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 killing time waiting in line at a taco truck. Someday supply will equal demand!),
Editor’s Note Part Deuce: This week’s “news”letter is very inside baseball, intramural conservative squabbling. If that’s not your cup o’ tea, please come back next week.
By dint of reading this, you might be a member of the “Jonah Goldberg Class.”
In his latest tirade — or, I should say, in one of his latest (there have been so many) — Sean Hannity tears into the “Jonah Goldberg class” as if it were, you know, like a thing. And, frankly, I wish it were. I’d like to think it’d be somewhere between United Airlines’s Global Services and Gold Medallion. In my ideal Jonah Goldberg class, not only do you always get more legroom, but the flight crew will also always work on the assumption that those flying JGC are either nursing a hangover or are committed to putting in the hard and necessary work for the next one.
Of course, in reality, Jonah Goldberg Class is sort of like Economy-Plus on Uzbek Air. It’s nice as far as it goes. The free-range chickens are kept out of the JGC section of the plane and the stewardesses always make sure to pluck the small hairs from the mixed-nut bowls and smell the meat before serving it to you, just in case.
Anyway, so where was I? Oh right. As part of his new mission to “name names” Hannity is calling me out like Omar calling out Marlo in The Wire. He’s also calling out Glenn Beck, Ted Cruz, and a bunch of other people, too. But as far as I can tell, I’m the only one who’s literally in a class all by himself. Which is nice.
The fury Sean brings to this shtick is really quite . . . adorable. It’s like a puppy barking to protect its master from a parked car or a small child vowing to vanquish all of his enemies with his plastic sword. As he ratchets up the rhetoric in order to establish his “stabbed in the back” excuse for after the election, there’s an almost “Come on! I’m really serious you guys!” feel to the whole thing.
On Naming Names
But I will give Sean some credit. He is naming names. Most of the legitimate critics of the Jonah Goldberg Class studiously avoid doing anything of the sort. Here, for example, is my old friend Seth Leibsohn, writing what it is obviously a response to my criticisms of his longtime boss, Bill Bennett, without mentioning my name even once. And here is the reliably perspicacious Ace of Spades swatting at what he calls the “#NeverTrump Pundit Class.” (What is with all of this class consciousness on the right these days?) And then, there are all of the interesting Facebook and Twitter conversations that some of my friends seem to think I won’t see or hear about because I’m not pinged in their sub rosa subtweets.
To the extent this is an attempt to avoid lasting damage to personal relationships, I get it. Lord knows, I get it. I hate fighting like this with friends or people I like and respect.
But there’s a downside to not naming names: It allows people of good will to talk past each other and paint with too broad a brush, and it allows people of less than good will to crank out strawmen by the dozen.
Can Trump Create an Argument Too Heavy for His Supporters to Lift?
For example, when Bill Bennett questioned the patriotism of NeverTrumpers and accused them of moral superiority, I have it on good authority he didn’t have me personally in mind. But how was I — or the viewer — to know that? Moreover, even if he didn’t have me in mind, it was still inadvisable and wrong for him to say it.
Which brings me to Seth’s piece. It is, as the social scientists say, not very good — unless you already agree with it in advance. Which is to say that it tracks closely with the Sean Hannity school of persuasion in reselling the same stuff to customers who already bought it. Though Seth’s argument is certainly more high-minded.
Every time you hear Trump talk about the Constitution, it’s like he’s trying to remember his high-school French.
I won’t get too deep into it, but I have to take issue with two parts. First, I think it’s interesting that he seems to be complaining that conservatives have been wanting to hear more about American exceptionalism for the last decade, and yet aren’t applauding Donald Trump who “centered his whole campaign around it.”
It would be overly generous to even describe this claim as merely wrong. It is absurd to the bone. First, Trump has not centered his campaign around anything of the sort; rather, he’s stated clearly and unequivocally that he doesn’t like the phrase “American exceptionalism.” But that’s not even the important part. You see, Trump doesn’t understand American exceptionalism. Indeed, because he’s a liberal, he doesn’t understand it for the same reasons other liberals don’t understand it — it sounds “rude” to him.
But his incomprehension is even more obvious than that. Every time you hear him talk about the Constitution, it’s like he’s trying to remember his high-school French.
More importantly, not only does he not understand it instinctually he doesn’t represent it symbolically. Shouting “America First” a lot might indeed sound like American exceptionalism, to normal people who don’t live and breathe politics and political philosophy. But until Trump came along, Bill Bennett, Seth Leibsohn, and the gang at the new American Greatness website would be among the first and most articulate voices to object to any such conflation. People like the late Peter Schramm would be the ones I would look for to explain that in any Venn diagram depicting Trump’s shallow “America First” nationalism and American exceptionalism the two circles would barely touch never mind meaningfully overlap.
The Myth of the Proletarian Billionaire
And this is my real problem with some of my Straussian friends. They are trying so hard to conjure this useful myth that, while Trump is no intellectual, he manifests some kind of authentic folk American spirit. “Trumpism but not Trump” is the rationalization of the day. But Trump doesn’t represent that American spirit, and just because he’s convinced millions of decent and patriotic Americans that he does, doesn’t make it any more true.
Trump’s lodestars are not liberty and freedom — he virtually never uses the terms, and shows little interest in discovering how he should. He values “winning” and “strength” and innumerate and illiterate beggar-thy-neighbor economics. The Constitution might as well be an obscure zoning code as far as he’s concerned. Simply put, he is a glandular, generally friendless (by his own admission), zero-sum conniver who has made it clear that he sees nothing wrong with breaking promises — in business, in matrimony, and in politics — so long as he’s dubbed a “winner” by a narcissistic standard of his own choosing.
Nor is he the enemy of political correctness they make him out to be. Trump is perfectly happy to invoke and deploy PC arguments and standards against his opponents, he just wants to be immune from their sting himself.
Some of my friends seem like monks so desperate to spot the next Straussian Dalai Lama they’re willing to see signs that aren’t remotely there. I’ve known and admired Ken Masugi for 20 years, but I would be stunned to learn he didn’t herniate himself if he tried to make the case that there’s anything Lincolnian about Donald Trump much beyond their shared bipedalism. And yet here he is trying to lift an un-liftable argument.
Which brings me to my second beef with Seth’s Stakhanovite effort to spin Bill’s comments. In a clear reference to my criticism two weeks ago, he writes: “Others expressed different kinds of shock — listing titles and quotes from Bennett’s many books, as if doing so amounted to an argument.”
People of a Straussian bent are supposed to be able to find arguments in “significant silences” so it should not induce too much strain to find the argument when it’s being shoved in your face. My point in listing Bill’s book titles was pretty obvious to lots of people. As I said, Bill has spent much of his career educating people (his detractors would say lecturing or wagging his finger) to lift their sights to higher moral and patriotic principles and standards. So when he resorts to ridiculing friends and comrades-in-arms for doing exactly that, it’s not only strategically inadvisable, it seems hypocritical. If Seth can’t see that, I’m shocked. If he can, he should address that argument rather than waste his time bravely eviscerating straw men.
And that brings me back to Ace. I think he’s a brilliant, often fearless, blogger and thinker who is better at sniffing out bullsh*t than a truffle hog is at locating ectomycorrhizal fungi. And I will grant him that he has sniffed out a solid debating point. Writing about how the tightening polls are a problem for the “NeverTrump Pundit class,” Ace argues:
Oddly enough, none of these people claim to have zero influence on the conservative population except when they agitate against Trump. I’ve asked several people to provide past resumes and book proposals to demonstrate they have previously claimed to have absolutely no readership or influence over other conservatives; none of them have come forward with such book proposals stating, “I vow to you that I have barely any readers at all and that my book, should you publish it, will make nary the faintest ripple in the national debate.”
It’s only now, during 2016 (specifically from May of 2016 to November 2016), that this obviously highly-self-regarding group of Thought Leaders is making this claim of having no importance and no following.
I imagine these claims will evaporate ’round the second week of November.
Then they’ll all be back in Highly Influential Thought Leaders of the Conservative Movement mode again.
But I also think he is missing the context. I will confess that I have made the argument he scorns. I have done so in response to people like Sean Hannity claiming that if Trump loses I (and others like me) will be to blame for his defeat. I’ve also been responding to detractors who simultaneously insist that me and my ilk don’t matter anymore and that it will be our fault if Trump loses. Well, which is it? Either we matter or we don’t. Indeed, it’s part of what makes Hannity’s attacks so funny. He has millions of listeners and viewers, but he can’t deliver the election for his dearest leader. Yet somehow I can?
Many of the so-called gatekeepers of conservatism have been utterly inadequate to the task of protecting that which we love.
This points to one of the hard and humbling lessons of this election: Many of the so-called gatekeepers of conservatism have been utterly inadequate to the task of protecting that which we love, because while we’ve been guarding the gate, the Trumpians have smashed down the walls on either side of it. And in response, many have left their post to join the mob, in the spirit of “There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader!”
The key to Ace’s mistake, in my eyes, is when he writes:
Some of us, in short, seem to be attempting to win an election, whereas others are still fixated on winning a fight they had on Twitter.
If Trump’s as awful a candidate as you maintain he is (and he might very well be!), then he hardly needs your help in losing.
And if you decide to add your help to that — then at least own up to it. Like a man.
First, I find the constant resort to what I’ll call argumentum ad masculinum tedious. Every day, I hear people telling me that I need to “man up” and support Trump as if this is some kind of dick-measuring exercise. I am confident enough in my manhood, such as it is, that it doesn’t hinge upon whom I support for the chief executive of one of the three branches of federal government. Earlier in the post, Ace writes:
It’s cowardice, pure and simple. If you consider Trump so terrible that you feel obligated to support Hillary, then at least have the guts to say that, instead of putting on this childishly dishonest and evasive act of claiming that words people care enough about to pay you cash money for suddenly have no impact on anyone, anywhere, ever.
But that’s the thing, I don’t feel obligated to support Hillary. Many people I respect do, like Jim Glassman. But I don’t. Ace’s insistence that I admit to something I do not believe isn’t dishonorable. Rather, it is the product of a conflict of visions, as Matt Corbett illustrates over at Ricochet. Ace is locked into this binary argument that one must be for one candidate if one is against the other. I don’t buy the binary argument. If during the Iran-Iraq War, I criticized Iraq, there is no objective reason why that should require the conclusion that I supported Iran. Again, in 1960, National Review refused to endorse Kennedy or Nixon because neither measured up.
Think of it this way: What if the race this year was between Jill Stein and Bernie Sanders, or to better illustrate the point, between Hannibal Lecter and Freddy Krueger. Am I really obligated to figure out which is the lesser of two evils, or am I actually obligated to say they’re both evil? Would Ace argue that it’s outrageous and cowardly for me to criticize them both, just because he’s concluded that Lecter is preferable to Krueger? “C’mon some of us are trying to win an election here! Stop bashing Dr. Lecter. Sure he eats people, but he’s so much better than Krueger. Just look at the Krueger Foundation!”
I go back and forth over the question of whether Hillary or Trump would be worse for America — and/or conservatism — or whom I would vote for if this binary question came down to my vote. But it doesn’t. So, I fall back to the safe harbor of saying what I believe about both of them and the issues at play, for the simple reason that this seems like the right thing to do and because I want to be consistent about what I believe in — no matter who is president.
How Many Divisions Has the Jonah Goldberg Class?
Maybe it’s true that I could swing some votes Trump’s way if I suddenly changed my mind — or simply lied about doing so — and endorsed him. I think the more likely result would be that I would lose whatever respect people have for me (never mind the toll it would take on my own self-respect). I’ll say it again: One of the worst revelations of this whole sordid season has been the discovery that a great many people expected me to live down to their expectations.
But even if Ace is right and I can deliver much-needed conservative votes, it doesn’t change the fact that, as an analytical matter, Trump’s deficiencies aren’t with NeverTrumpers, they’re with millions of voters, the vast majority of whom have no idea who I am. Even if I could bring over the entire Jonah Goldberg Class, Trump would still be underwater with independent and moderate Republican women, minorities, etc. — because Donald Trump is a very bad candidate, which is why I think the people most responsible for a Republican loss in November are those who couldn’t or wouldn’t see that.
The Airing of Grievances
Ace sees NeverTrumpers as making some kind of cowardly commercial calculation in their arguments. He’s hardly alone in that belief. No doubt there’s some of that somewhere. But all I can tell you is that’s not how it seems from where I am sitting. No business manager or brand consultant would advise me to take the course I’ve taken. (I can just hear the late great Gene Wilder playing the Leo Bloom to my Max Bialystock: “You’ve got to alienate huge swaths of your book-buying fans and get yourself nearly banished from TV! We’ll make millions!”).
Still, I get why Ace has such contempt for NeverTrumpers. Since I am in a sharing mood, I will tell you who I have contempt for and it’s not Ace or the gang at American Greatness or even Sean Hannity. It’s the class of pro-Trump pundits and politicians who, the moment the cameras blink off, turn to me or my friends and say how awful Trump is. A related group are the political reporters who go on TV and skew their analysis so as to ensure that they don’t burn their sources in the Trump campaign, at least not until they write their post-election post-mortems. Another group are the commentators and opportunists who see Trump’s candidacy as a useful way to establish themselves as cable-news “celebrities” or boost their ratings. (I spelled this out in more detail in a G-File a few months back.) Perhaps the day will come when those names will be named.
Various & Sundry
My first column of the week was on how conservatives should not contaminate themselves by making room for the alt-right. I discussed the subject at great length with Hugh Hewitt on the air the other day, and I think the conversation is worth listening to. I won’t recycle all of that here, but I do want to clarify something. I do not think that “Trump supporter” and “alt-right” are synonymous terms. In fact, I’ve been very clear that they are not. Contrary to what Trump supporters claim, however, the alt-right is not some made up “bogeyman.” It is a thing. It may be vastly more insignificant than its proponents — and Hillary Clinton — claim, but that should make it easier to draw bright lines around it, particularly when they insist they want nothing to do with us and what we believe.
I see no reason to give an inch to the alt-righters’ effort to create an alt-white consciousness based upon the pigments of their imagination.
By their own words, the alt-righters want to destroy and replace classical liberalism and modern conservatism and replace it with some tribal “identitarian” understanding of whiteness as a unifying concept. In this it shares the same modes of thought as the radical racialist Left. Hence, its real goal is to not just to turn the alt-right into the Right, pure and simple, but to transform the consciousness of all white Americans — and white people everywhere — into racial jingoists. That’s not who white Americans are, thank God, and I see no reason to give an inch to the alt-righters’ effort to create an alt-white consciousness based upon the pigments of their imagination. I think the wisest course would be to ignore it utterly, but thanks to the demons the Trump campaign has aroused — and even hired — that hasn’t been possible. I think it will be again, soon enough.
Canine Update: Of course, just as the weather turns delightful my wife and our mid-day dogwalker return home. They wisely skipped the meteorological horror show of the last fortnight. The only dog tale I have comes from Monday morning. Around 3:30 a.m., I heard Pippa crying and struggling under my bed. I have this big wood bedframe and somehow she managed to get stuck underneath. I don’t really understand how she did it. But, unlike Sid Blumenthal, I don’t find the sounds of panicked and struggling animals soothing (never mind an aphrodisiac). So I got out of bed to get her out.
I tried dragging her out the way she burrowed in. But she yipped and panicked when her head hit the wood. I tried to induce her to what I thought was a larger egress point. After much spaniel inch-worming, no luck. Zoë watched the whole thing with bemusement, “Dumb spaniel. Dumber human.” Finally, I realized I had to lift the mattress and box spring to get her out, jaws of life style. I got her out and she promptly did a 720 on the bed and went to sleep. I meanwhile was now wide awake. I had to do NPR that morning at 6:30 so I walked them around five to make sure I had plenty of time. At the park, Zoë got her blood up chasing several particularly obstreperous bunnies, to no satisfaction. We got back in the car and went home. But Zoë, sharing the same frustrations as Elmer Fudd in similar circumstances, was not ready to be domiciled. I pulled into the driveway and got out of the car only to see Zoë fly out the window like a canine projectile in some alternate medieval world where cats man the trebuchets. Of course, Pippa always wants to be in on the party so she ran out the open car door after Zoë who, by this point, was already half a block away in search of the bunny or unicorn she thought she had seen on the drive in. I managed to make it to the NPR studio — but only by skipping a very much-required shower.