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 put the lime in the coconut and shake it all up),
Let’s borrow a page from television and do the epistolary version of one of those show recaps. You know, like, “Previously on MacGuyver . . . ” (my favorite was how the TV version of Fargo sometimes began their episode recaps “Erstwhile on Fargo . . . ”). So, “Previously in the G-File . . . ”
In September of 2015, I wrote a G-File on how Trump’s popularity was corrupting conservatism. Then, almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a “news”letter arguing that Donald Trump’s cult of personality is corrupting conservatism. It was titled, “Trump’s Cult of Personality Is Corrupting Conservatism.” Then last March, I wrote about how many lifelong conservatives seemed like pod-people in the Invasion of the Body Snatchers, changing positions and attitudes almost overnight as Trump gained in popularity. The more traction Trump got, the weaker the grip traditional conservative ideology had on quite a few famous ideologues.
(Then, last May, I managed to fit 78 Cheetos in my mouth at one time. But that’s not important right now. Though, who knows? It may be super relevant for the series finale! This is actually one of the reasons I dislike show recaps — they telegraph what the writers want you to know, making a show more predictable).
Taking these positions made a lot of people, including friends, mad. I understand that. I’m not going to rehash all the old arguments, but I will say my conscience is clear. Indeed, on the recent National Review cruise a good number of people, flush with the joy of seeing the Fall of House Clinton, told me that they “forgive” me for taking the positions I did. I appreciate the sentiment, as it was clearly sincere and offered with magnanimity and friendship.
But you can keep your forgiveness. I don’t want it, at least not for this. I have plenty to be sorry for (“The shoddy quality of this ‘news’letter seems a good place to start” — The Couch) but my stance in 2016 isn’t one of them.
More to the point, when you seek forgiveness for a misdeed, it is morally obligatory to try to correct your behavior. If I ask for your forgiveness for drinking all your beer without permission, I probably shouldn’t express my gratitude for your forgiveness by cracking open one of your beers and burping out a “thanks, bro.”
This was always an underappreciated angle to Bill Clinton’s perfidious sleaze. He’d apologize for doing something when caught, and then go back to doing it the moment he was in the clear. How many times do you think he apologized for his “past indiscretions,” on his way to the pharmacy to load up on Cialis and Tetracycline?
Well, I’m not going to play that game. It would be weird for me to apologize for telling the truth as I see it about Trump — and then continuing to do it.
The Golden Ticket
Oh, that reminds me: I have a theory about the furor over the possibility that Mitt Romney might get the secretary of state job. You see, I’m willing to wait to discover what Trump’s motivations are. Maybe he really likes the idea of forming some kind of unity government. Maybe he thinks Mitt is the right man for the job. Or maybe he wants to show the world he can make the author of No Apology apologize. Anything’s possible.
No, I’m referring to the rage the Romney flirtation has elicited among many in Trump’s inner circle. Clearly part of it is that Huckabee and Gingrich just don’t like the guy. That much is pretty well known. But the list of politicians they personally dislike must be fairly long, and they haven’t mounted public campaigns against them. Something else is going on.
Listen to Gingrich on Laura Ingraham’s show excoriating Romney for “sucking up” to Donald Trump. Now, I like Newt, so I’ll refrain from hammering the point that he has not exactly been reserved in his praise for Donald Trump. But I can’t let this bit go:
I am confident that he thinks now that he and Donald Trump are the best of friends, they have so many things in common. That they’re both such wise, brilliant people. And I’m sure last night at an elegant three-star restaurant, he was happy to share his version of populism, which involve a little foie gras, a certain amount of superb cooking, but put that in a populist happy manner.
He goes on a bit more, childishly putting stink on the fact that Romney speaks French, for example. But two things stand out here. First, it’s not like Newt is a stranger to fancy restaurants. Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich don’t behave like Jake and Ellwood throwing shrimp cocktail into each other’s mouths and trying to buy the womenfolk at the next table. Newt had a half-million dollar revolving line of credit at Tiffany’s and wrote his dissertation on education reform in the Belgian Congo. Spare me the boob-bait-for-bubbas rhetoric.
Second, it’s clear that Gingrich, Huckabee et al. are kind of freaked out by the possibility that Trump isn’t quite the Henry the Fifth they hoped he would be.
Consider the following thought experiment.
So that brings me to my theory (shared by Josh Barro, who beat me to the punch on this): Trump’s magnanimity is a threat to the loyalists.
Consider the following thought experiment. A very rich guy makes you an offer: “If you eat this bowl of sh**, I will grant you a wish.” You think about it for a minute or two, and then you grab a wooden spoon and start to dig in, when the rich guy says, “Hold on. You’ve got to do it publicly.”
Well, you figure, “What’s the difference? Once I get my wish it will be worth it.” So, you head on over to a television studio with your plastic bib and your spoon, and you tuck into the steaming bowl like Mikey in the old Life cereal commercials.
Then the rich guy says, “Sorry, one more thing: I can only give you a coupon for your wish. But, I promise to honor it once I get the job of genie. Just keep eating.”
What to do? You’ve already acquired a reputation for coprophagia and no one else is offering wish-coupons, so you stick it out. Besides, you’re not alone. A bunch of other folks have been promised similar coupons and you’ve formed a tightknit group. You spend a lot of time talking about how smart you are for agreeing to this arrangement. You fantasize about what you’ll do with your wishes and how sorry the naysayers will be.
Then, the rich guy gets the job of genie. Woo-hoo!
Naturally, you want to redeem your coupon. But all of a sudden, the rich guy starts playing coy. He’s honoring the coupon for some people, but not you. That would be fine — one coupon at a time and all. But then you learn that the genie-elect is giving out coupons to people who didn’t partake of the fecal feast. Uh oh.
And then you see news reports that the big man is not only giving out wishes to people who never earned a coupon, but he’s considering granting a wish to the foremost guy who criticized the big man and tried to keep him from being able to grant wishes at all!
In many respects, for the hardcore Trumpers, the best days may be behind them.
Okay, this is getting belabored. But you get the point. If Trump remains the loyalist, Gingrich, Huckabee et al. have golden tickets. The last thing they want is Willie Wonka Trump letting just anybody into the chocolate factory.
I don’t blame them for being pissed. They put up with a huge amount of grief inch-worming like Andy Dufresne out of Shawshank Prison for Trump and, in some cases, were forced to leave behind prized positions to fit in the sewer pipe. That’s what comes across most palpably to me in that Gingrich interview: resentment over the fact his golden ticket has been devalued.
This illuminates a point I’ve made before. The more “presidential” Trump gets, the more pissed off many of his fans will get and the more popular he will become. In many respects, for the hardcore Trumpers, the best days may be behind them. He’s already, rhetorically at least, thrown the racists under the bus. Heck, as someone joked on Twitter, when they ate those frog legs, they might as well have been eating Pepe.
Carrier on My Wayward GOP
If the only casualties of a Trump presidency were the opportunists, courtiers, and comment-section trolls, I’d be pretty giddy. But this Carrier decision shows that the damage will not be nearly so surgical. The rot is already setting in. (You knew the recap thing at the beginning of this “news”letter meant I would return to the subject of corruption, right?)
As a political act, it is very, very easy to exaggerate the economic importance of the Carrier intervention. It’s less than a thousand jobs. Save for the workers and families directly involved, it’s all symbolism.
And while the politics of this are great for the incoming Trump administration, they are absolutely terrible for free-market conservatives. The former president of AEI and a veteran of the Reagan administration, Christopher DeMuth, used to argue that perhaps the most important thing Ronald Reagan did was fire the air traffic controllers. In isolation, it was not that big a deal. But the message it sent was hugely important at a time when Eurosclerosis was spreading in America. Reagan let it be known that the public-sector unions no longer had the whip hand and the government couldn’t be extorted.
Trump’s Carrier intervention may just send an equally loud, but nearly opposite signal: that the White House is going to pick winners and losers, that it can be rolled, that industrial policy is back, that Trump cares more about seeming like a savior than sticking to clear and universal rules, and that there is now no major political party in America that rejects crony capitalism as a matter of principle. After all, don’t expect the GOP to recycle the language it used for the bailouts, Cash for Clunkers, Solyndra, etc., when it comes to Carrier. The RNC belongs to Trump.
I’m not going to get into the weeds explaining the bad economics here, but I suggest you look at my AEI colleague Ben Zycher’s critique — or National Review’s own editorial (or the Examiner’s). My point is that I shouldn’t have to!
This is from Friday’s New York Times:
“I don’t want them moving out of the country without consequences,” Mr. Trump said, even if that means angering the free-market-oriented Republicans he beat in the primaries but will have to work with on Capitol Hill.
“The free market has been sorting it out and America’s been losing,” Mr. Pence added, as Mr. Trump interjected, “Every time, every time.”
I don’t begrudge Trump his distrust and/or ignorance of the free market. He ran on dirigisme, protectionism, and a cult-of-personality approach to issues of public policy (“I alone can fix it!” and all that B.S.). He has spent his entire professional life working, bribing, and cajoling politicians for special deals — and he’s been honest about it.
But Mike Pence is supposed to be one of us. He’s supposed to be, if not the chief ideologist of the Trump administration, at least the mainstream right’s ambassador and emissary in the West Wing. And here he is casually throwing the “free market” under the bus in order to elevate crony capitalism, industrial policy, and rule of man over rule of law. Does Pence really believe that America loses in the free market every time? Really?
Does Mike Pence really believe that America loses in the free market every time? Really?
Last night on Fox News’s Special Report, our friend Matt Schlapp — the head of the American Conservative Union (!) — could not muster a single reservation about Trump’s embrace of corporatism. What. The. Hell?
I spent a year hearing that Trump was like Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, and Ronald Reagan. And for eight years Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, and nearly every major conservative critic of the Obama administration has, as a matter of routine, denounced the way the Obama administration picked winners and losers in the economy. Apparently, the hierophants of capitalism have discovered a new Apocrypha to the holy books: The free market is great — unless Donald Trump feels otherwise.
Again, one can over-interpret this one event. Reagan imposed protective tariffs to help save Harley Davidson. But you knew that the decision was a political necessity and the sort of exception that proved the rule. No one doubted that Reagan was a free-market guy in his heart. But Trump has made it abundantly clear that he is beholden to no core ideological program. He’s a “pragmatist” who goes by his gut (after all, he only intervened with Carrier because he saw a story on the news). But I’ve been to too many tea-party rallies and GOP rubber-chicken dinners to let the rest of them off the hook. You cannot simultaneously spout off about F. A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Adam Smith and the superiority of the market economy, limited government, and the Constitution and have no problem whatsoever with what Trump did here.
It’s unclear as of right now how many of these former mystagogues of the market were lying then or whether they’re lying now. I like to think that this is mostly about the petty corruption that is inherent to politics and that Pence et al. don’t actually believe what they are saying now. But that is hardly an argument for trusting them later.
Various & Sundry
The reason this “news”letter is so tardy is that I’ve had to write it on a plane and now in the Denver airport and neither is particularly conducive to such things. And now I must go find my connecting flight to Caspar, Wyo. (Don’t ask).
I don’t have much by way of a canine update this week as I’ve been travelling and working like a crazy man (gotta get this frick’n book done) and we were out of town for Thanksgiving (without our beasts) and Zoë was stuck in the Cone of Shame. I asked The Fair Jessica if she had anything to report for the canine update. And she sent me these pictures. When you own hyper dogs, there are few things more satisfying than knowing they’ve been successfully exhausted. Of course, Zoë is always ready to muster the energy to fight the enemy.
Oh, that does remind me. For a while now people have been complaining that I don’t tweet pictures of Zoë in her trademark pose in the back of the car anymore. The reason for that is she stopped doing it for like six months. I have no idea why. But just this week, she decided to start doing it again.
If that’s not enough canine updating, you can try and spot the beasts here.
Now, here’s some stuff I wrote:
In the newest GLoP Culture podcast, John Podhoretz tells a whippersnapper to get off his lawn.
And now, the weird stuff.