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 JonahGoldberg.com. 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?

Politics & Policy

Politics as the Crow Flies

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 people who need people),

Okay, bear with me. I think I’m going to write this whole thing as a single run-on sentence and then just add the punctuation later. I’ll just grab a fistful of commas, periods, and semicolons and blow them over the page like so much pixie dust or the last grains of coke on the album sleeve of Quadrophenia before Hunter Thompson started his workday. The gang at NRHQ can worry about putting them in the right place later.

As long-time readers know, from time to time I vent my spleen on the misuse of the phrase “begs the question.” Every day, someone on TV or radio gets it wrong. And it vexes me. I find it more distracting than when that guy who sat next to me when I took the SAT would absentmindedly tap his No. 2 pencil on his glass eye as he tried to work through the analogy section. I think it’s more annoying than the fact that Debbie Wasserman Schultz can’t rinse the conditioner out of her hair.

So for the umpteenth time, “begging the question” involves assuming a premise — usually the premise in dispute — is true. It does not mean to raise a question. Question Begging:

Love is all you need, because love is everything.

Everyone’s eating Tide pods, because eating Tide pods is the hot new craze.

Baal is all-powerful, because I sacrificed 50 goats to him asking for a snow day and then it snowed.

Anyway, this discursion raises the question of why I’m talking about begging the question.

The other night, my AEI colleague Ryan Streeter, who worked in the Bush administration, told me a story about his final interview for his highfalutin job in the domestic-policy shop. Harriet Miers asked him a series of blunt questions: “Have you ever hit your wife?” “Have you ever hit your kids?” “Have you ever been arrested?” “Have you or anyone in your family done anything that might later come back to embarrass the administration?” Etc.

This is normal in a lot of administrations. I heard that one of the reasons Sidney Blumenthal couldn’t land a real job in the Obama administration, despite Hillary Clinton’s importuning, was because he was asked, “Have you ever sworn fealty to Mephistopheles, Agrat bat Mahlat, Furfur the Great Earl of Hell, or any demonic or eldritch deity?” and he couldn’t answer honestly, so he had to return to the stygian sewers and work off-book for Hillary.

But, obviously, that’s just got to be another Beltway rumor since, as everyone knows, Sidney Blumenthal wouldn’t have problem lying to get what he wants.

Wife Beating: Theory & Practice

Anyway, I bring this up because among the greatest examples of question-begging in everyday use is the phrase “When did you stop beating your wife?”

This sort of rhetorical trick is a mainstay of political debates. They come up in every contentious confirmation hearing. They also show up in any number of policy debates. For instance, gun-control advocates assume that if Republicans oppose “gun free” workplace rules, it’s because they think gunplay at work is okay — and not because such laws don’t work on people keen on shooting up their office. It’s axiomatic: If someone won’t heed laws against murder, they probably won’t be deterred by a sign that says they could be fined if you bring your Smith & Wesson to work.

So why did I bring this up? Oh right, because I think we are in a remarkable moment. Many supporters of the Trump administration argue that one of its great benefits is that it eschews the abstractions of the ideologues in favor of concrete practicalities. “Spare me your lofty arguments about free trade, Ye Sophisters and Calculators!” “You can keep your ‘principles’; we’re getting things done!” And to be fair, there are times when this is a good argument — and a better one than I would have foreseen.

But if we’re going to talk about leaving the realm of Platonic ideals and talk about the need for concrete practicalities, I think we should at least take a moment and acknowledge that, for the first time in living memory, the phrase “When did you stop beating your wife?” has been plucked from the ether of rhetorical abstraction and rendered an utterly pragmatic query. For that is just one of the many questions John Kelly or Don McGahn should have asked Robert Porter.

And they probably did! They just took Porter’s denials at face value and didn’t bother to credit the accusers, the FBI background checks, or common sense. I mean, the thing about the “When did you stop beating your wife (or wives)?” question is that the person being asked will deny it — even if he actually beats his wives.

I have no doubt that Porter was good at his job. One hears reports about how he was a stabilizing presence in the White House and a reliable ally of the Gang of Grown-Ups in the West Wing. But it tells you something about the bunker mentality inside the White House that these allegations were simply too bad to check.

It’s an Eminence Front

A few paragraphs ago, around the time I referenced how one of the great defenses of the Trump administration is its practicality and rejection of abstract theory and ideology, I lit a cigar (Sobremesa Imperiales, if you must know). But that’s not important right now. As anyone who’s read me over the years knows, I am a passionate defender of ideology (my last book was an extended apologia for ideology and my next one is even more so). Part of my defense of ideology is that much of it isn’t abstract theory (though some is).

Saying “something is an abstraction” isn’t the same thing as calling it a fiction. Pure mathematics is an abstraction, but it ain’t fiction. Applied mathematics takes principles found in pure mathematics and applies them to real-world stuff, such as engineering. A perfect triangle exists only in the abstract. But what we learn from the Platonic ideal of the triangle has all sorts of real-world applications — and vice versa. My hunch is that humans figured out how to make fulcrums long before anyone dabbled in geometry.

One of the things I love about conservatism and classical liberalism is that they pan the river of time for the gold of principles amidst the soil of lived existence. These principles don’t always sparkle. Sometimes they are invisible to us, encased in mundane traditions and habits that we take as simple rules. Different thinkers (Burke, Chesterton, Hayek, Polyani, et al.) have different terms for different kinds of knowledge that cannot be simply conveyed with words, such as “tacit,” “hidden,” or “embedded” knowledge. “Washington, D.C., is the capital of the United States” is explicit knowledge. How to throw a curveball involves a lot of tacit knowledge; all the variables that go into the price of a loaf of bed is embedded knowledge; all of the arguments that go into why good manners are valuable is hidden knowledge. The point isn’t that we can’t know some of the factors — the way to hold the ball, the cost of wheat, how to defuse social conflict — that go into these things, it’s just that we can’t know all of them.

One of the things I love about conservatism and classical liberalism is that they pan the river of time for the gold of principles amidst the soil of lived existence.

As I write at length in Suicide of the West, it took hundreds of thousands of years of trial and error to come up with the ideas bound up in liberal democratic capitalism and modernity. We have no conception of all the trial and error that went into food preparation, monogamy, democracy, written languages, or human rights. We inherited those hard-earned lessons of the past. To be sure, there was a feedback loop with higher, more abstract, thinking. God is an abstraction, and so are concepts such as natural rights and the innate worth of the individual. But we refined both the abstractions and the practicality against each other like a blade and whetting stone. We justify practicalities by appealing to abstractions and vice versa all the time (and sometimes this involves a lot of question-begging, which can raise all sorts of uncomfortable questions).

And what did we do? We bound a bunch of these principles and lessons and made them into an ideology. For our political ideology, we didn’t include the stuff about food preparation (though if you look closely enough you can find some overlap, hence the political campaign-mounting to make Tide pods look less delicious) but in the realms of law, economics, governance, etc., the supposedly abstract ideology that underlies Western civilization — on most of the left and most of the right and everywhere in between — is the greatest achievement of practicality in all of human history.

If you don’t like the word “ideology,” fine. Call it a “worldview” or, if you want to get fancy, Weltanschauung, which just means the same thing in German. “I know conservatives who say yes to Weltanschauung and no to ideology,” Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn once observed, “but they seem incapable of distinguishing between them (not surprisingly, because there is no distinction).”

The benefit of ideology is that it provides time-tested rules to rely upon during the inevitable chaos of everyday life. It operates in much the same way morality does. Morality gives you rules of thumb that prevents you from making bad decisions. Children ask, “Why can’t I steal that pack of gum or cheat on my test if I can get away with it?” When we answer, we leave abstract concepts of good and evil or right and wrong out of it. We tell them that, if you do what’s right, it won’t matter whether you may or may not get caught.

In politics, the worry is very often not that the government will knowingly do wrong but that it will take the shortest path to doing what it thinks is right. This is what Michael Oakeshott called “politics as the crow flies.” Conservative ideology, rightly understood, is the political conscience that counsels against such expedience. “What is conservatism,” Lincoln asked, “if not adherence on the old and tried against the new and untried?”

Debt Soapbox, R.I.P.

I didn’t plan on taking the above detour, but I did so for a few reasons. First, when you set out to simply pound out a run-on-sentence “news”letter like the climax of Goodfellas, you never know where the keyboard will take you, particularly when you add sweet, sweet nicotine. Another reason is that I planned on writing an extended screed about the budget, and I hate writing about the budget. I guess my id was trying to steer me away from something I didn’t want to do. But, like going to the dentist or adorning your mantle with Wolfsbane and garlic to keep Sidney Blumenthal away, disliking something has no bearing on whether it’s important or necessary. So, as the Hooters hostess said to Bill Clinton, let’s get this over with as quickly as possible.

I have been very hard on Rand Paul over the last year or so, but in this instance, he was on the side of the angels. For the last decade, at least, conservatives have insisted that they were ideologically opposed to precisely the sort of turd burger we saw getting sizzled on the congressional grill this week. Regardless of Paul’s political calculations, his arguments were entirely right. If you passionately insisted that runaway deficit spending was an abomination under Barack Obama, there really is no way you can defend the same thing under Donald Trump. I argued for years that the tea parties were in no small way a delayed backlash against the profligate spending of George W. Bush as much as they were a backlash against Barack Obama. The psychological reasoning boiled down to: “We felt we had to put up with the crap under Bush because of the war or because he was our guy, but we’ll be damned if we’re gonna put up with it from this guy too.”

The Left saw nothing but hypocrisy and, often, racism. I always thought the hypocrisy charge had some merit. Bush’s big government “compassionate” conservatism, as I wrote many times, wasn’t a conservative alternative to Clintonism, it was a Republican version of it. As for claims of racism, I always thought those were wildly overblown by a ridiculously raced-obsessed and partisan media. That’s not to say there was zero truth to it anywhere, just that it was wildly exaggerated by the paranoid style of the American Left.

Not only does this budget blow up any pretense of ideological consistency, there isn’t even a coherent economic theory behind it.

But none of that matters now, because the Tea Party is done. MAGA nationalism has siphoned off most of it, and what remains is a scattered and spent force. I understand that Paul Ryan and others insist that we’ll move on to entitlement reform. And Ryan may give it the old college try. But it won’t work. For reasons laid out in our National Review editorial and by Yuval Levin, no serious entitlement reform can get through the Senate now, because Republicans gave away reconciliation until after the midterms. More broadly, the president doesn’t like entitlement reform, as he has made clear many times. His State of the Union address didn’t contain a word about it — but it did float a new paid-family-leave entitlement. The only mention of the word “deficit” was in the phrase “infrastructure deficit” — a term the GOP would have mocked relentlessly if it passed the lips of Barack Obama.

Not only does this budget blow up any pretense of ideological consistency, there isn’t even a coherent economic theory behind it. Borrowing and spending more when the economy is doing well violates not only Keynesianism but traditional conservatism. I understand the military needs more funding. I understand politics is the art of the possible, yada yada yada.

But none of that changes the fact that Republicans have taken a sledgehammer to their last soapbox. We’re not even all Keynesians now — we’re just crows flitting from one place to another.

Various & Sundry

One of the weird things about my line of work is all the blood magic that’s required. You’d think there would be more word magic. Another thing that’s weird is that sometimes you dash off something that you think is no great shakes, and it’s a hit. Other times, you come up with some weird idea that you really like, and it falls flat. You do this long enough, and you tend not to worry about that sort of thing too much. The only test is whether you like it and can stand by it. Two cases in point: Earlier this week, I pounded out in a few minutes a “review” of The Cloverfield Paradox, and people loved it. Kyle Smith, one of the most talented cultural critics in Christendom, called it the best movie review of 2018. I had to go back and make sure they didn’t put my byline on something by Ross Douthat. Meanwhile, my column today, which manages to use an extended analogy based on Father Guido Sarducci’s stand-up routine to critique the Vatican and the Chinese, basically landed without a ripple. Maybe I was overly pleased with cleverness under a very tight deadline, but I liked it.

The latest Remnant podcast is out, and the reception has lined up much more with my expectations, because I thought it was a hoot and a half (using the old imperial measurements). John Podhoretz came by and we nerded out on neoconservatism and the state of the conservative movement until — suddenly! — Gene Shalit sauntered by and reviewed The Poseidon Adventure. Then Vic Matus took his place, and we talked ’70s disaster movies, sitcoms, and the depiction of male-on-female cinematic assault among other things. Good times.

Canine Update: Everything remains joyous in doggie-land, even in the rain. They still hate crows though. And they’re still working with their buddies from the pack on their album cover and band names (possible solo cover here). The Dingo remains terribly needy and jealous of the Spaniel. I’ve noticed that even if they’re in different rooms, if I start giving Pippa scritches and pats, Zoë will show up and demand her piece of the action. I tested it this morning. Yesterday, after Pippa lost her tennis ball, we switched to sticks, and she was still so happy she showed off one of best butt-waggles ever. One piece of feedback I often get is that it looks like Zoë doesn’t get much exercise when we go on our adventures. This is not true. It’s just that much of her best cardio is hard to predict because it depends on her seeing deer, rabbits, or other wildlife and then taking off like Tesla from an airlock. It’s hard to have my iPhone ready in such instances. Still, sometimes she’ll play “Chase the Dingo” with me. Actually, she’ll always play that. It’s me who sometimes doesn’t feel up to it.

And here’s the other stuff:

Last week’s G-File

Should Trump invoke treason, even jokingly?

James Comey didn’t defeat Hillary Clinton.

Why the cult of Trump has taken hold.

The Cloverfield Paradox is bad.

General Jack Keane is not a fan of the military parade.

My Special Report appearance

Podcast worlds collide in the latest Remnant.

The Vatican yields to China.

And now, the weird stuff.

Remembering Bailey

Debby’s Friday links

The first radio jingle

How UFO reports change with the technology of the times

Cutest baby animals

What British children in the ’60s thought the future would be like

Things Philadelphians did

Attack of the crayfish clones

Octopus hides in coconut

The family pet . . . crocodile?

Spiders used to have tails

The sorrow and glory of Olympians

The gastronomic borders of the United States

A corgi rides off into the night

The tractor-driving dog

Politics & Policy

The Space between Us

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 Buyer!),

By the time this “news”letter makes it to the light of day, The Memo will likely have been released. This creates several challenges.

First, it means writing more than I already have on the topic would be pointless since I have nothing more to say about it, pending new information.

Second, the news will overtake this “news”letter like a giant fast-moving thing that is well known for overtaking other things in a very funny and apt way.

Sorry, my metaphor generator is still warming up.

Third — and this is the most important part — I am reliably informed that the information contained in the memo is not only “worse than Watergate” but actually 10,000 percent bigger than what the British did to prompt the American colonists to wire their heads and their hearts together, cooking full-tilt boogie for freedom and justice.

This is therefore probably the last thing I’ll write before the revolution starts, and you may be reading this in a bunker or cave somewhere. Or, if you’re a member of the New New Model Army, you may not have time to read this because you’re too busy putting my head on a spike, having executed me for my lack of revolutionary zeal.

Still, I guess if I had one regret, it’s that we don’t pronounce the “e” in “memo” with an “ee” sound. If we did, we all could have luxuriated in Mike Huckabee’s “Finding Memo” jokes right until the end.

So, in short, I’m not going to write about any of that stuff.

Everything Is Relative

In space, no one can hear you scream. But that’s not important right now.

Another funny thing about space is that it’s really hard to have a fixed position. Sure, from our perspective, things like the sun appear stationary — but, in reality, everything is moving. For smaller stuff, such as humans or asteroids or mint-condition AMC Pacers mysteriously cast adrift far outside our solar system, all positions are relative to each other. Or something like that (I don’t need 5,000 emails from physics geeks explaining all this to me in minute detail, btw.)

Imagine, if you will: You have two astronauts free-floating in their space suits. Neither can see his ship or space station or any other “land”marks. One is more or less stationary, while the other is drifting away at an alarming rate. From the perspective of the moving astronaut, however, it might appear like it’s the other guy who’s moving.

I started noodling this image yesterday while working on my column, but never used it. I had set out to write about how far to the left the Democrats have moved on immigration. But like a divining rod being pulled to ground water, or a 16-year-old’s hands being guided on a Ouija board to spell, “We see you and we are legionn” (ghosts are terrible spellers), I ended up writing about how the ideological structure of our political system is being rearranged before our eyes.

Extremism for Thee, Not for Me

I won’t explain my original point about Democrats becoming extremists on immigration; I’ll just assert it to save time (and because it’s true). Here’s the thing, though: While some politically literate liberals might understand how rapidly the Democrats have moved leftward, I suspect that most run-of-the-mill activist Democrats don’t really see it. They see the Republican party as having moved farther and farther away from them. And the farther the Democrats drift, the more “extreme” they think the Republican position is.

You can see a similar dynamic on all sorts of issues. As I’ve written 912 times (an admittedly rough estimate), progressives — not conservatives — tend to be the aggressors in the culture war. Gay marriage is the best example. Twenty years ago, the standard conservative position on gay marriage was that gay marriage isn’t a thing. That was the same position conservatives (and nearly everyone else) had had for a couple thousand years. But liberals, and the culture, moved wildly to the left on the issue, and Republicans stood still. Yet, from the perspective of progressives and the media, it was the GOP that became more extreme simply because it didn’t want to get dragged along.

(I should note that some argue that the left–right formulation here leaves much to be desired, since you can make an argument that, in many respects, the move toward gay marriage was a rightward thing. The sexual-liberationist Left in the 1960s and 1970s wanted to destroy the institution of marriage, not rope gays into it by arguing that marriage is such a vital institution. Twenty-five years ago, the stereotypical gay character in popular culture was flouncy and flamboyant. Now he’s a harried dad trying to install a car seat. But you get the point.)

This model holds for feminism, civil rights, and lots of other things. It also works the other way around. Conservatives have moved the GOP rightward on law and economics since the 1960s, while liberals for the most part stayed locked-in to New Deal and Great Society thinking. Both sides called the other “extremists,” but it was the Right that did most of the moving, and eventually the Democratic party moved with it. Bill Clinton did indeed move his party to the right both rhetorically and on many issues, and the early Republican freak-out response to that had more to do with the rage that overtakes partisans when their opponents agree with them and, in the process, take away their favorite issues. But to explore that, we’d have to abandon our astronaut analogy and talk about the narcissism of small differences.

Tug of War

Years ago, Ramesh Ponnuru pointed out to me the downside of watching the opposition party lurch wildly to the left. In 2003, there was a lot of talk about how Howard Dean signaled the revival of McGovernism. People forget — though I bet Howard Dean doesn’t! — that for the better part of a year, everyone was sure that Dean would win the Democratic nomination running away. Lots of Republicans and conservatives relished the prospect, because not only was Dean a haughty and condescending human toothache with a nasty temper, his politics were seen as way too left wing. National Review even ran a cover begging the Democrats to nominate him:

Anyway, the problem with one party veering too far to the right (say, Goldwater in ’64) or the left (McGovern in ’72) is that when one party moves very far in one direction, so does the other party. That’s because in a two-party system, elections tend to be won by whichever party captures the center. If party A moves leftward, abandoning the center square, it leaves it open for party B to take it. Thus both parties move leftward and the political “center” moves with it. There are exceptions stemming from special circumstances, but as a rule of thumb, this dynamic has a lot of explanatory value.

What Conservatism Is For

This rule of thumb should be drilled into the brain pan of every sentient conservative. Under George W. Bush, conservatives got too invested in running interference for the GOP. Part of it stemmed from the perceived need to rally around a wartime president. Part of it stemmed from disgust with how Democrats treated a wartime president. But there were other reasons, too. Indeed, to some extent, this sort of thing always happens to some people who are invested in politics.

The point of the conservative movement, however, was never simply to make the GOP more conservative, it was to move the center of gravity in American politics in a conservative direction. One of the first steps in that project was to gain intellectual influence or control over one of the two parties. It wasn’t supposed to stop there — but everyone seems to have forgotten that. Frankly, if I could make the trade, I’d rather the GOP became liberal if in exchange we could have the universities and Hollywood become conservative. But that’s a subject for another day.

A lot of people make all sorts of clever remarks about how Buckleyite conservatism is insufficient to the times. They invoke that famous line from our mission statement about how National Review “stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”

The critics make it sound like yelling “Stop” was all Buckley and Co. were interested in. That was never the case, as his entire life story attests. The point about yelling Stop was that the country was drifting away from timeless principles and too few noticed or cared, and too many wanted the drift accelerated.

Buckley wanted to establish a platform — a landmark, if you will — that illuminated a fixed point in space, by which people could judge who was moving and in what direction. When you’re caught in the undertow, the thing you need most is something to grab on to. That was supposed to be National Review.

Now, as I’ve written countless times, National Review back then was wrong about some important things, including, most famously, civil rights (even if that story is more complicated than some claim).

But the larger point is that conservatism is supposed to be rooted in certain truths, even when the rest of society thinks those truths are lies. That is why conservatism is realism: It takes into account the permanence of sin, the crooked timber of humanity, and the inevitable contradictions and trade-offs that are inherent to living in this imperfect world.

Buckley wanted to establish a platform — a landmark, if you will — that illuminated a fixed point in space, by which people could judge who was moving and in what direction.

Truth isn’t something you vote on. You can vote to treat a falsehood as a truth, and everyone can act like it’s the truth, but that doesn’t mean it is. The only things that can topple a perceived truth are reason, science, or God, because the first two are the means of discovering what exists outside our own perceptions and God can do any darn thing He wants.

Being rooted doesn’t require opposing all change — how any movement dedicated to the free market could be accused of unyielding fixity has always been a mystery to me. Rooted things can grow and change, but they remain attached to the soil all the same.

Rootedness does, however, require skepticism about new ideas, untested by time.

Conservatives believe in progress, but we don’t poll the mob for what constitutes progress, nor do we reflexively defer to whatever definition of progress is fashionable these days, on the partisan left or the partisan right. Nor do we define or decide what is true, or conservative, by the pronouncements of a party or a politician.

Longtime readers will recognize this passage from C. S. Lewis as one of my favorites:

Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer.

If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.

I’d change it only slightly. The truly progressive man, the one who cares about his fellow men and women, doesn’t merely turn around and live out his life in isolation, as part of the remnant. He yells “Stop!” and makes an argument for why everyone else should turn around with him. He might even have to scream to get their attention. That’s okay, though. Because while no one can hear you scream in space, down here on earth, they can.

Various & Sundry

Well, now the memo is out. I had to file late because I’ve been distracted by my miserably sick daughter who has a very, very bad case of the flu. This is especially crummy because she had some other crud she was just getting over. And on top of that, she had mono for five weeks at the beginning of the school year. So, this just stinks. Oh, right — the memo.

I’ll probably post something about it over the weekend or later today. But, so far, I think the responses by Jim Geraghty and Dan McLaughlin are pretty persuasive. I still have to read the thing myself and hear what Andy McCarthy has to say about it. But my initial take is that — if true and corroborated — this is a significant scandal, but not exactly the worse-than-Watergate-Armageddon thing it was hyped as. I should say, however, that if Republicans had done this, a lot of the people shouting “Dud!” would be shouting “Worse than Watergate!” which is why I hate so much of politics right now.

The latest Remnant podcast is out, and it’s definitely one of my favorites (though I probably should have spared listeners my rant at the opening). Megan McArdle was brilliant and delightful. Oh, and there’s much dog-talk and philosophical argy-bargy. Please give it a listen. And, not to be too shameless, but if you haven’t noticed, I tend to retweet positive or interesting tweets about The Remnant. So, there’s that.

Thanks very much to those of you who’ve told me they’ve pre-ordered the book. I won’t rehash all the ways this matters so much, but if you wanted to represent how much it matters, let’s say this Twinkie (I’m holding up a normal Twinkie) represents the normal amount of things mattering. According to the latest data, demonstrating how much this matters would require a Twinkie 35 feet long, weighing approximately 600 pounds.

Canine Update: The doggos couldn’t be happier. The Fair Jessica is home, and they like it. The weather is brisk. The tennis balls are fresh, the squirrels are overconfident, and the weekday jaunts with the pack are always thrilling. Oh, and they’ve gotten used to the new car. They are getting along great, a disagreement about the memo notwithstanding. (Pippa, being something of a monarchist, doesn’t have much of a problem with elites abusing their power. Zoë is a Jacksonian at heart.)

I have had to leave them alone more than I’d like this week, but that just means coming home to nice greetings and more bonding at night. The one vexing thing is that Zoë and Pippa both hate crows so, so, so much, and the crows know it. All it takes is a single squawk in the backyard, and they go berserk. They will bark up at the trees with a rage that is very strange. They don’t care about any other neighborhood birds (though they will chase waterfowl because it’s an excuse to get wet, and it’s fun).

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File

I wrote in praise of Bill Kristol interviewing John Podhoretz on pop culture.

What the heck is going on with the Memo?

My Glenn Beck program appearance from earlier this week

The Tea Party is over.

What the heck is going on with the Mueller probe?

“Chain migration” is not a racist term.

My NPR reaction to the State of the Union address.

Liberals don’t hate nationalism and populism when they’re in service of leftism.

My appearance on Chicago’s Morning Answer

I went on the Michael Graham in the Morning podcast to talk about the Memo.

Will the memo live up to the hype?

Are we undergoing a political transformation?

Groundhog Day: A movie for all time

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Baboons escape Paris zoo

The mysterious ghost lights of Marfa, Texas

Soviet cannibal gulag island

The most evil video game of all time

Maryland likes jousting

The coldest city in the world

The world’s most remote brewery

The Nebraska town with a population of one

Orange thief caught

Orca whales vs. great white sharks

Maybe the orcas will win once they perfect human speech

New York in the ’50s and ’60s

Forty-five minutes of the sound of bacon cooking

Pony works up courage to jump

Musical instruments made of ice

Did the ancient Greeks sail to Canada?

Intensity of religious belief measured by geographic analogue

German shepherd cares

Paris, according to Tripadvisor.com

Politics & Policy

Rationalization: The Enemy of Integrity

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

Dear Reader (including those of you who feel unduly entitled to a fresh Dear Reader gag every week),

Because I am a human — no, really — I have a tendency to rationalize all sorts of bad decisions and habits.

“I couldn’t let the chicken wings go to waste.”

“Lite beer doesn’t count.”

I think, to one extent or another, everyone does this kind of thing. The trick is to keep it within healthy parameters. If you find yourself heading into Bad Idea Jeans territory — “Normally, I wear protection, but then I thought, ‘When am I going to make it back to Haiti?’” — it’s always best to take step back.

Usually, even when your decision tree goes awry, these kinds of rationalizations only penalize you. But, of course, rationalizations can hurt others, too. The road to adultery is mostly paved with rationalizations of one kind or another. Most bad parenting, likewise, is grounded in rationalizations of sloth, selfishness, and even cruelty. I sometimes tell myself it’s okay for my kid to watch more TV than she should because I watched a lot of TV and I turned out okay (“Debatable” — the Couch) or because I think she needs to be (pop) culturally fluent, when the truth is that I’m just too lazy or busy. Surely many abusive parents tell themselves self-serving lies about how whatever they’re doing is good for their kids.

While noodling this “news”letter, I googled around for essays on rationalization. I had the vague recollection that Friedrich Hayek had written something specific on the topic — and he probably did — but I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I did, however, find an enormous amount on the topic on websites dedicated to counseling and ethics, including some interesting lists of common rationalizations. I particularly liked this, from something called the Josephson Institute:

Rationalizations are the most potent enemy to integrity. They work like an anesthetic to our consciences allowing us to avoid the pain of guilt when we don’t live up to our values. We want to think well of ourselves so much that we develop strategies to convince ourselves that we are better than we actually are.

The Church of Wales

And that brings me to this:

The Davis-Bacon Act was initially passed in no small part to keep poor blacks and immigrants from stealing “white” jobs. But that doesn’t mean the modern AFL-CIO is motivated by racism when it spends millions to defend it.

There’s nothing inherent to the identity politics of the Left that requires its ghastly bigotry against people with Down syndrome. The bulk of the Left despises every argument about IQ differences among populations in part because leftists claim it denies the humanity of certain groups. Feminists leap to fainting couches when you float the idea that there are significant statistical differences between the sexes. On the most basic level, the argument for diversity as its own reward should celebrate people with Downs because they make a meaningful contribution to the rich diversity of humanity. The few people with Downs I’ve gotten to know even a little have been among the most joyful and courteous people I’ve ever met.

But here’s the problem. Some people don’t want to have kids with Down syndrome. And, I will admit, I think this is entirely understandable. But that’s not the relevant issue. Abortion advocates also believe that there should be no limitation on abortion rights for any reason — which is why we are joined by North Korea and China as one of only seven countries in the world that allows abortion past 20 weeks.

And that is the motivating passion here: maintaining a maximalist abortion regime. If, somehow, abortion and Downs never intersected, it would be easy to see people with Downs being celebrated as part of the rich rainbow of humanity. But they do intersect, and turning them into disposable humans — or what the Germans called “life unworthy of life” (Lebensunwertes Leben) is apparently a small price to pay in defense of abortion. I’m not saying there aren’t strains of eugenics in modern progressivism, I’m saying that the devotion to abortion can cause some people to rationalize almost anything.

Various & Sundry

This week’s Remnant podcast is out. We went guestless in order to respond to various and sundry questions from various and sundry listeners. We covered the waterfront, from that time Cosmo the Wonderdog peed on the floor of Christopher Hitchens’s apartment to the politics of Star Trek to, well, other various and sundry things. (By the way, if you like The Remnant, you increase your odds of getting a retweet from me if you say so on Twitter. Just FYI.)

My column today (linked below) offers a defense of free trade deeply inspired by my forthcoming book, The Suicide of the West. Which reminds me, readers should know that as we approach publication date (April 24), I will be discussing the book and its various themes quite a bit here and on The Remnant and — hopefully — on the road across the country. The best way to follow the conversation is to read — and, yes, buy! — the damn thing. I put an enormous amount of effort into it and part of the rationale (not rationalization) for this (ahem, free) “news”letter, not to mention the podcast, is to help me get the thing out there. If you think this “news”letter is worth, say, 25 cents a week, buying the book pays for a year and a half of G-Files.

Canine Update: This should really be called human update, because the beasts are driving me crazy. They miss the Fair Jessica terribly, and so they are incredibly needy these days. Of course, the only recourse is to exhaust them as much as possible. The problem is that the more you exercise them, the more exercise they need. Meanwhile, David French, envious of my doggos’ popularity, has attempted to join dog Twitter. He claims, ridiculously, that his shockingly froofy hypoallergenic doodle-dogs are better than the Dingo and the Spaniel, which everyone with eyes to see knows is ridiculous. Of course, they’re good dogs, but come on. I will say they are much more appealing than John Podhoretz’s pet, but that’s a pretty low bar.

Other pertinent links:

T. A. Frank has written a widely discussed and at times remarkably generous and comprehensive essay for the Washington Post called “Welcome to the Golden Age of Conservative Magazines.” Rich Lowry appears prominently, as does the King of Pet-Rock Twitter, John Podhoretz, and that Steve Hayes guy. I have a bit of a cameo as well. Maybe we’ll talk about it more next week.

Last week’s G-File

My thoughts on I, Tonya

Passing the talking stick on the latest Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast

Trump should trade the wall for more meaningful reforms.

On the FBI stuff, let’s wait and see.

The latest Remnant podcast

Trump’s tariffs are bad

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Thursday links

Debby’s Friday links

The boy who stayed awake for eleven days

What’s the deal with those alien alloys in the New York Times story?

If you find aliens, who you gonna call?

A new recipe for hunting alien life

Why is blue so rare in nature?

Cooking ancient recipes

Venomous centipedes eat animals up to 15 times their size

Spider wasp handily defeats Huntsman spider

Sushi addict pulls five-foot tapeworm from his body


What happened to animals with tail weapons?

Dog plays in seafoam

Concrete mixed with fungi can repair itself

The cat of the Hagia Sophia

The police blotter at the end of history

Man smashes through icy river to rescue dog

Man sentenced for smuggling king cobras in potato-chip cans

The Prozac of the Middle Ages

Everything you never knew about the making of Conan the Barbarian

How captured Israeli commandos translated The Hobbit into Hebrew

Alabama reporter may have found the wreck of the last American slave ship

Politics & Policy

Shutdown Showdown

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

Dear Reader (Particularly the geniuses at Tide who have come out with so many new and exciting flavors of laundry pods. I hear they even help wash clothes),

The other day on the Twitters, Danielle Sepulveres asked:

Anyway, she went to the vet this morning because we think she might be a little sick. Her nose is pretty runny, and — going back to her Parvo days — she’s defensively more hostile to other dogs when she doesn’t feel well. Lately, she’s been acting like she has a chip on her shoulder. The vet couldn’t find anything, but we’re keeping an eye on her. Oh, and Pippa is still having a grand time. So much so that even Gracie, the good cat, is trying to figure out what the big deal about tennis balls is (please, no fat-shaming).

The latest Remnant podcast is with Kristen Soltis Anderson. We discuss polling, politics, and these damn kids today. We’ve gotten tremendous positive feedback for the episodes with Charles Murray and Michael Rubin, too. Which reminds me: One of the reasons I try not to do too much punditry on the podcast is that I don’t want to. Another reason is that there are already so many great podcasts based on the news of the day or week. (For all the crap I give them, The Editors and the Commentary podcast are must-listens for that kind of stuff.) I wanted to do stuff that is more conversational but that also has a longer shelf-life, a bit like my favorite podcast, Econtalk, but with more erotica and weirdness. So if you’re inclined to listen and haven’t yet, there’s no reason not to go back and listen to the episodes with Matt Continetti on conservative intellectual history, Arthur Brooks on the sources of happiness, or with Andrew Ferguson on, well, lots of stuff. Or almost any of the others. It’s still a work in progress, and I’m still trying to figure out how to make it more G-Filey. But the feedback has been great. If you can subscribe, or even just give it a try, I’d be grateful. And even if you’re not inclined to show me kindness, remember that The Remnant’s success annoys John Podhoretz and the guys from The Weekly Substandard. And I’ll take subscriptions out of spite any day.

Oh, and because I forgot to mention it on this week’s episode, if you’re in or around Palm Beach, Fla., on February 6, National Review Institute is hosting the first of what will be a series of events around the country on the legacy of William F. Buckley, to mark the tenth anniversary of his passing. You can find all the details here. It promises to be a great event.

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File

About that Trump meeting

Is diversity really our strength?

Conservatives should condemn Trump’s alleged porn-star hookup.

The latest Remnant, with pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson

Why aren’t conservatives condemning Trump’s alleged porn-star affair?

My latest appearance on Fox News’s Special Report

Does the California model really work?

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

French bulldog convinces Labrador to come inside

The secret paths to Ireland’s forbidden Catholic Mass

1968, in photos

What dogs see when they watch TV

Firefighter catches child thrown from blazing building

How soon will you get frostbite?

You lie more when speaking a second language

The pasta that only three women can make

The end of the world and porn-viewing habits

A pug train

Most dog owners would rather hang out with their pet than people

Fixing Mt. Everest’s poop problem

Charting the extent of San Francisco’s poop problem

Dutch vegan denied Swiss passport for being “annoying”

The history of the first viral video

An approaching storm, fog in the forest, ice in the Hudson, and more in The Atlantic’s photos of the week

Can you beat this ancient Roman board game?

2017’s best drone photography

The latest FBI cyber agent

Politics & Policy

Authentic Asininity

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 the cast of the Gorilla Channel, who get this “news”letter via sign language. Banana.),

As the sh**hole continues to hit the fan, I find myself in one of those moods where I think everyone, on the right and left, is arguing about the wrong things. Lest folks think I’m dodging the issues that they all seem desperate to debate, I’ll address a bunch of them before I make my case.

Let’s start with the question of Donald Trump’s racism. I find the competition to be most offended by the offensiveness of President Trump’s fecal-crater comments to be more than a little tedious.

Don’t get me wrong: I think they were offensive and, yes, racist. But that, to me, is the least interesting aspect of this episode of The Trump Show. Many liberals seem to think that if they can just prove Donald Trump is racist, The Trump Show will be cancelled. But it doesn’t work that way, not least because — all evidence to the contrary — we are not living in a reality-TV universe. Also, Trump’s bridge-and-tunnel–style bigotry, utterly familiar to anyone who grew up in New York City, has been obvious for a long time.

No, he’s not a Klansman. The pillowcases at Mar-a-Lago don’t have eyeholes cut out of them. But Trump is a man of deeply held prejudices, a glandular decision-maker who famously thinks his instincts are more dispositive than any expert’s judgment or any rational argument. His bigotry isn’t the biological racism of Woodrow Wilson, but of a midtown-Manhattan doorman from Queens who gives the Nigerian deliveryman a harder time than he deserves.

Vox Deplorable

Then there’s the conservative response, or rather responses. For the Trump faithful, this incident is just more proof that Trump tells it like it is and that he isn’t politically correct. The real outrage to them — per usual — is the hypocrisy of people who are outraged. Thus the waves of whataboutist fury crashing every few minutes on Twitter.

But forget about 2018 or even 2020. The long-term threat to conservatism and, by extension, the GOP is profound. Young people — the largest voting bloc now — are utterly turned off to the Republican party. That doesn’t make them right, but that’s irrelevant. Their opinions are hardening every single day, even as old white people shuttle off this mortal coil.

Maybe there’s a deep and principled argument to make in favor of Trump’s sh**holish gaffes. But very few people outside the ranks of the converted want to hear it. All they hear are defenses of, or deflections from, the issues that arouse their passion. When conservatives and Republicans rush to defend Trump’s indefensible actions, all they are doing is convincing more people that “Trumpism” isn’t confined to Trump. That damage won’t be erased by another record stock-market closing or an uptick in the GDP numbers. It will outlive The Trump Show for generations.

Various & Sundry

I recorded two episodes of The Remnant this week. The first was with Michael Rubin, an intensely informed expert on Iran and the Middle East. The conversation was less jocular than usual, but I thought it was amazingly informative and compelling. The second episode was a free-ranging conversation with Charles Murray about everything under the sun from Martinis and, yes, bullfighting, to the sources of true human happiness. If you haven’t listened, please give it a shot. I thought it was great. And if you do listen but haven’t subscribed, please do so.

Canine Update: The beasts are doing great. While Pippa still has a few scabs from the big fight, she’s forgotten the whole thing (I think). The exciting news is that we finally bought a dog car — a 13-year-old Honda Element. So now we can return to leashless adventures in the mornings. Indeed, I got to take them on a special lunchtime trip today. They’re coping with unseasonably warm weather, proving the need for a dog car. Meanwhile, here’s proof that Zoë puts her work obligations ahead of her comfort.

Last week’s G-File

I started off this crazy week with a hit on NPR’s Morning Edition.

I don’t like Steve Bannon, but I also don’t like Soviet-esque ritual denunciations.

I also don’t like the way Net Neutrality activists are treating Ajit Pai.

The latest Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast

Steve Bannon’s rise and fall

Fire and Fury, signifying nothing

The DACA ruling and our desiccated constitutional system

This week’s first Remnant, exploring the Middle East and Islam with Michael Rubin

This week’s second Remnant, exploring genes, gin, and government with Charles Murray

Why have we let actors become our moral guides?

Dick Durbin’s Dim ‘History’ Lesson

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Man eats tacos for an entire year

Stray dog welcomed into Alaska family

Michigan pizzeria will deliver pizza and plow your driveway

Camera that recorded its own disappearance returned to owner

Cold weather in D.C.

An ice-age flute that can play the “Star-Spangled Banner”

Using a potato as an instrument

How Star Wars used Skellig Michael

Writers on writing

Testing a 427-year-old mousetrap

Australian birds hunt prey with fire

The birds with black-hole feathers

Very not dumb guy has very not dumb way of lighting a lightbulb

Why some people curse in their sleep

Finding Air Bud’s grave

The CIA, a king, and an actress walked into a bar . . . 

How alligators survive icy conditions

Why dolphins are deep thinkers

Traumatic personality changes . . . from bad to good

Squirrel snow plow

It’ll have to do until we get the Gorilla Channel: Mountain gorillas at home, in pictures

Politics & Policy

The Bannon Fallacy

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

Dear Reader (including those of you with merely average-size nuclear buttons),

It would take a heart of stone not to laugh at the downfall of Steve Bannon.

The most famous thing Anthony Scaramucci ever said was that Bannon kept trying to fellate himself (he used a more colorful phrase). Despite Bannon’s passing resemblance to Ron Jeremy, most observers rightly took this charge to be figurative. If Bannon actually attempted to gratify himself in such a manner, dozens of people would likely lose their eyesight as the buttons from all of Bannon’s shirts rocketed across the room.

But, figuratively, the charge rang true. Bannon’s motto is “honey badger don’t give a sh**.” In an interview with Gabriel Sherman for Vanity Fair, Sherman asked Bannon what he thought about the criticism about him. “I don’t give a f***. . . . You can call me anything you want. Do you think I give a sh**? I literally don’t care.”

If this were an episode of Arrested Development, the narrator would now chime in and say, “He literally cared a lot.”

First of all, people who create mottos about how they don’t care what people think tend to be precisely the sort of people who care what other people think. Another dead giveaway: When you repeatedly invite reporters from places such as Vanity Fair to follow you around and record your Stakhanovite disregard for the opinions of others. Similarly, people who famously call back every reporter seeking a quote are the kind of people who love being buttered up by journalists. Likewise, people who hungrily cooperate with authors looking to turn them into political celebrities are really into the idea of being political celebrities. Staffers who take credit for their bosses’ political victories, on the record, tend not to be aloof islands of self-confidence either. People desperate to let you know that their philosophical lodestars are obscure mystics and cranks — he studied Evola and Guénon! — tend to be compensating for something.

If Bannon truly didn’t care about the “Opposition Party,” his term for the mainstream media, he wouldn’t have lost his job in the White House, the favor of the Mercers, and what was left of his reputation. But he just couldn’t resist talking to reporters and claiming credit for the accomplishments of others. Lenin famously said that “the capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.” Bannon gave the Opposition the rope they used to hang him for free — but not before he and his band of comment-section Bolsheviks did enormous damage.

The Bannon Fallacy

Bannon is a common character in Washington: a megalomaniac who made the mistake of believing his own bullshit. Bannon believed he was the intellectual leader of a real grassroots movement, and all that was needed to midwife it into reality was to Astroturf as much rage and unthinking paranoia as the Mercer family’s money could buy. As I’ve said many times, Bannon’s self-proclaimed Leninism was mostly the kind of b.s. one spouts to rally the twentysomethings in their cubicles to churn out more ethically bankrupt clickbait fodder. There was, however, a grain of truth to it. Lenin was a real radical who wanted to tear everything down. But his motto wasn’t “Honey badger don’t give a sh*t” — it was “The worse the better.” Both men share a theory that by exacerbating social tensions — heightening the contradictions in Marxobabble — they would emerge victorious. The biggest difference between the two men is that Lenin knew what he was doing.

There is a Nietzschean quality to both Bannon and the host organism he fed off. Rhetorically, Trump extols strength and power and denigrates rules and norms. But Trump’s Nietzscheanism is almost entirely in service to his own glory. He simply wants praise for its own sake. Bannon’s fetishization of strength and power and his denigration of rules and norms stems from a potted theory about how to burn it all down so he can rule the ashes. He’s like Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, ensorcelled by the sheer will of the Viet Cong who cut off the inoculated arms of village children:

I thought: My God, the genius of that. The genius! The will to do that: perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we, because they could stand it. These were not monsters. These were men, trained cadres — these men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who have children, who are filled with love — but they had the strength — the strength! — to do that.

But instead of actual evil men of action, Bannon was infatuated with the will of Pepe the Frog and the minions of the alt-right. He marveled at the performance art of Milo not because of any intellectual merit, but because it was transgressive, which is its own reward to the radical mind.

People spend too much time trying to figure out if Bannon is a bigot. Who cares? Isn’t it even more damning that he was perfectly comfortable to enlist bigots to his cause simply to leach off their passion and intensity? Maybe on some obscure moral calculus being a neo-Nazi is worse than lending aid and comfort to neo-Nazis because they’re useful hordes to unleash on your enemies. But I cannot see how that is an exoneration.

Because Bannon consistently confuses means and ends, he was fine with forming an alliance of convenience with the alt-right when he thought it could help him. It was a stupid gamble, providing yet more proof that he has a thumbless grasp on how politics actually works. But his denunciations of the alt-right, including, most recently, Paul Nehlen, only came after the bets didn’t pay off. If the motley army of neo-Nazis, Russian bot accounts, Gamergate veterans, and comment-section trolls proved to be as powerful as Bannon foolishly believed, he would never have denounced them.

Bannon likes to talk a big game about the importance of ideas, but his idea of how politics works is entirely anti-intellectual, and that’s what spelled his doom. He talks a lot about the Trump agenda, and yet he’s made it his project to destroy any politician Trump actually needs if they dare stray from public sycophancy to Trump or fealty to Bannon’s dog’s-breakfast ideology.

That’s because he’s made the calculation that the most passionate disciples of Trump’s cult of personality are the feedstock for his nationalist army. He goes around the country stumping for crackpots and bigots, claiming to be the Joan of Arc of Trumpism, boasting incessantly of his courage and loyalty to Trump as evidenced by his willingness to stick with Trump during “Billy Bush Weekend.” He used his website to serve as a “journalistic” praetorian guard around Roy Moore, solely to defend Donald Trump from an inconvenient talking point. And, again, if the crackpots and bigots had turned out to be winners rather than the losers Bannon manages to find like a truffle pig, he would have stuck with them, because he thinks that’s how you build a national front: pas d’ennemis à droite.

Bannon goes around the country stumping for crackpots and bigots, claiming to be the Joan of Arc of Trumpism,

I think it’s a morally bankrupt and politically dumb strategy (even if it might be a lucrative one), but it has some internal logic. There’s just one problem: Bannon can’t stick to it. He just can’t help but boast to liberal reporters about how great and brilliant he is. He can’t resist talking smack about his rivals and denigrating the reality-show nationalist that plucked him out of relative obscurity, because despite all the impressive verbiage, Bannon can’t help but make himself the story. No man is a hero to his valet, particularly when the valet thinks he’s a world-historical figure in his own right.

That’s why this is all so hilarious. No one destroyed Bannon save Bannon himself. In his effort to fellate himself, he overshot the target, crammed his head up his own ass, and now finds himself confused and alone in a dark corner of his own making.

Various & Sundry

My apologies for last week’s lack of both a G-File and an installment of The Remnant. I was in Hawaii over the Christmas holiday, and as I was hurling across the Pacific in a flying disease vector, I picked up the flu and, as I learned earlier this week, a mild case of pneumonia. I’m still kind of out of it. Even writing saps my energy pretty drastically.

Canine Update: So last week, we got a call at 5:00 a.m. in Hawaii. Kirsten, our dogwalker, was in tears, calling from the vet. Here’s what happened: Kirsten had both dogs on leashes for a neighborhood walk. Pippa, who is terrible on a leash, usually runs free, but Kirsten thought it best to have them both on leashes given the heavily trafficked route she was taking. Well, some idiot had thrown some chicken bones on the street. Now, if you know dogs, you know that meat stumbled upon is twice as sweet as meat served. It is considered one of the great treasures in life. Zoë lunged for the bones and, shockingly, so did Pip.

Zoë, unsurprisingly, got her hackles up and defended her prize. Pippa, very surprisingly, somehow thought she could get the bones for herself. Even stranger, she wouldn’t heed Zoë’s warnings, and they got into a fight. Every time Kirsten tried to isolate one, the other would try to seize the advantage. I don’t want to blame the victim, but in many respects, it was Pippa’s fault for not deferring to Zoë, despite several warning growls and nips at Pippa’s snout. It turned into an ugly and unprecedented fight (in the past, Pippa always ran from a serious fight). Pippa got in a few figurative licks, but Zoë mopped the floor with her, as the leashes got tangled. It only ended when a guy with a leaf blower ran over and pulled Zoë away by her hind legs and tied her to a branch (to Zoë’s credit, she showed zero aggression to the human, maintaining a near-perfect record in this regard). Meanwhile, poor Pippa had to get a bunch of sutures on her face and snout. She also had to spend a few days in the Cone of Shame. There was a lot of blood. The two of them held a grudge for a day or two, but it’s all water under the bridge now. Or perhaps ice under the bridge. I’m taking Pippa to get the sutures out today.

It was all pretty terrible, and Kirsten wouldn’t send us pictures of Pippa’s mashed up face for fear it would ruin our trip. I think some of the backstory has to do with the stress of the family being away for so long and some kind of potted theory among the beasts about changing the pecking order in the new pack. Pippa has been much more assertive over the last few months. I think that’s over.

If there’s a larger point here, it’s that I wish people wouldn’t throw human food on the street. Chicken bones are dangerous for dogs in their own right. But with two dogs, particularly on leashes (which tend to bring out aggression in canines much the same way Twitter does for humans), it can lead to stuff like this.

ICYMI . . . 

Catch up on The Remnant — the latest episode was with Chris Stirewalt of Fox News.

The most recent G-File

Who deserves credit for Trump’s victories?

Why are things so weird?

The rise and fall of Steve Bannon

What new things has Fire and Fury really revealed?

The voter-fraud commission dies a partisan death.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Wednesday links

Legendary airport K-9 Piper dies

How much Bitcoin could you mine with the heat of one human body?

Pilot flies shelter dogs to new homes

The chaos of the 1904 Olympic marathon

Eleven last meals of the rich and famous

Dolphins use pufferfish to get high

Can telemarketers be stopped?

Top ten most important documents lost to history

Sex robots can be hacked

Turkmenistan’s president bans black cars

Boy narrowly escapes sharks

Why do we need to sleep?

The shrimp whose claws are sonic weapons

The odyssey of Larry Walters

Politics & Policy

America and the ‘Original Position’

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

Dear Reader (particularly all you folks on the mainland),

I’m writing this on a plane to San Francisco (actually, I started it in my car, but that’s a different story). By the time you read this, I will hopefully be over the Pacific en route to Hawaii to spend Christmas with my wife’s side of the family.

Hawaii is great. But if you’ve ever tried to get there from the East Coast, you know it’s a pretty brutal trip. Look at it on the map. It’s just farther away from everything than everything else is from everything. But you probably also know that this is a very high-order First World Problem. I’m very lucky to be doing this.

Luck All the Way Down

Of course, we’re all very lucky, in the broadest sense of the term. As Olivia Newton John might say if she went to grad school, let’s get metaphysical. The late philosopher John Rawls had a thought experiment called “the original position.” The basic idea is to imagine that you are a disembodied soul waiting outside this world in a kind of placeless, meaningless limbo — sort of like a Delaware rest stop. He then asks you to think about what kind of society you would want to be born into. But here’s the catch: You won’t know if you’ll be born rich or poor, smart or dumb, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, gay, straight, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, never mind if you’ll be able to fit 43 Cheetos in your mouth at one time. You’ll be behind what Rawls called a “veil of ignorance.”

Obviously, if there were, say, a one-in-five chance you’d be born black, you probably wouldn’t want to be born into a society that makes black people slaves. If there’s a 99 percent chance you’d be born poor, you probably wouldn’t want to be born in feudal Europe, Asia, or any other society where peasants had no rights and few means of improving their lot in life.

(It’s a useful thought experiment, but it has its flaws. Rawls was a pretty standard liberal, and that sometimes got in the way. For instance, he was also pro-abortion, at least in the first trimester. That’s a problem for the original position, because I’m pretty sure that one of the criteria I would value if I were off in some metaphysical Forbidden Zone trying to decide where I would want to be born, would be that I be allowed to be born in the first place. Another problem: I generally don’t like political philosophy that starts from the assumption we can create societies from scratch, as if we were God. Societies are emergent properties full of other emergent properties. The assumption, even for the sake of a thought experiment, that we can know how best to create a society from scratch, can lead to some horrible things. The Jacobins tried that, and the guillotines had to sharpened every week as a result. The Founders, on the other hand, raked the past and the British tradition and built on the best stuff they found.)

Anyway, where was I? Oh, right. If you were hovering above Earth looking to be born randomly into any time period in human history, you’d pick now if you had any brains. And if you could pick a place, you’d pick a Western liberal democracy, and probably the United States of America (though as much as it pains me to say it, you wouldn’t be crazy to pick Canada or the U.K. or Holland). Sure, if you could pick being rich, white, and male — and didn’t really care too much about the plight of others — you might take the 1950s. But even then, your choices for food, entertainment, etc. would be terribly curtailed compared to today. If you chose to be a billionaire in 1917, you could still die from a minor infection, and good Thai food would be entirely unknown to you. You’d certainly never enjoy watching a Star Wars movie on an IMAX screen in air conditioning. In other words, while your homes would be bigger and cooler if you were a billionaire in 1917, a typical orthodontist in Peoria in 2017 is in many respects much richer than a billionaire a century earlier.

Still, that’s not the deal on offer. You have to buy an incarnation lottery ticket, and the results would be random.

I’m not big on dividing people up by abstract categories, and I certainly don’t mean them to be pejorative. But as a historical matter, being born poor, gay, black, Jewish, ugly, weird, handicapped, etc. today may certainly come with some problems or challenges, but on the whole those traits are less of a shackle or barrier than at any time in the past. The only trait where I think it might be a closer call is dumbness. All other things being equal, a not-terribly-intelligent person with a good work ethic and some decent values might have had more opportunities before machines replaced strong backs. But even here, I can think of lots of exceptions.

What Makes Us Rich

Anyway, here’s the Thing. I mean here’s the thing: All the wealth we’ve accumulated is ultimately between our ears.

While working on my book, I read all these different accounts of where capitalism comes from. I was amazed by how many of them start from the assumption that wealth is . . . stuff. Depending on which Marxist you’re talking to, capitalism is the ill-gotten-booty of the Industrial Revolution, slavery, imperialism, and the rest. I don’t want to get into all of that here — there will be plenty of time when the book comes out.

But all of these assumptions are based on the idea that having stuff makes you rich. Now, in fairness, that’s true for individuals. But it doesn’t really work that way for societies.

Writing about Venezuela earlier this week is what got this in my head. Venezuela is poor and getting poorer by the minute: Babies are dying from starvation.

Meanwhile, Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world. According to lots of people, not just Marxists, this should make no sense. Oil is valuable. If you have more of it than anyone else, you should be able to make money. For a decade, the American Left loved Hugo Chávez and then Nicolás Maduro because they allegedly redistributed all of the country’s wealth from the rich to the poor. These dictators were using The Peoples’ resources for the common good. Blah blah blah.

It turns out that the greatest resource a country has is its institutions. In economics, an institution is just a rule, which is why the rule of law in general and property rights in particular are the most important institutions there are, with the exception of the family. Take away the rule of law in any country, anywhere and that country will get very poor, very fast. Stop protecting the fruits of someone’s labor, enforcing legal contracts, guarding against theft from the state or the mob (a distinction without a difference in Venezuela’s case) and wealth starts to evaporate.

Take away the rule of law in any country, anywhere and that country will get very poor, very fast.

But even that is too complicated. Oil is worthless on its own. If you went back in time to the Arabian Peninsula before oil became a valuable commodity, you wouldn’t look at the squabbling nomads and call them rich, even though they were playing polo with a goat’s head above billions of barrels of oil. Go get lost in the Amazon by yourself. What would you rather have, a map or big-ass diamond? The diamond only has value once you get out of the jungle, but you can’t get out without the map.

I know what you’re thinking: This reminds me of when Captain Kirk had to fight the Gorn. The planet Kirk lands on is full of minerals and gems worth a fortune elsewhere but, as Kirk says, he’d gladly trade it all for a phaser or a good club. Eventually, Kirk wins the fight because the real weapon of value, i.e., the real value, was human ingenuity. This is what Julian Simon meant when he said human beings were the “ultimate resource.”

When Tax Cuts Equal Giving, It’s Mob Rule

I bring all of this up because this is where my typing took me. But, also, because I think there’s an important point here that seems lost in all the conversation about the GOP tax plan. I’m not going to get into the punditry on all of that. Rather, I want to address something much more basic: People are nuts.

I keep hearing about how tax cuts are “giveaways” for the rich. Never mind that some rich people will see their taxes go up. This is philosophically grotesque. The people saying it may be more civilized and restrained than the pro-government mobs in the streets of Caracas, but it’s still basically the same idea: “The People” or “the nation” own everything. The state is the expression of the peoples’ spirit or of the nation’s “will,” and therefore it effectively owns everything. Thus, taking less money from you is the same as giving you more money.

This is why populism and nationalism, taken to their natural conclusions, always lead to statism. The state is the only expression of the national or popular will that encompasses everybody. So, the more you talk about how the fundamental unit of society is a mythologized collective called “The People” or the nation, the more you are rhetorically empowering the state.

Sure, the Constitution begins with the words “We the People,” but that is not a populist sentiment — it’s a statement of precedence in terms of authority: The people come before the government (not the European notion of the state). The spirit of the Constitution is entirely about the fact that The People are not all one thing. It places the rights of a single person above those of the entire federal government! It assumes not only that the people will disagree among themselves, but that the country will be better off if there is such disagreement. No populist frets about the tyranny of the majority. American patriots do.

This may sound far afield, but it’s not. How we understand wealth reflects and informs how we understand politics and power — and vice versa. If you believe wealth resides in stuff and that stuff is finite — like oil under the ground or gold in the Lannister mines — then the state has a good case for figuring out how best to distribute it.

There will be no investment or ingenuity if there is no guarantee that you will be able to collect on that investment or reap the benefits of your innovation.

But if you recognize that humans create wealth with their brains and their industry and that it therefore belongs to them, you’ll be a little more humble about the state’s “right” to take as much as it wants to spend how it wants. Human ingenuity is the engine of wealth creation, and there is no other.

But that doesn’t mean government doesn’t play a role. Because, as I said, there will be no wealth creation if there is no rule of law. There will be no investment or ingenuity if there is no guarantee that you will be able to collect on that investment or reap the benefits of your innovation. Without such an environment, the biggest mob wins. And when the mob wins, children starve to death in what should be one of the richest countries in the world.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: So, if you listened to this week’s Remnant podcast, you heard me talk about some of this. But we had quite a dramatic start to the week on Monday. We were doing our typical neighborhood patrol: Zoë on the extendo-leash, Pippa chasing tennis balls up and down the sides streets of my neighborhood.

As you know by now, Pippa is a sweetheart. She will run up to strangers and drop a tennis ball at their feet, and then beg them to throw it for her. Whenever she does this, I warn these nice people, “If you throw it, she might go home with you.” Well, Monday morning, as we were making our way back home, a teenager walked out of her house and in our direction. Pippa seemed interested in maybe offering her a turn with her tennis ball. It turned out the girl was walking up to a car, presumably to carpool to school. Pippa was even more interested. When the girl opened the passenger-side door, Pippa was like, “Oh, a car ride! I like car rides! Maybe the human will take me to the park.” She then headed off to jump in the car. Pippa has zero sense of stranger danger.

But the real drama came as we walked up the last side street before my block. I usually let Zoë chase squirrels when she’s on the leash in my neighborhood because they all stick really close to the trees and fences and whatnot. So, Zoë goes after a particularly thick den of squirrel activity. They all scatter. But not before the Dingo leaps up, knocks the branches out from underneath one, and then outruns it . . . and bites.

Author’s Note: I do not like it when my dog kills squirrels. It’s an aesthetic thing. I do not like watching any cute thing killing any other cute thing, even squirrels — which are smug and overrunning the D.C. ecosystem.

Anyway, back to our story. Zoë shakes this thing, and it made sounds that I do not like. I yell at Zoë to drop it, at first because I think the squirrel might be saved or at least to avoid having to pry it out of her mouth, which I hate doing. (The dogwalker invented the technique of holding Zoë’s head under water in the creek, which will do the trick.) Also, I had no idea who was watching this spectacle from behind their living-room curtains, and Zoë already has a bad reputation in the neighborhood. Anyway, to my surprise, I give a yank on the leash, and the squirrel leaps from of Zoë’s jaws of death. And Zoë is pissed. She’s even more pissed when I hold her back. Meanwhile, the poor squirrel is in rough shape. If they made a rodent version of John Wick: Chapter 2, this would be the final scene, with little furry Keanu limping away.

But then, to my surprise, Pippa gets in on the action. She shows no ferocity or even anger. She just starts chasing it, almost herding it. When she tries to mouth it, I yell at her, and she stops. But finally, Pippa corners it on the front lawn of someone’s house, and then Pippa does her Springer Spaniel thing. She points at the squirrel! She just stands above it, waiting for orders from me to bring her the strangest quail a Springer has ever seen. Meanwhile, Zoë is just going bananas, screaming “Attica! Attica!” in Dingoese because she thinks the Spaniel is claiming her kill, and Pippa is flummoxed that I don’t want her to bring me the still-breathing squirrel.

Anyway, this was all just a bit much before 7:15 in the morning.

You got this extra-long canine update in part because even if I write a G-File next week, there probably won’t be a canine update because I will be in Hawaii without the beasts. We tried to load them up with attention before we left, but it rarely works. The good news is that Kirsten is housesitting and dogsitting over Christmas break, so they’re in great hands. They always have a good time with her. And no one will yell at them about being on the couch.

Last week’s G-File

My Monday NPR hit

Could tax reform be the GOP’s Obamacare?

If socialism keeps failing (see Venezuela), why is getting more popular?

My podcast with Jeffrey Goldberg (no relation)

The latest episode of The Remnant, with Arthur Brooks, tries to find the meaning of life.

Will the Republican bet on tax reform pay off?

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Thursday links

An off button for the Internet

Iceland’s Christmas witch

12,000 dominoes

Thunderstorm timelapse

Why do we give toasts?

The worst passwords of 2017

London’s secret tunnels

Why do we get the meat sweats?


These Media Screw-Ups Would Make Dan Rather Proud

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 Readers (even including John Podhoretz and the 16 percent of Twitter that literally hates dogs),

In 2004, when Dan Rather stepped on his own johnson like a freshly gelded eunuch told to dance on his own junk like Michael Flatly, Lord of the Dance, I wrote:

Across the media universe the questions pour out: Why is Dan Rather doing this to himself? Why does he drag this out? Why won’t he just come clean? Why would he let this happen in the first place? Why is CBS standing by him? Why. . . why. . . why?

There is only one plausible answer: Ours is a just and decent God.

I was a younger and more immature man then, so I will confess my schadenfreude was so intense I loved that story more than some dead relatives of mine. Any time I could return to it, I would. For instance, three years later, when Rather announced he was going to sue CBS for his “wrongful” termination, I picked up the theme of God’s generosity:

Well, God has not forsaken us. Dan Rather seems divinely inspired to crash more times than a Kennedy driving home from an office party. The multimillionaire semi-retired newsman is suing for $70 million, $1 million for every year he’s been alive since he was five years old. Which is fitting, because that’s what he sounds like.

Now, for you kids too young to know why Dan Rather lost his job, GET OFF MY LAWN YOU HOOLIGANS! And stop with the memes already!

But if you forgot, the basic story goes like this: Just two months before the 2004 election, Dan Rather and his crack news team at 60 Minutes II reported that George W. Bush had been AWOL during his time in the National Guard. He based this on some documents provided by a guy named Bill Burkett. It turned out that the documents were almost certainly forgeries. I put that “almost” in there as a nod to journalistic decorum. I think they were forgeries. What I am certain about, however, is that Rather and his team didn’t bother to authenticate them properly.

Indeed, one of the reasons I was so giddy about the Rather story — aside from the fact that I couldn’t stand Dan Rather — is that the Memogate story was one of the epochal moments in Internet history. Instapundit, the folks at Power Line, Charles Johnson, and our own Jim Geraghty, along with other members of the so-called Pajamahedeen, made their internet bones by meticulously — and often hilariously — dismantling the CBS story in real time. They showed how the documents had to have been made on a word processor.

What made the story so enjoyable is that Rather just refused to admit he did anything wrong. According to Rather, the story was “Fake But Accurate,” as a memorable New York Times headline put it. My favorite bit was a particularly piquant pas de deux of jackassery, when Rather said with a straight face that if the documents turned out to be fake, he’d “love to break that story” too. It was almost like he thought he deserved a Pulitzer for reporting a false story and another for proving his own story was fake. Rather’s dismantling of his own credibility, I wrote at the time, was like watching a robot ordered to take himself apart and put himself back in the box.

The whole thing is such a fond memory that I’m in danger of rambling on like an old-timer around the campfire regaling you with stories of the good old days. “Why sonny, let me tell you about fax machines and why we say ‘dial a phone number.’”

So let me cut to the chase. At no point did I think that Dan Rather and his 60 Minutes II team deliberately lied, at least not about the initial story. Instead, what I thought was obvious then — and now — is that they just wanted the story to be true so badly that they couldn’t see the problems with it. Their mistakes were driven by partisan bias — Dan Rather loathed the Bushes going back to the Pleistocene, and his producers were all chronic sufferers of Bush Derangement Syndrome — and groupthink. As I wrote at the time:

My guess is that Dan Rather truly believes he fell for those forged documents because he was just trying to get a scoop. But no one at CBS raised the necessary objections because they were all eager to nail Bush. No one — not even an idiot — said, “Hey maybe we should take an extra week to make sure these things are real.” Not even after their own consultants said the documents were iffier than a new “Rollecks” watch. If the target had been a Democrat, the usual safeguards would have kicked in. 

I bring this up because the media has been Dan Rathering itself lately. Mark Hemingway has a good rundown of all the screw-ups, which we don’t need to repeat here. It seems obvious to me that the mainstream media are consumed by a similar groupthink. The press, for good reasons and bad, starts from the premise that Trump is guilty of “collusion.” It’s like they think they already know how the story will end, so they rush not to find out the truth but to be the first to nail down a foreordained outcome.


This is all very bad. But it’s not lying and it’s not a conspiracy. It’s groupthink. I keep seeing people saying things like, “How come these mistakes never go the other way?”

Donald Trump has fueled the idea that the news media deliberately makes stuff up about him. It wouldn’t surprise me if there are some actual examples of this, but I think they’re very rare. Opinions vary on why Trump does this. Some think it’s part of a brilliant master strategy, while others think he narcissistically and dishonestly claims that any inconvenient news is a lie and relies on the fact that his supporters will always take his word for it. I’m in the second camp.

Consider Dave Weigel’s inaccurate tweet about the crowd size at Trump’s recent rally (where Trump campaigned for Roy Moore). The moment it was pointed out to Weigel that the image was from earlier in the evening, he took it down. Hours later, Trump tweeted:

Progressives have become so drunk on their own Kool-Aid that they think they’re sober. Paul Krugman literally thinks “facts have a liberal bias.” I don’t think we would have Donald Trump if Barack Obama hadn’t lied Obamacare into passage — “You can keep you doctor,” etc. But where were all of the self-anointed champions of transpartisan objectivity? They spent their days not just disagreeing with the fact-based arguments of conservatives and libertarians; they were openly mocking them for denying reality.

Again, I agree we’ve got deep problems with tribalism on the right. But that’s just one facet of the deeper problems that America, right and left, has with the corruption of tribalism.


The latest episode of the The Remnant is up. In it I address a wide range of listener questions, rant a bit about Roy Moore and Steve Bannon, discuss conservative books and veganism, and yes, do a brief reading of some Donald Trump erotica. Thanks for all the reviews at iTunes, and if you haven’t subscribed, please do. The metrics for podcasts aren’t exactly as scientific as Nielsen ratings, but one thing that definitely counts is subscribing. I really want to keep getting more adventurous with this thing — and I don’t just mean more readings of disturbing erotica. Your support helps in all sorts of ways.

Canine Update: Everything is basically okay with the beasts. Zoë is getting really frustrated with the lack of morning sorties into the woods, but hopefully we’ll get the new dog car soon. Otherwise, she’s the same old dingo, needy and jealous for attention. Meanwhile, one worrisome development is that Pippa has gotten a bit growly when we try to move her. When it’s bedtime, she immediately wants to sleep on my wife’s pillow. If she’s there more than a minute, she believes she has officially laid claim to the spot. But normally she just goes limp like a civil-rights protestor — we call it Rosa Barks mode. The last few nights, she’s tried to pull off being intimidating. She’s not, but I don’t like these kinds of changes in personality. My theory is that she might have a sore leg or something and is protective. On the other hand, she’s been standing up to Zoë a bit more, which Zoë finds immensely entertaining. She’s also becoming more brazen with her demands for in-house tennisball work, which could also turn into a problem. She’s stashed them everywhere. We’re monitoring the situation. They’re good dogs.

Charleston Report: The Fair Jessica and I had a wonderful time in Charleston, despite the weather. A quick review of restaurants: I have to report that I thought Husk was a bit of disappointment. We were seated next to a very loud group of women in town for a wedding. The waiter was very slow to take our drink order and a bit too much of a hipster. The martinis were small. Some of the food was really great, but all of it was terribly clever and small-portioned. It was a very good meal, but it didn’t live up to the hype. We had a fantastic lunch at Xiao Bao Biscuit. The hipster quotient was very high, but the food and friendliness were great. We had to wait a while for lunch at 167 Raw, but the clam chowder alone was worth it. The fish tacos were very good, but the shrimp taco was fantastic. Our finest meal was at Magnolia’s. The food was amazing and I have to say our waiter — nicknamed Pierre, but not a Frenchie — might have been the best waiter I’ve had in years. He gave us all sorts of tips about where to eat, walked us through the menu and wine expertly, and had that perfect balance of conversation and leaving us alone. At the end of the night he gave us a written-out list of places to go on this trip or the next. All in all, it’s a great eating town. We would have done more sight-seeing, but the weather was not cooperative.

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File.

What Trump meant — and didn’t mean — with his “do anything” tweet.

My appearance on the Andrew Klavan podcast.

Will tax reform be the GOP’s Obamacare?

Roy Moore: the aftermath.

The Walking Dead is a hot mess.

My appearance on Glenn Beck to discuss Roy Moore.

Transcript here, if you don’t like listening to me talk.

My latest appearance on Special Report.

A Christmas GLoP.

President Trump is losing Fox News viewers.

And now, the weird stuff:

The secret life of “um”

Woman prefers ghostly lovers

The best heists of 2017

How The Phantom Menace’s climactic lightsaber battle came to be

Most citizens of the Star Wars galaxy are probably illiterate

The un-death of cinema

Switzerland is ready for civilization’s collapse

Drone photos of New York

The Atlantic’s photos of the week

Naked man jumps onto moving truck near Dulles Airport

What can you do without a brain?

Training snow rescue dogs

Basset hound performs mysterious ritual

Basset hound is not a morning person

Corgi snow plow

Politics & Policy

Against One-Thingism

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 Readers (and all the ships at sea),

It’s a cold and rainy morning here in Charleston, S.C. I’m in my tenebrous hotel room awaiting dawn, or at least the gloaming of false dawn and the promise of coffee it will bring.

I don’t mean to sound gloomy. I’m actually quite chipper. But that’s because I’m spending the weekend with the Fair Jessica eating Charleston’s finest fare — so what is there to complain about? Last night, I had fried chicken skins and pimiento cheese, while drinking a martini at Husk. How bad could life be?

In that sense, I feel a bit like that stock character in Godzilla and various disaster movies who’s oblivious to the calamities around him. I’m not quite like Walter Matthau in Earthquake — so drunk he doesn’t notice the world falling down around him — but hey, the day is young.

I’m Not Your Strawman, Buttercup

I bring this up for a couple reasons. First, because every day, as I inchworm-spelunk through my Twitter mentions like Andy Dufresne leaving Shawshank prison, I hear from people — and algorithms pretending to be people — about how miserable, sad, regretful, and “butthurt” I am for this, that, or the other thing going on in Washington.

For years, this kind of thing came at me overwhelmingly from the Left. These days it comes at me mostly from “the Right” or, to be more specific, from the MAGA/Bannon swamps. And it’s just weird to me. Sure, I have my good days and bad, like everyone else. You know, like when you wake up in the camping section of a Walmart in a strange town, covered in blood not your own (“You didn’t specify whether that’s a good day or a bad one.” — The Couch).

My point is that politics isn’t life — or, at least, it shouldn’t be. I used to think when I got this kind of grief from the Left that it was evidence that the progressives take politics way too seriously. If you’re heartbroken whenever your “team” loses, then your “enemies” must feel the same way when they lose.

In other words, it’s a kind of projection — the assumption that someone else’s emotional state mirrors your own. This dynamic doesn’t quite fit the textbook definition of projection because, at least as I understand it, Freud thought projection was a kind of denial. A bigot accuses others of being the real bigots to conceal his own bigotry, or something like that.

The difference with so many of the people I hear from is that they aren’t denying anything. Because they think politics is everything, they assume I must think so, too. I don’t. The whole point of being a conservative and — I would argue — an American is to see politics as only a fraction of one’s life.

Just Say No to One-Thingism

Which brings me to the second reason. In this week’s Remnant podcast, I had a wide-ranging conversation with one of my favorite people, Steve Hayward. At the very end, we started giving advice to youngn’s just starting their careers. We even raised the idea of doing a whole show on life advice for young politicos, or young conservatives, or carbon-based life forms (we didn’t really nail it down). But the subject has been on my mind a bit since we recorded the podcast.

So, as I prepare to enjoy a vacation weekend away from politics, here’s some advice: Don’t invest that much of your soul in politics. In fact, don’t invest your whole soul in anything.

Now, if you want to be an Olympic wrestler or the world’s best competitive eater, this isn’t necessarily great advice. But if you want to be a happy and relatively successful person over the course of your whole life, you need to diversify your portfolio. A few years ago, I wrote about this at length in a G-File titled “Love Isn’t All You Need” (back when it only came out in email, so no link, alas). In it, I railed against “one-thingism” — the idea, promulgated by Curly in City Slickers, that you should find that one thing in life and dedicate yourself to it.

This is horrible, terrible, no-good advice. Just because it comes from Curly doesn’t mean it’s not the philosophy of zealots, stalkers, radicals, terrorists, and extremists of all stripes.

Put aside the complicated question of religion for a moment. No thing in your life should be your everything: no cause, no business, no movement, no institution. Likewise, you shouldn’t make any person your only reason to get out of bed in the morning. You won’t be doing your child or spouse any favors if you do that. Indeed, your smothering will likely lead to a maladjusted kid or a spouse who loses respect for you or perhaps seeks a restraining order. Unwavering love is great. Unwavering attention or obsession: terrible.

The simple fact is that in this fallen and flawed world, putting all of your chips on a single thing or person is an invitation for massive disappointment or, simply, a wasted life. First of all, when you give all of your soul to something, it can become a kind of enslavement. You forfeit your own agency, and your loyalty is no longer seen as something that the object of your love needs to earn. For Luca Brasi, the Corleone family is his One Thing, and that makes him a golem.

If you think X is already deserving of your whole soul, it becomes difficult to imagine being outside X. And, as a result, you lose the critical distance necessary to offer constructive criticism. This is why too much devotion is destructive in politics and society generally. Instead of being a force for improvement, you’re taken for granted as a loyal foot soldier, booster, or cheerleader. For the one-thingist — the Communist, Fascist, Jihadist, or, less dramatically, the college-football booster, the crazy fanboy, or some other tribalist thinker — if the object of your devotion can do no wrong, then you will never be an advocate for improvement, you’ll be a reliable apologist for the worst actions of your cause.

It is a hallmark of a modern and free society that you can divide up your loyalties and passions. It’s only when you’re in a life-or-death struggle that one-thingism makes any sense. In a zombie apocalypse, keeping your children or spouse alive is an acceptable One Thing. In a totalitarian regime, revolution could be an acceptable One Thing. But in a free and prosperous society, the route to real meaning and happiness is Many Things.

In a free and prosperous society, the route to real meaning and happiness is Many Things.

Even in religion, I think one-thingism is best avoided. I know Abraham was asked to put God before his own child, but that didn’t mean Abraham didn’t love Isaac. One of Christianity’s greatest contributions to Western civilization was to create the space for multiple loyalties. Jesus says we must render unto Caesar — but only what is Caesar’s. St. Augustine divides the world into the City of Man and the City of God — a division that wasn’t geographic but spiritual and psychological. Protestantism accelerated this trend in countless ways (wait for my book).

As a matter of a life well-lived, I think it’s admirable and good to be informed by your faith in all of your endeavors. But some endeavors needn’t be seen through the prism of religious one-thingism. The man of God and the atheist alike can love college football or be comrades on a bowling team.

More Eggs, Different Baskets

It’s a bit of a cliché to say that nobody ever said on their deathbed, “I wish I spent more time at the office” or, “I spent too much time with my kids.” And that’s good advice. If you’re organizing your life around how you want to be remembered when you die, you should think more about your eulogy than your résumé. I’ve been to memorial services where speakers share stories about a great career, but share little to nothing about being a great father, mother, wife, husband, or friend. I find it heartbreaking.

But the key to a rich and healthy life is not putting all your eggs in a single basket. Find the two, three, or five baskets that give you meaning and hold them tight. But give new baskets a try from time to time.

As a gross generalization, I think women understand this better than men. In part because even successful professional women tend to be the primary parent for their kids, women understand intimately the tradeoffs between competing devotions. In my experience, women have more hobbies than men, too. And they’re better at engaging in civil society, from school fundraisers to neighborhood associations to informal groups of friends. Men, particularly successful ones, are more likely to throw themselves into their work to the exclusion of other important things. Then, six months after retirement, they discover that playing golf all the time is boring, and they get miserable or sick or drunk or bat-guano crazy about politics.

You Asked for This

Speaking of bat-guano crazy politics, let me change gears. Last year, Kevin Williamson wrote a post in the Corner titled “Remember, You Asked for This.” It was about the decision to nominate Donald Trump.

Well, I want to offer something similar. Right now, it looks like Roy Moore will be elected the next senator from Alabama. Because Donald Trump endorsed him, the Republican National Committee is once again helping to fund Moore’s campaign, and Steve Bannon is praising him as a man of great integrity while denigrating Mitt Romney, a mensch who flushes more integrity down the toilet every morning than Bannon has displayed since becoming a blood-and-soil Jeremiah.

You can forget the sexual allegations against Moore — though you can be sure no one else will, because the Democrats and the media will be reminding voters about it constantly. Forget the fact that Moore is a grifter and huckster who claims America is evil and had 9/11 coming but that we were great when slavery was legal. Put aside all the arguments about how “we” need his vote or that Republicans shouldn’t unilaterally disarm.

The simple fact is this guy, if elected, will be a disaster for Trump, conservatives, and the GOP alike — even if he votes in partisan lockstep with the Trump agenda. The mere act of him voting for good legislation will make it harder for some senators to vote for it. Moore will say stupid, offensive, and bigoted things — and every Republican, starting with Trump himself, will be asked to respond.

The simple fact is this guy, if elected, will be a disaster for Trump, conservatives, and the GOP alike

Moore voters in Alabama, of course, will deserve much of the blame, but so will a large coalition of national Republicans — starting with Donald Trump — as well as cable-news and talk-radio boosters and rationalizers, and of course Bannon himself, who let this world-historic cock-up happen based on a potted theory that Mitch McConnell is an enemy or that you can build a “nationalist” movement around a credibly accused child molester and theocratic bigot and constitutional illiterate.

In short, you asked for this. You know who you are, and if you don’t, you should prepare to be reminded in the months to come.

Various & Sundry

And now for some prideful begging.

I say prideful because “shameless” doesn’t cover it. I’m outright proud to ask for your help. As I wrote above, I don’t think you should give everything of yourself to anything. But you should do what you can, where you can, and when you can for the institutions in your life that matter. You’ll almost always get more out than you put in. That’s certainly true for me. One of the things that I’ve given a huge chunk of myself to for almost 20 years has been National Review, and I’m the better man for it.

Over that time, some things have changed in NR World. My job titles have changed (I’m a senior editor now), but I’m also a fellow of the National Review Institute, which has become the umbrella organization of the whole National Review enterprise or, better yet, the National Review mission.

Bill Buckley himself always said that the mission comes before the magazine — but that the magazine was the best, but not the only, way to carry it out. That’s why he founded National Review Institute to support the mission. NRI sponsors conferences, speeches, and educational programs around the country, hosted by National Review writers, editors, and contributors. (If you must know, most of my salary now comes from the Institute. Lowry mostly pays me in chickens.) Without NRI, I couldn’t have finished my book. NRI fellow Kevin Williamson runs a journalism program. NRI drops David French behind enemy lines on one campus after another to fight for free speech.

We are trying to raise $250,000 for NRI. That’s a big lift. The good news is your contribution to NRI is tax deductible. The great news is that it literally makes everything we do either easier, better, or just plain possible. I know there are differences of opinion about the current political situation among longtime friends. But if your concern is the long game — for the country or the conservative cause — supporting what we do is imperative.

Again, because most people have lots of things going on in their lives — work, family, friends, faith, hobbies, etc. — not everyone can give as much of themselves to the conservative cause as we do here. But the only reason we can do as much as we do is because of you and people like you. We live every day knowing that we are indebted not just to Bill Buckley but to the numerous people who give what they can to keep the mission alive. Please donate, here.

Canine Update: The dogs have been on edge all week. The problem is that whenever they see one of the humans take out luggage, they know something bad is going to happen (though when we surprise them and invite them on a road trip, it’s pretty awesome). This week, there was a lot of that. I went to NYC, came home, packed again, and went to Charleston. Yesterday morning, The Fair Jessica packed, too. Anyway, it makes them very mopey and needy. Still, when I came home yesterday, I got some good wiggle-greetings (watch to the end to see how Pippa presses her agenda pretty quickly). Anyway, they’re in good hands with Kirsten, our loyal dogwalker, and having much fun, which alleviates a lot of the guilt. But it’s always hard to leave them when they think you’re leaving forever.

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File

Time’s troll of the year

Debts and deficits should not be partisan issues. But they are.

The RNC’s conscience-free backing of Roy Moore

The latest Remnant podcast

What happens if Roy Moore wins?

President Trump was right to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

And now, the weird stuff

Debby’s Thursday links

Patient corgis

When movies shot real bullets at actors

And arrows!

Possum breaks into liquor store, gets drunk

Dogs feel our anger

What if we destroyed the moon?

Seventeen-foot Burmese python found in Florida Everglades

Stunts with Thomas the Tank Engine

The logic of area codes

If spiders worked together, they could eat all humans in a year

Was Lenin a mushroom?

Do animals cry?

Are fumes from an Irish Viagra plant . . . affecting local males (animals too)?

Dog causes chaos at Cats performance

The Chinese navy vs. jellyfish

The yeti is . . . 

Ancient cave art has oldest depiction of leashed dogs

Flickr’s top photos of the year

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