right. If more people had listened then, it might have spelled the end of American conservatism.

Erick Erickson cut to the chase of what’s wrong with this mentality in a tweet:

Life isn’t binary — and neither is politics. If you are adrift in the ocean, your enemy isn’t just sharks; it’s thirst, hunger, drowning, and despair itself. If you face your predicament assuming the only thing you have to worry about is being eaten by a shark, you might fend off the sharks, but you will also probably die. Indeed, by ignoring other threats, you’d probably make yourself more vulnerable to a shark attack.

I have no problem conceding that progressivism poses a greater threat to America than Trumpism. What I oppose are the conclusions people such as “John Ericsson” draw from that. Those conclusions rest on a raft of unproven assumptions, starting with the idea that if only the Kristols, Ericksons, Goldbergs, Frenches, et al. stopped pointing out the manifest flaws, lies, trade-offs, and moral compromises inherent to 100 percent Trumpism, it would make a difference in Trump’s battle with progressivism. Would that it were true. In my more cynical moments, I sometimes suspect their real goal is not to guarantee a Trump victory but rather to guarantee that any defeat will be usefully shared and that no one will be able to say, “I told you so.”

Does Ericsson think that, if literally every conservative went Full Gorka, Republicans would attract more voters? I’m going to need him to show his work.

But it goes deeper than that. Ericsson says that “ideas and persuasion” are almost comically insufficient in this war. What is required is a Colonel Kurtz–like will to do what is necessary. Maybe that’s true. But what, specifically, does he think I should be doing? Does he want me to lie? Sign up as an assistant to Sarah Huckabee Sanders so she can more artfully spin and prevaricate? Should David French radically reinterpret his Christian faith and defend shtupping porn stars while you have a wife and newborn at home? Must I rush to defend this deranged carbuncle in his bid to send “Cocaine Mitch” packing?

Does Ericsson think that, if literally every conservative went Full Gorka, Republicans would attract more voters? I’m going to need him to show his work.

More to the point, if the argument is that there’s no room on the right for people who want to stay in their lanes, make arguments, and try to persuade people, then the Right is doomed, and deservedly so. I have very little disdain for the paid GOP operatives trying to sell the main ingredients of sh** sandwiches as pâté. That’s their job, not mine. Nor do I condemn people who work in this administration trying to advance conservative policy. I applaud them, for the most part. But some people — like this guy — apparently think that everyone must mimic the worst tactics of the Left, grab the nearest club to hand, and fight for the leader of our tribe.

And let me be clear: This isn’t simply some Ivory Tower argument. I’ve been engaging in the arena for most of my adult life. I have no problem with the suggestion I should have the future of the conservative movement or even, to some limited extent, the future of the Republican party in mind. I work for a magazine that endorses politicians regularly. But another faulty assumption inherent to this binary-war jaw-jaw is that it will be better for the Republican party if everybody on the right gets on board and rows as one to the beat of Trump’s drum. This thinking assumes that Trump is the solution to the problems Ericsson lays out and that if you’re not part of Trump’s solution, you’re part of the problem. I think that’s silly and unserious.

Whatever successes the conservative movement has put on the board over the years — the rise of the Federalist Society, victory in the Cold War, the Contract with America, welfare reform, etc. — were achieved in no small part because conservatives were willing to champion ideas at the expense of blind fealty to the GOP and the demands of the election cycle.

Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s the model I’ve decided I want to follow professionally. I’m no George Will, Charles Krauthammer, William F. Buckley, Tom Sowell, or Irving Kristol, but I’m happy to say they’ll always be important role models for me because they were and are the kinds of intellectuals and writers interested in the long game. This is the lane I’ve chosen, admittedly with more jokes. If there are people on the right who think that’s cowardly, illegitimate, or insufficient, they can use ideas and persuasion to try to change my mind. They’ll have less success banging war drums and telling me I have to do my part.

Various & Sundry
Canine Update: So the hot weather is here in D.C. — and that means some lifestyle changes. First, the dogs are somewhat less insistent on sleeping with humans for warmth, which is a nice change of pace. Second, there’s more swimming. Pippa always goes in the water, even on freezing cold days. It’s her nature. But Zoë usually just gets her feet wet — until damnable Helios rains down her rage, and the Dingo transforms into the Crocodingo or, if you prefer, the Dingodile. Zoë, however, always takes pains to keep her tail from getting wet. The warm weather also brings out the rabbits. Unfortunately, these critters cling to residential neighborhoods — I think because the foxes don’t like the cars and dogs. Alas, Zoë can’t be off-leash in these areas for a bunch of reasons, the chief being that she doesn’t like other dogs in her territory and the second being that if she starts chasing rabbits or squirrels, her blood gets up, and she will no longer listen to reason: The next thing you know, she’s running into traffic, exploring back yards, digging holes, importing Yellowcake uranium from shady Nigerians, etc. This morning, I had to walk Zoë, on leash, to the entrance to the woods, and there were rabbits everywhere just lollygagging, in open defiance of the Dingo’s authority. Zoë put the fur in furious. Meanwhile, the Spaniel remains as spanielly as ever. I’m not going to address the controversies in my Twitter feed regarding charges that I tweet too many pictures of the dogs. Here I stand.

Starting Sunday, the crazy-travel part of the book tour begins. I don’t know for sure whether I can maintain my G-File schedule, but I’m going to try. You can go to for book-tour details.

ICYMI . . .

Everybody gets a Nobel

Misunderstanding conservatives

The age of double standards

Wednesday’s Remnant, on North Korea, with Nick Eberstadt

My latest Special Report appearance

My hit on America’s Newsroom

The latest “cultural appropriation” outrage is silly

Today’s Remnant, with Tim Carney

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Tuesday links

New York at its nadir

Dog discovers belly sliding

HARD nope

Human thigh bones make the best daggers

Chill capybaras

The shapes of outer space

Woolly mammoths returning?

Brew George Washington’s beer

English monarch signatures

When kangaroos attack

Whoa . . .

Japan’s ghost town

New Jersey’s mystery pooper revealed

The Manhattan Project’s nuclear suburb

The story behind Rube Goldberg’s contraptions (no relation)

Politics & Policy

The Great Divide

Detail of Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States by Howard Chandler Christy, 1940 (Wikimedia)

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 the RedState Diaspora),

One of my great peeves is people who perform magic tricks on dogs. The beasts don’t think, “Wow! How did he do that?” They think, “Nummy treat vanish! Why? I was good.” But we can talk about that another time.

Another, lesser peeve is the term “science fiction.” The term makes it sound like the emphasis is on science — the gadgets, technology, etc. And there’s obviously some truth to that. For a long time, the preferred term was “scientific romance” — but I don’t think that’s much better, even though it made more sense at the time. The genre we call “science fiction” began, by most accounts, with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Science was still this relatively new and bewildering thing, which had only recently — and still only partially — split off from magic in the Western mind.

If you’ve read my new book (or to be fair, many other books, beginning with Shelley’s), you know that the full original title was “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.” When it was written, electricity was seen as an almost mystically world-changing phenomenon (which is why Kant coined the phrase “Modern Prometheus” to describe Benjamin Franklin after news of his experiments with electricity reached the Old World).

Today, if you read Frankenstein the book — or even if you watch the countless movie versions of it — the least interesting thing about the story is the technological stuff (indeed, many have come to believe that the monster of the story is the creature, not the human who created it). I read somewhere that the writers of Star Trek: The Next Generation would simply insert something like “science babble TK” in the parts of the script that needed some filler about warp coils or quantum states. Some science geek would drop that stuff in later.

That’s as it should be (TV shows such as The Expanse perhaps notwithstanding). I like lasers and light-speed ships and all that stuff as much as the next guy, particularly if the next guy is pretty nerdy. But, ultimately, what makes most science fiction great is how un-futuristic or anti-futuristic it is. That’s because, while technologies advance and science explains more and more about the universe, the one constant is human nature.

The same holds true for literature that goes back in time or to alternative worlds. Part of the appeal of Game of Thrones is, of course, the dragons, the violence, the gratuitous sex, etc. But the part that makes it accessible and gripping for us is the humanity and the way the different settings expose the eternal constant of human nature (or one facet of it).

The Great Divide

There is something profoundly conservative about this, though not in any neatly partisan sense. One of the great intellectual and philosophical divides — a chasm really — is between those who believe in the “perfectibility of man” and those who side with Kant’s observation that “out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.” The perfectibility of man comes with a lot of associated intellectual baggage. It tends to rely on the idea that we are “blank slates.” How could it be otherwise? If we come preloaded with software that cannot be erased, we cannot be perfected. Rousseau, one of the great advocates of the perfectibility of man, got around this by arguing that, in our natural state, we were perfect: “noble savages,” as John Dryden put it. According to this theory, what makes us sinful isn’t our nature but the oppressiveness of our civilization. “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains” is the way that Rousseau put it, arguing that civilization was unnatural and soul-warping.

But, since we couldn’t go back to our blissful state of nature, the only choice was to go forward and create a new perfect society — an idea that is only possible if you believe that the crooked timber of the people can be shaped.

The Founders rejected this view, believing that human nature is a constant, like a river. It can be shaped and, more often, channeled — but it cannot be erased. It’s better, therefore, to create systems that check our worst instincts and encourage our best ones.

I’ve come to think that these sorts of ideas are preloaded into us as well. Indeed, they are two sides of the human heart, even if one side or the other is dominant in most people. Today, we tend to argue that secular or progressive people are intellectually descended from one lineage and that religious or conservative people are descended from another. We play connect-the-dots from Locke or Rousseau straight through the present day and chalk it all up to the powerful consequences of ideas. I have no doubt that there is much truth to this. But I also think humans have a natural tendency to veer into one kind of thinking or another. In Medieval Europe, virtually everyone — minus the ghettoed Jews — was a Christian. And yet these divides manifested themselves quite often even then. Gnosticism often took the form — a decidedly theological form — of a belief in the perfectibility of man. The fights between some kinds of Protestantism and the worldly practices of Catholicism had similar echoes.

When God was dethroned by many intellectuals, the language changed but the impulses endured.

I’m not going to get into the weeds on all of that; I just bring it up to make the point that these ideas — orientations really — can manifest themselves in societies where the secular–religious and liberal–conservative prisms have little to no explanatory power. When the primary language of humanity was religious, these ideas were expressed theologically. The perfectibility of man or society was still there, but we talked about the perfectibility of the soul and the ability to create a Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.

When God was dethroned by many intellectuals, the language changed but the impulses endured. The Jacobins threw away the wrapper of religion and picked up the concept of the Nation, but the underlying passion remained. The Bolsheviks, at least at first, threw away religion and nation, but they still claimed they were ushering in a Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. The American Progressives went a different way: They kept much of the religion, but they bent it to the new social sciences, insisting that Jesus was the first socialist or the first eugenicist.

The Immortal on Our Shoulders

There’s a stock character in a lot of science fiction and fantasy: the immortal. There are lots of different versions, but one of my favorite types is the man who witnesses the ages of man go by and feels like he has seen it all before. Things change around him, but the people really don’t (it’s this spirit that makes Albert Jay Nock’s writing so compelling).

Increasingly, that’s how I view many of the ideas we ascribe to this or that thinker: incorporeal immortals that manifest themselves in different people at different times. They take on the fashions of the age, but underneath the costumes and the jargon, it’s the same old ideas manifesting themselves in novel forms. The actual humans making these arguments often insist that “this time is different” or “my idea really is brand new.” But if you look long and hard enough, you can see the immortal grinning behind the mask.

In politics, at least in the West, among the most persistent and dedicated of the immortals is the one who says this life is unnatural and alienating. What we must do is abandon our selfish individual pursuits and all join together. That immortal is the strongest, or at least the loudest, in the West because the West came up with a new idea: that we all have the right to pursue happiness — not attain it, but pursue it — and that therefore we have a right to be wrong, at least in another person’s eyes.

That is not how we evolved. It is not what our brains were wired for. And that is why the immortal on our shoulders is constantly coming up with “new” arguments for the old idea that we must retreat to the tribe and embrace that sense of belonging we get from the group, where all meaning is bound together. The group is our religion and our family and our politics and our entertainment. The details and rationales change with the times, as do the supposedly sacred units — nationalism, the moral equivalent of war, racism, socialism, Communism — but the underlying idea is always the same. And it will be forever thus. Because human nature doesn’t change.

Various & Sundry

My apologies for the extra thumb-sucky “news”letter. It was so thumb-sucky that I’m not sure I can get into my iPhone now without manually entering the code, as I think I sucked my thumbprint right off. But, as you may have heard, I’m in book-tour mode, which puts me in a double-bind. First, all I do is spend my day talking about the book to whomever will listen — even the dogs are bored — but I also have very little time to follow the news. Even today’s sci-fi angle stemmed from the fact that it was all I could come up with for my column yesterday. I promise that it won’t last forever and that this “news”letter will get back to the inane jocularity soon enough.

Still, I do want to say how grateful I am to everyone who’s bought the book. As a business proposition, I rationalize a lot of what I do — this free “news”letter, the free podcast, the oxen sacrifice — on the leap of faith that it will help when I come out with a book (although I can’t imagine writing another one for a while). So I’m deeply grateful for the support, particularly given how much of me went into this one.

Canine Update: I haven’t seen my beasts much this week. I was in NYC for most of it (but I did give them extra attention before I left). But it was good to come home to my girls, biped and quadruped alike. The biggest and saddest news is that Zoë won’t be seeing her boyfriend Ben anymore. For complicated reasons, he will no longer be part of the midday pack anymore. We haven’t told Zoë yet.

ICYMI . . .

There’s no point in me apologizing for the self-promotion stuff at this point, but I am particularly jazzed and proud about Yuval Levin’s review of Suicide of the West in the latest issue of National Review. Money line: “More than any book published so far in this century, it deserves to be called a conservative classic.”

My book-launch announcement

Why North Korea won’t give up its nukes

Keep track of all reviews of my book, here

Keep track of all my media appearances, here

Begin the Butlerian Jihad!

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links, last week

And this week

Where the Amish go on vacation

The medieval Italian man with a knife for a hand

The space mutiny

A brief history of the stoplight

How birds get oxygen inside their eggs

Teaching AI to think like dogs

The hunt for wonder drugs at the North Pole

Nature is scary

Abandoned Wizard of Oz theme park reopening

Science: Flies enjoy having sex and will resort to alcohol if they can’t get it, scientists find

Dogs are great

Did sweating make us the dominant species on earth?

Are we reaching the biological limits of humanity?

Dogs and humans are surprisingly similar

The world is a good place

Uranus really stinks (no, really)

Dog siblings reunited

Husky in the snow

Can scientists control dreams now?

The steepest street in the world

Science is great

Corgi vs. crab

The First World War’s continuing impact on the landscape

The world balloon convention winners


Rebels without a Cause

Britney Spears at the GLAAD Media Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif., April 12, 2018. (Mario Anzuoni/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 anyone else who needs to disclose that they’re Michael Cohen’s client),

When I lived in Prague as a younger man — by which I mean when I was literally younger, not when I creepily went there and just lived “as a younger man” like it was some playacting thing, because that would be weird. Sort of like the time I spent three days in a Baton Rouge motel pretending I was really Martin Van Buren IV, the world’s greatest competitive hot-dog eater, after being kicked off the circuit because I was a maverick who played by my own rules.

Where was I? Oh, right. When I lived in Prague, I took a lovely young Czech lady on a date to see The Silence of the Lambs (not a Warren Zevon or Dr. Demento lyric). She was considerably horrified — and even more confused — by this “American movie.” At one point, she peeked out from behind the hands covering her eyes (her hands, not mine), and asked in her stilted English syntax, “He thinks it is good to eat people, yes?”

“Yes,” I said. “He thinks it is good to eat people.”

“Oh,” she replied and put her hands back over her eyes.

I bring this up because people believe all sorts of weird things, and not all of them involve pairing Chianti with a human liver.

For some reason, I’ve been thinking about this ever since I had a conversation with Charlie Cooke — always a pleasant experience because he sounds so charming, like a nature-documentary narrator or a Nazi general in World War II movie. We were talking about Kevin Williamson, and Charlie made a point about what happens when you engage out-of-the-box writers — and by “out-of-the-box,” I mean the terrible cliché about unconventional thinking, not a creepy reference to exhuming, say, Gore Vidal, and removing him from his coffin (“Just don’t pull out the stake!”).

Charlie observed that the same thing that gives a great writer — or, really, anybody — the ability to see things from a different perspective also probably implies that they have some unconventional views on all sorts of things.

My dad certainly had that, which explains so many strange things that came out of his mouth. When I was a kid, he used to tell me that, given my lack of marketable skills or material contributions to the family unit, I could be “replaced by a well-trained monkey.” Every Thanksgiving, he’d begin the meal by pointing out that on a planet of super-intelligent and technologically advanced turkeys, the gruesome scene before us would be a soul-shaking horror, and probably a cause for war. At the end of the meal, he’d always turn to me, gesture to the picked-over carcass of the turkey sitting between us, and ask, “Jonah, if we gathered the world’s great scientists and doctors, do you think there’s any chance we could save this bird’s life?”

And then, of course, there was my dad’s logically sound belief that if we could just shrink all humans to, say, the size of a G.I. Joe doll, concerns about overpopulation, dwindling resources, and the like would be solved.

My dad wasn’t a weirdo by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, most of this stuff was just his way of having fun with me. But, as I get older, I treasure those memories because they make me laugh and because they shaped how I see the world. Another point of all this, I guess, is that our minds can take us to stranger places than conventional society is willing to consider. I can’t imagine that anyone who has read this “news”letter over the years could disagree with that.

The Division of Meaning

The point I thought this “news”letter was getting at, however, is that we have really strange views on conformity. In my Friday column, which I will confess to writing hastily as this is a bananas time for me (“Did someone say ‘banana time’?” — Koko), I borrowed a page from G. K. Chesterton and quoted Britney Spears talking this week about how America demands conformity from people. “I feel like our society has always put such an emphasis on what’s normal,” Britney said, “and to be different is unusual or seen as strange.”

Britney’s whole “speech” seemed like the kind of thing Spock and Kirk might say to Harcourt Fenton Mudd’s android to make its head explode. First of all, the whole definition of “different” is to be unusual or strange. Second, I’m not sure there’s another country in the world that celebrates being different as much as we do. Okay, maybe Holland or Canada, but not many places. We have first-grade teachers with neck tattoos these days.

Corporatized Conformity

Just turn on the TV, and you’ll see commercials telling you that you’ll be a rebel if you buy this SUV or that sports car. Matthew McConaughey’s ads for Lincoln make him seem like a scary drifter on a quest to make a suit out of waitresses who work at out-of-the-way diners. BMW just launched an ad appealing to “unfollowers” to follow their lead straight to the dealership. Audi has a dude forgoing the witness-protection program because he can’t contemplate being the kind of sell-out who drives a normal car. Better to take your chances with the mob than not sit behind the wheel of an Audi.

On the other hand, I’m kind of proving Britney’s point, though not in the way she thinks — because non-conformity is one of the most conformist values we have today. Everyone is special, which as Dash famously pointed out, means no one is. In Bobos in Paradise, David Brooks observes that everything “transgressive” gets “digested by the mainstream bourgeois order, and all the cultural weapons that once were used to undermine middle-class morality . . . are drained of their subversive content.”

We still have a middle-class ideology, but the virtues, habits, and pieties have changed.

As I wrote a while ago, the idea of gay marriage went from being subversive and radical to conventional and boring in a remarkably short period of time. Will & Grace was edgy because it both depicted a relatively uptight and restrained gay dude — which ran against the stereotype — and because it depicted another gay dude who leaned all the way into the stereotype. A short time later, Modern Family depicted gay marriage as being basically indistinguishable from traditional marriage (“I can’t get the baby-seat in the car!”).

I used to think Brooks was largely correct. Now, not so much. It is certainly true that everything transgressive gets digested by the mainstream order; I’m just not sure the mainstream order is bourgeois. “Bourgeois” used to mean something different than it does today. It was a middle-class ideology rooted in certain virtues, habits, and pieties. We still have a middle-class ideology, but the virtues, habits, and pieties have changed — a few for the better, and a few for the worse.

(As I discuss in my new book), last summer, Amy Wax and Larry Alexander penned an op-ed praising the old bourgeois values — and by “old” I don’t mean the 18th century. The bourgeois culture of the 1940s to 1960s, Wax and Alexander wrote, laid out “the script we all were supposed to follow”:

Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.

A coalition of students and alumni responded to the essay in predictable fashion. Wax and Alexander were peddling the “malignant logic of hetero-patriarchal, class-based, white supremacy that plagues our country today. These cultural values and logics are steeped in anti-blackness and white hetero-patriarchal respectability . . .”

Now, I know, when most normal people read this they find an uncontrollable urge to pantomime an onanistic gesture:

Still, if bourgeois culture means something other than “whatever everyone considers normal,” you can’t keep redefining what’s “normal” and still glibly call it “bourgeois” without some follow-up explanation.

As Charles Murray has pointed out repeatedly, our elites still practice something very close to bourgeois lifestyles (though formal religion plays less of a role today). Members of our new upper-middle class tend to wait until they’re finished with their education before they get married, and they wait until they’re married before they have kids. They save money and work hard, and they teach their children to do the same. What they don’t do is teach other people to do likewise — because that would be judgmental. As Charles puts it, they don’t preach what they practice, which is a worse form of hypocrisy than the reverse, because the education-marriage-kids “success sequence” is literally one of the only, and certainly one of the best, ways for poor people to get out of poverty.

I didn’t realize until writing this sentence that Kevin Williamson actually makes a similar point in the Wall Street Journal today. Feminists and various other identity-politics activists claim to be fighting an entrenched power structure. But, in reality, they’re closer to the rebels who have to drive an Audi. Kevin writes:

Which brings us back to that event at South by Southwest, where the Atlantic was sponsoring a panel about marginalized points of view and diversity in journalism. The panelists, all Atlantic writers and editors, argued that the cultural and economic decks are stacked against feminists and advocates of minority interests. They made this argument under the prestigious, high-profile auspices of South by Southwest and their own magazine, hosted by a feminist group called the Female Quotient, which enjoys the patronage of Google, PepsiCo, AT&T, NBCUniversal, Facebook, UBS, JPMorgan Chase and Deloitte. We should all be so marginalized. If you want to know who actually has the power in our society and who is actually marginalized, ask which ideas get you sponsorships from Google and Pepsi and which get you fired.

I don’t want to go all Gabriel Kolko on people (in part because no one remembers him anymore), but when Starbucks closes 8,000 stores for diversity-sensitivity training — virtue-signaling on a continental scale — perhaps the ideology of the corporate power structure isn’t what you think it is.

My objection isn’t to Starbucks’s decision per se. Nor is it with the arguments made by various progressive warriors sponsored by the RAMJAC corporation — it’s with the claim that they’re rebels rather than props. Our colleges teach kids that being liberal or left-wing is rebellious, but there’s nothing rebellious about it. Rather, the claims of rebelliousness are the coating that makes the pill of conformity easier to swallow. The examples that demonstrate this are all too familiar — from the Google memo to, well, Kevin Williamson.

Rebellion is the fashion, and claims of oppression and persecution are the cultural currency.

There’s still room in our culture to be different, though the irony is that wearing a gray flannel suit today is more rebellious than wearing, well, almost anything. Being an atheist on a college campus isn’t rebellious; it’s one of the most tedious forms of conformity. A real rebel talks out loud in an Ivy League classroom about how Jesus Christ is his or her personal savior. For today’s kids, it’s okay to have weird, eccentric, or oddball ideas, so long as they don’t rub against the grain of what Everyone Is Supposed to Believe. I mean, we live in an age where Satanists don the mantle of rebellion but are quick to clarify they’re not crazy like — you know — those whacky Christians.

I’d have so much more respect for the progressives who control the commanding heights of our culture if they had the courage to admit that they control the commanding heights of the culture and that they’re in the business of imposing orthodoxy. But they can’t do that because, in America, rebellion is the fashion, and claims of oppression and persecution are the cultural currency.

Oh, and by the way, many conservatives today have much the same problem. Right-wingers want to get people who say mean things fired, too. Republicans control the government in Washington (and most of the state governments, as well), but all the usual suspects make it sound like they’re a persecuted political sect.

There are differences between the two groups of course. But the pose is the same: Everyone’s gotta be a victim and a rebel — because everyone’s doing it.

Various & Sundry

I am severely pressed for time today, so I have to keep this short.

The book goes on sale April 24, but of course you can preorder it and keep me from cutting myself any further.

I’m doing an enormous amount of media starting next week. You can go to to get the details. But do watch out for my appearance on EconTalk and Conversations with Bill Kristol. I also recorded an appearance on Matt Lewis’s terrific podcast, available here.

Canine Update: Everything is good in doggo world, though I am dreading what the beasts will do to the house when I’m off doing book stuff (last week, someone pooped in the house in protest while I was gone). I will say, though, that Pippa has had more trouble of late finding her tennis ball than she normally does. I’m not sure what that’s about. Maybe if she spent less time perfecting her butt wiggles, she’d be better off. They also seem to be plotting something.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

Suicide of the West: The Comic Book

My latest Special Report appearance

Trump’s latest Syria strike — and what it means

The latest Remnant, with Scott Lincicome, nacho snob

Trump and Comey: symbiotes

Hannity, Cohen, and disclosure

The latest Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast

America is not the world’s most bigoted nation

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Wednesday links

What happens when you eat the world’s hottest pepper

Andre the Giant’s drinking habits

What could go wrong?

Bank-robbery suspect was trying to impress Taylor Swift

China from above

Our parents shoulda, just called ya Laika . . .

Why some birds glow

Lake Baikal, in photos

The most radioactive place in the world

Jeff Goldblum making noises

Stanley Kubrick’s still photography

2018 World Press photo-contest winners

Why bananas, nuts, and crackers mean “crazy”

A cake-serving Rube Goldberg machine (no relation)

D.C.’s Cherry Blossoms at peak bloom

The “arrested” dog

The Midwest, in a video

Politics & Policy

Cincinnatus Lays Down the PowerPoint

House Speaker Paul Ryan at a press conference on Capitol Hill, September 6, 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 (and friggatriskaidekaphobes everywhere),

As this “news”letter has a certain — hard-earned — reputation for scatological juvenilia and bawdy pandering, you would think that the Pee Tape Renaissance unfolding before our eyes would provide ample column fodder. Also, it’s not exactly unfair to accuse its author of exploiting the inexplicably massive popularity of this “news”letter for self-indulgent score-settling and self-promotion. So, it wouldn’t surprise me if you thought that the guy who puts the “G” in G-File would dedicate this week’s epistle to highlighting and debating David Brooks’s column on my forthcoming book. (Fun fact: If every subscriber to the G-File bought a copy of my book in the next ten days, it would almost surely beat James Comey’s apparently underwhelming tome on the bestseller lists. Not that I’m hinting or anything.)

But I shall forgo all that — for now. Instead, I want to write about something that’s already old news. Of course, what counts as old news in a world where a fruit fly can live a rich and successful life through three or four full news cycles is not necessarily ancient history.

In a normal time, the announcement that the Republican speaker of the House is retiring to spend more time with his family — after just a few years on the job — at a moment when Republicans control the federal government and have more officeholders nationwide than at any time in almost a century and the economy is roaring would be almost unimaginable. But that news is already starting to feel like one of those mildly interesting things that happened last week, like when you find a lone curly fry in your bag of normal fries.

Mr. Whiskers

As a general proposition, I don’t like getting to know politicians. The list of reasons why is too long to lay out in its entirety here. But some of the top reasons include:

Most politicians are actually pretty boring. Maybe they’re not boring with constituents and their friends, or when they’re tying women to bed posts, but around pundit types, they often tend to be so cautious and untrusting (I wonder why!) that normal conversations outside of sports (which I am hardly fluent in) often become awkward and, sometimes, painful.

Many are conniving and needy. I’m always amazed by how many House members remind me of characters from Glengarry Glen Ross. They may not be constantly begging for the good leads, but they’re always looking to make a sale, work an angle, or get some advantage. Many older Republicans love to complain, like Jack Lemmon’s Shelley Levene over a cup of cold coffee, that they’re never given the respect they’re due from conservative journalists. The senators are often Stepford Politicians. You can almost hear the gears grinding inside their skulls as they try to figure out how the biped in front of their Ocular Sensors could be useful, or detrimental, to their future presidential run. Again, this may not be how they are with normal people. It might just be how they treat people in my line of work, particularly if they don’t know them. Lions don’t make friends with hyenas and all that.

Very few of them are intellectually interesting. I have no idea what the numbers are — but it seems to me that very few politicians are really interested in ideas, save when tactics, marketing ploys, and stratagems can be gussied up as ideas. This doesn’t mean they’re not smart — or, at least, cunning — but for both good and ill, politics doesn’t reward being able to talk about de Tocqueville nearly as much as it rewards being able to remember the first names of every car-dealership mogul and union honcho in your district.

There are exceptions to all of these things, of course. Mike Gallagher is a really interesting and fun congressman. Kevin McCarthy isn’t an intellectual as far as I can tell, but he comes across as the kind of guy you’d want to go to Vegas with. Ben Sasse — my occasional podcast victim — is the rare exception to all of these observations. I’m not sure he’d be a good Vegas wingman (he’d probably be constantly asking the pit boss about casino metrics of something or other), but he’s almost surely the most intellectually engaging senator since Pat Moynihan.

All that said, the most important reason I try to avoid getting to know politicians is that friendship is a burden.

Because I haven’t bought that pill whose main ingredient was originally found in jellyfish, I can’t remember if I’ve written this before, but I bring this up all the time in speeches. My policy towards politicians is similar to that of research scientists towards their lab animals: You don’t want to get too attached, because you might have to stick the needle in deep one day.

It’s much easier to jab Test Subject 37B than it is to stab Mr. Whiskers.

Similarly, it’s easier to give politicians a hard time if you don’t feel any personal loyalty to them. As I’ve long argued, friendship can be far more corrupting than money (if a friend asked me to write a column on their book, I’d sincerely consider it. If a stranger offered me cash to write about it, I’d show him the anterior side of the digit between my index and ring fingers).

And that brings me to Paul Ryan.

Cheese Lover Returns to Dairy State

I’ll admit upfront: I like Paul Ryan, personally. I’ve known him a bit for years. No, we’re not buddies. I’ve never gone bow-hunting with him or eaten a single cheese curd in his presence (a bonding ritual in his native lands). But even before I met him, I felt I knew and understood him better than most politicians. I started in D.C. as a larval think tanker, and so did Ryan. We’re about the same age (I know, I know: I look so much younger — and healthier) and share a lot of the same intellectual and political lodestars. There was a time when Jack Kemp was my Dashboard Saint, too.

I’ll spare you all the punditry about Ryan’s retirement (I’ll simply say ditto about Dan McLaughlin, Jim Geraghty, and John Podhoretz’s takes). I think he’s telling the truth about wanting to be with his family. But I also think, if we were on Earth-2 and President Mitch Daniels were in office and Republicans were enjoying the luxury of a boring and mature presidency that was tackling head-on the Sweet Fiscal Crisis of Death coming our way, the pull of Ryan’s family might not have been nearly so acute.

Again, I’m biased. But as a general rule, whether you’re on the right or the left, if you personally hate Paul Ryan, that’s an indicator to me that you’re an unreasonable person. Sure, you can disagree with him. You can be disappointed in him. But if you buy the claptrap from the Krugmanite Left or the Bannonite Right about Ryan, if you think he’s evil or a fraud, I’m going to assume you’re part of the problem in our politics.

There’s a reason Bill Rusher’s favorite psalm was, ‘Put not your faith in princes.’

As Jonathan Last and Michael Warren pointed out on a Weekly Standard podcast, the hatred aimed at Ryan, and also people like Marco Rubio, from the Left stems from the fact that Ryan and Rubio defy the strawman the Left so desperately wants to have as an enemy. How dare they be thoughtful and compassionate! How dare they be young and attractive! By what right do they make serious arguments for conservative policies! To paraphrase Steve Martin in The Jerk, they listen to their serious responses to journalists’ questions, and scream at the Maître d’, “This isn’t what we ordered! Now bring me those toasted cheesy gaffes you talked us out of!”

Beyond the brass-tacks punditry on the significance of Ryan’s retirement — what this means for the midterms, etc. — there is a deeper historical and political significance. I’ve been saying for a couple years now that conservatism, stripped of prudential, traditional, and dogmatic adornment, boils down to simply two things: The idea that character matters and the idea that ideas matter. Stripped of the compromises Ryan made and the decisions he was forced into, Ryan’s career boils down to modeling these two things. He is a man of deeply decent character, and he’s a man that cares deeply about the importance of ideas. Did he fall short of the ideal? Of course. Who hasn’t?

There’s a reason Bill Rusher’s favorite psalm was, “Put not your faith in princes.”

Politicians are flawed not only because of the incentive structure that is inherent to their jobs but also because, to borrow a phrase from social science, they’re people.

(Pat Moynihan had his flaws. You could set up a bowling alley using his weekly allotment of wine bottles as the pins. He wrote like a liberal-leaning neocon intellectual, but he voted like a ward-heeling Irish politician.)

The fact that Paul Ryan was a man out of place in his own party says far more about the state of the GOP than it does about the man. Consider this week alone:

  • A president who cheated on his first wife with his second and “allegedly” cheated on his third with a porn star is tweeting that Jim Comey is a “slimeball.”
  • The president’s personal PR team over at Hannity HQ is calling Robert Mueller the head of a crime family.
  • The CBO just announced that we’re in store for trillion-dollar deficits for as far as the eye can see.
  • The president is tweeting taunts about how his missiles are shinier toys than Putin’s.
  • The president’s nominee for secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, a once passionate and thoughtful defender of Congress’s sole right to authorize war, is now invoking law-review articles as justification for a president’s right to wage war on a whim.
  • The president’s lawyer’s office was raided by the FBI (not Bob Mueller’s team, by the way) after getting a warrant from a judge and following all of the onerous protocols of the Justice Department, and the former speaker of the House — and avowed historian — is insisting that the Cohen and Manafort raids are morally equivalent to the tactics of Stalin and Hitler. I’m pretty sure the Gestapo didn’t have “clean teams” to protect attorney-client privilege (particularly of dudes named “Cohen”), and last I checked the KGB wasn’t big on warrants.
  • On Monday evening, the president convened a televised war council and spent the first ten minutes sputtering about how outraged he was by an inquiry into a pay-off of his porn-star paramour.

And people are shocked that Paul Ryan isn’t comfortable in Washington?

Steve Hayes is right that Ryan was “always more a creature of the conservative movement than of GOP politics. His departure punctuates the eclipse of that movement within the party.”

The GOP will never be the same. We’ve known this instinctively for a while. But Ryan’s departure removes all doubt. He was too good for the job — and the party.

Various & Sundry

Again, I’m delighted by, and grateful for, David Brooks’s generous praise of my book. But for reasons I will spell out at length later, I think his criticism of my book is very strange. I dedicate scores of pages to the need to restore the Burkean role of civil society. I mean, if you’ve read my work over the last 20 years, you’d know I’m a Burke fanboy. Perhaps not on Yuval Levin’s scale — but I’m close. I’ll save all that for later, however.

Canine Update: The beasts are doing well. This morning, Pippa got to give several construction workers her tennis ball and they threw it for her with much enthusiasm. The Dingo is super-Dingo-y. But rather than do the usual account of their exploits. I want to clarify something for people who only follow my dogs on Twitter.

As I have explained before, because my wife, the Fair Jessica, now has a demanding office job, and I can’t be home during the day every day. We have a beloved dogwalker, Kirsten. She handles the noontime dogwalking on weekdays. Often when I reveal this fact on Twitter, I get a lot snarky b.s. from people saying “Elitist!” or “Walk your own dogs!” This rankles because, first, I perambulate the canines every morning at dawn, rain or shine, seven days a week, and I trade with the missus on the evening walks — that’s right, plural. On weekends, Jessica usually takes the beasts out for a two-hour adventure in the woods. The idea that we’re “too good” to walk our own dogs is preposterous. The simple fact is we care so much about our dogs we spend a lot of money making sure they get sufficient exercise (the Dog Whisperer is right that 90 percent of dog behavioral problems stem from a lack of exercise and/or boredom). Are we lucky that we can afford to do so? Sure. But we also have jobs. Anyway, the dogs love their midday adventures with a doggy passion that makes it worth it. The other reason I wanted to clarify this is that whenever I post pictures of the beasts with their pack, including Zoë’s boyfriend Ben, people ask me “How many dogs do you have!?” We only have two. The rest are their weekday posse. And they sometimes get into trouble. But they’re all good dogs.

ICYMI . . .

Last Week’s G-File

My latest Special Report appearance

Second look at non-human personhood?

The Cohen raid

The Cohen role

The latest GLoP

Democrats need more than an anti-Trump platform to win

The latest Remnant

Facebook’s convenient desire for regulation

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

The last contiguous–U.S. Blockbuster

Gummy bears vs. molten salt

Thermite vs. marbles

Dog tries to play fetch with a statue

Service dogs at Disneyland

The amazing feats of army ants

Manhattan mice may have evolved to live on cheese fries

What do aliens look like?

What are the most popular dog breeds in America?

The Killers pick random guy in audience to drum for them, and he kills it

(The Who did this under less auspicious circumstances)

Were dinosaurs killed by their taste buds?

I hate when that happens: Woman blames wind for blowing cocaine into her purse

The history of everything

Why is Jupiter’s Great Red Spot shrinking?

The history of Coca-Cola bottle shapes

What did ancient Romans do without toilet paper?


Kevin Williamson, Thought Criminal

(Kevin D. Williamson at the 2015 National Review Institute Ideas Summit)

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 Superfluous Readers,

Albert Jay Nock was one of the great editors of all time, from a writer’s perspective. Or rather, from a good writer’s perspective.

As an editor, by his own admission he only brought two things to the table: his nose for talent and not getting in the way. “I can smell out talent as quickly and unerringly as a high-bred pointer can smell out a partridge,” he boasted. And he defined the job of an editor as “to do nothing, and [one] can’t set about it too soon or stick to it too faithfully.”

When he was running The Freeman (the first one), a young writer came to look for writing opportunities. The writer-on-the-make asked if Nock had any “sacred cows” that could not be violated in Nock’s pages. “Yes,” he recounted in his memoir, “we had three of them, as untouchable and sacred as the Ark of the Covenant.”

“‘The first one,’ I said, ‘is that you must have a point. Second, you must make it out. The third one is that you must make it out in eighteen-carat, impeccable, idiomatic English.’

“‘But is that all?’ the young man countered.

“‘Isn’t it enough for you?’

“‘Why, yes, I suppose so, but I mean, is that all the editorial policy you have?’ the young man asked incredulously.

“‘As far as I know, it is,’ I said, rising. ‘Now you run along home and write us a nice piece on the irremissibility of post-baptismal sin, and if you can put it over those three jumps, you will see it in print. Or if you would rather do something on a national policy of strangling all the girl-babies at birth, you might do that — glad to have it.’”

What Magazines Do

Now, I don’t bring this up because I think this is a great way to run a magazine — or at least most magazines. I’m not even sure the story’s true. The cape-wearing Nock was prone to theatricality and embellishment. (According to lore, the only way to reach him outside of the office was to leave a note under a specific rock in Central Park.) But let’s talk about magazines for a moment.

I suppose it would be fun if there were one magazine out there that subscribed to Nock’s Ark of the Covenant and nothing more. But as a general rule, I think magazines — intellectual magazines — should have sacred cows, by which I mean they should have commitments to things beyond simply good writing. This is certainly true for ideologically oriented opinion magazines. National Review will run opposing views on all manner of topics, but if you submit your (un-Swiftian) piece on why America should embrace Marxism–Leninism or, for that matter, why all baby girls should be strangled, you will probably be lucky to get a polite rejection.

The New Republic I grew up reading was eclectic, with in-house writers often at war with each other in its pages. But it still had some sacred cows. The publisher was very pro-Israel, so while good-faith criticism of Israeli policies often appeared in its pages, you would never find an essay — no matter how well-written — calling for the dissolution of the state of Israel. That’s not only fine with me; it’s proper. Magazines, like Churchill’s pudding, need themes.

But here is the first important distinction I’d like to make: Editors or owners should have absolute authority to control what appears in the pages of their magazines. How they exercise that authority, i.e., how much orthodoxy they want to impose or how much free-for-all they want to encourage, is a prudential question (and one I often have strong opinions about).

What editors should not have any control over is what their writers are allowed to think.

Kevin Williamson, Thought Criminal

Which brings me to my friend Kevin Williamson, who was fired from his new job at The Atlantic almost before he could figure out how to work the coffee machine. Ironically, he was hired for the same reason he was fired. He has strong opinions and he expresses them very well. Jeffrey Goldberg (no relation) courageously hired Kevin because he wants his magazine to be a public square for different points of view. Goldberg is also fascinated with “homeless conservatives” in the era of Trump. Kevin is a critic of the president — even more so than me. He is also fluent in cultural idioms that few elite journalists have the foggiest acquaintance with, by virtue of his humble origins and peripatetic career. Goldberg rightly believed Kevin’s voice would enrich and enliven the pages of The Atlantic (which, by the way, I still think is an excellent magazine, for now).

The Woke Mob thought otherwise from the get-go, as they always do in these circumstances. Indeed, before we talk about the specifics of Kevin’s situation, it must be pointed out that whenever a conservative or libertarian is hired outside the conservative ghetto, the response is like that of Dutch Dominicans watching Napoleon’s forces convert their church into a horse barn. The excuses for why this or that writer is unacceptably extreme vary with the writer. But the reaction is always the same, if not in degree then in form.

Some writers make the mob’s job easier than others, of course.

Kevin’s Sin

Kevin has said, sardonically, not sincerely, that women who have had abortions should be hanged. The usual gremlins of the lefty Internet took his comments out of context, which is kind of amusing because in this case you’d think his actual position would have done the trick.

As Kevin explains here, he is generally hostile to capital punishment, retroactive punishment, and lynching altogether. His point is that abortion is the taking of a life and should thus be treated under the law as such. You can agree or disagree with that position, on moral, practical, or legal grounds. I disagree with Kevin on all three grounds to some extent, even though I am what you might call mostly pro-life (I know, I know, but we can argue about all that another day). I am fairly sure that most of the people at National Review disagree — again, to varying degrees — with Kevin on this as well.

But here’s the thing: He never made that argument for National Review. I suppose I could find out if he tried and was turned down, but that’s beside the point. The point is that Rich Lowry, or, more relevant, Jeffrey Goldberg, would be entirely within his rights to reject any attempt by Kevin to make that argument in the pages of National Review or The Atlantic (and Kevin would be in his rights to quit over it, though I doubt he would). But there was no chance to test this because Kevin was fired for what he thinks. There were writers at the old New Republic who had unacceptably harsh views of Israel, but they weren’t fired for it. There are writers at National Review who are pro-choice, but they aren’t fired for it. They just don’t typically make that case in our pages. There are writers at every magazine out there who believe things they wouldn’t pitch to their editors. And that’s not merely normal; it’s fine.

Everyone has opinions, but opinion writers are paid to have them. As far as I can tell, most opinion writers don’t have very interesting opinions. They see their job as articulating what their audience already believes or what their editors want to hear. That’s not Kevin.

Benda’s America

And that brings me back to Albert Jay Nock. He was second only to H.L. Mencken in the pantheon of America’s “superfluous men,” a Russian literary term Nock adopted to describe himself. The superfluous men were a diverse bunch intellectually — that was one of the reasons they were superfluous. What united them was their refusal to cave in to the rise of mass politics and mass society in the early decades of the 20th century. They stood athwart history, to borrow a phrase from Nock protégé William F. Buckley, objecting to both the petty and profound tyrannies of mind, body, and society of the elites as well as the entitled demands of the masses (or, as Mencken called them, the “booboisie.”).

My favorite of their number, other than Nock himself, isn’t usually counted among them (because he wasn’t American): Julien Benda. Benda articulated the underlying philosophical problems of the age better than any of them, decrying the rise of nationalism, populism, and the corruption of the intellectual classes who saw it as their job to cater to the passions of the masses.

“Our age,” Julien Benda wrote in The Treason of the Intellectuals, “is indeed the age of the intellectual organization of political hatreds.” He continued: “Those who for centuries had exhorted men, at least theoretically, to deaden the feeling of their differences. . . have now come to praise them. . . be it ‘fidelity to the French soul,’ ‘the immutability of their German consciousness,’ [or] for the ‘fervor of their Italian hearts.’” The Christianity which proclaimed in Galatians, “there is neither Greek nor Jew nor Barbarian, but Christ is in all things,” gave way to the Aryans and Socialists alike who proclaimed Jesus their blue-eyed savior or the “first socialist.”

Many on the right are surrendering to the logic of the mob because they are sick of double standards.

We live in such a moment today, for reasons I explain at length here. Many smart and thoughtful liberals — and I count Jeffrey Goldberg, Yascha Mounk, and many others in their number — are quite adept at seeing half this picture. Where they struggle is in seeing it on their own side. To pick one relevant example, I think The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates is a brilliant and talented writer, but it’s difficult for me not to see him as part of the “intellectual organization of political hatreds.”

More to the point, as I tried to explain here recently, our culture’s problems are dialectical. For instance, the other day, EJ Dionne praised a piece by Ramesh and me on the need to criticize Trump. I responded:

My tweet elicited a torrent of question-beggingself-righteous bilge from liberals who couldn’t imagine that liberals have any role in the mess that we are in. Assaults on free speech, the constant mockery and condescension from the commanding heights of Blue America, the refusal to consider any reasonable reforms to immigration, Hillary Clinton’s dynastic entitlement and contempt for “deplorables,” and the pushing of identity politics seem always to be noble do-goodery without a smidgen of overreach.

Michael Anton, who penned “The Flight 93 Election” back when he was hiding behind a pen-name, articulated very well in an exchange with me what millions of conservatives believe to be true:

The old American ideal of judging individuals and not groups, content-of-character-not-color-of-skin, is dead, dead, dead. Dead as a matter of politics, policy and culture. The left plays by new rules. The right still plays by the old rules. The left laughs at us for it — but also demands that we keep to that rulebook. They don’t even bother to cheat. They proclaim outright that “these rules don’t apply to our side.”

I disagree with Anton’s prescription — to surrender to identity politics and cheat the way our “enemies” do — but I cannot argue much with this description of a widespread mindset. Many on the right are surrendering to the logic of the mob because they are sick of double standards. Again, I disagree with the decision to surrender, but I certainly empathize with the temptation. The Left and the mainstream media can’t even see how they don’t want to simply win, they want to force people to celebrate their victories (“You will be made to care!”). It isn’t forced conversion at the tip of a sword, but at the blunt edge of a virtual mob.

Strangle the Newborns

I could go on for another 2,000 words about all of the double standards I have in mind. But let’s stick with the subject at hand: Kevin Williamson’s views on abortion put him outside the mainstream. And he was fired from The Atlantic merely for refusing to recant them.

Meanwhile, extreme views on the left are simply hot takes or even signs of genius. Take the philosopher Peter Singer. He has at least as extreme views on a host of issues, and he is feted and celebrated for them. He is the author of the Encyclopedia Britannica’s entry on “Ethics.” He holds an endowed chair at Princeton. He writes regularly for leading publications. And he argues that sometimes it’s okay to kill babies, as in his essay “Killing Babies Isn’t Always Wrong.” “Newborn human babies,” he writes, “have no sense of their own existence over time. So killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person, that is, a being who wants to go on living.” He cutely asks whether people should cease to exist. (He ultimately and grudgingly answers “No.”) Oh, he also argues in favor of bestiality.

And he’s been profiled favorably in the pages of The Atlantic.

And that’s okay. I can’t stand his utilitarian logic-chopping and nihilistic view of humanity, but at least going by Nock’s Ark of the Covenant rules, he should be free to make his arguments anywhere willing editors want to publish them. We have a right to be wrong.

But that’s not the point: Singer’s work does not render him anathema in elite circles, it earns awards, praise, and celebration for its ruthless consistency and edgy provocation. He is not fired for what he writes never mind what he thinks. I have no doubt some people don’t think this is a perfect example of a double standard, and I could come up with some objections to it myself. But if you can’t see why some people — fellow American citizens — see it as a glaring double standard, you are part of the problem.

Kevin was hired by The Atlantic because he is among the best of the homeless conservatives in the Trump Era. That’s why Bret Stephens went to the New York Times, and it’s probably why I’ve gotten my share of strange new respect from some liberals. But what Goldberg — or his boss — and countless others fail to appreciate, I think, is that the Trump Era is merely one facet of the larger age of tribalism that we live in. In an age when evangelical Christians and constitutional conservatives can overlook the sins of a Roy Moore, it’s easy to see how people could mistake a Trump critic as a useful voice in their chorus. But Kevin isn’t one of them. He sings from his own hymnal and he stands athwart the tribalisms of Trumpism and the tribalisms that gave us Trump. He is in The Remnant (which Nock described in, of all places, The Atlantic). And I am honored to be a happy warrior by his side, hopefully at National Review once again.

Various & Sundry

We are less than three weeks away from publication of Suicide of the West. Technically, reviews aren’t supposed to be out yet, but Marian Tupy jumped the gun, which is fine by me.

I will be at Denison University this Wednesday, April 11. Please come on by if you can. If you’re reading this today, I will be on Special Report tonight.

Two new Remnant podcasts are out. I had a really interesting and wide-ranging discussion with Ben Sasse, and then I talked to Ross Douthat about his very interesting and theologically wide-ranging book, To Change the Church.

Canine Update: Earlier in the week Zoë developed a limp. I always overreact to dog limps and other injuries in part because the late, great Cosmo the Wonderdog had so many joint problems. He was a handsome and heroic beast, but he was built like an East German car. Before he died, we were probably two surgeries shy of having a fully bionic dog. Zoë is different, knock on wood. She’s about as indestructible as her digestive system. But you never know, so we had her on restricted activity.

That meant that on Tuesday, when it was time for her usual adventure with our dog-whispering dog-walker Kirsten, she couldn’t go. I arranged to leave the house with Zoë on a leash before Kirsten got there so Zoë wouldn’t freak out with jealousy when Pippa left without her. So we walked around the neighborhood with her limping along. I know lots of dogs catch critters too. But many more don’t, even when physically they could. I think that’s because a lot of dogs have a split second of hesitation, which is all fast prey need to get away. Zoë doesn’t hesitate. The second there’s something in striking range, she goes. But I figured a hobbled dingo wouldn’t be much to worry about. I was wrong. One of the main reasons Zoë doesn’t catch squirrels under normal circumstances is that sweet Pippa thinks it’s her job to flush birds and other things out of the bushes. It drives Zoë nuts.

Well, Pippa was away, and I wasn’t paying attention. A squirrel was sitting by a bush, no doubt trying to figure out how to buy fissile material from the North Koreans. Zoë instantly made her move when she was in range, despite being on a leash and having a bum leg. The squirrel tried to escape into its shrubbery-lair and Zoë leapt with it. She caught the critter by the tail, and in that split second when she was flipping the poor thing up to get a better mouth-hold I yanked Zoë away and the squirrel tumbled down Zoë’s chest like a fumbled football and got away.

Zoë. Was. Pissed.

Anyway, the grudge appears to be forgotten, and Zoë is in fine fettle once again. Pippa is chasing tennis balls, and Zoë is flirting with her boyfriend Ben and demanding obscene amounts of attention from me. As is Pippa in her own spaniel-y way. Oh, and my nephew Ollie is doing just fine too.

Other stuff:

Last week’s (brief) G-File

The Stormy Daniels smoking-gun

Nobody tricked Trump on the omnibus

Sean Penn’s a bad writer

John Paul Stevens is honest about the Second Amendment

I liked Annihilation

On conservative criticism of Trump

Conservatism and secularism

Trump: rhetoric and reality

The Remnant with Ben Sasse

Trump’s populism is not Reagan’s

Don’t freak out about Sinclair

Scott Pruit should apologize and move on

MLK belongs to the ages

And now, the weird stuff

Debby’s Easter links

Soda in a vacuum cleaner

Puppy slide

Jackhammer vs. frozen lake

Finally: Rare footage captures mating behavior of elusive deep-sea anglerfish (NSFW)

The Oxford poop prank

Playhouse full of pups

Musical cryptography

Bald eagle food fight

Dog joins police force

The first prank-call ever

The case of the lost nuke

The mind is its own prison

The Northern Lights from a spy plane

The Cadaver Synod

Headless chicken in endless life

Thirty-six-year-old accountant. . . and ace hockey goalie

News you can use: How to cross a piranha-infested river

Let the tears flow: 6100 gallons of milk spill in Michigan

Does it fart?

The saddest places in the world

Science: Doing dishes is the worst

Secret Soviet photos

Apollo space gifs


The Unwise Crowds Make an Unarmed Return

People walk with signs during “March for Our Lives”, an organized demonstration to end gun violence, in downtown Los Angeles, March 24, 2018. (Patrick T. Fallon/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 especially link-clickers),

I am on vacation out West, so we are going to re-post a “news” letter I wrote last year. But because the suits at NR are greedy traffic-mongers, I thought I would add a little fresh copy here to encourage those of you who get this via email to click the link.

In recent days, I’ve been getting a lot of grief on Twitter. And I suppose by “recent days” I could have meant “recent years.” But specifically, I’ve been getting grief about my skeptical or critical comments regarding the recent March for Our Lives and the use of kids as political props. I have been critical of such tactics — in print and elsewhere — for more than a quarter century. But that hasn’t stopped hordes of people screaming at me that I am “afraid” of this “youth movement” and that I am only speaking up because their moral and political authority is somehow threatening to me. But I wrote in this space about my problems with youth politics fairly recently, and I wanted to go a different way.

The Washington Post had a fascinating story yesterday that looked at who attended the rally and the reasons why they turned out. Apparently, they weren’t mostly young and they weren’t primarily there to agitate for gun control:

Participants were also more likely than those at recent marches to be first-time protesters. About 27 percent of participants at the March for Our Lives had never protested before. This group was less politically engaged in general: Only about a third of them had contacted an elected official in the past year, while about three-quarters of the more seasoned protesters had.

Even more interesting, the new protesters were less motivated by the issue of gun control. In fact, only 12 percent of the people who were new to protesting reported that they were motivated to join the march because of the gun-control issue, compared with 60 percent of the participants with experience protesting.

Instead, new protesters reported being motivated by the issues of peace (56 percent) and Trump (42 percent), who has been a galvanizing force for many protesters.

That’s all interesting, but a more basic observation can be made: They wanted to be there because they like crowds. The idea of being part of some movement, of dissolving the self into the crowd, was enticing. For reasons I explained in this recycled “news” letter, I am deeply suspicious of that desire. I don’t like crowds, personally or philosophically. I don’t care if they are right-wing or left-wing, young or old. They are the idea of “strength in numbers” made flesh. Like any other kind of show of force, they can be good or bad depending on the cause that animates them. But I start from the premise that they are to be viewed skeptically. I explain why here, in “The Unwisdom of Crowds,” the G-File from January 21, 2017.

White House

The Gathering Stormy

Stephanie Clifford, AKA Stormy Daniels appears on 60 Minutes. (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 (Even the Rothschilds, who ruined my birthday),

Niche podcasters such as Sonny Bunch and John Podhoretz worry that kids today are growing up without a common culture. They’re balkanizing into a micro-culture archipelago, staring blankly at their Facegrams and Instachats, while streaming TV shows about kids coping with the stress of Facegramming while Instachatting. Or something.

And I have to admit, they have a point. One of the things that does bother me the most about these kids today is the way they say so many foreign words when ordering a cup of coffee. But that’s not important right now. Another thing that bothers me about them is their unfamiliarity with the pop-culture canon. I first noticed it years ago when I said, “Now’s who being naïve?” to some college kids and they thought that I was making a Simpsons reference, without knowing that The Simpsons was making a Godfather reference. It does make me think that while this is the Golden Age of TV, it’s not the Golden Age of popular culture, because we don’t have a truly popular — as in shared by all the people — culture anymore. Gen X may be the last pop-culture generation. <cue lone tear rolling down my face>

Porn-Star Lawyer, Esq.

Anyway, I bring this up because — <burp> — why not? This is my “news”letter.

But also because I saw this Drudge tweet this morning:

I immediately thought of that classic of the canon: Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer. If you’re of a reasonable age, you remember Phil Hartman’s Keyrock. He took the old clichéd character of the charming southern lawyer, who pretends he doesn’t know much about these fancy citified things, and reinvented it as a Cro-Magnon thing:

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I’m just a caveman. I fell on some ice and later got thawed out by some of your scientists. Your world frightens and confuses me! Sometimes the honking horns of your traffic make me want to get out of my BMW and run off into the hills, or whatever. Sometimes when I get a message on my fax machine, I wonder: “Did little demons get inside and type it?” I don’t know! My primitive mind can’t grasp these concepts. But there is one thing I do know — when a man like my client slips and falls on a sidewalk in front of a public library, then he is entitled to no less than $2 million in compensatory damages, and $2 million in punitive damages. Thank you.

Well, clearly, we need a new version of this: Porn-Star Lawyer!

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury — but especially the ladies [winks] — I’m just a porn star. You may know me as “Spike,” from Buffy the Vampire Layer, or “Biker No. 7” in Easy Ride Her or maybe Poomba from The Loin King. I worked my way through law school cramming by day — and by night, if you catch my drift. It was like I was starring in Barely Legally Blonde. This law stuff confuses me. I know I’m not politically erect, er, correct. And I make no apologies. I know tarts, not torts. The clothes? Nice, right? Well, they chafe me, which is why the only briefs I own are the paper kind. Opposing counsel is twisting and contorting my client’s words in ways I never could with my body, and I am the best auto-fellater since Ron Jeremy. The judge brought the hammer down on me, in ways I’d normally charge extra for. So I ask you, put yourself in my client’s shoes . . .

Or something like that.

Just for the Hegel of It

A friend of mine from the cigar shop recently interviewed me for a Swiss newspaper. Ever since, he’s been calling me a Hegelian, which not long ago I would consider fighting words. He didn’t mean that I worship Napoleon as the World Spirit on Horseback or Donald Trump as the World Spirit on an Escalator (though I think that would have been a good essay to write in 2015). Rather, he meant that I tend to see things in dialectical terms, something I never really thought about.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to get in the weeds on dialectical philosophy or anything like that, in part because whenever I read stuff about dialectics the ornate verbiage and haughty terminological sesquipedalianism makes me want to throw someone’s lava lamp against the dorm-room wall. For instance, here’s how Dr. Wikipedia explains the process:

Within Hegelianism, dialectic acquires a specialised meaning of a contradiction of ideas that serves as the determining factor in their interaction; comprising three stages of development: a thesis, giving rise to its reaction; an antithesis, which contradicts or negates the thesis; and the tension between the two being resolved by means of a synthesis.

And this is from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

The dialectical moment thus involves a process of self-sublation, or a process in which the determination from the moment of understanding sublates itself, or both cancels and preserves itself, as it pushes on to or passes into its opposite.

Still, I do confess to being increasingly fascinated by the way in which events not only seem to invite counter events, but that they kind of create them. For instance, for years, National Review argued that if responsible politicians didn’t do something about immigration, anger over the issue would, in dialectical fashion, create a market opportunity for irresponsible politicians to fill the void. In 2016, that prediction seemed to be validated. And even though President Trump hasn’t followed through on his Muslim bans and deportation forces, there is a new synthesis in town.

Nature is kind of dialectical. A few years ago, the rabbit population in my neighborhood exploded (much to my dog Zoë’s delight and rage, depending on how each specific encounter played out). After a year or two, foxes moved into the area as a result. Then the rabbit population plummeted and soon the fox population seemed to as well. The new synthesis — or simply balance — is fewer foxes and fewer rabbits, but more of both than we had when we moved onto the block.

The thing that’s hard to get your head around is that the new synthesis is not permanent — and neither was the old equilibrium you believed was normal or natural. It, too, was just the product of some previous clash of forces. That’s why excessive nostalgia for bygone eras can be so pointless. Every Golden Age is just a ripple in the river of time.

Economics might offer a better way of understanding the process. One of the major inspirations for my forthcoming book is Joseph Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. It was Schumpeter who fully introduced into capitalist economics the necessity of looking at economic actors over time. Schumpeter argued that it was silly to think a monopoly today will be a monopoly tomorrow. To borrow an analogy from Schumpeter’s biographer Thomas McCraw, taking a snapshot of a company is like taking a snapshot of the Titanic before she hits the iceberg. The picture tells you a lot, but it doesn’t tell you very much about the future.

In a market system, monopolies invite competition from innovators and entrepreneurs. A monopoly for a moment in time is not a monopoly in perpetuity. Monopolies, unprotected by the state, invite competition from other entrepreneurs who see an opportunity to provide the same (or better) service, product, or commodity more efficiently or in some other more profitable way. Monopolies or quasi-monopolies seem immortal right up until the moment they seem behind the times. As I keep writing, monopolies are only true threats to liberty or the public good when they are maintained and protected by the state.

A monopoly for a moment in time is not a monopoly in perpetuity.

I didn’t plan to get mired in this stuff today — and there will be plenty of time to come back to it. This “news”letter (and The Remnant podcast) will become a veritable book club for a while — so you might as well order it now (“Subtle” – The Couch). But I do want to be clear about one thing: While dialectical processes are all over the place, built into the fabric of our existence, I am not a dialectical materialist. I am a decided foe of teleology. Indeed, my whole book is based on the conviction that nothing is foreordained or inevitable. There is no “right side of History.” We cannot outsource life to the clockwork of the universe. In other words, events can move in dialectical fashion, but that doesn’t mean they move in fixed direction or that we can know or easily predict where they are going.

The Eye of the Stormy

And that, obviously, brings me to Stormy Daniels.

One of Donald Trump’s great advantages is his shamelessness. While they wouldn’t put it this way, this is what some of Trump’s biggest fans love about him. His shamelessness is kind of a superpower because a sense of shame — or simply a basic sense of decorum — inhibits most of us from getting down in the gutter.

How many times have we heard that Trump is a “counter-puncher,” employing the verbal equivalent of the “Chicago Way”? If you insult him a little, he’ll insult you ten times worse. If you tell the truth about him, he’ll say you’re lying. If you say that you’d have beaten him up in high school, he’ll say he’d beat you up now — and that you’re mentally weak and a crybaby. He’s like the Mole Man. Whatever low road someone else takes, he’ll dig out an even lower road.

This tactic, learned at the feet of Roy Cohn and honed over decades of tabloid-war juvenilia and shady business dealings, served him well in the Republican primaries. No one wanted to attack Trump because they knew he’d counter-attack viciously and, again, shamelessly. It’s a bully’s tactic we all encountered in high school (unless, of course, you were one of the bullies). It’s much like the old adage about not wrestling with pigs — you’ll get dirty and the pig likes it. Voters priced the piggishness into Trump’s persona, but they punished normal politicians who resorted to the same tactics.

In other words, in almost a Nietzschean fashion, Trump uses the decency of others against them.

That’s what’s so fascinating about Stormy Daniels. What on earth can Donald Trump say about the star of Breast Friends 2 and Finally Legal 7? How can he embarrass her?

And this is what I mean by the unpredictability of the dialectical process. In polite Washington, Democrats fantasize about running on a “return to normalcy” in the hope that people will grow sick of the drama. And, that might work. A remnant of traditional Republicans speculates that someone could take the high road around Trump in a primary challenge. Possible, but doubtful if you ask me. At least for now, conventional political weapons are useless against him.

Meanwhile, here comes the star of Operation Desert Stormy, who slept with him for giggles. And for the first time, Trump is speechless. Why? Well, one reason is that the threat from Daniels is the same threat Trump poses to his opponents: She threatens his moral capital.

Admittedly, his reservoir of moral capital could be measured in teaspoons, but it exists. Trump slept with her — yeah, yeah, “allegedly” — when his third trophy wife had just given birth.

The threat is larger than that of course. Because she’s just one of the entrepreneurs threatening his bizarre monopoly on the truth around his life. She is not the only woman to sign an NDA with Trump or one of his bagmen or cutouts. She also could speak with expertise about one of the few things he truly cares about: his sexual reputation.

For the first time, Trump is speechless.

I have no idea if Michael Cohen’s hush money amounts to a violation of election law. I do know it’s an impeachable offense if a Democratically controlled Congress thinks it is.

But all that is rank punditry for another day. What I find fascinating is how Donald Trump created the very conditions that could spell his downfall (though punditarily speaking, I don’t think it will go that way). Much like Bill Clinton, Trump spent his life wallowing in sybaritic crapulence thinking that it wouldn’t catch up to him. And by living like it wouldn’t, the Trumpian dickalectic kicked in. In nature, long periods of drought dialectically invite the conditions for downpours and floods. And a lifetime draught of moral capital has invited the storm, or rather the Stormy.

Various & Sundry

Farwell Kevin. By now, you’ve probably heard that Kevin D. Williamson is heading to The Atlantic. I am very happy for him and, if I may say so, impressed by The Atlantic for hiring him. I am also sad for NR. Kevin is arguably the best writer of his generation, and that is not easy for me to say because we are of the same generation! But it is worth pointing out that this is how it’s supposed to work. For decades, The New Republic and The Nation fed the mainstream media young, decidedly left-wing talent, and liberals never saw anything wrong with that. But the idea that conservatives should or could follow the same path was almost unthinkable — unless they first recanted their conservatism.

In recent years, with the breakdown of the old-media guild, many bad things have happened — but some good things have as well. National Review has nurtured some of the best mainstream opinion journalists in America, but it’s also sent reporters to mainstream outlets. This would have seemed unimaginable a generation ago, much as the prospect of conservatives flourishing in the academy seems today. Conservatives are prone to Hobbit-like habits, and this encourages ghettoization. As a bit of a Hobbit myself, I fully understand the appeal of retreating to our Shires. But when we do this, we cede the rest of the culture to people we disagree with and who, often, want to raze the Shires. While I’ll miss Kevin’s voice at National Review greatly, I welcome the progress his adventure represents.

Canine Update: I really don’t have much to report this week, in part because I’ve been travelling a bunch. (I had to go to Boston on Wednesday for a speech Thursday morning, and after a twelve-hour trip by car, train and car, I “celebrated” my birthday alone at the bar of the Framingham Sheraton. I’m not bitter at all.) But, by all accounts, the beasts are doing just fine. They were very excited about the snow reports. Zoë still plays hard to get with her boyfriend, Ben. Pippa remains as spanielly as ever, and, when the snow started to melt, she could finally go into stealth mode. This morning, Zoë demanded her payment in scritches.

But the really exciting news is the arrival of Ollie! My sister-in-law around the corner from us has adopted a new golden-retriever puppy, and he is insanely cute. Some of you may recall that they adopted Sneakers last year. Alas, Sneaks had some very serious behavioral issues that ultimately made it impossible — despite heroic efforts to the contrary — to have him around little kids. But fear not! Carrie and Amit found a great forever home for Sneaks. Meanwhile, we are going to figure out the best way to introduce Zoë and Ollie to each other. I’d say “Zoë and Pippa” but we all know Pippa isn’t a problem.

One last update: I am on vacation next week, so I probably won’t file a “news”letter. But, who knows? I am going to try to record another remote Remnant, but that’s not definite either. Meanwhile, the latest Remnant, with Jim Geraghty, is up, and we had a lot of fun putting on our hip boots and wading into the rankest of punditry.

Other stuff.

Last week’s G-File

My Meet the Press appearance

Nancy Pelosi should go.

The cost of Republican silence on Trump

The Stormy Daniels tempest

The latest Remnant, with Jim Geraghty

My latest appearance on Special Report

Holy Cross ends its Crusade

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Thursday links

Corgi snowplow

This week’s snowstorm, in pictures

Beware online monkey purchases

The superhuman skills of animals

Dogs prefer dog talk

Ohio man eats Chipotle for 500 days

How a virus spreads through an airplane

Honeybee revenge

Very much alive Romanian man challenges his death certificate, fails

The rise of ax-throwing

Are sea monsters real?

Building the world’s most powerful telescope

“Alien” mummy is actually a . . .

When four cows went to Antarctica

Why cockroaches are so hard to kill

White House

The ‘Good Old Days’ of the Trump Presidency

(Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

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

Dear Reader (and especially any dogs in Japan with some time to kill),

Look around, folks. This is as good as it gets.

Wait, don’t pull the toaster into the bathtub quite yet. I don’t mean in your personal life or for the country. I’m just saying these are the Trump administration’s salad days (I mean that figuratively; not a lot of salad is served in the Trump White House).

Shortly after Trump was elected, I told people that I wasn’t all that worried about Trump’s first months in office because I thought he would be nervous about trying to do a job he never expected to win, and thus somewhat willing to be constrained and contained by his cabinet and other party leaders. “What happens,” I remember saying to Jay Nordlinger, among others, “when this guy truly feels comfortable in the job and thinks he knows it better than the generals and his other advisers?”

Pick a Lane

Now, before I go on, let me go on about something else for a moment.

If you’re of a certain Trumpist bent, you’re already rolling your eyes. “Trump wasn’t contained! Nothing can contain Trump! Trump smash!”

This points to one of my great gripes about the way much of the Right talks about Trump these days. Many people want it both ways. When he’s Hulk Trump — e.g., when he’s firing his secretary of State on Twitter, attacking sh**hole countries, or admitting to lying to the leader of an ally — they say Trump was elected to be a “disrupter.” But when the mainstream media reports that the White House is in disarray or even chaotic, the same people will often say, “That’s fake news.” Suddenly the Hulk Trump they’re celebrating one minute becomes Bruce Banner Trump, brilliantly outthinking everyone the next minute.

(As Stormy Daniels never said to a director), you can’t have it both ways. You can argue that all of the chaos is part of Trump’s strategy. But you can’t cherry-pick the chaos you like and claim the media is making up the rest.

Yesterday, I was on Fox Business, and a young lady from the Free Beacon tried to make the argument that the White House-disarray storyline was little more than a mainstream media canard. I don’t want to be too harsh on her, in part because she seems quite nice but also because I hear this all over the place. Beginning with the president:

I have no problem whatsoever conceding that the press exaggerates anti-Trump narratives and is out to get him, because that is obviously true. But I’ve talked to people in the White House. I’ve talked to congressmen and senators off the record. And I’ve talked to far more people who’ve talked to such people. They all say that things behind the scenes in Trump World are nuttier than Mr. Peanut’s stool sample.

Some of the anonymous quotes you hear about the atmosphere in the White House are probably exaggerated, likewise many of the stories I hear. I honestly think that a lot of Republicans say this stuff off the record or on background for selfish reasons. They want it known that they weren’t part of the problem. They’re planning for the future and want to maintain some viability or something.

But you could exclude all the anonymous quotes and thinly sourced stories, and a reasonable person would still have to conclude that this White House is operating as if the dispensing nurse at the asylum accidentally grabbed the amphetamines instead of the Xanax. As the vet said when I brought my cat in for an appointment and pulled a tuxedo-wearing, rainbow-colored iguana with a monocle out of the carrier, “This is not normal.”

Just this week, the president’s body man was ejected from the White House on a freezing cold day, and he wasn’t even allowed to get his coat (presumably, he knows stuff — because he was instantly hired by the Trump reelection campaign). Trump fired his secretary of State over Twitter. Roll back the clock another week or two, and you have the sudden resignation of Hope Hicks and the revelation that Rob Porter couldn’t get a security clearance because of credible allegations that he was an abusive husband. I can’t remember the last time Trump humiliated his attorney general, but it feels like we’re due. There was also some stuff about executing drug dealers and calling Chuck Todd a son of a b****. Oh, and there was that stuff about how trade wars are good.

As I write this, scads of White House staffers are leaking to one outlet after another about whether or not the White House chief of staff, the secretary of Veterans Affairs, and the national-security adviser are on the chopping block. There are rumors that Scott Pruitt, Trump’s EPA administrator, may replace Jeff Sessions — so that he can fire Rod Rosenstein and appoint someone to fire Robert Mueller. (Though, in fairness, those rumors may have come from Pruitt himself.)

But who cares? This is the climate the president wants and enjoys. From CBS:

President Trump consumed Thursday morning’s TV headlines with amusement. Reports of tumult in the administration were at a feverish pitch — even on his beloved Fox News — as the president reflected on the latest staff departures during an Oval Office conversation with Vice President Mike Pence and Chief of Staff John Kelly.

With a laugh, Mr. Trump said: “Who’s next?”

Now, you may think all of this is great (even though you would probably be the first to say this is no way to run a railroad if your own boss treated your co-workers with half the disdain Trump has shown the people who work for him). And I’m open to arguments that it’s great strategy. But don’t in the same breath shout, “Fake news!” when someone you don’t like says that things are chaotic, because not only is it true that things are chaotic, Trump likes the chaos. It keeps him from having to make coherent arguments, it prevents him from being held accountable for the last crazy thing he said or did, and, most of all, it keeps him in the news, which is his true North Star.

As someone who talks to the Trump White House regularly told me, Trump loves controversy but hates confrontation. That’s why he wants to force Sessions to quit. That’s why he left Reince Priebus on the tarmac like he was the Last American Virgin to discover on his phone that he was fired. That’s why he fired James Comey while the FBI director was giving a speech in California, and it’s why he wanted to fire Rex Tillerson while the secretary of State was in Africa. And, that’s why, when Democrats are in the room, Trump tells them he’d go for comprehensive immigration reform and preens about how he’d like to “take the guns first, go through due process second.”

As Good as It Gets

All this is why I think these are going to be remembered as the Good Old Days of the Trump presidency. If Maggie Haberman and others are correct, we’ve reached the moment Jay and I talked about way back when. According to Haberman:

Recently, people close to Mr. Trump say that he has begun to feel more confident that he understands the job of president. He is relying more on his own instincts, putting a premium on his personal chemistry with people and their willingness to acknowledge that his positions are ultimately administration policy, rather than on their résumé or qualifications for the job.

Now, there are reasonable people pushing back on this somewhat. I don’t think Mike Pompeo is a Trump yes-man, and I think he’ll make a better secretary of State than Tillerson. My friend and chicken-wing consultant Steve Hayes argues that Pompeo is in fact “the real Trump whisperer.” He reports:

“I’ve seen a dozen times when Pompeo has talked the president out of one of his crazy ideas,” says a senior administration official involved in the national security debates.

Let that sink in. It’s not quite as reassuring as it sounds. If Haberman is right, then even if Pompeo had success in the past constraining Trump, he might not be able to going forward, given how Trump is more inclined to let his freak flag fly.

Republican or Trumpist?

One of the great divides on the right these days is over the question of whether the policy wins of the Trump administration occurred because of Trump or despite him. As I discussed with Matt Mackowiac on his podcast, it’s not a black-and-white question. There are some victories that I think would have only been possible with Trump. With the possible exception of Ted Cruz, I don’t think any other Republican would have moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, opened ANWR to drilling, or pulled out of the Paris climate accords and TPP (though I think the TPP move was a mistake).

Most of Trump’s policy successes, however, have been accomplished thanks to party and movement regulars in the administration and in Congress. Judicial appointments have been outsourced to the Federalist Society and Mitch McConnell, thank God. Tax reform was Paul Ryan’s baby. To be sure, Trump gets the usual credit we afford to any president when good things happen on his watch. But I am generally baffled when people say, “He’s gotten so much accomplished.” From where I sit, so much has been accomplished despite him. Meanwhile, he also gets “credit” for nearly all of the scandals, gaffes, controversies, and set-backs on the right in the last year. He also gets “credit” for the fire sale of conservative credibility on countless conservative positions and arguments, which have apparently proved to be too much of a burden in the age of Trump.

Wherever you come down on this question, the fact remains that the GOP won’t get much more done between now and the midterms. Or to be more fair, it won’t get much done that will markedly improve the GOP brand. The significance of Pennsylvania’s 18th-district special election has been exaggerated on both sides, but some facts seem truly significant. The GOP’s tax-cut message did not have the salience Republicans hoped. Democratic enthusiasm is real. GOP hacks can call PA-18 a “Democratic” district all they like. But it doesn’t change the fact that Trump carried the district by nearly 20 points or that Mitt Romney and Pat Toomey carried it by nearly as much as well. Trump is increasingly toxic in normally Republican-friendly suburbs. His rallies may energize the GOP base — but they energize Democrats more. Many of his preferred policies and most of his antics divide Republicans, while they unite Democrats. This does not bode well for Republicans’ holding onto the House.

So let’s assume for the sake of argument that the Democrats take back Congress. Let’s also assume Mueller doesn’t find evidence of “collusion” that directly implicates Trump but that he does find enough to land Jared, Don Jr., and Michael Cohen in the dock. Paul Manafort is already looking at spending more than two centuries in jail. What happens when Democrats get subpoena power? What happens when they start drafting articles of impeachment? What happens if Mueller reveals that Trump isn’t really as rich as he claims and that his business is mostly a Potemkin village of money-laundering condo sales? What happens if Stormy Daniels — or the retinue of super-classy ladies reportedly looking to follow her lead — releases embarrassing pictures of the president?

How do you think unconstrained Hulk Trump reacts? Heck, how do you think the beleaguered skeleton crew at the White House behaves? Everyone is gonna lawyer up like Tony Montana in the money-counting room. Normal administrations are crippled by zealous investigatory committees; is it so crazy to think that Donald Trump might not show restraint? Might he be tempted to give the Democrats the store to hold off investigations, impeachment, whatever? Everyone defends the Jerry Falwell Jr. caucus on the grounds that they have a “transactional” relationship with Trump. Well, what if other transactional opportunities take precedence?

How do you think unconstrained Hulk Trump reacts?

And this scenario leaves out the fact that in the next couple of years, a tsunami of tell-all books and more-in-sorrow-than-anger reputation-rehabilitating memoirs will probably come out.

I don’t know the answer to these questions, and I am not saying that I think all of these things will inevitably happen. If God laughs at the man who plans, in the age of Trump, He buys a pallet of popcorn and giggles at the man who makes predictions.

Well, one prediction I made two years ago, over and over again, was that “character is destiny.” And I’ve never been more confident that that destiny is coming, and it won’t be pretty.

Various & Sundry

The latest Remnant podcast is up. I opted to do a rank-punditry episode, to see if people really want me to do more of them (so let me know!), but also because we’re recording a special-edition Remnant today with Steve Hayward and Charles Murray dedicated to offering advice to young people. Should be out by Monday. Next week, I’ll have Ross Douthat on to talk about his new book on Pope Francis and other fun topics.

I’ll be on Meet the Press on Sunday and, on Monday, NPR’s Morning Edition and Fox’s America’s Newsroom.

Today’s “news”letter was admittedly malodorous in the rankness of its punditry. If you’re looking for more eggheady fare, please check out my essay in Commentary on the anti-Semitic roots of Marxism. It’s not a book excerpt, we’re saving that for NR in a few weeks, but it relies on one of the (many) chapters that I had to cut from the book for space reasons.

Meanwhile, thanks so much to the folks who’ve pre-ordered The Suicide of the West. I can’t tell you how grateful I am. Well, I can tell you: If normal gratitude were a regular-sized Twinkie, then my gratitude would be the size of a small moon (that’s no moon!). If you’re interested in attending a book talk or hosting one, check out my website or contact

Canine Update: Things are relatively good in dog world. Though, yesterday, Pippa had a bad dream. She was lying in my lap saying, “I can fit 20 tennis balls in my mouth! I once killed a mountain lion!” etc., and I figured I would just let sleeping dogs lie. No, I kid, she was having a dream, and I assume it ended with a tennis ball going down a sewer drain. She let out a “Yipe!” and suddenly sat up and wouldn’t look at me at first.

Meanwhile, this morning, I opted to go for a neighborhood walk, which means that Zoë has to stay on her leash because she can’t be trusted not to disappear into backyards on bunny hunts. Also, she is a jealous guardian of her domain, and too many people let their small dogs out to pee in the mornings (bad misunderstandings can happen). So, Zoë gets the leash, and Pippa gets a kicked tennis ball. Anyway, this morning, I caught, on very dark video, the division of labor quite well. Otherwise, while I’m sick of this weather, it’s bringing out the mischief in them quite a bit.

Other stuff:

Last week’s G-File

Cracked Krystal Ball

The latest GLoP

My latest Fox News hit

Pillorying Hillary

What is North Korea?

Goodbye (from AEI), Arthur Brooks

My appearance on Matt Mackowiak’s podcast

The latest Remnant

Karl Marx, Jew hater

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s last Friday links and Debby’s this Friday links

Chimpanzee in Indonesian zoo smokes cigarette

A ghost island in the middle of the Indian Ocean

Hubble Space Telescope captures beautiful image of two galaxies merging (NSFW)

Why frogs sometimes fall from the sky

Are UFOs real? Maybe . . .

The 2018 Minnesota hockey hair champions

Horse reacts to fake horse

Paint blast in slow motion

Who — or what — is the U.S. Capitol demon cat?

Are aliens already dead?

What was history’s most pointless battle?

A collection of rare Beatles photos

United flies dog meant for Missouri to Japan

Are phone booths making a comeback?

How many of Einstein’s quotes did he really say?

Meet Steve, the new Aurora


The Wisdom of Youth

Students from South Plantation High School carrying signs in protest in support of gun control in Plantation, Florida, February 21, 2018. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/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 of you Bachelor Fans),

Like the list of reasons why protectionism is a good idea, I have to keep this short.

This week, I wrote a column for USA Today about the stupidity of youth politics. There were many dumb reactions. Of course, this is to be expected. As King Leonidas might say if he were the ruler of a social-media platform, “This is Twitter!

Still it’s been a rather remarkable experience watching people freak out over such an obviously correct point.

In fact, I thought I inoculated myself from the more ridiculous accusations in advance. But alas, what I thought was a feature of my column was for some its fatal flaw.

I’ve been writing about the inanity and jackassery of generational stereotyping and youth politics for literally 25 years, going all the way back to when I was a young twentysomething. But, apparently, that argument cannot be made independent of the Parkland kids because, in this moment, they are speaking for all youth and therefore, thanks to the transitive property of generational numinosity, any criticism of young people qua young people is “attacking” the Gun Control Youth League. Never mind that young people are as divided on the issue of gun control as everyone else.

It’s a funny analogue to the crap I get from some Trump supporters who think that I’ve changed since his rise. I’ve been against sexual depravity, protectionism, populism, industrial policy, orange-tinted skin, executive overreach, etc. for decades. Then Trump comes along, I keep saying the same things, and, suddenly, I get all of this “What happened to you?!”

So let me try this a different way: Nothing in the passages that follow is in any way, shape, or form negative commentary or invidious insinuation about the Parkland students. They are right about everything, no matter the subject.

I would even stipulate that no youths from Florida are ever wrong about anything and that their sagacity and good conduct should never be doubted or gainsaid. But, then again, I can only ask so much willing disbelief from my readers. Regardless, seriously, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the Parkland kids or even the issue of gun control.

Youth Politics Are Stupid

Let’s establish a baseline. I assume we can all agree that everyone is born remarkably dumb. Ever try to talk about the causes of the First World War with a newborn? So frustrating.

There are few things more settled in science than the fact that humans start out not very bright or informed and that this condition only wears off over time — i.e., as they get older.

Only slightly more controversial: Young people tend to be more emotional than grown-ups. This is true of babies, who will cry about the silliest things (hence the word, “crybaby”). But it’s also true of teenagers.

Again, this is not string theory. We know these things. And the idea that I must provide empirical evidence for such a staggeringly obvious point is hilarious to me.

Aside from all the social science, medical science, novels, plays, poems, musicals, and movies that explore this fact, there is another source we can consult on this: ourselves.

Every not-currently-young person reading this “news”letter has one thing in common: We were all young once.

This is what I mean when I say that “youth politics are the laziest form of identity politics.” Say what you will for racial-identity politics, there’s at least a superficial case that such identities are immutable. I can never be a black woman. And before everyone gets clever, even if I dropped a lot of coin on cosmetic surgery, I can never claim to know what it’s like to be a black woman.

You know what I can claim, though? Knowing what it’s like to be young. Sure, I can’t claim to know what it’s like to be young in 2018, but as the father of a 15-year-old, I’m not wholly ignorant on the topic either. On the other hand, my 15-year-old has no clue what it was like to be young in the 1980s.

And that’s why youth politics are such a lazy form of identity politics. (It’s also why generational stereotypes are lazy.) Here’s a news flash for you: There was no “Greatest Generation.” The dudes who stormed the beaches of Iwo Jima and Normandy: badasses and heroes, to a man. The dudes back home in the drunk tank on D-Day? Not so much.

This is what I hate about all forms of identity politics. It’s an effort to get credit or authority based upon an accident of birth. The whole point of liberalism (the real kind) is the idea that people are supposed to be judged on the basis of their own merits, not as representatives of some class or category. Of course, one needn’t be absolutist about this. A little pride in your culture or ethnicity won’t do any harm. But reducing individuals simply to some abstract category is the very definition of bigotry.

There is no transitive property to age. If a 17-year-old cures cancer, that’s fantastic. But the 17-year-old who spends his days huffing glue and playing Call of Duty is still a loser. I’m a Gen Xer. I take literally zero pride in the good things people my age do. I also have zero shame about the terrible things people my age do. Why? Because age is as dumb a thing as height or hair color to hitch your self-esteem to. What kind of loser looks back on a life of mediocrity and sloth and says to himself, “Well at least other people in my age cohort did great things!”?

This is what I hate about all forms of identity politics. It’s an effort to get credit or authority based upon an accident of birth.

And yet, we constantly invest special virtue in young people. As Socrates explained to Meno, there are no special virtues for young people. There are simply virtues. If a young person says that 2 + 2 = 4, that’s no more right or wrong than if an old person says so. The bravery of one 18-year-old does not negate the cowardice of another 18-year-old.

And that gets me to the next of my supposedly outrageous points: Older people know more than younger people. I’ve been stunned by the number of people offended by this. A lot of folks are getting hung up on the fact that young people know more about some things than older people. Fair enough. The average young person knows more about today’s youth culture and gadgets than the average fogey. My daughter can identify the noise coming out of my car radio. When I was a kid, it was running joke that grown-ups couldn’t figure out how to make the VCR stop flashing “12:00.” It never dawned on me that knowing how to fix that problem meant I knew more about politics than my dad.

This isn’t just a point about technological know-how or public policy. There’s an emotional narcissism to youth. Because a rich cocktail of hormones courses through teenagers’ still-developing brains, young people think they are the first people to experience a range of emotions. But we’ve all experienced those emotions. It’s just that when you experience them for the first time, it’s easy to think it’s the first time anyone has experienced such emotions. The first time you fall in love — or think you’ve fallen in love — as a teenager is a wildly intoxicating thing. And there’s nothing more infuriating than when old people tell you, “It’s just a phase.” That, however, doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Indeed, “You just don’t get it!” might as well be the motto of youth.

This isn’t just a point about technological know-how or public policy.

My objection to youth politics is simply one facet of my objection to identity politics — but it’s also a part of my objection to populism. That’s because youth politics is a form of populism. It claims that passion and the group are more important than reason and the individual. It is the passion of the crowd. And when grown-ups bow before the rising generation, it is a form of power-worship. “Children are the future!” is literally true in the sense that they will be alive after the rest of us are dead. But that does not absolve the rest of us from our responsibilities. Nor does it negate arguments that young people don’t want to hear.

Various & Sundry

Animal Update: The Dingo still has a hot spot on her paw, which requires long stretches in the Cone of Shame. I have every confidence that if Zoë had thumbs, the first thing she would do after taking it off is murder me in my sleep or, at the very least, put the cone on me. Beyond that, the canines are fine (and the Dingo doesn’t have to wear the cone outside, because when she’s on the hunt she doesn’t lick her paw).Though Zoë is now a member of the #MeToo movement because her boyfriend Ben goosed her inappropriately.

Meanwhile, I had adventures with the felines. The cats (the good one, Gracie, and my wife’s, Ralph) had a vet appointment this week. But the Fair Jessica and my daughter couldn’t make it, so it fell to me to get both cats in the carriers. Gracie, because she is the sweetest kitty in the world, had no problem getting in it. In fact, she walked in herself (though she was a bit perturbed when the metal door clanged shut behind her). Then there’s Ralph. I have not picked up that cat once in the last four or five years — because he will not let me. I found Ralph, and he even let me pet him. But when I tried to pick him up, he became a horror-movie cat, hissing and scratching. I got him down the stairs holding the scruff of his neck tight. But when I got about five inches from the carrier, he performed a physically impossible inverted backflip. He then leapt onto my chest and climbed up my torso like I was a tree, and then jumped off my shoulder, leaving me to take Gracie to the vet by herself. I am almost certain I caught Zoë laughing as she watched from deep within her cone.

The latest Remnant, with Christine Rosen is out. We had a grand time.

My take on The Shape of Water and the state of Hollywood

Trumpism is a psychology, not an ideology

The Parkland kids and the perils of youth politics

Should Hollywood adopt inclusion riders?

Indulge a proud dad. My kid’s becoming quite an artist.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

200 years later, it’s time for the truth: Dr. Frankenstein is the real monster of Mary Shelley’s classic

When Apple employees run into the glass door of their building

The film industry’s biggest failed innovations

Bruce Lee’s family photos

Symbolism much? Mt. Vernon tree planted by George Washington uprooted in D.C. storm

A happy dachshund

A happy spaniel

A lazy dog

A brave dog

A refuge for wild dogs

The dog as a horror-movie villain

A faceless toad

This is why laser volcano-lancing is so important: Volcanologists warn: Humanity ready for next major volcanic eruption

An underwater prison

Alexas creepily laughing . . .

The first sub-four-minute mile, in a photo

Which fictional dystopia are we really living in?

Economy & Business

A Conspiracy against the People

President Trump at a White House news conference, February 23, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

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

Dear Reader (Including citizens of all those steel-importing non-countries),

Allow myself to repeat myself, as Austin Powers might say. Well, not myself, but Adam Smith.

Okay, I made that up (“So you really were repeating yourself” — The Couch). But as I pointed out not too long ago, Adam Smith did say in The Wealth of Nations:

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.

Leftists, like the Thugee priest Mola Ram plucking the heart out of a human sacrifice in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, wrench this quote out of context to argue for the exact opposite of what Adam Smith believed.

As I wrote:

This doesn’t mean that capitalists are evil; it means they’re human beings. Virtually every profession you can think of has a tendency to dig a moat around itself to protect its interests and defend against competition. A few years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics came out against affordable health care for children. Retail chains such as Walmart and CVS started opening in-store clinics to provide affordable basic health care, such as vaccinations. The pediatricians rightly saw this as a threat to their monopoly over kids’ medical care. Obviously, the pediatricians didn’t think they were villains; they simply found rationalizations for why everyone should keep paying them top dollar for stuff that could be done more cheaply.

Every group, guild, trade, faction, vocation, league, class, cartel, union, and profession known to man will, given the time and opportunity, seek to protect its interests. And you know what? That’s fine because it’s normal. Complaining about it is like complaining that dogs lick their nethers and birds rain feces from the sky. You’re free to whine about it, but it will come to naught. This is not just an economic thing. The exact same dynamic exists in every realm of life, from high-school cliques to politics in general. This is simply part of the process of what Alexis de Tocqueville called “association.” We at National Review often put the interests of National Review ahead of the interests of The Weekly Standard. The New England Patriots are shameless in their prioritization of their interests over those of other NFL teams.

The only thing that turns this natural process of the human condition into a threat is when some group of people flee from fair competition — democratic, cultural, intellectual, and, yes, economic — and seek out the government to protect them (or if, like the Mafia or motorcycle gangs, they opt to operate outside the law).

Candlemakers have every right to argue that candles are preferable to light bulbs. They have every right to mount a huge ad campaign hyping the benefits of candles. But if they go to the government and persuade (or bribe) a politician or bureaucrat to penalize light-bulb makers — which is just another way of saying penalize light-bulb buyers — they’ve crossed the line. Government is not “just another word for the things we do together”; government is force, full stop. That doesn’t mean governmental force is never legitimate. Force — or, if you prefer, violence — is amoral. Violence when used to stop a rape is moral. Violence in service of rape is immoral. And so is violence to prevent people from buying light bulbs.

As Adam Smith went on to say:

It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty and justice. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary.

The Founders had a profound appreciation of this, not just in the realm of economics but in all spheres of politics, which is why they spent so much time writing about faction.

Steel and aluminum producers are a faction. They are aided by a larger faction — i.e., voters who have a greater grasp of their own nostalgia than on economic realities. And they have a sympathetic ear in the White House. Not long ago, Republicans waxed quite righteous about the Obama administration “picking winners and losers” in the economy. I’m at a loss as to why we should stop now.

(One argument I hear a lot is that Donald Trump is just fulfilling a campaign promise so no one should get worked up. Okay, but I criticized that promise when he made it. I’m under no more obligation to withhold criticism of Trump than I was when I continued to complain about Barack Obama fulfilling campaign promises that I also thought were bad ideas.)

What’s Populism Got To Do With It?

The funny thing is that this move toward protection is celebrated or condemned as a fulfillment of Trump’s “populist” agenda. I get that we label protectionism “populist” these days — though I’m old enough to remember when protectionism was a technocratic cause. But populism is supposed to mean putting the interests of “the people” first. (The problem with populism is that populists never mean all the people; they only mean their people.) And this move isn’t in the interests of most people. How is it “populist” to punish over 300 million consumers and the 6.5 million workers in steel-consuming industries for the benefit of 140,000 workers in the steel-producing industry? Trump says trade wars are “good” — but when other nations retaliate, farmers, truckers, manufacturers, and Americans in general will pay the price.

Not long ago, Republicans waxed quite righteous about the Obama administration ‘picking winners and losers’ in the economy.

This isn’t populism in any literal meaning of the word; it’s elitism of the rankest sort. The president is abusing a law beyond its intended purpose to heap favor on a specific industry, while telling Americans that they aren’t paying enough for cars, aluminum cans, and countless other goods. Despite the fact that the U.S. steel industry already provides 70 percent of the steel used in America. This is literally conspiracy against the public.

The Perils of Nationalism, Again

The other night, I did a panel for National Review Institute commemorating the tenth anniversary of Bill Buckley’s death. It got a little . . . zesty, as Rich, Reihan, and Ramesh took up the case for a one-nation politics defined or informed by Rich and Ramesh’s “Benign Nationalism.” I went a different way. C-SPAN taped it, so you’ll be able to see the video soon enough, and I don’t want to rehash the whole thing here.

But the relevant point I made then is that nationalism — even benign nationalism — inevitably leads to centralization, because the government in Washington is the only institution that can claim to give voice to the whole nation. I know I have my forthcoming book on my brain, but my basic problem with nationalism is that it’s just another brand name for the progressive obsession with “unity.” Barack Obama talked incessantly about unity (you could look it up). But as virtually every conservative writer at the time pointed out, his definition of unity was “shut up and agree with me.”

Obama even touted “economic patriotism” — and this magazine rightly pegged it for what it really was:

Of course it is not patriotism but nationalism, albeit nationalism of a funny sort — nationalism for people who do not regard the nation itself as anything particularly remarkable.

My colleagues think a more robust form of nationalism — one that invokes or dragoons our national ethos and heritage for a partisan program — is preferable to progressive calls for unity and reliance on identity politics. I certainly agree that a nationalist program scripted by my colleagues would be infinitely preferable to one scripted by Barack Obama (or Donald Trump), but at the end of the day, I think the ethos of nationalism, taken to its logical conclusion, is no different from the ethos of socialism taken to its logical conclusion. Both teams say, “We’re all in it together” and think the state should act accordingly. And people who subscribe to a different political or economic program easily get labeled “economic traitors” (which is what the Democrats said of Mitt Romney) or just plain traitors.

When nationalism or national unity or one-nation politics is married to an economic program from Washington, it will inevitably lead to the government picking winners and losers based upon some abstract notion. That’s what the New Deal was. That’s what Wilson’s War Socialism was. And dissenters from the national unity were not celebrated, I can assure you.

President Trump shares with President Obama the idea that nations compete with each other economically. They don’t.

In times of war or a public-health crisis, national unity and one-nation politics are not only fine by me but, to one extent or another, necessary — because on such matters the government is literally fighting for the interests of all Americans. But more often, nationalism, or populism, simply becomes an abracadabra word for justifying statism.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the realm of trade. President Trump shares with President Obama the idea that nations compete with each other economically. They don’t. Businesses compete with each other. If China was leveled by a massive earthquake, it would boost our “competiveness,” but it would devastate our economy. Obama wanted to pour billions into everything from schools to solar panels on the grounds that we needed to beat China. Tom Friedman wanted America to be “China for a Day” because he was sure technocrats in Washington were smarter than the market and that they could fix our problems. This thinking was cockeyed when Obama peddled it, and it’s no less cockeyed when Trump is. It’s all a conspiracy against the people.

Various & Sundry

I’ll be in Knoxville this Tuesday for a speech at the University of Tennessee. Come on out if you can.

The latest Remnant podcast with Andy McCarthy (!) is out. It was a grand time.

Also, the book-tour stuff is coming into focus, and you should check out for more updates.

I can tell you that there will be public events in San Francisco, L.A., Dallas, Austin, and New York — and a bunch of other cities are also in the works.

And I’ll be at The Weekly Standard Summit in May. I think we’re gonna do an “All-Star” panel from there. Should be fun.

Canine Update: The most eventful thing in dogworld this week happened last weekend. The Fair Jessica was taking the beasts on one of her extended jaunts along the Potomac. Zoë and Pippa discovered something interesting along the shoreline at the beginning of the adventure. Jess called them back, and Pippa obeyed readily, no doubt thinking that there might be a tennis ball involved. But Zoë was more reluctant, having the same attitude toward tennis balls that the Cimmerian god Crom has toward mortals.

As is usually the case, the only way to get Zoë to come back when she is investigating something is to just leave her behind — she eventually panics over her abandonment and comes running. An hour or so later, on the way home, Zoë went back to the mysterious spot of mystery. Jess and Pippa kept going. But Zoë took a very long time to come back. When she finally materialized, she was carrying pretty much an entire deer spinal column, with a good chuck of the rib cage attached for good measure. No doubt she planned to chew on this treasure for the rest of FY 2018, and maybe the first quarter of 2019. Zoë knew that Jess would be less than thrilled, and so she refused to get close to her for a very long time. But having been through these kinds of gruesome games with the Dingo many times before, Jess knew the one thing she couldn’t do was make a big deal about it. So she just ignored the beast for big chunk of the walk.

Eventually, Jess theorizes, Zoë decided she didn’t like the taste but still wanted credit for this amazing find, so she came up to Jess to show it off. Jess grabbed a leaf as a “germ/bacteria shield” and tried to pry it from her. Zoë, of course, got proprietary — but she eventually let Jess have it. Jess then threw it in the canal along the towpath. This was interpreted by Pippa as “Stick!!!!!” and she ran after it. But it sank to the bottom. All were dejected.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

An anti-speed-camera rant

Trump begins his 2020 campaign

The latest Ricochet GLoP podcast

What about the children?

The cultural shifts on immigration and guns

There is no ‘right side of history’

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Is the human race evolving away from enjoying alcohol?

Man blacks out, takes 300-mile, $1,600 Uber ride

BBC weatherman shows off his language skills

A Harlem Globetrotters Rube Goldberg machine

What aliens (probably) look like

New York City subway buskers are dead audio ringers for Lennon/McCartney

The power of Christ compels you!

Dog teaches puppy to sit

Dog protects 16-year-old in home invasion

Dog fails to understand size

Police dog makes incredible tackle

Why haven’t we bumped into another universe yet?

Throwing a needle through glass in slow motion

The dirtiest spots in a hotel room

How a film wins an Oscar for Best Picture

How much would the Earth sell for? (Ask the man who sold the world)

Study says your cat would kill you if it were bigger


Courage: The Greatest of Virtues

Police patrol the area outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School following the school shooting incident on February 15, 2018. (Zachary Fagenson/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 (Or Listener),

As the reporter assigned the job of writing the article about all of Sidney Blumenthal’s friends and supporters told his editor, I’m going to have to keep this short.

I’ve spent most of every day this week in a studio recording the audiobook version of my dead-tree/pixel book. It has been exhausting — far more exhausting than I remember it being when I did it the last time.

I’m going back into the studio at 9:30, and I still have to perambulate the canines and perform all manner of other rituals.

So I’ll be brief and, let’s be honest, fairly random, slipshod, sanctimonious, arrogant, and entirely too glib. In other words, I’ll be just like the rest of the media, only with infinitely more talking couches — remember, all increases from zero are infinite. (“I was told there’d be no math” — The Couch.)

Let me start with the sanctimony.

Last night, the news broke that the sheriff’s deputy assigned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School stood outside the school and listened to the gunfire within. The instant responses to this revelation on Twitter were fascinating. On the right, the general response ranged from righteous disgust and condemnation to humble and understanding disgust and condemnation. On the left, there was a lot more empathy for the guy.

I can certainly understand the empathy. I can easily see myself paralyzed with fear, looking for an excuse not to run in: Maybe I’d think that I needed to wait for back-up, secure the perimeter, etc. But, then again, I didn’t put on a badge or take an oath. I didn’t stand as a living promissory note in front of those kids every day, giving them the illusion that help would be on the way. Kids rushed to the rescue of other kids. A football coach gave his life by putting his body in front of bullets. But a cop with a gun did . . . nothing.

(And his boss, until last night, was quite willing to rain blame, scorn, and sanctimony from a great height on parties who had, at best, an abstract connection to the shooting.)

Empathizing with cowardice — if that’s what it was — is not the same as excusing it.

Look, however you come down on the issue of guns, the point should be the same: None of this works if cops can’t be relied upon to do their job. The whole argument for gun control hinges on the idea that, in a modern society, people don’t really need guns for self-defense because we have the police to protect us (and because the government will never become tyrannical). Therefore, guns are dangerous toys, tools, and luxuries that can and should be heavily regulated — or banned.

Well, if the police cannot be counted on to engage mass shooters — as protocol dictated in this case — that argument is in trouble. (It’s in even more trouble when it turns out that the FBI and virtually every other official agency dropped the ball.)

That raises the second interesting thing about the reaction. People who hate the idea of arming teachers or, more generally, the “good guy with a gun” argument, insisted that this cop’s failure proved those ideas were dumb and wouldn’t work. “See, there was a good guy with a gun, and he did nothing!”

Meanwhile, people who support training and arming teachers, or the good-guy-with-a-gun argument, looked at the same event and said, “This proves that we’re right!”

Confirmation bias is a helluva drug.

But back to this empathy thing. All week, I’ve been hearing people say that anyone who took money from the NRA or who disagrees with the kid crusaders has “blood on his hands” and is on the side of “killing children.” And when someone offers even the slightest skepticism about this rhetoric or the desirability of using traumatized kids as political props, a river of sanctimonious rage pours forth.

But when you criticize a cop for doing nothing, it’s suddenly “Who are you to judge?” for as far as the eye can see. I think that’s weird.

Three Cheers for Truth-Telling

Okay, let’s stay on sanctimony for a bit longer.

But first, as promised, randomness!

The other day, I got into a little tiff with the robot running The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary Twitter account. I wrote:

One of my peeves is when the burrista at Chipotle clips his fingernails over the black beans. But that’s not important right now. (Oh, and please advise the lawyers for the Sheinhardt Wig Company or whoever owns Chipotle that I was joking.) Another peeve of mine is how dictionaries all seem to be jumping into the neologism game like it was the Bushwood Country Club swimming pool on Caddy Day. The Oxford English Dictionary declared that the 2017 “Word of the Year” was . . . “Youthquake.” So now people can use “youthquake” un-ironically for all time. Yay. What a glorious time to be alive.

A third peeve of mine is how all the dictionaries and linguists are constantly giving people permission to use old words in new and technically incorrect ways. I say “technically,” because the argument seems to be that in spoken English, at least, there is no such thing as incorrect usage — once it becomes popular. (Please, don’t send me ponderous lecture-y emails about all this. I know many of you want to.) The battle for “decimate” is lost. The battle for “beg the question” lives, but we happy few Butches and Sundances know the Bolivian Army will win in the end.

The truth is that I don’t object to new words or even new meanings being breathed into them. I know that will happen. What bothers me is that no one seems to appreciate that the new meanings destroy the old ones for all time, and sometimes those meanings are worth keeping. If you use “decimate” to literally mean “kill one in ten,” it will now arouse confusion. Once everyone accepts that “beg the question” now means “raise the question,” the original meaning begins to die, fading away like an old Norse god no longer worshipped, but vaguely remembered in books no one reads anymore. Celebrating new meaning is fine, but it comes at the cost of old meanings, and sometimes those had value, too.

Old-World Sanctimony

And so, as they say at MSNBC when the commercial break is over, back to sanctimony. I’m told we have Shakespeare to blame for sanctimony’s modern meaning of hypocritical, self-righteous, and false virtue or piety. (Lucio in Measure for Measure: “Thou concludest like the sanctimonious pirate, that went to sea with the Ten Commandments, but scraped one out of the table.”)

But originally it was un-ironic and sincere. Sanctimony used to mean straightforward righteousness, so let me just throw my support to two pieces of work that make me very proud to work at National Review. The first is by Rick Brookhiser in the magazine, the second, by Kevin Williamson, went up on the site Thursday night.

Rick may be a bit too Old Testament in his smiting and wrath, never mind the finality of his pronouncement that the conservative movement is “dead.” Then again, he might not be.

What he isn’t doing, however, is lying. He’s not trying to spare anyone’s feelings or look the other way for political or personal expediency. It’s a lovely, heroic piece of writing. I particularly liked this bit about Bill Buckley:

In addition to being a celebrity pugilist, Buckley was an institution-builder. He cared both for the magazine he founded and for the conservative movement of which it was a part. He wanted a conservative party — in the sense of a tendency, not an electoral organization — that would think both realistically and correctly. This is why he picked fights on the right with those he deemed out of this world or crucially wrong: Robert Welch and Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard and George Wallace. This is why he recanted his own segregationist views.

More on that in a moment.

And then there’s Kevin’s essay on the riot of dishonesty on the right. He spikes the football at the end:

Dinesh D’Souza should be ashamed of himself. David Clarke should be ashamed of himself, and not just for his ridiculous hat. And conservatives should be ashamed of them, too, and for bending the knee to Scott Baio, Ted Nugent, and every other third-rate celebrity who has something nice to say about a Republican from time to time. And we should be ashamed of ourselves if we come to accept this kind of dishonesty in the service of political expediency. If conservative ideas cannot prevail in the marketplace of ideas without lies, they do not deserve to prevail at all.

I love this last sentence so much, I want to take it home after the prom and get it pregnant.

There is a whole chorus of baboons and mandrills out beyond the tree line of Twitter, chattering and laughing at me, daily, for talking about principles. “But muh principles,” they often mock, sounding like uneducated and uncivilized teenagers in some post-apocalyptic society making fun of even the pretense of decency. “Bonk bonk! Blah blah! Muh principles!

But the only real principle I’ve harped on is honesty. A remarkable number of people want me to lie. Few say it so bluntly. But that’s the upshot of it.

There’s a lot of room on the right for different policy principles. I think sometimes there’s too much room. But, sure, if you think protectionism works, you can still be a conservative, and you can certainly be a right-winger. Lord knows, there’s no law of the universe that says a right-winger can’t also be wrong.

But the only real principle I’ve harped on is honesty.

The only real litmus test for me is whether you take a position because you think it will advance conservative ends and that you are making your argument for it in good faith — i.e., that you’re not lying.

Telling the truth is a form of courage, arguably the first form, and courage is the greatest of virtues. As C. S. Lewis puts it, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” Physical courage is more impressive, to be sure. But as Thomas More could attest, many tests of physical courage begin as tests of honesty first.

NR always styled itself a kind of umpire of the right. It’s easy to play that role when all is quiet and little is asked of you save to fight liberals. Telling the truth about your opponents isn’t only easy, it’s fun. It’s a different matter when the same is asked of you for your friends and allies.

At a time when so much of the Right is demanding that everyone fall in line, go with the flow, get on the team, and get with the program, National Review is still following Bill Buckley’s example and following his call, not because it’s easy and certainly not because it’s fun. But because it’s right.

Various & Sundry

This week’s Remnant podcast is out. Because of my schedule this week, we couldn’t have a guest. That was fine, but because Murphy’s Law is real, the technology started going cattywumpus on us. I’d been up since 4 a.m., and I was trying to preserve my voice — and yet, I was eager to scream at Jack Butler to make the stupid machine work now. Anyway, I dabbled in some punditry, vented some frustration, and gave into my misanthropy. 

Canine Update: Last weekend, we took the beasts to St. Michaels on the Eastern Shore. Zoë liked. There were bunnies to chase and woods to explore and comfy digs to hang out in with the family. But Pippa loved it. L-O-V-E loved it. It had been raining a lot, so there were mud puddles everywhere. The Inn at Perry Cabin is dog-friendly, so most of the strangers she gave her tennis ball to were inclined to be the sorts of people to humor spaniels.

Back home, the beasts have been troubled by how little they’ve seen me, making Zoë a little pensive and both of them a little needy. Yesterday morning, before I recorded either the podcast or the book stuff, we saw a herd of deer on our block. This enraged the Dingo, and she took it as a profound personal failure that word had not gone out in Deer World that the last place you should congregate is Zoë’s home turf. Further enraging her, I did not let her off-leash to give chase. According to The Fair Jessica, Zoë spent the rest of the morning bouncing of the walls with frustration. Meanwhile, Pippa found the first snake of 2018. Okay, gotta go.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

Race had nothing to do with media attention on the Parkland shooting.

Trump’s administration has been tougher on Russia than Obama’s.

Murder is bad for moral reasons, not environmental ones.

Trump’s campaign was (probably) too incompetent to have colluded with Russia.

The latest episode of The Remnant

The children of the gun debate

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Indonesian volcanic explosion

The man with two hearts

The Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store

The selfie that led to a diplomatic incident

The mysterious Windsor hum

How dogs’ relationship with humans evolved over time

You can have the world’s largest pizza delivered to you

How Credence Clearwater Revival became the soundtrack to the Vietnam War

The production secrets of 2001: A Space Odyssey

The mystery lake of the Himalayas

An edible banana skin

What ever happened to Brendan Fraser?

George Washington celebrated the completion of the Constitution with a wild party

A walk through a flooded nature preserve

Politics & Policy

The People We Deserve


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,

It’s not supposed to be like this.

I’m not just referring to the latest school shooting — itself a soul-deadening phrase: the latest school shooting.

I mean this whole mess. Bear with me.

We evolved to live in small bands of a dozen to a few dozen people. Our brains come pre-loaded with a numerical limit on the number of people we can really know (it’s called “Dunbar’s Number”). Fortunately, our brains are flexible and adaptive, which is why we’re not still eating grubs and tubers. We can, therefore, learn to live in communities larger than those typical of a wandering band of hunter-gatherers.

But there are limits. Rousseau was among the first moderns to articulate an “ideal” society — one that laid down the foundations for many totalitarian projects to follow. Nonetheless, he believed that his ideal society could only work in a relatively small society (i.e., roughly the size of his beloved Geneva).

The Founders, likewise, believed that size matters. They didn’t think freedom could work on a mass scale, run by a centralized government. So they created a system that was — to borrow a phrase — antifragile. It inverted the pyramid of power, delegating as much authority as possible to the people and the places where the people actually lived. Their constitutional framework was arguably the greatest melding of realism and idealism in all of human history. The Founders knew men weren’t angels, and so they set up a system that checked ambition with ambition.

But the Founders also understood that such a system couldn’t work unless the un-angelic people themselves were nonetheless reasonably virtuous. As George Washington argued, “The general Government#…#can never be in danger of degenerating into a monarchy, an Oligarchy, an Aristocracy, or any despotic or oppressive form; so long as there is any virtue in the body of the people.”

Getting What We Deserve

People often ask me why I am so hostile to George Pataki, a perfectly typical, albeit gormless, hack. It all began with something he said when, as governor, he signed New York’s hate-crime law. “It is conceivable,” Pataki said with studied solemnity, “that if this law had been in effect 100 years ago, the greatest hate crime of all, the Holocaust, could have been avoided.”

If I were in a more jocular mood, I could riff on the resplendent asininity of this for the rest of this “news”letter. After all, I still chuckle — 18 years later — at the thought of Hermann Goering or Joseph Goebbels telling Hitler, “Mein Fuhrer, my apologies, but we cannot exterminate the Jews because the democratic government we overthrew passed a hate-crime law.”

But I bring this up for a more specific reason. When the people become capable of profound evil, the law alone is a flimsy barricade — a cardboard dam holding back the river. When the people go south, the law will go with them. The Constitution’s only binding power is the reverence we hold for it. The same principle holds for religion. As Chesterton says, “Blasphemy itself could not survive religion; if anyone doubts that let him try to blaspheme Odin.”

I need to get back on track. To be clear, I am not arguing or suggesting that the American people have lost all virtue, never mind that there’s a holocaust around the corner. What I am getting at is that George Washington’s argument works the other way around, too. When the “general Government” starts to degenerate into “a monarchy, an Oligarchy, an Aristocracy, or any despotic or oppressive form,” the virtues of the people degenerate as a result. As Joseph de Maistre said, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.”

We don’t have a monarchical, aristocratic, or despotic government — though there are aspects of our government that are far closer to such adjectives than many would like to admit. But we talk about it like we think it should be. In the wake of this horrific shooting in Florida, journalists and politicians are shouting demands at the federal government and the president of the United States that neither can achieve if they are to stay consistent with the Constitution.

“Get rid of the guns!” “Stop this from happening!” TV hosts scream, as the networks shove cameras in the faces of grieving mothers and fathers of children still in body bags, while crediting their utterly understandable cries of anguish as coherent public-policy programs. The assumption is that, if only the president’s heart were in the right place, these terrible things wouldn’t be happening. It reminds me of the old lament of the Jews harassed by the pogroms, “If only the Czar knew!”

The Right is not immune to this monarchical thinking.

In the debate over guns, I think the Right has the better arguments (which is not to say I agree with all of them). But the Right is not immune to this monarchical thinking. The Right has its own cult of the presidency, because Americans have a cult of the presidency. The president recently took credit for the decline in airplane crashes — all around the world — and few of the usual suspects offered even a chortle. How often do you hear that this is the “Trump economy”? As a political talking point, that’s hardly remarkable, since all presidents take credit for a good economy. But conservatives used to mock the notion that a massively diversified economy could be run from a desk in the Oval Office. Under Obama, airheads and poltroons talked of him as a “lightworker” and pledged allegiance to him. Under Trump, loyalists “jokingly” pine for him to be a “dictator,” and religious leaders celebrate his glandular authenticity, while sharing memes of Jesus guiding his pen-hand. Americans, it seems, still crave a king.

Outsourcing Virtue

One of the things — really, the thing — that makes capitalism work is the division of labor. If we all churned our own butter or raised our own livestock, we’d have little time to do anything else. The problem is that we are not homo economicus. We do not restrict ourselves to the benefits of the division of labor for food and clothes, while reserving all other responsibilities to ourselves. As Albert Jay Nock put it (in what he called “Epstean’s Law”), “Man tends always to satisfy his needs and desires with the least possible exertion.”

We live in an age when we all too often want our local problems, even our personal problems, to be national problems because we think that the government in Washington is there to solve anything called a “national problem.” But the truth is that very few problems should be considered national problems because, among other reasons, most problems are in fact local ones and lend themselves almost exclusively to local solutions. David French makes this point quite well. If the government in Washington is ill-equipped or unable to stop a bad thing from happening, the response shouldn’t be to simply yell louder at it. The response should be, “Well, what can we do ourselves?”

This highlights the problem with capitalism. As Irving Kristol observed in one of his greatest works, “When Virtue Loses All Her Loveliness,” there is a difference between a “free society” and a “just” or “bourgeois” society. The Founders worked on the assumption that the people themselves would be the guardians of virtue, probity, norms, and even public safety in their own communities. And, as Kristol notes, for the first century or two of capitalism’s existence, it was largely synonymous with a just/bourgeois society.

But capitalism consistently divides labor into thinner and thinner slices, so that the habits of the heart that made capitalism work — thrift, industrious, decent manners — become less and less essential. In the process, virtue falls by the wayside, and we look to government or other sources of authority or simply the market to provide things we’ve ceased providing for ourselves, from parents who outsource moral education to schools, to college students who demand they be protected from scary ideas, to populists of the left and the right who demand that the government fix tectonic changes brought about by globalization and technology. I’m not saying people have become evil or even lazy, nor am I blaming the victims of horrendous crimes such as what we saw in Florida. I’m saying we have, as my friend David Bahnsen puts it in his new book, a “crisis of responsibility.” Everything must be easy. There needs to be an app for that, because I’m too damn busy.

And it is systemic. Many of our national legislators want to be pundits, decrying usurped powers that are wielded by the other branches of government, rather than legislating to stop it. Local politicians would rather pound the table about what the federal government should do to fix urgent problems — problems that they were elected to deal with — than fix the problems themselves. The whole framework created by the Founders was based on the assumption that our governing institutions would be jealous guardians of their power. They are now made up of people who are jealous guardians of their slots on Morning Joe or Fox and Friends.

The Founders envisioned a sprawling nation where most conversations were local in large part because all media were local.

Indeed, cable news and social media pour gasoline on the fire. The Founders envisioned a sprawling nation where most conversations were local in large part because all media were local. Today, there is literally a national conversation because technology allows us to have one, and it is garbage. It is garbage for precisely the reason Rousseau and the Founders would surmised. You cannot view a vast, sprawling, diverse, continental national such as ours as if it were a small community. But that’s what the “one-nation politics” fad does: It elevates every grievance and slight to a national shouting match. We get outraged by the lack of conformity of people who live thousands of miles away from us. As Megan McArdle has written, social media have turned the whole country into a nation of small-town gossips, prying and judging, clucking and tsk-tsking people they’ll never meet for not agreeing with them or because they’re not living the right way.

The Founders created Congress to represent the views and interests of local communities. Our representatives would sift through myriad conversations both literal and figurative (in the form of local newspapers, which were, as de Tocqueville observed, the backbone of “association,” i.e., community) searching for the most important and relevant conversations worthy of consideration on a national level. Congress was where the national conversation was supposed to take place. Now, the national conversation is a Hieronymus Bosch painting of a damn online comment section.

One last point: I am not arguing that we should do away with capitalism or that we should abandon the notion of a free society (though I do think it needs tweaking). I am arguing that our problems are both bottom-up and top-down. The worse one gets, the worse the other gets, because at the end of the day, de Maistre was at least half right: Every nation gets the government it deserves, but every government ultimately gets the people it deserves, too.

Various & Sundry

By the time this “news”cri de coeur comes out, the latest Remnant podcast will be out too. I talked to Bryan Caplan of George Mason University, who has a fascinating new book out: The Case against Education. I thought it was a great conversation, but something of a failure of a debate. Let me explain. There’s a running theme in Caplan’s work that bugs me. Oh, it’s all brilliant and infuriatingly supported by empirical research, damn him. But it still bugs me. He’s written three books: The Myth of the Rational Voter, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, and The Case against Education. In each of them, Caplan basically makes the case that reason and persuasion don’t count for much. Voters don’t vote for strictly rational reasons, parents can’t do that much to change who their kids will become, and schools aren’t very effective at teaching things. I’m being unfairly glib, and I encourage you to read the books and listen to the podcast. But that’s the gist — and I hate it.

As the above “news”letter suggests, I’ve spent the last few years mired in a book about the glories of liberal democratic capitalism and the genius of the Founding, among other things. As I’ve been writing here for years, I think civilization takes an enormous amount of work. Politics for me depends, in the grandest sense, on the power of words and ideas to shape the world we live in. And what bugs me about Caplan’s argument is that it boils down to “Don’t sweat that stuff, everything’s largely on autopilot.” He did a very good job defending that position, and I’m walking around kicking the furniture (“I know!” — The Couch) muttering things I should have said. I think it makes for a good podcast, but I want a rematch.

Speaking of metaphorical furniture, I have exciting news .

Speaking of metaphorical furniture, I have exciting news (if you hadn’t heard). Thanks to the enormous generosity of my friend Cliff Asness, I now have an endowed chair at the American Enterprise Institute. I now hold the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty. “What is ‘applied liberty’?” you ask. Well, as the above “news”letter might suggest, I see it as the intersection of our lofty ideals of liberty and the practical reality of how we live in the world. Anyway, it’s a huge honor, and I’m grateful for the opportunity. I’m a little worried that the association will reflect poorly on Cliff. But to paraphrase the scorpion’s rejoinder to the frog, he knew what I was before he did this.

In other news, I now have a personal website, creatively titled The immediate impetus for it was to help promote the book, so it will serve as a clearinghouse for information about the book tour, responses to reviews, etc. But it will also be the de facto website for the podcast and, well, not to get too technical, other stuff. Let me know what you think about it. I’ve already heard from lots of people that it needs more dog stuff. We’re working on it. Speaking of dog stuff#…#

Canine Update: Not too much to report. There’s been remarkably little drama — or at least new drama (even The Fair Jessica’s attempt to feed Zoë a baby carrot aroused a dainty disdain rather than a dramatic protest, and her attempt to bite the [other] hand that feeds her was playful). Crow-hatred is now simply part of the daily routine. Zoë got to chase some deer this morning, so she’s happy. And Pippa did her usual spanieling.

Pippa remains remarkably promiscuous with her tennis balls (perhaps because she thinks she is blessed). The other morning, we were doing a neighborhood walk (Zoë on leash, Pippa scrambling around chasing her ball), and Pippa approached no fewer than seven people and offered them the honor of throwing her slobbery tennis ball for her. Three people took my advice and kicked it. One person actually picked it up and threw it. She’s very sweet that way. Pippa really thinks everyone wants to join in on the fun, which may explain her other odd habit of running up to the front doors of people’s homes and waiting for someone to emerge to say, “Hi!” (The good cat, meanwhile, is still having hard time figuring out what the big deal is about tennis balls.) Anyway, lots of scritches and adventures and happy homecomings. Next week, I might have a better update because we’re taking them to the Eastern Shore for the weekend.

Oh, that reminds me. I may not be able to write a G-File next week because I will be spending most of my time in a recording studio, doing the read of Suicide of the West for the audiobook. (You can preorder that now, too.)

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File

On Rob Porter

On lion poaching

The latest GLoP Culture podcast

On Bryan Caplan and Russ Roberts

My Federalist Radio Hour hit

My latest Special Report appearance

On American nationalism and Russia

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

How long will monuments last?

Are these bats immortal?

Al Capone’s milk enterprise

Did Abraham Lincoln make clandestine visits to slaves in the Civil War–era South?

Behold: the fatberg

Why are things funny?

The original “g-mail”

Pray this never happens to you in the bathroom

Family dog aids firefighters in rescue

(Different) dog barred from Kansas gubernatorial race

Yet another dog displays superior athleticism

Every Best Cinematography winner

Are these the world’s dumbest burglars?

The real history of Death Stars

A lamp powered by dog crap?

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