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 (Even the Rothschilds, who ruined my birthday),
Niche podcasters such as Sonny Bunch and John Podhoretz worry that kids today are growing up without a common culture. They’re balkanizing into a micro-culture archipelago, staring blankly at their Facegrams and Instachats, while streaming TV shows about kids coping with the stress of Facegramming while Instachatting. Or something.
And I have to admit, they have a point. One of the things that does bother me the most about these kids today is the way they say so many foreign words when ordering a cup of coffee. But that’s not important right now. Another thing that bothers me about them is their unfamiliarity with the pop-culture canon. I first noticed it years ago when I said, “Now’s who being naïve?” to some college kids and they thought that I was making a Simpsons reference, without knowing that The Simpsons was making a Godfather reference. It does make me think that while this is the Golden Age of TV, it’s not the Golden Age of popular culture, because we don’t have a truly popular — as in shared by all the people — culture anymore. Gen X may be the last pop-culture generation. <cue lone tear rolling down my face>
Porn-Star Lawyer, Esq.
Anyway, I bring this up because — <burp> — why not? This is my “news”letter.
But also because I saw this Drudge tweet this morning:
PORN STAR LAWYER TEASES BOMBSHELL INTERVIEW…
— DRUDGE REPORT (@DRUDGE_REPORT) March 22, 2018
I immediately thought of that classic of the canon: Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer. If you’re of a reasonable age, you remember Phil Hartman’s Keyrock. He took the old clichéd character of the charming southern lawyer, who pretends he doesn’t know much about these fancy citified things, and reinvented it as a Cro-Magnon thing:
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I’m just a caveman. I fell on some ice and later got thawed out by some of your scientists. Your world frightens and confuses me! Sometimes the honking horns of your traffic make me want to get out of my BMW and run off into the hills, or whatever. Sometimes when I get a message on my fax machine, I wonder: “Did little demons get inside and type it?” I don’t know! My primitive mind can’t grasp these concepts. But there is one thing I do know — when a man like my client slips and falls on a sidewalk in front of a public library, then he is entitled to no less than $2 million in compensatory damages, and $2 million in punitive damages. Thank you.
Well, clearly, we need a new version of this: Porn-Star Lawyer!
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury — but especially the ladies [winks] — I’m just a porn star. You may know me as “Spike,” from Buffy the Vampire Layer, or “Biker No. 7” in Easy Ride Her or maybe Poomba from The Loin King. I worked my way through law school cramming by day — and by night, if you catch my drift. It was like I was starring in Barely Legally Blonde. This law stuff confuses me. I know I’m not politically erect, er, correct. And I make no apologies. I know tarts, not torts. The clothes? Nice, right? Well, they chafe me, which is why the only briefs I own are the paper kind. Opposing counsel is twisting and contorting my client’s words in ways I never could with my body, and I am the best auto-fellater since Ron Jeremy. The judge brought the hammer down on me, in ways I’d normally charge extra for. So I ask you, put yourself in my client’s shoes . . .
Or something like that.
Just for the Hegel of It
A friend of mine from the cigar shop recently interviewed me for a Swiss newspaper. Ever since, he’s been calling me a Hegelian, which not long ago I would consider fighting words. He didn’t mean that I worship Napoleon as the World Spirit on Horseback or Donald Trump as the World Spirit on an Escalator (though I think that would have been a good essay to write in 2015). Rather, he meant that I tend to see things in dialectical terms, something I never really thought about.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to get in the weeds on dialectical philosophy or anything like that, in part because whenever I read stuff about dialectics the ornate verbiage and haughty terminological sesquipedalianism makes me want to throw someone’s lava lamp against the dorm-room wall. For instance, here’s how Dr. Wikipedia explains the process:
Within Hegelianism, dialectic acquires a specialised meaning of a contradiction of ideas that serves as the determining factor in their interaction; comprising three stages of development: a thesis, giving rise to its reaction; an antithesis, which contradicts or negates the thesis; and the tension between the two being resolved by means of a synthesis.
And this is from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
The dialectical moment thus involves a process of self-sublation, or a process in which the determination from the moment of understanding sublates itself, or both cancels and preserves itself, as it pushes on to or passes into its opposite.
Still, I do confess to being increasingly fascinated by the way in which events not only seem to invite counter events, but that they kind of create them. For instance, for years, National Review argued that if responsible politicians didn’t do something about immigration, anger over the issue would, in dialectical fashion, create a market opportunity for irresponsible politicians to fill the void. In 2016, that prediction seemed to be validated. And even though President Trump hasn’t followed through on his Muslim bans and deportation forces, there is a new synthesis in town.
Nature is kind of dialectical. A few years ago, the rabbit population in my neighborhood exploded (much to my dog Zoë’s delight and rage, depending on how each specific encounter played out). After a year or two, foxes moved into the area as a result. Then the rabbit population plummeted and soon the fox population seemed to as well. The new synthesis — or simply balance — is fewer foxes and fewer rabbits, but more of both than we had when we moved onto the block.
The thing that’s hard to get your head around is that the new synthesis is not permanent — and neither was the old equilibrium you believed was normal or natural. It, too, was just the product of some previous clash of forces. That’s why excessive nostalgia for bygone eras can be so pointless. Every Golden Age is just a ripple in the river of time.
Economics might offer a better way of understanding the process. One of the major inspirations for my forthcoming book is Joseph Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. It was Schumpeter who fully introduced into capitalist economics the necessity of looking at economic actors over time. Schumpeter argued that it was silly to think a monopoly today will be a monopoly tomorrow. To borrow an analogy from Schumpeter’s biographer Thomas McCraw, taking a snapshot of a company is like taking a snapshot of the Titanic before she hits the iceberg. The picture tells you a lot, but it doesn’t tell you very much about the future.
In a market system, monopolies invite competition from innovators and entrepreneurs. A monopoly for a moment in time is not a monopoly in perpetuity. Monopolies, unprotected by the state, invite competition from other entrepreneurs who see an opportunity to provide the same (or better) service, product, or commodity more efficiently or in some other more profitable way. Monopolies or quasi-monopolies seem immortal right up until the moment they seem behind the times. As I keep writing, monopolies are only true threats to liberty or the public good when they are maintained and protected by the state.
A monopoly for a moment in time is not a monopoly in perpetuity.
I didn’t plan to get mired in this stuff today — and there will be plenty of time to come back to it. This “news”letter (and The Remnant podcast) will become a veritable book club for a while — so you might as well order it now (“Subtle” – The Couch). But I do want to be clear about one thing: While dialectical processes are all over the place, built into the fabric of our existence, I am not a dialectical materialist. I am a decided foe of teleology. Indeed, my whole book is based on the conviction that nothing is foreordained or inevitable. There is no “right side of History.” We cannot outsource life to the clockwork of the universe. In other words, events can move in dialectical fashion, but that doesn’t mean they move in fixed direction or that we can know or easily predict where they are going.
The Eye of the Stormy
And that, obviously, brings me to Stormy Daniels.
One of Donald Trump’s great advantages is his shamelessness. While they wouldn’t put it this way, this is what some of Trump’s biggest fans love about him. His shamelessness is kind of a superpower because a sense of shame — or simply a basic sense of decorum — inhibits most of us from getting down in the gutter.
How many times have we heard that Trump is a “counter-puncher,” employing the verbal equivalent of the “Chicago Way”? If you insult him a little, he’ll insult you ten times worse. If you tell the truth about him, he’ll say you’re lying. If you say that you’d have beaten him up in high school, he’ll say he’d beat you up now — and that you’re mentally weak and a crybaby. He’s like the Mole Man. Whatever low road someone else takes, he’ll dig out an even lower road.
This tactic, learned at the feet of Roy Cohn and honed over decades of tabloid-war juvenilia and shady business dealings, served him well in the Republican primaries. No one wanted to attack Trump because they knew he’d counter-attack viciously and, again, shamelessly. It’s a bully’s tactic we all encountered in high school (unless, of course, you were one of the bullies). It’s much like the old adage about not wrestling with pigs — you’ll get dirty and the pig likes it. Voters priced the piggishness into Trump’s persona, but they punished normal politicians who resorted to the same tactics.
In other words, in almost a Nietzschean fashion, Trump uses the decency of others against them.
That’s what’s so fascinating about Stormy Daniels. What on earth can Donald Trump say about the star of Breast Friends 2 and Finally Legal 7? How can he embarrass her?
And this is what I mean by the unpredictability of the dialectical process. In polite Washington, Democrats fantasize about running on a “return to normalcy” in the hope that people will grow sick of the drama. And, that might work. A remnant of traditional Republicans speculates that someone could take the high road around Trump in a primary challenge. Possible, but doubtful if you ask me. At least for now, conventional political weapons are useless against him.
Meanwhile, here comes the star of Operation Desert Stormy, who slept with him for giggles. And for the first time, Trump is speechless. Why? Well, one reason is that the threat from Daniels is the same threat Trump poses to his opponents: She threatens his moral capital.
Admittedly, his reservoir of moral capital could be measured in teaspoons, but it exists. Trump slept with her — yeah, yeah, “allegedly” — when his third trophy wife had just given birth.
The threat is larger than that of course. Because she’s just one of the entrepreneurs threatening his bizarre monopoly on the truth around his life. She is not the only woman to sign an NDA with Trump or one of his bagmen or cutouts. She also could speak with expertise about one of the few things he truly cares about: his sexual reputation.
For the first time, Trump is speechless.
I have no idea if Michael Cohen’s hush money amounts to a violation of election law. I do know it’s an impeachable offense if a Democratically controlled Congress thinks it is.
But all that is rank punditry for another day. What I find fascinating is how Donald Trump created the very conditions that could spell his downfall (though punditarily speaking, I don’t think it will go that way). Much like Bill Clinton, Trump spent his life wallowing in sybaritic crapulence thinking that it wouldn’t catch up to him. And by living like it wouldn’t, the Trumpian dickalectic kicked in. In nature, long periods of drought dialectically invite the conditions for downpours and floods. And a lifetime draught of moral capital has invited the storm, or rather the Stormy.
Various & Sundry
Farwell Kevin. By now, you’ve probably heard that Kevin D. Williamson is heading to The Atlantic. I am very happy for him and, if I may say so, impressed by The Atlantic for hiring him. I am also sad for NR. Kevin is arguably the best writer of his generation, and that is not easy for me to say because we are of the same generation! But it is worth pointing out that this is how it’s supposed to work. For decades, The New Republic and The Nation fed the mainstream media young, decidedly left-wing talent, and liberals never saw anything wrong with that. But the idea that conservatives should or could follow the same path was almost unthinkable — unless they first recanted their conservatism.
In recent years, with the breakdown of the old-media guild, many bad things have happened — but some good things have as well. National Review has nurtured some of the best mainstream opinion journalists in America, but it’s also sent reporters to mainstream outlets. This would have seemed unimaginable a generation ago, much as the prospect of conservatives flourishing in the academy seems today. Conservatives are prone to Hobbit-like habits, and this encourages ghettoization. As a bit of a Hobbit myself, I fully understand the appeal of retreating to our Shires. But when we do this, we cede the rest of the culture to people we disagree with and who, often, want to raze the Shires. While I’ll miss Kevin’s voice at National Review greatly, I welcome the progress his adventure represents.
Canine Update: I really don’t have much to report this week, in part because I’ve been travelling a bunch. (I had to go to Boston on Wednesday for a speech Thursday morning, and after a twelve-hour trip by car, train and car, I “celebrated” my birthday alone at the bar of the Framingham Sheraton. I’m not bitter at all.) But, by all accounts, the beasts are doing just fine. They were very excited about the snow reports. Zoë still plays hard to get with her boyfriend, Ben. Pippa remains as spanielly as ever, and, when the snow started to melt, she could finally go into stealth mode. This morning, Zoë demanded her payment in scritches.
But the really exciting news is the arrival of Ollie! My sister-in-law around the corner from us has adopted a new golden-retriever puppy, and he is insanely cute. Some of you may recall that they adopted Sneakers last year. Alas, Sneaks had some very serious behavioral issues that ultimately made it impossible — despite heroic efforts to the contrary — to have him around little kids. But fear not! Carrie and Amit found a great forever home for Sneaks. Meanwhile, we are going to figure out the best way to introduce Zoë and Ollie to each other. I’d say “Zoë and Pippa” but we all know Pippa isn’t a problem.
One last update: I am on vacation next week, so I probably won’t file a “news”letter. But, who knows? I am going to try to record another remote Remnant, but that’s not definite either. Meanwhile, the latest Remnant, with Jim Geraghty, is up, and we had a lot of fun putting on our hip boots and wading into the rankest of punditry.
And now, the weird stuff.