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 those of you John Boehner considers stygian disciples of Lucifer),
Let’s start with some really good news. Sergeant First Class Charles Martland will not be discharged for beating the stuffing out of an Afghan commander who kept a boy chained up as a sex slave. Martland and Special Forces captain Dan Quinn smacked the guy around because, as it says in the Torah, “It is good to smack around degenerates who rape boys.”
I’m probably paraphrasing and maybe it’s not in there, but we can all agree that it should be.
A few months ago, I wrote about this case in a “Happy Warrior” magazine column about civilizational confidence. It called to mind one of my favorite stories about the British Empire, which I’ve written about several times. When General Charles Napier was running the show in British-controlled India, he was told by all the local muckety-mucks and diplomatic cookie pushers that he simply couldn’t ban the practice of hanging men who burned widows alive. It was an Indian tradition with a long history of existence, they explained. Napier replied:
Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.
One needn’t celebrate imperialism to appreciate the point. Some of our customs are non-negotiable. Here’s how I put it:
Of course, the Pashtun fondness for buggering young boys is well known. Kandahar’s reputation as the pederasty capital of South Asia — worst tourist slogan ever! — goes back centuries. The practice, called bacha bazi, is a kind of Veblenesque “conspicuous consumption.” Rich and powerful men — chiefly warlords — take on sex slaves as a status symbol. The unpopularity of the practice helped fuel the rise of the Taliban, which banned it. Local village elders complained to Quinn and others about how predatory the militias had become. So beating the child rapist can be understood as an improvisational effort to win the hearts and minds of the locals. But even if not, it was the right thing to do.
I’m no wild-eyed idealist. If we absolutely need to ally ourselves with scummy, backward people in furtherance of a broader strategic imperative, so be it. But you know what? Tolerance is a two-way street. Our troops are taught to adhere to many local customs around the world as a sign of respect. Take off your shoes when you enter their homes. Eat from the communal bowl with your right hand only. Etc.
Well, in return, our allies should be expected to meet the minimum requirements of our culture. And way up high on the list of good manners in the West — much higher, in fact, than the proper use of salad forks or covering your mouth when you cough — is: Do Not Rape Young Boys When You Are a Guest of the Americans. An important follow-up in the etiquette manual would state: “If you wish to follow your own customs in this matter, take note: It is an American custom to beat the stuffing out of men who chain up and rape young boys.”
The Limits of Wrongness
The merry pranksters at the Washington Free Beacon put together this super-cut of Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski gloating over and over again about how they were right about the Trump phenomenon when so many others were wrong. It’s fairly nauseating to watch:
Scarborough insists on air and off that he’s not in the tank for Donald Trump. Rather, he says that he and Mika are “in the tank for . . . truth!” He claims the reason so many think he’s pro-Trump boils down to professional jealousy. I should say that after conducting a vigorous personal inventory of my motives, jealousy of Scarborough’s foresight really doesn’t play much of a role in my own annoyance with his obvious Trump-boosterism. Nor have I talked with any Trump critic who’s said, “You know, the thing that really burns my ass about Scarborough’s Trump man-crush is, he called this so early.”
(This also assumes that Scarborough’s “predictions” were based on dispassionate analysis rather than an investment in Trump boosterism that simply paid off.)
Is vs. Ought
But this gloat-a-thon does raise a larger point. Trump’s candidacy has ignited a riot of question-begging and non sequiturs across the land. Every day I hear from scores of people who insist that because I was wrong about Trump’s chances to win the nomination, I must be wrong not only about his chances in the general election, but also about his qualifications to be president at all.
I should say, it is entirely fair to doubt my prognostication skills on how Trump will perform in the general given how wrong I was in the primaries. Of course, failure to predict black swans — or in this case, Creamsicle-orange ones — is not necessarily as damning as some think. It was utterly reasonable to predict that Trump wouldn’t do this well, just as it’s entirely reasonable to say, “There will be no zombie apocalypse.” But, if the dead do rise from their graves, such assurances will look pretty stupid. And while the zombie-preppers in our midst will surely have the last laugh, I’m not sure I have to concede they’re all geniuses, even when a reanimated Abe Vigoda is munching on my larynx.
I honestly believe that Trump would crash in the general election like so much blue ice from an Aeroflot jetliner.
I honestly believe that Trump would crash in the general election like so much blue ice from an Aeroflot jetliner. I don’t think he can flip any of the states in the Democratic “blue wall,” and I think there’s a strong likelihood he’d fail to hold on to some of the states in the Republican “red wall.” Talk to political handicappers in Arizona and Utah, for instance, and they will tell you he’s very likely to lose there and take other Republican candidates down with him. For example, Trump boosters point to his blow-out win in New York as evidence he can flip the state. I agree with Ross Douthat: This is delusional. Bush got more votes than Trump in the New York primary in 2000 — when that primary didn’t even matter — and still lost the state in the general by 15 points. Both Sanders and Clinton got a lot more votes than Trump.
Trump loves to cite how he “won” with Hispanics in Nevada, leaving out that he was talking about a statistical handful of self-identified Republican Hispanics in a caucus. Among Hispanics generally, Trump polls only slightly better than ass cancer. His numbers are somewhat better with women, but still within sight of ass-cancer margins. Yes, Trump does well with white men, but he’d have to do roughly ten points better than Reagan in his 1984 landslide (the high water mark for white-male turnout) to even be competitive. His boosters point to Hillary’s undeniable vulnerabilities, while leaving out that Trump’s negatives are much worse.
Still, I could be wrong about all of this. There’s no disputing Trump is a disrupter, that he overturns many of the rules that we mistakenly thought were binding. Good for him. So maybe he’ll keep defying expectations. Reasonable people can debate that point.
Less reasonable is the claim that because I was wrong about Trump’s chances, I must therefore be wrong about Trump’s qualifications and character. If you predicted in 2006 that Obama would be the Democratic nominee, congrats! That, however, is not an argument for why he should have been the nominee or the president. It’s a confusion of “is” and “ought” and I see it everywhere.
While my opposition to Trump is not primarily an argument about electability, I’ve been focusing on that angle lately because the establishment opportunists, quislings, sell-outs, pragmatists, and harlots are more persuadable on these grounds than arguments over principle. People open to principled arguments against Trump have already been persuaded. The John Boehner and K Street caucus on the other hand has made peace with Trump because they understand he’s a guy they can “cut deals” with. They hate Ted Cruz because they know or fear he isn’t. I’m not saying that everyone who supports Trump isn’t a conservative or isn’t principled. I am saying I think they’re wrong.
Let the Precriminations Begin!
I’ll make one last point on all this. I think it’s fascinating how so many people are already pre-blaming a Trump loss on the #NeverTrumpers. My old friend John Nolte seems blinded with rage at all of us, tweeting, “If Trump loses to Hillary . . . I will forever blame #NeverTrump.” Herman Cain is on Fox every five minutes ranting and bullying Trump opponents as fools and de facto Hillary supporters. I am beset by Lilliputian trolls on Twitter insisting I am pro-Hillary (a strange case to make if you read my chapter on her in Liberal Fascism — or quite literally anything I’ve ever written about her).
To the extent this stuff isn’t simply stupid, it amounts to coercion. Get on the bandwagon! Or else. Indeed, every day I get a half dozen threats along these lines:
@JonahNRO Prepare for the same hard times Glenn Beck is facing in the age of Trump. You're going to sweat, bleed and pay the price.
— Kirk Z (@kirkz2006) April 28, 2016
Now, I get it. I don’t want Hillary to be president either. And in politics sometimes people feel like they have to crack the whip to get the stragglers back in the herd. Also, it’s clear to me that as Ian Tuttle wrote this week, a major motivation of Trumpsters isn’t winning, it’s vengeance. John Nolte says that the “GOP’s needed an enema for a long time.” In this case, I actually agree with John’s apt comparison of his dashboard saint to an anal douche.
But let’s go back to the claim that Trump will win in the general election by flipping blue states in a populist tsunami. If that analysis is even remotely plausible, why should #NeverTrumpers matter? Indeed, if you take Trumpian rhetoric from his talk-radio and other cheerleaders seriously, the anti-Trump forces are a negligible bunch of eggheads, pinheads, and finger-sniffing shut-ins completely disconnected from the authentic and volcanically powerful volksgemeinschaft. If Trump has any chance of flipping New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, we shouldn’t matter at all. And yet, according to the increasingly shrill and whining bleats from his supporters, we will be to blame if he doesn’t win. Well which is it? Is this a revolutionary populist movement that will sweep aside ink knights like me or not?
I think several things are going on here. I think some pro-Trump forces actually realize that their guy will lose no matter what. Rather than face the fact that blame for Trump’s likely inevitable loss will rest entirely with Trump and his followers, they want to preserve the claim that Trump was “stabbed in the back.” Tactically, this isn’t dumb. The consolation prize for the Trump movement is to complete the hostile takeover of the GOP the way conservatives did after Goldwater’s loss in 1964. Psychologically, it also makes sense. No one ever wants to look squarely into the abyss of their own failure. But empirically, this argument is inane. If or when Trump loses it will be because of Trump’s own myriad and manifest shortcomings. Blaming us for honestly pointing out that those shortcomings are as short as the digits of Trump’s puppy-fur gloves may be cathartic, but it won’t be honest or accurate.
Pundits of Babylon
Speaking of honesty, my column today was nominally about Ed Schultz, who has become a willing mouthpiece for Vladimir Putin’s propaganda ministry. Schultz used to mock Putin, demonize Trump, and lionize Hillary Clinton. He’s reversed all three positions because he works for Russia Today.
I actually don’t care about Ed Schultz, because I’m a fairly normal and level-headed person (“De gustibus non est disputandum!” — The Couch). But I focused on him for two reasons. First, I think that the connections between Russia and Trump have been outrageously underreported. (How funny would it be if after all the fevered intimations that Obama was some kind of Manchurian candidate, it turned out the title better fit Donald Trump?) But more importantly, I was trying to highlight Schultz as a case study for a much wider phenomenon.
Look, if you’re a plumber or a dentist, you probably have no professional political track record or other obligation to remain politically consistent. If you like Donald Trump, there’s no immediate reason to question your sincerity. I can’t yell at the dentist, “But you used to do root canals! How dare you support Trump!?”
It’s different for opinion journalists, intellectuals, academics, and the like. They’re still allowed to change their minds of course. But when they do, they should feel obliged to explain their course corrections with facts and logic. A lot of people who fit this job category have suddenly discovered that they’re okay with a grandiloquently dishonest and narcissistic thrice-married adulterer and Christian of convenience who has little to no regard for the Constitution and limited government. No doubt some of these people are sincere. We are all prone to errors in judgment, confirmation bias, and magical thinking. But for some of these people, this is clearly not the case.
Power-worship is coursing through the veins of the Right these days.
Power-worship is coursing through the veins of the Right these days. I’ll put it this way: If Donald Trump were in John Kasich’s position, I sincerely doubt many of the prominent people praising Donald Trump’s foreign-policy speech this week would be offering the same analysis. Some would, I’m sure. I think Laura Ingraham would. Ann Coulter, too. They’ve been banging these drums for a long time now. But I can’t think of too many others now singing hosannas to Trump’s foreign-policy acumen and insight who wouldn’t be castigating him for embracing the term “America First” and all that it implies if Trump stood little chance of winning the nomination.
Again, if you’ve been railing about the importance of conservative principles — on economic, constitutional or social issues — for years or decades, and now you’re swooning for Trump, you owe people an explanation that doesn’t rely on North Korean–style celebrations of Trump’s magical powers. And if you don’t offer such explanations, a fair observer can be forgiven for not only doubting your sudden change of heart, but also any claim that you were sincere in the past.
Punditry has a bad name these days, but in my book at least, the job description is an honorable one. It boils down to telling the truth as you see it. Dick Morris was rightly fired from Fox because he admitted he lied to viewers. Ed Schultz, as far as I’ve been able to discover, has offered no explanation whatsoever. And by my lights if you knowingly say things you don’t believe for personal gain or glory while pretending to be an honest, albeit opinionated, broker, you don’t deserve the title pundit. But you are in the running for the label “whore.”
I’m open to the charge of cowardice in singling out a left-wing meathead like Ed Schultz instead of training fire on my friends and colleagues on the right by name. And maybe that’s part of it. But I also hope that I can persuade some people, and calling them out by name is more likely to make them harden their positions than move off them.
Various & Sundry
My first column of the week was on why Indiana governor Mike Pence should endorse Ted Cruz. I’ve heard that my column did not go unnoticed by the governor. Alas, it seems he didn’t take enough notice. His endorsement was so tepid, it may in fact help Trump. I understand the plight he’s in, but he seems to have followed Yogi Berra’s advice: When you come to a fork in the road — take it.
It seems I’ve also stirred up a bit of a hornets’ nest at Hillsdale, one of the great educational institutions in America. It’s just one more bit of evidence that the Trumpian divide is running like a cold river right through the heart of the conservative landscape. If my friends at Hillsdale would like to have me out to debate a Trump champion of their choosing, please let me know.
Dingo Update: Anti-squirrel squad Alpha Bravo claimed another victory this week. Commader Zoë and her loyal scout Pippa launched a pincer action on our neighbor’s lawn when my wife let them out of the car. I would like to say Zoë buried the critter out of respect for the dead, but I suspect other motives are at play. Their work continues, though there is occasional dissension in the ranks. Also Pippa can be a bit of a malingerer, whereas Zoë’s mind is always on the mission.
Congratulations! Charles Murray has finally won a Bradley Prize. He’s long overdue for the honor.