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 good cat, which for some reason is opposed to my daughter getting an education),
I should just say it clearly: I will never fall in love with Donald Trump. For most of you, this is not a big surprise. But for some, it’s a kind of betrayal. In much the same way the Left gets furious when you just don’t care enough about its priorities, many of Trump’s biggest supporters get bizarrely angry at the fact that I am not emotionally correct when it comes to the new president.
Monsieur Google tells me that “emotional correctness” is a term that’s been used before including by — ack! — the constantly self-parodying Sally Kohn. But fortunately, I don’t mean it the way she does. In fact, I think I mean something close to the opposite.
There’s a lot of tribalism and romanticism in the water these days. By tribalism I mean the idea that loyalty to one’s side comes first and arguments come later, and when they do, they must be bent to fit the needs of one’s side. By romanticism, I mean the primacy of feelings over facts.
Epistemic Closure for Thee, But Not for Me
The vexing thing is that a lot of liberals agree with this observation when it’s framed as a criticism of conservatives. That’s Obama’s whole shtick these days, decrying “bubbles” and the lack of a “common baseline of fact.” And by “these days,” I really mean his entire presidency. Obama has always argued that anyone who disagrees with him is doing so from a deficit of facts and surplus of partisanship and ideology. Even when Elizabeth Warren disagreed with him, he resorted to this lazy arrogance.
But Obama is hardly alone. This has been a theme in progressivism going back a century, from the progressive obsession with “disinterestedness” to JFK’s insistence that “political labels and ideological approaches are irrelevant to the solution” of modern challenges. “Most of the problems . . . that we now face, are technical problems, are administrative problems,” he insisted, and these problems “deal with questions which are now beyond the comprehension of most men.”
The whole ludicrous and yet somehow quaint “epistemic closure” panic of the last decade and the rise of “explanatory journalism” illustrated the extent to which liberals believe that confirmation bias is a uniquely conservative failure. Paul Krugman cut to the epistemological chase with his claim that “facts have a liberal bias.” Neil deGrasse Tyson’s fantasies of creating a utopian world called “Rationalia” is in one sense a great punchline to a joke, but it’s also a perfect example of how liberal tribalism uses scientism to discredit perspectives it doesn’t like.
Care, Damn It
All of that is annoying, but it can’t hold a candle to the ugliness of emotional correctness. In recent years, we’ve seen how the real crime isn’t conservative intellectual or ideological dissent but conservative emotional dissent. Mozilla’s Brendan Eich being pelted from his job, the perfidious treason of the wedding-cake bakers, the assaults on Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A, the bonfires of asininity lit every day on college campuses: These have so much less to do with an ideological argument and more to do with the new unwritten and unspoken fatwah: “You will be made to care.”
During that idiotic Halloween controversy at Yale, one student captured the moment beautifully when she complained that an administrator’s attempts to discuss, explain, and debate the issue were beside the point. “He doesn’t get it,” she wrote. “And I don’t want to debate. I want to talk about my pain.” The truth is she didn’t just want to talk about her pain, she wanted her pain validated and even celebrated.
In the Soviet Union and other totalitarian societies, displaying overt signs of “insufficient enthusiasm” is a crime:
“Now, if a North Korean university professor is suspected of insufficient enthusiasm for the system, they will be gone without a trace very quickly,” Andrei Lankov has written of the Hermit Kingdom. “Even the memory of the unlucky victim would likely disappear.”
The other day an NPR reporter tweeted:
— Marilyn Geewax (@geewaxnpr) January 12, 2017
Put aside how much these tweets exemplify the points I made above.
The most relevant point is the claim that “the voters want him to tweet.” Trump’s spinners make similar claims ten times a day, insisting that “the American people” support whatever it is he’s doing at a given moment.
Donald Trump’s approval ratings are the lowest for any incoming president in history, by a very, very wide margin. Obama went into his inauguration with a net favorability rating of +71. George W. Bush and Clinton had +36 and +50, respectively. Trump? Negative seven (-7). He’s dropped 13 points in the last month. Quinnipiac has his favorability rating at 37 percent, a marked drop since November. The internals are worse. He’s lost ground in almost every category since the election. Only 12 percent of Americans say they think he will be a “great president.” Oh, and Americans think by a 2–1 margin (64 to 32) that he should stop tweeting.
Looking at these numbers, it is very difficult to see how the Trump Tribe can claim he has the support of the American people for his behavior since the election, unless you define “the American people” as the Americans who unabashedly support Trump. And it seems that a lot of people in the Always Trump camp believe exactly that.
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Various & Sundry
Yes, yes, I know this was not a particularly — or even remotely — jocular G-File. Sometimes that’s the way things break. For those who’ve come to expect that every week, I apologize. My muse for this “news”letter is always unapologetic self-indulgence, and sometimes I just don’t have the pull-my-finger jokes in me. I’m still deep in Book Hell and have a slew of big-time hassles in my private life I’m trying to deal with. I also woke up to discover I made a stupid mistake in my column today, which always puts me in a foul mood. Tune in next week, maybe we’ll both have better luck.
Canine Update: The beasts are doing well, though Pippa had a scary incident with the dogwalker in which she fell through some ice. She emerged a bit like George Bailey after he’s shown the light in It’s a Wonderful Life. Pippa greeted everyone, including some dogs she’s normally afraid of like Spock after he realized Captain Kirk wasn’t dead. And since this “news”letter has been deficient in Vitamin J (for jocularity), I’ll recount a somewhat off-color tale from this morning.
While I was getting dressed for our pre-dawn perambulations, Pippa and Zoë were doing their usual celebratory wrestling and mutual face-licking. At one point, as she is wont to do, the Dingo was biting the scruff of Pippa’s neck when she, uh, well farted. It was surprisingly audible and seemed to take Zoë more by surprise than anyone else. She wheeled around to see what the Hell happened in steerage on the HMS Dingo. At first, she seemed shocked that she didn’t find a squirrel with a Woopee cushion. But then she caught the scent and followed it out of the room like one of those Loony Tunes dogs that smells a roast beef from far away. Perhaps that’s why she seemed so keen to enjoy the fresh air this morning.
Has the New York Times given up on stopping Jeff Sessions’s confirmation?
The new Ricochet GLoP podcast discusses Meryl Streep and the Golden Globes, the culture wars, Rogue One, and more.
Obama’s farewell address was a campaign rally in disguise (corrected version).
And now, the weird stuff.