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 Russian hackers waiting for the right moment to leak this e-mail),
Last night’s Democratic convention was a brilliantly scripted run-on sentence. A stationary parade of speakers built layer upon layer of emotion, patriotism, and drama heightening the anticipation for a political climax the likes of which we have not seen since Barack Obama rode a lightning bolt down from Mount Olympus to deliver his acceptance speech betwixt the pillars of his temple in Denver. The Republican convention in Gotham, complete with its Caesarian chords, offered the perfect opening for the Democrats to build a four-night argument — or at least impression — that the Democratic party is the more optimistic and patriotic party alternative. As Erick Erickson and others have noted, Barack Obama’s speech the night before was more Reaganesque than anything we saw at the Republican convention. The fact it was so staggeringly hypocritical merely underscored the breadth and depth of the political opportunity Donald Trump has given the Democrats. Only in the era of Trump would Democrats dare to try to compete with the Republicans on the turf of American exceptionalism.
Not every speech over the first three nights was a homerun — or even a success. But cumulatively they succeeded in building a narrative arc that begged for a rhetorically pyrotechnic crescendo. The angry denunciation of Trump by a Muslim father of a fallen American soldier, the patriotic pride of a Medal of Honor recipient, the stentorian harangue from Marine General John Allen, the chants of “USA! USA!”: It all built anticipation for the big reveal at the end of the night. The Joycean run-on-sentence was primed like a coil to burst the dam of expectation with an exclamation point so enormous only horribly mixed metaphors can capture it.
Like attendees of a tribal war feast, the crowd waited for the main course. What glorious dish of red meat lay under the giant brass dome? A whole roast bull stuffed with an ostrich stuffed with a boar, perhaps?
Finally, the panel opened up and out came the meal: A gluten-free bran muffin and a warm kale smoothie.
It didn’t seem that way at first. You can’t have that kind of buildup and not get a little swept away at first. When Hillary Clinton walked out in that white suit, I thought for a moment that the makers of the new all-estrogen Ghostbusters had decided to launch a remake of Fantasy Island with one of the Golden Girls in Ricardo Montalban’s role. Here she was to make all of our dreams come true.
Like a dog who mistakenly thinks at first that he’s being driven to the park, liberal pundits and cheering delegates were initially psyched. But as it became ever more clear that the adrenaline-soaked run-on sentence of the preceding two hours wasn’t going to end with an exclamation point but with a sort of meandering ellipses of a road trip past familiar concrete landmarks of clichés and exhausting pit stops of liberal boilerplate, the dogs started to circle in their seats to settle down for the long ride ahead. Even the big dog himself, Bill Clinton, decided to check out for a while and count sugar plums dancing in his head (by which I mean a stripper named Sugar and another one named Plum).
My God, She’s Running as Hillary Clinton
Considering how much I’ve gotten wrong this year, indulge me for a moment to say I got this one exactly right. For years now, I’ve been writing that there is no new Hillary, that she’s the woman who tells you “there’s no eating in the library,” and that no matter how many times we’re told she’s been “reinvented” and “reintroduced” the dog food still tastes the same. It’s Hillary all the way down.
There’s another reason beside the obvious one why the Democrats are leaning so heavily on the fact that Hillary Clinton is the first female major-party nominee. I’m not saying that feminists and many normal Americans aren’t sincere when they celebrate this fact — or that they are wrong to celebrate it. Just because there’s an important subtext doesn’t mean that the actual text isn’t important (a fact so obvious, you need to go to an expensive college to have it taught out of you). But Hillary Clinton needs the “woman card” precisely because she’s transcended identity politics. People don’t see Hillary Clinton as the manifestation of a category, they see her as . . . Hillary Clinton.
Hillary Clinton is a known quantity. She’s Nixon in a pantsuit.
Barack Obama was a blank slate for most Americans, so his status as the first black nominee and president was inextricably part of his identity. Hillary Clinton is a known quantity. She’s Nixon in a pantsuit. She’s been a tedious, grating, cynical, corrupt presence in our lives for nearly three decades.
The Democrats have a similar strategy to O.J. Simpson’s lawyers. As a celebrity, Simpson was not particularly known as a black man. It was only when the facts weighed against him in a court of law that the lawyers had to reinvent his racial identity in order to evoke racial solidarity among the jury.
Hillary Clinton hasn’t murdered anybody (“Now who’s being naïve?” — The Couch). But they need to gloss over the undercoat of her personality with a layer of exciting feminism. Why? Because the jury of voters know her. And you know what? They don’t like her very much. That this fact raises such ire and discomfort among her defenders is the ultimate proof of its veracity.
Every day we hear another sycophant, supplicant, or ally insist that the “real Hillary” is such a wonderful person. “If only you knew her like I do” they proclaim, at once signaling loyalty to the matriarch and boasting of their own access. But no one ever thinks these testimonials through. For we are also told, sometimes in the same breath, that her problem is that she’s just not a great politician or “performer”; “she’s a workhorse not a show horse” virtually every flack and lackey proclaims as if they can get people to stop believing their lying eyes.
Well, think about that.
The key attribute of many great politicians is their ability to hide their true selves. Bill Clinton and FDR were legendarily good politicians and virtually every biographer backs up that judgment by pointing to their ability to convince any audience or adversary they spoke to that they were really on their side. (Bill Clinton is such a consummate performer, he famously made himself cry at Ron Brown’s funeral — only after he saw that he was on camera.) We are supposed to believe that Hillary Clinton lacks anything like this artifice, and yet she has somehow managed to hide her true self from the American public for more than a quarter century? That’s an impressive performance for a non-performer.
I have no doubt that Hillary Clinton can be more charming in person than she appears on TV. But you’d need earth-moving equipment to set a bar any lower than that.
We Get Hillary, She Doesn’t
Hillary Clinton tried to address the problem head on in her speech last night: “The truth is, through all these years of public service, the ‘service’ part has always come easier to me than the ‘public’ part. I get it that some people just don’t know what to make of me.”
No, actually they do know what to make of her. It’s Hillary who doesn’t know what to make of the public. And even I can muster some sympathy because “getting it” would require understanding something about herself that no person would want to understand. Who wants to accept that after a lifetime of public exposure people have concluded they just don’t like you or trust you?
It must be even more mystifying because she has surrounded herself with a praetorian entourage of validators and supplicants. I refer you again to my favorite e-mail from Hillary Clinton’s server (at least until the Russians comply with Donald Trump’s latest order). Lanny Davis, who in his Renfieldesque service to the Clintons has spent decades spinelessly inch-worming through rivers of sh*t like Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, wrote her a three-page (!) note begging her to offer a kind word about him to a reporter:
I consider you to be the best friend and the best person I have met in my long life. You know that from the dedication and appreciation of you I have always felt and expressed to you over four decades.
Clinton’s response to this sphincter-muffled entreaty? Silence.
If I asked someone I considered the best person and best friend I’ve ever had for a kidney, I wouldn’t expect them to automatically agree. But I’m fairly certain the contenders for that honorific would think about it. But if I asked for a throwaway blurb to a reporter? I have enemies who would do that.
Clinton has surrounded herself with such people for decades, no doubt in part as a psychological survival mechanism (one that has only fueled her paranoia and vindictiveness). But, still, you can understand why someone who could get Sidney Blumenthal to lick-bath her with his forked tongue, might be sincerely mystified why the peasantry isn’t as enamored with her.
The Wages of Conscience
Last night I tweeted:
Why this convention is better: It's about loving America. GOP convention was about loving Trump. If you didn't love Trump, it offered nada.
— Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) July 29, 2016
It’s the most retweeted thing I’ve ever tweeted. And I stand by it 100 percent. By definition a cult of personality candidacy isn’t going to be as inclusive as a broad, classically liberal philosophy. I am repulsed by his personality, so I am not fit for the cult.
That tweet also elicited predictably angry responses from all of the folks you’d expect to be angered by it. But the anger is instructive. I understand that some people, including many friends and former fans, are cross with me because they sincerely think that whatever Trump’s flaws, “we” have to do everything we can to stop Hillary Clinton. I get that, and I am truly sympathetic (Heck, I play a major role in Dinesh D’Souza’s full-barreled assault on Clinton and the Democrats).
I’m not going to let the GOP make me a liar for Donald Trump and I’m not going to let my contempt for Donald Trump make me a liar for Hillary Clinton.
I’m not going to revisit all of my reasons for why I reject the idea that I should, out of partisan loyalty, transform myself into a pliant hack for a party whose nominee not only has contempt for me, but far more importantly, for most of the things that led me to wear the Republican label in the first place. As should be clear from this “news”letter so far, I’m not going to let the GOP make me a liar for Donald Trump and I’m not going to let my contempt for Donald Trump make me a liar for Hillary Clinton. They are both awful, and if Hillary Clinton wins my conscience will be clear because the people responsible for that loss will be the ones who let this thin-skinned and bullying poltroon hijack the party in the first place.
I’m sure I’m being unfair to many, but I’m convinced I’m being entirely fair to at least a few when I say that some of the anger aimed at #NeverTrumpers isn’t purely motivated by rage against those insufficiently dedicated to stopping Hillary — it’s also derived from a sense of shame on the part of those willing to sell their souls to this creamsicle colored kakistocrat. The thinking seems to be, “If I’m willing to sell out to this guy, who are you not to?” And among the politicians, the calculation seems to be that if everyone makes a deal with the devil, no one can be singled out for blame when this ends in tears.
One of the reasons corruption is so hard to eliminate, particularly in the developing world, is that honesty is seen as a kind of betrayal. Bribe-takers like bribes, to be sure, but they also hate those who won’t take them — not just because the refusers threaten their livelihoods, but because such refusals remind the corrupted of that they had a choice.
Every day I hear from people who accuse me of thinking I’m better than them for not bending the knee. I will, in all honesty, plead guilty to sounding like that sometimes (though it is not my intent). In Cleveland, more than a few delegates told me I need to “man up” or put my “big-boy pants on” and get on board the Trump Train. I hear such hectoring hourly on Twitter and in e-mail (it’s a strange definition of manhood that requires abandoning one’s convictions and hopping aboard the bandwagon). When I refuse, I can on occasion hear the needle-prick-pop of conscience prompting them to shout louder at me.
But back to last night. In response to my tweet, scores of people mocked the idea that the Democrats are more patriotic than the Republicans. They scorned my naiveté for not seeing that the show last night was an eminence front, a put on.
It’s all so ridiculous. Of course, I understand that this was show business. Hillary Clinton represents a century-old American tradition of thinking there’s nothing wrong with America that being more like Europe won’t fix. The organizers last night had to whip-up chants of “Hillary!” and “U-S-A!” and reportedly deploy white-noise machines to drown-out the catcalls and boos of the sizable chorus of those who’d rather choke than cheer the U.S. military. This is the party, after all, that booed God at their last convention and spent the Bush years rending cloth and gnashing teeth over American-flag lapel pins.
Trump values will and strength and has contempt for those safeguards that protect us from ‘leaders’ enamored with will and strength.
But so what? That is all evidence of the political and strategic success of the Democratic convention. Donald Trump rejects the traditional and legitimate understanding of patriotism in favor of nationalism. These are different things. Patriotism is attachment to the creeds, texts, and ideas of our Founding. Nationalism is a tribal loyalty to blood or soil or sect. Donald Trump is no Hitler, but I’m often reminded that Hitler was fond of noting he was not a patriot but a nationalist. Jay Nordlinger loves to quote Bill Buckley: “I’m as patriotic as anyone from sea to shining sea, but there’s not a molecule of nationalism in me.”
I’ve always slightly disagreed with Bill on this. A nation needs a little nationalism to bind the people to patriotic principles. As Chesterton tells us, the purely rational man will not marry and the purely rational soldier will not fight.
Too much nationalism is poisonous, but as Paracelus said, “Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.” Too little nationalism can be as dangerous as too much, because without nationalism there’s no sinew to hold together the bones of the republic.
I’m not prepared to declare the lethality of Donald Trump’s toxic nationalism, but I am fully ready to say that it is dangerously undiluted by patriotism. Donald Trump has no attachment to the Constitution beyond a transactional commitment to say that he likes it when asked — all twelve articles of it. He values will and strength and has contempt for those safeguards that protect us from “leaders” enamored with will and strength. Must we hear him mangle the cliché that the Constitution isn’t a suicide pact one more time?
Donald Trump’s candidacy and convention created a vacuum the Democrats were only too willing to fill. Americans want to love their country and to do so they must believe it is lovable. The America Donald Trump describes is one where we have no right to judge, never mind condemn, murderous dictators. (In this, he sits in the same saddle as Barack Obama who warned us not to get on our high horses about a gang of theocratic goons who rape children and bury mothers alive.)
The transnational progressives running the Democratic party may not think America as it is lovable, but at least they understand the necessity of faking it.
Tales from the Road
I am writing this in my car (with the top down), smoking a cigar at the Hanover Street parking lot in Portsmouth, N.H. (It’s raining so I need the ceiling). The Fair Jessica and I are staying here for a while longer as I try to hammer out my next book. (The fact that every day I hear from people telling me they will never buy my books again doesn’t really help with the writer’s block.) We have not completely escaped the heatwave, but I know it’s more pleasant here than in D.C. — where all reports are that it’s as hot and humid as a Saigon brothel during a blackout.
Canine Update: As much as we like it here, our fondness pales in comparison to the glee of the dogs. Our rental is just across the bridge in Kittery, Maine where Zoë has discovered that New England squirrels are particularly smug and the chipmunks are clearly pawns of the devil. In her video game of a life, the new enemy however are the gophers. They are everywhere and the Dingo is determined to map out their underground bunkers for the coming offensive. Meanwhile sweet Pippa loves fetching tennis balls from the water. Also Pippa, who was once again rejected from canine MENSA, loves searching for rocks thrown in the ocean which she thinks should float like tennis balls. We went on a major hike in the mountains yesterday and the division of labor was perfect. Zoë concentrated on clearing away the vermin while Pippa searched endlessly for the legendary tree whose fruit are the finest tennis balls in the world. She was so exhausted, she completely passed out at my feet on the drive back and I forgot she was there. When my wife hit the brakes at one point, she suddenly emerged (prompting Gabriel Malor to tweet, “Nobody Expects the Spaniel Inquisition!”). Meanwhile, the cats continue to be very catlike.
In case you missed it, I continue to get very nice compliments for my lengthy Conversation with Bill Kristol.
I took the day off yesterday, but my first column of the week was on the “cry wolf” problem the media and the Democrats are going to have with Donald Trump.
My research assistant Jack took this week off to recharge with a three-state killing spree, so AEI intern Matt Winesett cobbled these links together at the last minute.