National Security & Defense

A New World Disorder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Cheers for NATO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Ode to Montenegro

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

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

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

A New World Disorder

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

Last week’s G-File

The Mueller Indictments

Lose plutonium, get an award

When do words matter to Trump supporters?

A strong would

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

The likeliest explanation for the Helsinki debacle

Trump and the Russian hackers

No, Trump isn’t the toughest president on Russia

Some (qualified) praise for former president Obama

My Thursday appearance on Special Report

My Friday appearance on NPR

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

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday Links

What won’t they declare a world record for?

The front-runner for Cutest Video of 2018

The flaming of the shrew

The origin of Jaws’ most famous line

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

The extinction of Chicago’s waterfalls

The Bloop: the loudest, most mysterious underwater noise ever

Moving a step closer to the world The Jetsons promised

Factory fire caused by spontaneously combusting tortilla chips

Crows are perverts

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

Can the present alter the past?

All-nighters might cause long term damage to your brain

World

EuroTrip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wait, what?” the alien replies.

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

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

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

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

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

Mouth Sounds, How Do They Work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Supreme Court Freakout

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brett Kavanaugh Likes Candy for the Sweet, Sweet Taste

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

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

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

EuroTrip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

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

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

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

My appearance on NPR’s Morning Edition

The week’s Remnant: Identity Politics Yahtzee

Some thoughts on the McConnell Rule

The limits of democracy

The Trump Doctrine is MAGA on an international scale

The SCOTUS candidates list was the smartest thing Trump has done

Some applause for the conservative legal community

The myth of “cosmopolitan conservatives”

My appearance on The Glenn Beck Program

My appearance on Special Report

Scarjo’s transgender contretemps

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday Links

A heatwave in England is revealing ancient remains

Millennials’ new favorite TV show

A shark vs. alligator battle caught on video

World record holder sells 30-foot-long fingernails

The lost constellation

How pie-throwing became a comedy standard

Earth’s oldest color

Paging Rick O’Connell!

A spider-legged robot plant

The secret chamber in Mount Rushmore

The rise and fall of the family vacation road trip

Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster contingency plan

The world’s most dangerous book

Hillterns sent on wild goose chase by Taylor Swift

How to build a time machine

Politics & Policy

When Patriotism Loses Its Universality

(Pixabay)

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

Dear Reader (And everyone trying to keep cool),

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Disenchantment of the World

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

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

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

Those Were the Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that gets me to my point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

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

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

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

On the Anthony Kennedy retirement conspiracies

Dan Rather’s LeBron conspiracy

Yet another “Never Trumpers” screed

Trump must stick to his list for the SCOTUS pick

My Reason.TV interview on Suicide of the West

The latest Remnant

What is patriotism?

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Independence Day Links

Inside the temple from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Dogs delicately eating watermelon

Spiders use electricity to fly

A history of protestors climbing monuments

Now this bear knows how to do summer

A taxi service that accepts singing instead of money

Real life chestbursters

Psychic octopus fails to predict its own murder

The mutant wolves of Chernobyl

Get high on Trump

Hero kangaroo ends soccer game

Scientists design the perfect human body. It’s creepy

Pool noodle fights are about to get epic

The return of the floppy disk

Armadillos are perverts

RIP one of the best boys

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

Culture

In Defense of Dogma

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

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

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

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

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

I respond: “What do you mean?”

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

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

Daughter: “That’s different.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dogma, Again

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

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

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

Here’s how Chesterton put it:

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

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

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

The same goes for ideology.

A Tale of Two Ideologies

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

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

The replies are instructive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Ideology

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

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

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

The latest Remnant, The Sweet Mystery of Anthony Kennedy

The latest GLoP, The Retiring Types

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

My theory on Harvard’s Asian discrimination

The re-enchantment creed of politics

Conrad Black vs. Jonah Goldberg Part II: Electric Boogaloo

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

The Silliness of the Biden and McConnell Rules

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday Links

Which states exercise the most

Disney moves us one step closer to the robot apocalypse

The island nation that never was

Why you should eat popcorn with chopsticks

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

Scientists are growing neanderthal brains in the lab

The story behind Mr. Rogers flipping children the bird

Meet the contestants of the World’s Ugliest Dog competition

The rat who stole $19k from an Indian bank

Aliens might be rearranging stars to fight dark matter

The luckiest man in the world

The secret river caves of Slovenia

Do we really need “anatomically correct” stuffed animals

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

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

Sleeping man gets stuck on drawbridge as it opens

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

Some people just deserve to get conned

A timeline of the colors of Mr. Rogers’ sweaters

Culture

Krauthammer’s Take on Life

Charles Krauthammer (Fox News/YouTube)

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

Dear Reader (And members of the Remnant everywhere),

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Remnant Is Smaller

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nock, Nock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

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

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

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

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

Child separation at the border

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

Trump’s administration is as swampy as it gets

Can the nation-state fulfill our tribal longings?

No, don’t fire Mueller

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

Was the Enlightenment racist?

My appearance on Monday’s Special Report

And Special Report’s tribute to Charles Krauthammer

And now, the weird stuff:

Debby’s Friday links

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

The cities that never existed

Just the bear necessities, the simple bear necessities

This is why you don’t eat broccoli

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

Who would win in a battle of the boroughs?

The lost ovens of the Revolutionary War

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

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

Like carbs? You could have been a gladiator

Jumping soccer fans cause a minor earthquake in Mexico

A dust storm blankets the entirety of Mars

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

The world’s largest tree house

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

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

Four-term dog mayor of Minnesota town announces retirement

The world’s most expensive milkshake

And the world’s most expensive joint

Culture

Staying on the Path

(Wikimedia Commons)

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

Dear Reader (Including those of you who are no longer my personal lawyer),

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Moment We’re In

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

John Podhoretz tweeted this yesterday: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Contagion Spreads

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last week’s G-File

The latest Remnant: Purple Hayes

The latest episode of GLoP : Blame Canada!

In defense of Edmund Burke

What to make of the North Korea summit so far

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

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

About Bret Baier’s Trump interview

North Korean propaganda about the Singapore visit

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

What eluded who now?

My appearance on Fox News Sunday

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Biologists eat monkeys for the sake of science

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

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

Why a 60-year-old spy plane still matters

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

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

Chinese fishermen catch a fish with the head of a bird

An amputee cooks and serves his own foot to dinner guests

Kitten in animal shelter turns out to be a bobcat

Welcome to the Hotel Influenza (such a lovely place)

The little raccoon who could

Cat plays Jenga

Dog tries watermelon

Are we getting dumber?

Van Morrison’s revenge

Where cruise ships sail above cars

Do bees understand the concept of zero?

Oh, deer!

Fecal road rage

Politics & Policy

Bill Clinton’s Me Too Reckoning

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

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

Dear Reader (Particularly unrepentant yoga-pant wearers),

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

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

A few thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me Too? More Like Me Somewhat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

Ruminations on the presidential self-pardon

Last week’s Remnant: The Age of Double Standards

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

Can Trump get away with murder?

Vladimir Paul Gavora, RIP

The problems of the self-pardon

Don’t let labels do your thinking

President Trump and the Mueller investigation

Anti-Semitism vs. Islamophobia

Taking the “beauty” out of beauty pageants

Depressing thoughts can be contagious

My appearance on Monday’s Special Report

And Wednesday’s

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday Links

The birth of Ziggy Stardust

Authorities capture bear using waffles and syrup

The real-life gangsters behind Goodfellas

Norwegian company gives employees pawternity leave to bond with new pets

Yale graduation speaker breaks up with her boyfriend during speech

Follow the monkey (poop)

Good boys like being called good boys

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

The new golden age of Tiki bars

Grifter season 2018

Oregon man gives new meaning to high-speed chase

Why it’s harder to think in the summer heat

The 200-year treasure hunt

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

The super-bacteria living in NASA’s Clean Rooms

Nerd alert!

What to eat before you swim 5,500 miles

Scientists move us one step closer to having robot overlords

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

Culture

Great Oaks Have Deep Roots

(Stock photo: Pixabay)

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

Dear Reader (Of whatever degrees of feck),

One of the great advantages of being more than 4,000 miles from home is that the local D.C. police will never think of looking for me here in Alaska. Another, more relevant, advantage is that politics seems really far away, and the distance offers a little perspective. (Attending the funeral of a great man puts things in even greater perspective, but we’ll get to that below.)

Maybe it’s just my mood or the nitrogen bubbles in my brain, but as I checked in periodically to the Twitter spats and cable-news fights this last week, it seemed pretty obvious that maybe we should just nuke the whole thing from orbit and let the bees have a shot.

More seriously, I haven’t felt this kind of alienation from politics in a very long time. It’s not disgust so much as a kind of exhaustion. I think it’s partly because I don’t think the Offended Wars are primarily about people being offended. Yeah, of course, it’s easy — and correct — to denounce Roseanne Barr’s racism (and all around nuttery) or Samantha Bee’s righteous grotesquery. But it seems pretty obvious that the issue for most people — at least for the partisans — isn’t the issue itself. Indeed, the Offended Wars are a kind of Potemkin conflict for the true battle over double standards.

“Why does Roseanne get fired but Samantha Bee doesn’t!?” is just the latest iteration of this recurring grievance. And, let me be clear, I’m largely in the conservative camp on the merits of the question. There is much more tolerance for liberals to be asinine, grotesque, bigoted, and even wildly anti-democratic in their rhetoric and “comedy.”

There are many reasons for this. Charlie Cooke got at one of them in the latest episode of The Editors. When someone tweeted a picture of little illegal-immigrant kids in what were essentially jail cells or kennels, the Left instantaneously went into overdrive denouncing the dystopian horror that is Trump’s America. When it was revealed that the picture was from 2014 and that the warehousing of these kids was on Obama’s watch, a storm of “well, actually” rained down across the Internet. Suddenly, immigration policy became complicated and Obama was dealing with a difficult situation (David French has a good rundown).

The assumption is that liberals’ hearts are in the right place, thus, when they stray off the path rhetorically or in some other way, it’s not seen as revelatory of something darker or more sinister. Of course, conservatives do the same thing. We assume the best of our own tribe and can dismiss a joke or errant tweet quite easily from one of our own.

The key difference is that liberals dominate the commanding heights of the culture. When Tom Friedman heaps praise on an evil and authoritarian regime, it’s seen as a thoughtful exercise in creative thinking and analysis. Joy Ann Reid can be guilty of precisely the kind of rhetoric that serves as proof of bigotry when it comes from conservatives, because she’s on the side of social justice. Ta-Nehisi Coates can write sweeping denunciations of white people — and it’s speaking truth to power or some such. They can get away with it not because their arguments are less radical or their jokes less offensive but because the gatekeeping institutions of our culture are largely on their side.

Do I find it frustrating? Of course. Does the double standard vex me? Yes, I’m terribly vexed. But here’s the thing: If you’re only willing to hold your principles on the condition that people you hate hold them too, they’re not really principles.

The Era of Meme Looting

What we’re seeing these days looks a lot like looting to me. Under normal circumstances, we all believe theft is wrong. But when disaster strikes and order breaks down, all bets are off. When we see everyone else grabbing what they can, we do it too. There’s some homunculus in our heads that screams: “Don’t be a sucker! Get yours!”

Right now, Twitter and cable TV overflow with arguments that boil down to “Our a**holes are okay because look at what your a**holes got away with.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think social norms and standards are worthwhile on utilitarian grounds. Consider traffic lights. There’s no compelling moral reason for green to mean “go” and for red to mean “stop.” But there is a compelling moral argument for the existence of traffic lights and the need for everyone to obey them. If progressives decide that traffic lights are only for conservatives, it won’t be long before no one obeys them. Why be a sucker? (And if the state only gives tickets to conservative drivers, one can hardly blame conservatives for thinking the system is unfairly rigged.) Of course, the end result is that lots of people, conservative and liberal alike, will end up in smoldering wrecks.

My record on the excesses of the Trumpian Right is pretty clear. But I think one of the reasons we got here is that liberals were truly blind to the double standard they benefit from and the norms they were happy to see violated when the people violating them were “the good guys.” I do not consider conservatives blameless in all this either. It’s a catalytic process that goes back a long way, with little tit-for-tat violations stretching back decades, some of which I discussed last week.

In other words, I think we have a cultural collective-action problem. One possible solution is to simply let the process play out until sheer exhaustion causes protagonists on all sides to recognize the futility of endless culture war. As I’ve written before, the principle of religious tolerance was a last resort, an utterly utilitarian practical compromise, after the combatants in Europe’s religious wars recognized what C. V. Wedgwood called “the essential futility of putting the beliefs of the mind to the judgment of the sword.”

My Three-Point Plan

Hopefully, the judgment of the sword will remain purely figurative in our context. But simply waiting out the storm strikes me as too defeatist. On my book tour, people keep asking me what to do. I can think of lots of good public-policy ideas, but those are means. I think we need some clarity about ends. Here are three I have in mind. First, we need to return to the idea of ideological and theological pluralism but moral consensus. People are free to believe whatever they like, and they are free to act on those beliefs so long as they don’t harm others. Second, we need a lot less nationalism (for want of a better term). What I mean by that is that the federal government and various national elites need to stop thinking that the whole country needs to think and act in one way.

These are not contradictory propositions. Fox News likes to do stories that boil down to “Can you believe someone in San Francisco believes X!?” MSNBC likes stories that boil down to “We have troubling reports that someone in Wyoming believes Y!” The underlying assumption is that in America everyone is supposed to think alike. Well, unless someone is actually being harmed — and I don’t mean in the terminally asinine construction, “words hurt” — who gives a rat’s a**?

Lastly, we need to get as much power out of Washington as conceivably possible. As long as we think that the federal government, especially the executive branch, has monarchical power to impose a vision on the whole country, we will turn political contests into cultural warfare. The Whigs couldn’t abide a Catholic on the throne because they believed the king would impose his vision on all of England. The Catholics felt the same way about the prospect of a Protestant crown. The solution is to restrain the power of the crown — so that the faith of the monarch doesn’t matter.

Vladimir Paul Gavora, RIP

I called him “Vlad” for nearly a year before someone finally told me that his wife was the only person who still got to call him that. To everyone else he was “Mr. Gavora,” “Paul,” “the Old Man,” or simply, “Dad.”

Since my father-in-law intimidated the hell out of me, I opted for “Paul.”

We buried Paul yesterday next to his beloved wife, Donna, and their cherished daughter, Pauli. (You can read his obituary here.) It felt like an end of an era, like a great king being dispatched to history.

I don’t mean to be grandiose, but that’s how it felt. Paul was not a big talker, and it had nothing to do with the fact he never lost his thick Slovakian accent. The man had argued with his academic mentor, Milton Friedman, when English was still relatively new to him. He could be a talker, but he preferred to be a doer.

In many ways, my own father and Paul could not be more different. My dad was one of the great indoorsmen of the ages. To say my dad wasn’t handy would be a gross understatement. As someone once said of Allan Bloom, “things were not his friend.” Meanwhile, Paul loved to hunt and fish and work in his garden, preferably while giving orders to his army of grandkids. Paul was rarely happier than when he was getting his hands dirty. He built an elaborate contraption because he was determined to grow corn in soil a couple hundred miles south of the Arctic Circle.

But Paul and my dad had more important things in common, and I don’t just mean their shared hatred of Communism. They were both deeply grounded.

“Grounded” is a word that doesn’t get its due. But it’s a great word, a conservative word in every sense. Great oaks have deep roots. They hold the soil in place during storms and floods. Reefs defy the waves and tides and serve as shelter for the life that grows around them. Institutions that are grounded in a community are landmarks and safe havens in confusing turbulent times. That was Paul. He was as reliable as True North.

My wife often tells the story of how, when he would bring home ducks he shot himself for dinner, he would make it a contest for the kids to see who could “win” by biting down on some buckshot first. “The boys fell for it every time,” she explained with an eye roll. When his kids would talk about their career plans or business ideas, the first question Paul would ask was, “Yeah, but can you eat it?”

Paul knew his economic theory, and he was a passionate defender of the free market, but he jettisoned abstractions like so much ballast when he swam the Danube in the dead of night to escape the Communists. That question — “can you eat it?” — was grounded in a profound understanding of how theories — Nazi theories, Communist theories, even capitalist theories — can come and go, but people will always need what humans need: food, clothing, shelter. He knew this because he’d seen what happens when people are denied it.

They also need family and a sense of community, which is why he invested so much of himself in both.

When a flood ravaged Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1967, he simply gave out the food on the shelves of his grocery stores and turned his house into a refuge for people left homeless. Paul built and supported one institution after another in his community because this was where he chose to sink his roots deep into the ground. His son Rudy, who worked by his father’s side for four decades, told how people would regularly come to their office to repay loans that Paul had long forgotten making. Strangers would come to see the Old Man for life advice, simply because they knew Paul had seen so much of it.

His oldest son, Danny, told the story of how the influx of national supermarket chains into Fairbanks made Paul’s life work untenable as a business proposition. Danny was the one who had to explain the direness of the situation to his father. Paul simply replied that the grocery stores he had built served their most important function: allowing he and Donna to raise nine children and send them to college, and that was good enough. We’ll find another business, he explained.

My wife, who is no fan of public-speaking, was understandably fearful of being overcome with emotion (something I can understand all too well, having publicly sobbed through eulogies for my father and my brother). But she did a wonderful job, explaining how the thing Paul disliked most was phoniness. “He’s a phony” was just about the worst thing Paul could say about someone. Jessica noted that in Washington, where people routinely talk a great game about the importance of family and of personal integrity, it was hard not to see so many of them as phonies when comparing their words to their deeds, never mind those of her parents, who worked so hard to model decency, honesty, and dedication rather than just talk about such things.

At the end of Saving Private Ryan, there’s that powerful scene where a now-aged James Ryan looks at the tombstone of his comrade and weeps with panic that he might not have been the good man he needed to be to earn his sacrifice. It gets me every time. When I watched men lower Paul’s casket into the ground next to Donna, I looked at his tombstone and choked up with the hope that I might be a fraction of the great man he was.

We have a tendency to think of Great Men as the cast of some grand historical narrative. But the truth is many of those men were not so much great as glorious or simply glory-seeking. They sought out fame and a place in history. That wasn’t Paul, though he made his share of history where it mattered to him, and he’d seen more than his share of history as well. Paul was a truly great man because he was truly good man, grounded to the things that mattered the most to him and the things that simply matter most.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: They’re doing great. We had some quality time last weekend, as the Fair Jessica was out of town. And they’re doing just fine with their best friend, Kirsten. Though there was some anxiety about all the thunder. Meanwhile, I was met at the airport in Fairbanks by my brother-in-law Steven and his goodwill ambassador, Nick.

I’m scheduled to be on Media Buzz on Sunday and on NPR on Monday morning.

Also CSPAN will be airing my conversation with John Podhoretz and his sweater this weekend.

By the time this comes out on NRO a new Remnant podcast will be up.

Last week’s G-File

The week’s GLoP: Reading is FUNdamental

We’re losing sight of the immigrants at the heart of the immigration debate

Human progress and how we might blow it, a new video I did for AEI

My appearance on Fox News Sunday (I come on at the 31:58 marker)

The overblown fear of the “Deep State”

And now, the weird stuff.

Debbie’s Friday Links

A map of the places you’re least likely to get struck by lightning

Man finds world’s largest cornflake in his breakfast

1908, when dueling made its first and last appearance as an Olympic sport

Peacocks escape Philadelphia Zoo and cause a traffic jam

Man hears noises in his head, turns out to be a cockroach

The fading battlefields of World War I

Girls find WWI-era bomb in Michigan lake

Turns out dinosaurs needed Head & Shoulders

Why does sweetness taste good?

Mussels fail drug test

If fashion is cyclical, we may be seeing the glass dress soon return

Florida woman Crystal Methvin gets arrested for exactly what you’d think

New world record for cheese-rolling set

Subtropical Storm Alberto creates a mini-tornado in a pool

Polar pups

Giant moose chases away golfers

Dentists can smell your fear

Boy helps grandmother up stairs

Culture

The Hedges of the Garden of Liberty

A member of the Boy Scouts of America holds flags to be placed at graves to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, Cypress Hills National Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, May 23, 2015. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

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

Dear Reader (Including Emmett Flood, who won’t stop attending my meetings),

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

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

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

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

“Your surprise.”

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

What’s the point of this hypothetical?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking as the Crow Flies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making America What Now?

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

The week’s Remnant, Numb as a Podcast

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

Dogs, loneliness, and the breakdown of civil society

Parsing through the Trump–Russia Investigation narratives

Conservatives should argue about ideas instead of Trump

My appearance on Special Report

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

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

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Wednesday Links

Debby’s Friday Links

Stink bug-flavored jelly beans

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

Police arrest pig on charges of stalking

Scientists have a new plan to find the Loch Ness Monster

A museum dedicated to hats

The White House gets swampy

Were-pups of London

Kangaroo spotted along Highway 28

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

The greatest senior prank of all time

How Cap’n Crunch led to Apple Inc.

High school brings a tiger to prom

Is this the perfect video?

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

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

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

World

The Tribe’s Useful Idiots

Palestinian protesters at the Israeli-Gaza border, May 18, 2018. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)

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

Dear Reader (Including the subhuman animals who hear Yanny),

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: How do you sculpt an elephant?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every Tribe Is a Story, Every Story Has a Tribe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

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

Here’s other stuff:

Last week’s G-File

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

The latest Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast, sans P

Conservatives and young voters

My appearance on the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s podcast

This week’s second Remnant, with Ben Shapiro

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

British World War II bomber radio chatter, classy as Hell

Each state’s favorite ’90s sitcom

Dog jumps over high wall

Why do we have butts?

Psychedelic salt mines

The largest wave ever

Violinist imitates animal sounds

Dog enjoys ball pit

History of the Universe in 13,799 Dominoes

Psychedelic octopus

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

Cannonball GoPro

Dog rescues dog

The lexicon of Tom Wolfe

The creation of the sounds of sex scenes in movies

Snail memory transfer?

Volcano golfing

Adopt a Chernobyl puppy

Metaphor alert

Mankind and its teeth

PC Culture

Turning Windmills into Giants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here There Be Giants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What giants?” asked Sancho Panza.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between Calhoun and Coates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

Father Coughlin, then and now

Politics as entertainment

What is the “Intellectual Dark Web”?

The Mueller morass

Remnant: EconTalked — Part I

Concentrated power invites political backlash

Remnant: EconTalked — Part II

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Saint’s bone discovered in garage

Science: Puppies cure disease

What would happen if the Moon suddenly disappeared?

The glow-worm tunnel

Herman Melville’s lost classic

Dumb college freshmen attempt to understand European history

Harbor seal that made mostly wrong Super Bowl picks dies

The secret cities that created the atomic bomb

Nature is scary

Gallons of chocolate spill on road

States ranked by drinking

Organ-regeneration progress continues apace

Wild boars retake Japan as population sinks

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

A hangover pill???

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

Politics & Policy

War on the Right

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

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

Dear Buyers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

James sincerely believed that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ICYMI . . .

Everybody gets a Nobel

Misunderstanding conservatives

The age of double standards

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

My latest Special Report appearance

My hit on America’s Newsroom

The latest “cultural appropriation” outrage is silly

Today’s Remnant, with Tim Carney

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Tuesday links

New York at its nadir

Dog discovers belly sliding

HARD nope

Human thigh bones make the best daggers

Chill capybaras

The shapes of outer space

Woolly mammoths returning?

Brew George Washington’s beer

English monarch signatures

When kangaroos attack

Whoa . . .

Japan’s ghost town

New Jersey’s mystery pooper revealed

The Manhattan Project’s nuclear suburb

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

Politics & Policy

The Great Divide

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

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

Dear Reader (Especially the RedState Diaspora),

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Divide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Immortal on Our Shoulders

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

ICYMI . . .

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

My book-launch announcement

Why North Korea won’t give up its nukes

Keep track of all reviews of my book, here

Keep track of all my media appearances, here

Begin the Butlerian Jihad!

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links, last week

And this week

Where the Amish go on vacation

The medieval Italian man with a knife for a hand

The space mutiny

A brief history of the stoplight

How birds get oxygen inside their eggs

Teaching AI to think like dogs

The hunt for wonder drugs at the North Pole

Nature is scary

Abandoned Wizard of Oz theme park reopening

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

Dogs are great

Did sweating make us the dominant species on earth?

Are we reaching the biological limits of humanity?

Dogs and humans are surprisingly similar

The world is a good place

Uranus really stinks (no, really)

Dog siblings reunited

Husky in the snow

Can scientists control dreams now?

The steepest street in the world

Science is great

Corgi vs. crab

The First World War’s continuing impact on the landscape

The world balloon convention winners

Culture

Rebels without a Cause

Britney Spears at the GLAAD Media Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif., April 12, 2018. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

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

Dear Reader (Including anyone else who needs to disclose that they’re Michael Cohen’s client),

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Division of Meaning

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

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

Corporatized Conformity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

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

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

Suicide of the West: The Comic Book

My latest Special Report appearance

Trump’s latest Syria strike — and what it means

The latest Remnant, with Scott Lincicome, nacho snob

Trump and Comey: symbiotes

Hannity, Cohen, and disclosure

The latest Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast

America is not the world’s most bigoted nation

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Wednesday links

What happens when you eat the world’s hottest pepper

Andre the Giant’s drinking habits

What could go wrong?

Bank-robbery suspect was trying to impress Taylor Swift

China from above

Our parents shoulda, just called ya Laika . . .

Why some birds glow

Lake Baikal, in photos

The most radioactive place in the world

Jeff Goldblum making noises

Stanley Kubrick’s still photography

2018 World Press photo-contest winners

Why bananas, nuts, and crackers mean “crazy”

A cake-serving Rube Goldberg machine (no relation)

D.C.’s Cherry Blossoms at peak bloom

The “arrested” dog

The Midwest, in a video

Politics & Policy

Cincinnatus Lays Down the PowerPoint

House Speaker Paul Ryan at a press conference on Capitol Hill, September 6, 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

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

Dear Reader (and friggatriskaidekaphobes everywhere),

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

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

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

Mr. Whiskers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that brings me to Paul Ryan.

Cheese Lover Returns to Dairy State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

ICYMI . . .

Last Week’s G-File

My latest Special Report appearance

Second look at non-human personhood?

The Cohen raid

The Cohen role

The latest GLoP

Democrats need more than an anti-Trump platform to win

The latest Remnant

Facebook’s convenient desire for regulation

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

The last contiguous–U.S. Blockbuster

Gummy bears vs. molten salt

Thermite vs. marbles

Dog tries to play fetch with a statue

Service dogs at Disneyland

The amazing feats of army ants

Manhattan mice may have evolved to live on cheese fries

What do aliens look like?

What are the most popular dog breeds in America?

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

(The Who did this under less auspicious circumstances)

Were dinosaurs killed by their taste buds?

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

The history of everything

Why is Jupiter’s Great Red Spot shrinking?

The history of Coca-Cola bottle shapes

What did ancient Romans do without toilet paper?

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