White House

The Failure of the Deal

President Donald Trump declares a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border in Washington, D.C., February 15, 2019. (Carlos Barria/REUTERS)

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 (But especially Sammie),

I had my say on the emergency declaration yesterday, and I’m sure I’ll have to say it all again not very far down the road.

But there is a point that I think needs to be made. The reason President Trump finds it necessary to declare a national emergency stems from the fact that he is not the world’s greatest dealmaker.

If President Trump had signed the budget deal last December, he would have gotten more wall funding than he did after forcing a government shutdown. For two years, Republicans controlled Congress, and no wall was built. If you want to blame the congressional GOP for that, be my guest. But then don’t give sole credit to the president for everything Congress did pass.

What I mean is there’s a weird heads-Trump-wins, tails-the-establishment-RINO-cuck-Congress-loses dynamic to how Trump’s defenders talk about his record. If Trump is responsible for getting tax cuts — or anything else — through a GOP-controlled Congress, presumably he’s also responsible for the things he didn’t get through Congress, too. But when he wins, it’s proof of his deal-making prowess. When he loses, it’s because of the Deep State, the weak-kneed establishment, Democratic obstruction, polarization, gridlock, CHUDs, whatever.

All you needed was eyes to see to know that he wasn’t going to score some great deal in that December 11 Oval Office meeting. He preemptively took credit for a shutdown, and he got a shutdown and came out the other end worse off.

The reason I point this out isn’t to gloat or say, “I told you so.” It’s to point out that Trump — and his fans — get into trouble by constantly switching rationales for his presidency. In 2016, there were two central themes to the case for Trump. The first was that he was a fighter, a counter-puncher, a paladin against political correctness and all that. The second was that he was a dealmaker who could cut through the stupid dysfunction in Washington. As he said when he announced he was running: “So I’ve watched the politicians. I’ve dealt with them all my life. If you can’t make a good deal with a politician, then there’s something wrong with you.  You’re certainly not very good. And that’s what we have representing us.” Or in a presidential debate in February of 2016:

No, a good deal maker will make great deals, but we’ll do it the way our founders thought it should be done. People get together, they make deals. Ronald Reagan did it with Tip O’Neil very successfully, you didn’t hear so much about executive orders, if you heard about it at all. You have to be able to get a consensus.

And it’s worth noting that he didn’t say, “This is going to be tough and I’m going to need your help.” He didn’t say “These problems are hard and they’re going to require compromise or sacrifice.” He said it would all be “so easy.”

These two rationales overlapped each other with the promise of endless winning. He’ll fight to make deals, and he’ll make deals to win. And it worked — on the campaign trail. But campaigning and governing are different things, and as time has gone by, the two rationales have coiled around each other like a two-headed snake fighting itself.

By wanting to seem like a fighter, he makes it harder to be a dealmaker, because being a fighter has come to be defined as not giving in, not compromising, and not earning the wrath of Ann Coulter’s Twitter feed.

The Tyranny of the Gut

Trump’s definition of being a great dealmaker is merely a facet of his core belief that his instincts are superior to anyone else’s expertise, facts, or judgment. “I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody’s brain can ever tell me,” Trump told the Washington Post.

To paraphrase Ben Shapiro, Trump’s feelings don’t care about anyone’s facts.

This is why my eyes roll like billiard balls on the deck of the Titanic whenever someone claims that Trump has some long-term plan to out-maneuver his opponents. We saw a riot of this stuff during the shutdown.

Talk to virtually any Republican senator (away from a television camera), and they’ll tell you that Trump’s insistence upon going with his gut from moment to moment makes it almost impossible to craft deals because they never know whether he’ll change his mind or honor his commitments.

There were multiple opportunities to cut immigration deals throughout his presidency, but because he responds to stimuli more than arguments or planning, he missed them all. Remember Paul Ryan’s Border Adjustment Tax? Not only would it have made Mexico pay for the wall, it would have really replaced NAFTA rather than modestly update it. The Oracle of His Gut took a pass. A year ago this week, he could have gotten $25 billion for a wall in exchange for a DACA deal. The Gut said no. Or rather, Stephen Miller went over Lindsey Graham’s head to Trump’s gut. And again, last month his intestinal homunculus vetoed a deal that was better than the one he just signed.

And so that’s why he’s declaring a national emergency. He drove past every off-ramp provided over the last two years, because his gut was giving him directions from the shotgun seat. And now, with the Democrats controlling the House, he’s out of gas on the issue. There is no national emergency now, but he steered himself into a political one. And neither he nor his cheerleaders can see the difference.

Gangsterism and Socialism

On the latest episode of The Remnant, I talked with my AEI colleague Roger Noriega about the situation in Venezuela. If you’re interested in a deeper dive than the usual fare on what’s going on — both down there and in the White House, I think it’s worth a listen. And for those of you who think I can’t praise Trump when called for, let me say that I think the Trump administration has handled the Venezuela issue very well.

But Roger made a point that helped me flesh out something that’s been gestating in my head for a while. I have no problem with conservatives who want to highlight the horror in Venezuela as a cautionary tale about socialism.

But as Roger noted, there’s a lot of explanatory power in seeing Venezuela as a gangster state. The regime behaves like a crime family, buying support like a Don who gives everyone a turkey come Christmastime. And, if you read my book, you’d know that I think the way Mafia Dons operate is one of the oldest and most natural forms of political organization. It’s how Ancient Rome worked — competing clans buying loyalty or “true friendship” in exchange for protection and, often, food. This is the politics of the Big Man, which defined most tribal societies for millennia.

What’s interesting to me is how thin the line between this form of politics and socialism (or fascism) is. The most important thing about the rule of law — including property rights — is that it insulates society from this form of politics. In “natural” societies, justice follows blood. Certain people get different treatment because of their status or class. One set of rules for the prince, another for the peon. Under the rule of law in the Anglo-American tradition, everyone is equal in the eyes of the law. A man’s home is his castle isn’t just a phrase, it’s a cultural norm that stretches from feudal England to the Fourth Amendment. Even the king or the police need a good and lawful reason to violate your rights, even if you’re a nobody.

Look, I know very well there are many kinds of socialism. But wherever socialism has teeth, it veers closer to gangsterism because it depends on the use of arbitrary power, either by the state or, in essence, the mob. If you really want economic equality, you need to take money from people who earned it and give it to, or spend it on, people who didn’t. “Fighting income inequality” doesn’t change the fact that the state is using force based upon an aesthetic conceit about how society should look.

When you hand power over to planners, technocrats, or commissars to substitute their judgement for the rule of law, you are behaving like an outlaw, because you are literally outside the law.

Now, you might object that if socialists come to power democratically and pass laws to “abolish billionaires” or otherwise confiscate wealth to give it to people “unwilling to work” or pay for the Green New Deal, it’s not unlawful. This gets thorny, and I don’t want to get deep into the weeds of Hayek’s distinction between law and legislation. But we don’t need to do that. First of all, one of the reasons we have a Bill of Rights is that the founders recognized that laws can be as illegitimate and dangerous as any monarchical whim. I would hardly be surprised if Nicholas Maduro and Hugo Chavez before him could point to some law or judicial ruling for every horrible thing they did. We know the Soviet Union had plenty of laws, but that didn’t make Stalin any less of a gangster. Once you are outside the rule of law, you live under the rule of force.

When the law moves away from neutral rules applicable to all, it moves toward arbitrary power, which is a form of tyranny. As John Locke put it, “tyranny is the exercise of power beyond right, which nobody can have a right to.” Tyranny is just a fancy word for gangsterism, because in both cases it’s about someone’s individual will being the ultimate authority. If it is tyrannical for a single ruler to violate your rights, it becomes no less tyrannical if 535 elected legislators do it.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: The Fair Jessica is out of town this weekend at a family get-together, and the dogs are pissed. Well, not so much pissed as crazy needy, even though I took them out this morning for an extra special adventure. Expect a lot of dog-tweeting. Anyway, they had quite a week. On one outing with Kirsten, our cherished workday dogwalker and their beloved pack leader, Pippa had a grand time. Too grand. She found a rich deposit of goose poop and said “YOLO” and did her best Andy Dufresne impersonation. When Kirsten brought Pippa home, poor Jessica had to rinse her for fifteen minutes before she even bothered with the soap. As expected, the #TeamPippa hordes on Twitter took the spaniel’s side. Perhaps because of the bath trauma, Pippa was on good behavior for about 48 hours. Then on Thursday, Zoë once again got fed up with Pippa’s tennis ball act and literally said, “If I can’t play, no one can.” Okay she didn’t say it with words, but with deeds. The interesting thing about the video of Zoë burying the ball is that this is very typical behavior of Carolina dogs, though in their natural environment they often do it with their poop. Zoë doesn’t bury her poop, though she does like to kick some leaves over it. But she has a long track record of burying: bones, squirrels, chipmunks, sticks, and now, Pippa’s tennis balls. Meanwhile, Gracie is fine. And I’m sure my wife’s cat is doing okay somewhere. Oh, and reports from my Mom’s house are that Fafoon continues to judge you.

ICYMI…

Last week’s G-File

The Disruptors to Come

Ilhan Omar’s Lazy and Anti-Semitic Tweets

Oh, FAQ Me

Northam’s Vanity Project

Glop Ep. 112: Dirty Laundry

The Remnant Episode 86: Venezwailin’

Trump Can Win Again Only If Democrats Keep Moving Leftward

There Is No New Deal

We’ll Regret This

New Deals (Even Green Ones) Are Bonanzas For Big Business

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Valentine’s Day links

Rabbits surfing on sheep to escape rising floodwaters

Barsik the cat voted more popular than other mayoral candidates in Siberian city

Henry VII’s bed has unknowingly been used by guests in a hotel

Canadians being Canadian and freezing their hair

Snowball fight turns into a riot near West Virginia University

Wildlife center will name salmon for your ex, feed it to a bear

Monopoly on love

Good dogs

Man hits his brother with a lamp in a fight over who owns their cat

Aircraft carrier launches a truck off its deck

Dogs before Instagram

The Westminster Dog Show

Woman attacks a store with a baseball bat because they were out of her favorite patties

Border collie perfection

We all knew this was true

Get her the breadstick bouquet she really wants

Naked pooping

The tragic death of American hero: Mars rover Opportunity

In case you ever felt like eating breakfast in a stadium bathroom

Black Leopard

The real reason Will Smith turned down The Matrix

Runner (not Jack) fights off mountain lion

Energy & Environment

Udder Madness

(Stringer/Reuters)

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 all of the Democrats who wore blackface but forgot to tell anybody),

Where is Gary Larson when you need him?

I loved Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts, Dilbert, and Bloom County, but I was in awe of The Far Side. Larson could do more in one panel — daily — than the best often did in three. And he was weird, and I like weird (you’d know that if you could see what I’m wearing right now).

Anyway, I could write about Larson all day long, so long as the armadillo I have under my breastplate doesn’t need to go to the bathroom.

But I should get to the point.

Larson loved cows, and he made them into cultural things like no one before.

“I’ve always thought the word ‘cow’ was funny,” Larson once said. “And cows are sort of tragic figures. Cows blur the line between tragedy and humor.”

And that’s why we need him now.

Contained within the FAQ for the Green New Deal is one of the greatest sentences ever written with the intention of being taken very, very seriously:

We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.

I love this sentence so much I want to stand outside its house holding up a boom box blasting Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.”

I love the attempt to seem pragmatic. We’re not crazy radicals here, we’re just going for net-zero emissions rather than zero emissions in ten years because we are part of the reality-based community.

This is like the straight man in a comedy team saying something banal and serious to set up his partner for the punchline. “We just need a little more time to get rid of the farting cows and the airplanes.” It’s like Ben Franklin’s “Fart Proudly” essay, except they’re not really in on the joke.

And this is where we need Larson. The Green New Dealers don’t want to get rid all of the cows because bovine genocide is not part of the Commissar’s Ten-Year Plan. But fear not, we’ll get there one day. And even the farters have a little more than a decade to get their affairs in order. But make no mistake: We’re coming for you flatulators (shut up, I need that to be a word). We’re like Kurt Russell in Tombstone, and there’s gonna be a reckoning for you cud-chewing milk-beasts because while we like the cheese we get from you, you must be liquidated for the sin of cutting the cheese.

Leave aside that “Farting Cows and Airplanes” would make a great band name. Forget that it can be read in such way that the airplanes fart too. How many Far Side cartoons could we get out of the image of cows turning on each other for the sin of letting one rip? Remember, all cows fart. (I want to thank the Powers that Be for giving me the opportunity to write that sentence in the context of a serious public-policy debate.) So singling out just the “Farting Cows” as if they are a separate class of animals — the hooved climate kulaks of Al Gore’s Animal Farm remake — conjures images of cows throwing each other under the bus when the Green Commissars show up.

“It was Clarence!” Shouts a cross-legged cow.

“Shut up, Bessy! The Inspector knows that whoever smelt it dealt it!”

You know what you call the cows that successfully survive the purge? The laughing stock.

(On that note, as Dom DeLuise shouted from his trailer before coming out in a Speedo, let me apologize for what you’re about to see next.) It would be udder chaos as each cow tried to be neither seen nor herd because the steaks would be so high. I know I’m milking this by butchering a very serious topic. I don’t want to steer you wrong, and I understand why you might have beef with all of these puns that have moved pasture your lactose tolerance.

They Put It in Writing
Don’t have a cow — I know I am having too much fun with this. And, yes, I know that the methane from cattle is a serious issue. But come on. Just look at this whole thing from a hard-nosed political perspective and you have to see what an unbelievable gift this whole thing is to the very people whom believers in the Green New Deal hate the most.

If you tilt your head and squint, this whole thing looks a bit like Jerry Maguire.

If you’ve never seen the movie, you should. It’s good. But I’m going to assume you did and not recap the whole thing. The kid of a hockey-player client makes sports-agent Jerry Maguire feel guilty about how he exploited his dad. Combined with a bout of indigestion, Jerry writes a 25-page manifesto on why his firm should have fewer clients. He distributes the memo to all of his partners and they all applaud, knowing in their cynical hearts that he signed his own career death-warrant. Soon, he’s asked out to lunch by his Beta — excuse me, Beto O’Rourke-esque partner Bob Sugar to get the bad news. “You did this to yourself. You said ‘fewer clients.’ You put it all on paper,” Sugar explains.

Later, Jerry realizes the full scope of his screw-up and why he’s “cloaked in failure.”

They will teach my story to other agents on “do not do this” day in agent school. Why? Lets recap. Because a hockey player’s kid made me feel like a superficial jerk, I had two slices of bad pizza, went to bed, grew a conscience and wrote a 25-page Manifesto of Doom!

Now, I know some of you are thinking, “How’s that armadillo doing?” He’s fine. Don’t worry. I also know that others of you are thinking that I self-owned myself because Jerry Maguire has a happy ending. Well, here’s the thing: This isn’t a movie.

I’m not going to go over all of the reasons why anything like the Green New Deal will never happen — though I covered a couple in my column. All you have to do is contemplate the tens of millions of jobs — automotive, oil and gas, manufacturing, agricultural — that would be destroyed to understand why politically the Green New Deal, as proposed, might as well be a call to mandate that vegan unicorns crap iPhones. And you can promise to tackle farting cows and planes down the road all you like, it won’t sound any more reasonable to the voters who decide every election. I mean, it’s never a good sign when Nancy Pelosi — who considers climate change her defining issue — brushes you off like she’s a high school principal handed a student petition to abolish homework.

And yeah, I know, the Green New Dealers have an answer: Think of all the jobs we’d create building a new electric grid and high-speed rail system, retrofitting every building in the United States, not to mention the Great Round-Up of the Gassy Cows.

Even if one were to take all of that seriously — an if larger than Egon’s hypothetical Twinkie in Ghostbusters — you don’t have to be Mancur Olsen to understand that the interests invested in the economy as it is aren’t going to bite at your offer of magic beans, and not just because beans make you fart.

Don’t Uncork the Champagne
Nancy Pelosi has many faults, but she understands the facts on the ground. It was Pelosi more than Obama who pulled off Obamacare because she understood that you have to co-opt the “stakeholders,” not declare war on them, to achieve anything significant. She knows that if she were to embrace the Green New Deal (or Medicare for All) it would be the greatest gift she could give to Donald Trump and the GOP, because the stakeholders would stampede, like a herd of cattle fleeing the fart police, to the party that promises to save them.

There’s a reason President Trump proclaimed in the State of the Union last year a few days ago, “Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.” If Trump is going to get reelected — another giant-Twinkie-sized if in my opinion — he needs to reignite the Flight 93 Binary Choice panic that allowed him to pull off his win in the Electoral College last time. (As of now, there’s almost zero chance he can win the popular vote.) The White House is reportedly — and understandably — giddy over the Dems’ lurch left. Kamala Harris recently told Jake Tapper that she would like to erase the insurance plans of more than 100 million Americans and destroy private insurance companies wholesale. Where will those voters and insurance PAC dollars go if they took her seriously?

Yet none of this means all is good with the world. Many conservatives — including yours truly — are having great fun watching leading Democrats embrace something that can so easily be turned against them.

It’s a quaint memory now, but the goal of the conservative movement was not to make the GOP more conservative. That was step one in a two-part plan. The real goal was to make the country more conservative. That requires moving the center of gravity in politics rightward. How does that project look today?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpUWrl3-mc8

So while it may be good news in the short-term for Republican politicians for the Democrats to veer wildly to the left, it’s not good news for the country or our cause that conservatism has been redefined as Trumpism for millions of Americans (including millions of conservatives). When large swaths of young voters — the largest bloc of voters in America — look to someone like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as their spokesperson, the Overton window moves in a direction conservatives should not celebrate because it is likely to slam shut on our squishy bits. Many of the people spinning the largely frivolous Trump State of the Union as a masterstroke are implicitly endorsing his moves leftward on legal immigration, infrastructure, trade, paid family leave, and — I would argue — foreign policy.

The larger point is that when you ask for and get a “disruptor” in the Oval Office, you don’t necessarily get to choose the form of the disruptions you get. Conjure a Stay Puft Man or Godzilla all you like, there’s no guarantee that the behemoth will only smash the things you want smashed. Retaining walls that serve valuable purposes will likely get smashed, too.

The Democrats have become radicalized in no small part because of their hatred of Donald Trump. And because that is the defining mindset of the Left these days, it creates breathing room for other forms of radicalism. The people pushing Trump to declare a national emergency to build his wall will undoubtedly rationalize the move on the grounds that he was elected to be a disruptor and the fact that the Democrats are so “obstructionist.” Maybe he’ll get the wall, maybe he won’t. But he will leave in his path enough flattened barriers to executive power that the next Democrat will have no problem using the exact same talking points for her or his emergency declaration. (As I write in the new cover story for National Review, the Left is much better, and has a far richer history, at declaring national emergencies to justify its power grabs.)

More broadly, the Trump years may mark some significant policy and political victories, but culturally it has been a boon for the Left. Just in the last week or so, we’ve seen the Democrats come closer than ever to literally — not figuratively — endorsing infanticide and socialism. Again, that’s arguably good news for partisans looking at the next election, but it’s a nightmare in the larger context, in part because the Democrats could still win despite that baggage. And while the Unicorn Caucus will never get everything that it wants, you can come well short of the slaughter of the farting cows and still do profound damage to the country.

Various & Sundry
Canine Update: It’s generally been a good week on the dogger front, though last night Zoë got angry about all of the attention I was giving Pip. People following my dog tweets understandably think Pippa is the star of the Goldberg Canine Show because she brings so much action, but the truth is Zoë is still the alpha and gets the alpha’s share of the spoils. And sometimes, she’s even the star on Twitter. Still, Pippa was feeling good about herself because she conquered a personal goal earlier in the day. And she gets her share of attention too. Oh and here’s a special treat. While cleaning up my hard drive I found some old Puppy pics of Zoë.

The real challenge on this front is meeting the unexpected demand for Fafoon content. Fafoon is one of my mom’s three cats and I’m constantly asked for more Fafoon tweets (mostly by @ComfortablySmug). Since I’m only up at grandma’s so often, it can be difficult to make supply meet demand.

I’ll be on Face the Nation this Sunday.

As I mentioned above, I have the cover essay in the new issue of National Review (which prompted Rich Lowry, for the first time ever I believe, to cite something I wrote as one of his Editor’s Picks on the Editor’s podcast. Though he did deliciously grumble about my shots at nationalism).

We’ve had a string of great Remnant podcasts of late, including two this week with Noah Rothman and Daniel Hannan.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

My Rundown appearance

My now out-of-date SOTU prediction column

Lord of the Rings is not racist

My now out-of-date plugging of my now-out-of-date SOTU prediction column

No one will host the Oscars

The Virginia mess

Rothman Remnant

On Cold War movies

The dangerous Green New Deal

V&S

Debby’s Tuesday links

Mutant squirrels

Good dog

Closet monster

Using the internet in the 21st century

D.C.’s Beltway, elsewhere

Was James Brown murdered?

How the Klan almost bought a university

Crypto misfortune

Bigfoot lives?

Your lost family photos might be in seal feces

The bunny murderer

Papal ninja upgrade

China’s tiny garbage men

Goat invasion

Florida politician face licker resigns

Culture

The Definition of Dogma

Ralph Northam speaks to supporters in Norfolk, Va., November 6, 2017. (Julia Rendleman/Reuters)

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 those looking to pounce on this “news”letter),

One of my three favorite essays by George Orwell begins:

Somewhere or other Byron makes use of the French word longeur, and remarks in passing that though in England we happen not to have the word, we have the thing in considerable profusion.

Well, I have need of a word, not for a thing so much as for a kind of word.

I need a word for the kinds of words that people think are universal and objective but are used by those same people only selectively and subjectively.

For example, for years I’ve written about how almost everybody believes in censorship, but they only use the word censorship to describe censorship they don’t like. There are people who genuflect to “Banned Book Week” but also insist that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should be pulled from libraries because it uses the N-word. But they don’t call that censorship. There are people who are totally for free speech, but if you ask them if it should be legal to broadcast hardcore porn on Saturday morning broadcast TV, they suddenly start replacing the word “censorship” with things like “reasonable regulation” and “community standards.”

One of my favorites is “hate.” Decrying hate has been a thing for a long time. JFK was visiting what became the “City of Hate” when he went to Dallas (unfortunately for the narrative-mongers, he was killed by a different kind of hater: a Communist). And I’m sure people paid lip-service to hating hate long before that. But the volume really got amped up with the gay-rights movement in the 1980s. Somebody made bank on those “Hate Is Not a Family Value” bumper stickers.

But the thing is hate is a family value. By a show of hands, who thinks I’d be a great dad if I said to my daughter, “I don’t hate Nazis” or “You shouldn’t hate racism”? Yeah, I know Christians have that whole “Hate the sin, not the sinner” thing, but the point stands. You’re supposed to hate what is hateful. As Proverbs says, “To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.”

Once you start looking around, you see these kinds of words all over the place — fair, pragmatic, realist, et al. — that claim to be universally true but are really used selectively. They’re not euphemisms, per se, because the people using them think that they’re using them sincerely.

Consider certainty. The late Times man Anthony Lewis insisted that one of the two great lessons he learned over the course of his career was that “certainty” is a great evil: “[C]ertainty is the enemy of decency and humanity in people who are sure they are right, like Osama bin Laden and John Ashcroft.”

How I wish I could have asked him if he was certain about that.

But more to the point, this is ridiculous. Was Martin Luther King Jr. the enemy of decency and humanity because he was certain that black people had a right to be treated with decency and humanity? As they say on Twitter: big if true.

Of course, part of what I am talking about is simply the plague of double standards. But that’s not exactly it, either. First, because behind every double standard usually resides a hidden single standard someone is afraid to admit. But also because there are some words that are supposed to evoke a single standard. Wealth isn’t that kind of word because everyone understands that wealth is relative. Tall, short, fat, hot, cold, and a thousand other adjectives all assume a context. Hot compared to what? Tall compared to whom? Phoenix in July is hot, but it’s downright frigid compared to the surface of the sun. Andre the Giant was tall, but not next to a redwood.

Meanwhile, the words I have in mind are categorical. Rape and murder are wrong. Everywhere, always. If you’re in a situation where you think a rape or murder might not be wrong, it’s probably either because there was doubt about whether it was really a murder or rape or because you’re a terrible person.

This is what Kant meant by a categorical imperative — something that is true regardless of context. For Kant, the one clear categorical imperative was essentially the Golden Rule: “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” We should all “act as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in another, always as an end, and never as only a means.” I’ll be the first to admit that’s a tall order.

Moral progress, or the story of civilization, is a scavenger hunt for categorical imperatives, a search for truths that are — or should be — true everywhere. And that process is best understood as dogma formation.

If I should ever accomplish enough that people try to find a theme in the great swirling pudding of my collective writings, they could do worse than to say I sought to restore the good name of dogma.

Dogma, Now and Forever

Whenever I hear someone opine how dogma is dangerous or bad or a sign of closed minds, I always wonder whether they realize how dogmatic they sound.

Dogma derives in part from the Greek dokein, meaning that which seems good. “Seems” is an important word here, because sometimes what seems to be true isn’t. And therefore, responsible thinkers should question dogma from time to time. But intellectually serious questioning isn’t synonymous with undermining, dismissing, or destroying. It’s like an inspection of a machine or a barracks or a business model. Sometimes you discover everything is working the way it should. If I check to make sure my daughter is sleeping safe and sound, I don’t wake her up if I find her as expected and hoped. I leave her be.

Since at least Rousseau and Nietzsche, and straight through the American pragmatists, questioning dogma has come to mean dismantling dogma. And this, in itself, has become a kind of dogma.

We teach people that they should reject everything from the conventional wisdom to the teachings of organized religion. Be a maverick. Be true to yourself. Don’t be a conformist. It’s gotten to the point where a superficial nonconformity is the new conformity. Herds of independent minds think that they are rebels by rebelling in great ravenous packs against anyone who disagrees with them. Like flocks of starlings they move in awesome tandem, thinking they are soaring independently when they are in fact swarming together to the beat of their own dogma.

This gets to the heart of why I am a conservative. Civilization is a verb. In our natural environment, murder wasn’t defined as the unwarranted or unjust taking of a human life, but of the unjust or unwarranted killing of a member of my tribe. And even then, the definition of “unjust and unwarranted” was unjust and, often, unwarranted. Rape of the enemy’s women wasn’t evil — it was a right, a just dessert. It was only through thousands of years of trial and error, of religious discovery and cultivation, that the definition of good and evil got closer to the categorical.

In short, we learned some lessons. Even today, among the supposed anti-dogmatic free-thinkers, the majority of their most strongly held moral convictions are dogmatic ones. Are you dogmatically opposed to racism, or do you like to take such questions on a case-by-case basis? What are your views on rape? Murder? Genocide? Do you have an open mind on these things? Do you need to hear both sides?

Abraham Lincoln was right when he said the following in 1861:

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves and then we shall save our country.

Shall we — in the name of open-mindedness — revisit the “dogmas of the quiet past” and treat slavery as an open question, or shall we all agree, dogmatically agree, that the question of slavery is settled?

The notion that conservatives are the dogmatists and progressives are the free-thinkers is one of the greatest triumphs in the history of the intellectual marketing of bullsh**. Conservatives simply acknowledge that we have dogma, that some questions are settled, and that while they can be questioned or revisited, the amount of new evidence required to overturn them should be monumental and decisive, not faddish and rationalized in the emotions of the moment.

If anything, progressives are the more dogmatic precisely because they think that they are free of dogma, free to fly from one conclusion to another as the crow flies, with no concern for the trial and error that came before. Social justice is not a philosophy. If it were, its practitioners would not struggle in vain to come up with a definition for it. It is priestcraft. It is a self-justifying writ for the power of a mob that is sure it is right. Because they think that they are free of dogma, whatever feels right at any given moment must be right.

As Chesterton said, “In truth there are only two kinds of people; those who accept dogmas and know it, and those who accept dogmas and don’t know it.” Conservatives have been wrong and will be wrong again. But at least conservatives wait for the truth to fully reveal itself, because we recognize the danger of overturning dogma without a good reason.

This is the main point of my book(s). Declaring war on your own civilization because it’s not changing at the pace you want it to be is a kind of autoimmune disorder, an intellectualized childishness. Children think they are ready — to drive, to cross the street alone, to drink alcohol, whatever, before they are. They say, with frustration, “I know how” when they do not.

The importance of family; the value of “bourgeois norms”; the right to be free to speak, pray, defend yourself, reap the fruits of your labors; the dangers of centralized planning, arbitrary power, faction, and the mob: All of these things are part of my dogma. I know this. I celebrate it. And I am happy to debate it all, because I know what my dogma is, and I know that it was learned at a cost paid for with the blood of billions of humans over thousands of generations.

The reason I get into so many fights with my fellow conservatives these days is that many of them have grown contemptuous of their own dogma. The free market is now just a tool, the Brain Trusters of the New Deal were right after all: If you put the right people in charge, they can plan your life better than you can. Meanwhile the pagans of the alt-right call constitutionalists “paper worshippers,” “vellum supremacists,” and “parchment fetishists.”

Acknowledging your dogma is like acknowledging your biases; it’s a necessary step to thinking seriously. Chesterton said it best: “Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas. As he piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion in the formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy and religion, he is, in the only legitimate sense . . . becoming more and more human.” He continues:

When [man] drops one doctrine after another in a refined skepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.

On Infanticide

What put me in this frame of mind is the latest debate over abortion (which I write about here). I have complicated views on abortion that don’t line up perfectly with most pro-lifers. But my views on infanticide are not complicated. It’s murder. And until very recently, it was normal. “Infanticide has been practiced on every continent and by people on every level of cultural complexity, from hunter-gatherers to high civilizations, including our own ancestors. Rather than being an exception, then, it has been the rule,” writes anthropologist Laila Williamson.

I am perfectly willing to concede that the number of women who seek to “abort” fully viable, born, or near-born babies is small as a statistical matter. But so what? It’s not zero. (If it were, Kermit Gosnell wouldn’t be in jail.) The number of truly innocent people put to death via capital punishment is smaller. That doesn’t make killing an innocent person any less outrageous. Barbara Boxer famously suggested that it’s not a baby until you bring it home from the hospital. That is grotesque. It’s like a magical incantation that rewinds the clock of human progress by millennia, made no less barbaric because it was said on the Senate floor. Indeed, saying it on the Senate floor made it more barbaric. When barbarians hacked and cleaved one another in the Black Forest, their barbarism seems natural. When they sacked Rome, the backdrop sets off the barbarism.

When we talk about capital punishment, opponents and supporters alike pay tribute to the importance of safeguards and due process. When supporters of abortion on demand talk about abortion, they make it sound like any talk of safeguards is an outrage and any outrage over the murder of a baby is religious extremism and — shudder — dogmatism.

Various & Sundry

It’s on! The National Review Institute’s Ideas Summit is coming to Washington, D.C., on March 28 and 29! This year’s conference, “The Case for the American Experiment,” will bring together the conservative movement’s most influential thinkers and policy makers to debate our dogma. Space is limited, so please register today!

And since we’re on the subject of grand conservative confabs, on March 30, ISI will announce the Conservative Book of the Year. And, I’m proud to say, I’m in the running. Details here.

Canine Update: The quadrupeds are doing better with the weather than the bipeds. Some #TeamPippa loyalists were concerned that Zoë was being too rough on Pippa this week. Fear not. They roughhouse all the time, and Zoë knows that if Pippa uses her safe word (it’s very hard to spell given it’s a high pitched squeal), the Dingo will back off. This doesn’t mean they don’t have their arguments. And that’s understandable because Zoë and Pip just have different priorities. Even if they share certain passions.

The worst part of my week was when Pippa squealed even worse at me. On Sunday night, while I was trying to unfurl a poop bag to pick up the Paul Krugman column Pippa left on a neighbor’s lawn, Pippa was barking at me to kick her tennis ball. I kicked it hard, and it beaned Pippa right in the eye. She squealed and ran in a circle. Given her previous eye problem, I was consumed with guilt and worry. It turned out okay. It was a little swollen for a day, but now she’s fine.

Oh, one last dog-related thing. On the latest episode of The Remnant, Kristen Soltis Anderson came on to talk about politics, polling, etc. But more importantly, we spent the first fifteen minutes talking about dogs and her new beau Wally, a Turkish Golden Retriever imported to America to do jobs American dogs won’t do.

ICYMI…
Last week’s G-File

(The B-side)

The Trump/AOC double standard

Me on Glass

The latest GLoP

The new gridlock

Feelings vs. facts

Poor John

The left takes the low ground on abortion

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Tuesday links

Debby’s Friday links

Robot loses job

Avalanche dog training

Confused dog

Hero dog

The bear necessities?

[Citation needed]

What Alec Guinness thought of Star Wars during its production  

Florida Man doesn’t disappoint 

Unexpected whimsy

No, you’re not high

Sled dog

Frankenfood

A good decision

Foiled again!

Awww…

Oldest animal ever discovered by scientists

Newfound Distant Space Rock May Be Missing Link of Planet Formation

Scientists Prepare for Mission to Jupiter’s Icy Moon Europa

There’s a snowman in space

Stranger Holds Umbrella for Deputy Paying Tribute in the Rain to Fallen Comrade

Man bites croc

The World’s First Smart Toilet for Dogs Has Arrived

Ancient Egyptian wine cellar containing coins and ceramics discovered by archaeologists

Giant Teddy Bears Are Taking Over Paris

Politics & Policy

The Problem of Identity

Roger Stone speaks after his appearance at Federal Court in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., January 25, 2019. (Joe Skipper/Reuters)

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 (And everyone who won so much from the government shutdown),

World-renowned rodent fornicator Roger Stone was arrested this morning, providing a wonderful moment to be literal, figurative, and literary all at once: for it would take a heart of Stone not to laugh. This lexicological ménage à trois should not be confused with the sort of threesome Roger solicited in Local Swing Fever.

By the time you get this “news” letter, you will probably know the details, so we won’t linger over them the way he lingers over his own pecs in the mirror or the glutes of the single dude who answered Stone’s Web ad:

Hot, insatiable lady and her handsome body builder husband, experienced swingers, seek similar couples or exceptional muscular . . . single men,

And some of Stone’s defenders call me a “cuck.”

My point is, this isn’t like the situation with Michael Flynn, a man who gave decades of courageous service to his country and ended up straying from the path (to one extent or another). Even Paul Manafort, who shares many of Stone’s ethical and moral shortcomings — going back at least to their work together defending various Third World dictators as leaders of the “Torturers’ Lobby” — is a different creature than Stone. Manafort at least maintained the pretense of decorum and decency in public. The defining attribute of Manafort is simple, swampy greed. Stone literally brags about his sleaziness. He wears it on his immaculately tailored sleeves. When a New Yorker writer asked him why he moved to Miami, he quoted a Somerset Maugham line: “It’s a sunny place for shady people. I fit right in.”

It’s funny because it’s true.

It was thanks to his contacts with the Florida sex industry that Stone successfully orchestrated the downfall of Eliot Spitzer. While I am the first to concede that there were some silver linings to seeing that thuggish Javert removed from the public stage, that doesn’t compel me to admire the man and his means (including, for instance, his threatening prank call to Spitzer’s 80-year-old father).

Similarly, the predawn raid on his home may have been over the top (time will tell if Mueller had a good reason for it), but the idea that it should arouse so much sympathy for a man who boasts of his lack of sympathy for others, his alleged threat on a man’s dog if he cooperated with Mueller, his habit of wishing death on inconvenient women and of hurling dimwitted racist taunts, not to mention his bottomless record of dirty tricks, strikes me as a moral red herring.

Speaking of bottoms, I’m more torn about the plethora of jokes on the Twitter on how he might enjoy prison given his proclivities. And I’m not referring to his back tattoo of Richard Nixon, which would make for a great visual as he worked out à la Robert De Niro in Cape Fear.

I’m torn because jokes about prison rape are justifiably condemned these days. Like any rape, it’s a heinous crime. But that’s not what I’m getting at.

You see, Stone is an avowed “libertine” who says “I’m trysexual. I’ve tried everything.” So while Stone doesn’t hesitate to say, “Die, bitch,” or express hope that his interlocutor kill herself, I am not wishing any violence on the man. Even his threat to disappear a man’s dog — which raises particular rage in me — should not cause one to stoop to his level (even though it says in the Bible, “Verily, ye may bathe in the blood of lawyers and sophisters, a man’s dog is beyond the reach of vengeance”— okay, it’s implied).

Stone often wooed the ladies by noting that, thanks to his tat, “you’ll never meet another man with a d*** in the front and a d*** in the back,” another bon mot that might become both literal and figurative — if not quite literary — should he be incarcerated.

More seriously, I understand that the party line keeps moving from “Nothing happened” to “If it happened, what’s the big deal?” to, sometime soon, “You’re damned right it happened, and thank God it did!”

But working with foreign adversaries to criminally hack the servers of an American political party would be bad, regardless of what you — or I — think of Hillary Clinton (and to be clear, Stone has not been charged with that, yet). And no amount of shrieks of “But Uranium 1!” or “But her emails!” can change that fact. If the situation were reversed, the “But her emails!” people would be the first to admit this.

Moreover, lying to Congress and witness tampering are bad, too. That these are the charges Mueller is leveling at Stone lends credence to the appointment of Mueller in the first place. People are correct when they say that Congress is the proper venue for such investigations. But since Congress seemed uninterested in pursuing or exposing these lies, who else but Mueller was going to do it?

Regardless, if Stone is proven guilty, he should go to prison. And if he does, Stone should enunciate clearly, for, given his reputation, some of his confrères might be forgiven for mistaking his “But her emails” rants for a casting call for buttery males.


The Suicide of America, an Allegory
I was mugged a few times as a kid. In each instance, the mugger was black or Hispanic. If I were to write that, due to these experiences, I know all I need to know about black or Hispanic people, I’d be open to all manner of charges — racism and stupidity chief among them — and rightly so.

You know what else happened to me as a kid? Someone I didn’t like smirked at me (including a couple of the muggers). Why would it be any less idiotic to suggest that I now know everything I need to know about the smirkers amongst us? And yet, this week, a lot of people did exactly that:

Of course, they weren’t offended by all smirkers, just the white male smirkers — or white male Catholic smirkers. But the point is the same.

The Covington-kids controversy exposed what lies at the very heart of what ails our society these days. I’m not referring to the very real bigotry against Christians in general or Catholics in particular. Nor do I have in mind the equally real problems with social media or the various battle lines of the culture war. These are all expressions or manifestations of the underlying problem.

I am referring to the problem of identity. In mathematics, the transitive property of equality holds that if X equals Z, and Y equals Z, then X and Y are the same. But the social concept of identity holds that if person X is white, and person Y is white, then person Y is the same as person X. The language is rarely so simple as that, but the idea is.

During the Kavanaugh brouhaha, I wrote a column arguing that the fight was so intense because it was essentially an allegory. Why was Kavanaugh so angry about being called a drunkard and rapist, I asked? My answer:

The most common explanation — the hot take so hot it melted the conventional wisdom and forged a new concrete groupthink — is that Kavanaugh was so angry because he represents White Male Entitlement.

The WME explanation is a form of allegory, not argument. In allegories, the characters aren’t real people so much as metaphors for certain ideas. For instance, in The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), the main character is named Christian, and on his trek he encounters other abstractions in human form, such as Mr. Worldly Wiseman.

Kavanaugh is now Mr. White Male Entitlement, and as such, he is by definition wrong because that is his assigned role.

In the Covington spectacle, all of the players were assigned allegorical roles that stripped away any notions of true individuality. For untold thousands — or millions — of people, all you needed to know about the individuals involved was that they fit into pre-assigned roles of identity. The kids were white, they were Catholic, and some even wore MAGA hats. Nathan Phillips, the drumbeating Native American, was a Native American, he was old, and he was a veteran. Even when the truth started to trickle — and then flood — out, invested observers couldn’t let go of their original idea of how the story in their minds was cast.

The kids were harassed by a cult of bigots known as “Black Israelites.” But since they were black, countless people, from Phillips to the folks at the New York Times, struggled mightily to minimize or dismiss their pernicious role. Even when it was revealed that Phillips was at best, extremely deceptive, or more accurately, deliberately dishonest, people clung to the idea that he was the wronged party.

And, as Rich Lowry chronicles, even after it was revealed that the kids mostly behaved admirably, the witch hunters fell back on condemning them anyway because they wore those talismanically evil hats. As someone at Vox wrote: “The hats extinguished pretty much any benefit of the doubt a liberal observer might have given these kids.” David Simon declared: “Once a campaign prop, a MAGA cap now fronts for such raw evil.” Leading public intellectual Alyssa Milano declared that MAGA hats are “the new white hood.”

I want to move beyond the Covington thing to stay on my larger point, but it’s worth addressing one last example. My colleague Nicholas Frankovich penned a blog post that joined in the pile-on, because he made the understandable mistake of believing the initial video and the press coverage of it. His post wasn’t National Review’s editorial position any more than this “news” letter is.  When the truth was revealed, we deleted the post, and he and the magazine apologized. Since then, we’ve run some of the most thoughtful pieces condemning the pile-on. But because transitive-property thinking is so powerful, there are still hordes of people out there who simply refuse to let go of their anger at National Review and all its writers. They know the facts, they just don’t care because they are committed to a larger manifestation of this mindset. Despite numerous pro-Trump or Trump-sympathetic writers at National Review, despite all we’ve published about the Covington controversy that aligns with their views, we are seen as traitors to the cause among those who’ve invested themselves totally in Trump, Trumpism, and their fantasies of the glorious world Trump will deliver — or would deliver, if their allegorical hero had not been stabbed in the back. We are an evil “Them” now, and there’s no desire to rewrite the script to fit reality.

Me, Us, Them
“Identity,” Leon Wieseltier once suggested, might be thought of as “the solution to the problem of individuality.”

Wiseltier also argued that “individuality is ancient, identity is modern.” I understand what he meant, but I think he was wrong. Both are ancient concepts — timeless, actually — in the sense that both ideas lie at the heart of what it means to be a human. We all, to one extent or another, think of ourselves as unique, if for no other reason than the fact that we have access to our own minds and emotions, but not to other peoples’ — at least not in the same way. We don’t experience life through anybody else’s senses. The motivations of others may be knowable from time to time — and even shared — but they aren’t felt the way we feel our own wants and desires. (I should probably note that Wieseltier had some difficulty controlling his wants and desires when they conflicted with those of some women he worked with.)

What is true is that the idea of individuality, how we think about the rights and privileges we attach to the individual person, have changed across time and locale. But the individual conscience, the idea that “I am me,” has always been there because it is an emanation of the instinct to survive, which we all have.

Meanwhile, identity, the notion that the Me shares something important with others like Me, is eternal as well. We are a cooperative species that has managed to survive this long only because we figured out how to work together. For most of human history, tribes invested huge importance in the equivalent of MAGA hats. It was important — vital — to distinguish Us versus Them. So how one group wore their hair, painted their faces, or whatever else was a signal to distinguish friend from foe and was every bit as vital as the different uniforms of opposing armies. In a state of war, which is man’s natural state, the transitive property is a survival mechanism. One enemy warrior — or, for that matter, a bear or tiger — is no different than another, and not just because they look (or dress) alike.

In a modern, liberal democratic civilization, this form of thinking is dangerous. But because the tide of prosperity is sweeping away the traditional warrens of meaning and belonging, people are searching for off-the-shelf individuality, which is really a form of conformity to some flavor of identity. A certain amount of identity is inevitable — and often healthy — because we all belong to abstract categories that have meaning for us (though it’s always better to find meaning in more-substantial sources of identity). But the drive to replace individuality is often a sign of shallow and cheap individuality.

If one fears to be judged on your own merits because you know, deep in your soul, you’ll be found wanting, you’ll attach yourself to some abstract identity that gives you meaning you did not earn. The man who never served who claims to be a veteran, the veteran who never saw battle who claims to have fought bravely, the loser who falls back on his white skin to claim to be better than others, the minority who blames his failures or bad luck on the innate evil of the majority, the young activist who insists she must be listened to solely because she was born more recently than her more-informed elders: These and so many others are types of people who want to buy status on the cheap. And it is the very cheapness of the identity that causes us to cling to it ever more angrily. Women are more liberated than ever before, but they grow louder about their oppression. White supremacy has been erased from most hearts and from the law books alike, but we are told that this has only freed the menace to grow.

“An affiliation is not an experience,” Wieseltier writes. “It is, in fact, a surrogate for experience. Where the faith in God is wanting, there is still religious identity. Where the bed is cold and empty, there is still sexual identity. Where the words of the fathers are forgotten, there is still ethnic identity. The thinner the identity, the louder.”

Our system cannot work if we don’t honor the moral obligation to take people as we find them. And yet everywhere you look, you hear or read supposed intellectuals and moral influencers reducing vast swathes of people to abstract categories. From Black Lives Matter activists who only see skin color — or police uniforms — to supposed deep thinkers who make sweeping statements about Christians or the products of Christian education. Ta-Nehisi Coates is an intellectual rock star for reducing millions of people to their skin color. Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and their allies see “billionaires” as evildoers to be punished or eradicated solely for their membership in a class of people. Blacks rightly complain about the phenomenon of being singled out for the crime of “driving while black.” For the new levelers, the wealthy are guilty of the crime of existing while rich.

Large swathes of the Right are equally guilty, and not just the poltroons of the alt-right. In Texas, some Republicans wanted to defenestrate a Muslim Republican solely because he was a Muslim. Many on the right reflexively behave like the mirror image of Black Lives Matter, instantly crediting anyone who wears a police uniform, regardless of what they did.

When President Trump announced his candidacy he said:

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

Since then, the argument has changed somewhat. To his credit, he emphasizes the distinction between illegal and legal immigration more, but he also talks less and less about any “good people” coming here illegally. Instead, illegal immigrants are increasingly an undifferentiated mass of criminals, rapists, drug dealers, and sex traffickers. Of course, some are. And we have every right to fight illegal immigration, even when the illegal immigrants are good people.

But utterly lost in Trump’s increasingly desperate attempts to paint all illegal immigrants as an undifferentiated blob of danger is any attempt to recognize the humanity of the individuals involved. With the help of his enablers, every evil illegal immigrant is held up as X and every illegal immigrant, we are led to believe, equals X. And it’s a lie.

The transitive property is what makes identity politics and allegorical thinking possible, and it is incredibly dangerous to what this country is supposed to be about. I know a**holes who wear MAGA hats and I know great people who wear MAGA hats. I know wonderful, compassionate people steeped in a Christian education, and I know people who use their Christian credentials as a racket. There are illegal immigrants who should get the chair or rot in prison, and there are illegal immigrants who live honorable lives making wonderful contributions. Reducing millions of people to abstractions, indicted by collective guilt, because of the actions of a specific individual is the habit of mind that has led to more deaths — by which I mean murders — and systemic cruelties than any other in human history.

For God’s sake — and ours — try taking people as you find them.

Various & Sundry
My apologies for the epically long “news” letter today. As often happens, I planned to write about one thing and then the gods of the news cycle intervened. And I felt like I couldn’t let the Stone thing go, if for the only reason that I think it’s so funny to say “But her emails” five times fast and have it turn into “Buttery males.”

Canine Update: The girls are prospering — perhaps a bit too much. We’re increasingly worried that Zoë is getting too Rubenesque. The thing is, we really don’t overfeed her, and she gets plenty of exercise. Also, any diet that she interprets as favoritism toward Pippa could be a problem, not least because Zoë has no problem with eating Pippa’s food when she feels entitled. Any suggestions about how to deal with this are welcome. In the meantime, they’re loving life in the cold weather — and in the warm confines of our home. Though Zoë sometimes finds the mid-morning wait for adventure a melancholy affair, there are remedies for that. But Pippa is really enjoying her ability to show off her camouflage skills, and the ice doesn’t last long. Even the denial of mud service imposed by Old Man Winter can’t take the waggle out of Pippa’s caboose. And few things are more exciting than the return of the mater familias.

And now the other stuff

This week’s first Remnant, with Charles Lane, was a fun one. And hopefully by the time this reaches you the second Remnant will be up, on missile defense with Tom Karako. You can look here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Last week’s G-File

Last week’s G-File . . . B-side?

Will Trump get a primary challenge?

America doesn’t need a helicopter-mom-in-chief

Missing details

The mess we’re in

Good news for Suicide of the West (the book)

What might have been

Congressional Republicans and shutdown blame

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Thursday links

Debby’s Friday links

Last words

Drunks for hire

Dog bites man, then . . . dog’s owner bites man

Nature’s revolt

Nature is revolting

Always wondered why no one ever did this

The world’s largest airport terminal

I bless the rains

“Bohemian Rhapsody” on a carnival organ

Reporter rescues drowning jogger

The Seventh Seal has been broken

Behold: the blood moon

Beware the EMPs

Tanning-salon Godfather

Staying safe on ice

U.S.

The Case Against National Solidarity

(Marvin Gentry/Reuters)

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 all of the TSA Agents who’ve replaced woke children as the voices of wisdom in American life),

In my eons on the internet, one lesson I have tried to take to heart — not always successfully — is that in the long run, it’s best to stand on the sidelines of the great race to be wrong first.

To that end, I’ll just say that I don’t know if the BuzzFeed story alleging that Donald Trump ordered Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, and other nefarious doings, is true. One of the main reporters may or may not be trustworthy. All of the sources are anonymous. The story claims that there are documents supporting the charge, but the reporters may not have seen them, so if the sources are lying about the major facts, why wouldn’t they lie about the corroborating facts as well? As Brit Hume often likes to note, exclusive bombshells don’t stay exclusive for very long. If we go much longer without another news outlet corroborating the story, it’s likely because it can’t be corroborated for a reason.

But are the charges believable?

Trump defenders are right that we’ve been here before. Blockbuster allegations are reported. A few days later, the story either falls apart or deflates significantly. But here’s the interesting thing. Between the time of the initial report and the correction, one rarely hears the professional defenders say, “This story is unbelievable and false.” It’s only when the correction comes that they are suddenly overcome with indignation that anyone would suggest such a thing. Only after they have a factual backstop do they shriek, “you had to be suffering from Trump derangement syndrome to have believed the report in the first place!” These rhetorical lacunae are revealing, because I think it shows that the praetorians believe the charges are possibly true. (Also revealing: The tendency to stop shouting “Fake News” whenever MSM reporting is beneficial to the White House.)

But here’s the question: In your heart, do you think it’s believable that the president told Michael Cohen to lie to Congress? I mean, do you really think given his character, history, and temperament that it’s inconceivable that he would do such a thing?

I think it’s believable because we already know that the president has no problem with lying and encouraging others to lie about his dealings with Russia (and a few other things). During the campaign and after being sworn in, he categorically denied business dealings — ongoing or potential — with Russia. Before Cohen told Mueller that he had lied to Congress, Trump’s position was unequivocal.

After the Cohen testimony and other evidence came to light (including this signed letter by Trump), he didn’t say Cohen made it all up. He said it was no big deal that he looked “lightly” into such a deal. This is a recurring pattern.

So yeah, sure, the BuzzFeed story may be wrong in whole or in part, and if it is, BuzzFeed should pay dearly for it. But the fact that the story is so believable is both damning and significant.

Think of it this way: If your wife or husband thinks it’s entirely believable that you might be committing adultery, your marriage is in trouble regardless of whether or not you actually are cheating. That it is utterly believable that the president would do such a thing is an indictment of his presidency in and of itself.

This same logic applies just as forcefully to the FBI as well. I don’t subscribe to the various Deep State theories being peddled by the praetorians, but it is damning nonetheless that such theories are remotely plausible.

Changing Gears
So I’m doing something weird here (thank God there’s no video with this “news”letter), but that’s my business. I’m also doing something unusual. I just cut the rest of what was my nearly completed G-File to switch gears entirely. I’ll post the rest of my argument about Trump on the site, and hopefully by the time this thing goes out, there will be a link to put here.

I just caught my friend and colleague David French on MSNBC defending Karen Pence and the Christian school she’s going to teach at. I love listening to David defend Christian teachings in the MSM because he manages to be simultaneously unapologetic about his apologetics and wholly decent and un-scolding in the process.

Anyway, one of the points David made is right in my wheelhouse: He wants there to be as much freedom as possible for different schools and other institutions to teach their faith. If you’ve read or listened to me rant about federalism and civil society you know how dorkily passionate I am about this topic.

And that put me in mind to a question I got from an academic from a religious school last weekend when I was speaking at a conference for AEI’s Values and Capitalism program. After my usual rant about federalism and the importance of civil society, this guy asked me what’s wrong with First Things editor Rusty Reno’s calls for rethinking the Founding and the Enlightenment in pursuit of some new kind of Catholic-informed, New Deal-style project of national solidarity.

National Solidarity is Overrated
And that reminded me that Rusty has returned, like a dog to his vomit, to his attacks on me. If you recall, Rusty wrote a dumb review of my book a while back which began with the declaration: “Jonah Goldberg exemplifies the decadence and dysfunction of today’s public discourse.” For reasons I explained here, I thought this was impressively stupid, revealing the decadence and dysfunction in Reno’s Rusty-thinking.

In his latest effort, he puts the decadence and dysfunction on display yet again. But he also says some interesting things, and if you’ll forgive the self-congratulatory tone, they’re interesting because they track an argument I make at great length in my book. He argues that elites haven’t held up their end with regard to the rest of America. This is not a new argument, of course. It can be traced from Joseph Schumpeter to James Burnham to Irving Kristol and Christopher Lasch to Charles Murray in his prophetic Coming Apart.

As I discussed here last week in the context of Tucker Carlson’s jeremiad, I have no problem criticizing elites, but I think people are focusing mostly on the wrong elites.

My disagreement with Reno — aside from all the snide nonsense and bad faith — is the same problem I have with all of these arguments for centralizing power in Washington to “bring the country together” or some similar treacle.

Which brings me back to David French’s comments and Reno’s little project.

There’s an old joke about how the best form of government is the “good Czar.” The problem is that if you create a system dependent on the wisdom of a good Czar, you leave society defenseless against the rise to power of a bad Czar.

This insight, perhaps more than any other, is at the heart of the American political system envisioned by the founders. If men were angels, we wouldn’t need government, and if you could guarantee that every Czar is an angel, you wouldn’t need democracy, checks and balances, or divided government of any kind, either.

National solidarity is awesome when it’s on your terms. It’s only when people you don’t like get to define what constitutes national solidarity — which is synonymous with some notion of “national purpose” — that its proponents suddenly realize the problems. Then, when the people who say that “there’s no such thing as someone else’s child” or think that the Knights of Columbus is an ersatz hate group come into power, they’re suddenly like Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge Over the River Kwai asking, “My God, what have I done?”

The Founding, Again
The founders were acutely aware of this, which is why they opposed an established church like the Church of England. They saw how minority faiths had been persecuted in the name of national solidarity. The exhaustion after the religious wars of Europe minted the right to be wrong in the eyes of the majority or the state. In other words, they championed pluralism. As Ben Sasse writes in Them, we should all see ourselves as members of minorities.

Madison encouraged everyone to conceive of themselves as creedal minorities.

Assume that if you believe anything important or hold anything dear, it will not always align with majority opinion. Wise republicans (small-“r” republicans) — by which he meant all citizens of this new experiment in liberty, who had just observed a century-plus of religious war in Europe — should be aiming to preserve space for peaceful argument and thoughtful dissent. Government isn’t in the business of setting down ultimate truths. It doesn’t decide who’s saved and who’s damned. Government is merely a tool to preserve order, to preserve space for free minds to wrestle with the big questions. Government is not the center of life but the framework that enables rich lives to be lived in the true centers of freedom and love: houses and communities.

Reread George Washington’s letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport:

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

The founders, especially James Madison, understood that the kind of national solidarity Reno desires and Rousseau celebrated is not scalable for a large, diverse, ultimately continent-spanning nation — at least not while preserving liberty. Even Rousseau thought his (largely totalitarian) conception of the General Will could not work on a polity larger than his beloved Geneva.

The way to prevent tyrannical invasions into the liberties of others was to divide power, not just between the three branches of government, but between the central government and the states and smaller jurisdictions. Each state has divided government, as do most cities and even towns and counties. And it’s not just state power. Institutions, starting with organized religion, must be given substantial immunity to interference by the state – at any level.

Divide power and then divide it again and again, and you prevent factions from grabbing power and imposing their will on the whole. As Madison writes in Federalist No. 51: “Extend the sphere and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength and to act in unison with each other.”

Delaware’s John Dickinson put it well at the Constitutional Convention: “Let our government be like that of the solar system. Let the general government be like the sun and the states the planets, repelled yet attracted, and the whole moving regularly and harmoniously in their several orbits.”

This idea, which evolved organically and slowly out of English culture, became a philosophical program (See Hume’s Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth) and ultimately a “new political science.”

But don’t tell that to Reno. He ridiculously thinks he’s caught me in a great contradiction by celebrating Hayekian trial and error while heaping scorn on the “Bold persistent experimentation” of the New Deal. He writes:

But wait a minute. By Goldberg’s account, we’ve gotten to the Miracle by trial and error. It’s taken thousands of generations of experimentation. Thus, the Miracle, too, has been arrived at by “the very definition of the authoritarian method.” In other words, the liberal miracle is in the upshot of a crypto-fascist approach. This explains why Suicide of the West is full of denunciations of those who disagree with Goldberg. That’s what ideological authoritarians do. They don’t argue with reason and decency. They pillory, ridicule, and smear.

This is preposterous. The New Dealers wanted to crush the normal divisions of power (and had considerable success). Planners like Rex Tugwell thought they were smarter than the market and could set the prices for everything from Washington. They believed individuals could have enough knowledge to plan other peoples’ lives better than they could. That’s not bottom-up-trial and error from the little platoons of society (nor is it Catholic subsidiarity). It’s what Hayek called the Road to Serfdom. A previous editor of First Things, the late great Father Neuhaus, recognized this. As he and Peter Berger wrote, policymakers had to recognize and respect the role of intermediating institutions to advance e pluribus unum. “unum is not to be achieved at the expense of the plures. . . .the national purpose indicated by the unum is precisely to sustain the plures.”

It’s fine if Reno likes the New Deal — progressives of all parties tend to. And it’s certainly true that the New Deal borrowed influences from Catholic social thought, particularly from folks like Father John Ryan (and for a time Father Coughlin). But this is mind-bogglingly dumb, dishonest, or ignorant (or maybe all three).

The philosophical pragmatism of the technocratic progressives was the exact opposite of what I talk about in my book, and if he can’t see that, no wonder he gets so much else wrong.

But here’s the point. If you want to knock out what remaining safeguards there are against another New Deal, green or otherwise, you should ask yourself: Who will run it? And what will that mean for the things you hold dear? And how long will it be run by the good Czars you like?

After all, Obama wanted a new New Deal. How did his administration treat Catholics? How would it treat the schools David French is talking about? I understand that Rusty thinks he’s very persuasive, but count me skeptical that his new corporatist (in the real meaning of the word) New Deal  — or whatever he would call the tangible result of his gaseous wish casting — would have a particularly Catholic flavor or would treat Christian schools, charities, adoption agencies, or the Knights of Columbus as full partners in the project.

And even if this ridiculous pipe dream were to come to be, how corrupting would it be of those institutions in the long run? The very thing that has corrupted the elites Rusty denounces would in all likelihood corrupt the new elites too. How faithful is Catholicism in China today? How much witness did the Russian Orthodox Church bear in the old Soviet Union? Hell, give some religious “leaders” a taste of good radio ratings or a sweet land deal and a little fame these days and you can see how far they stray. Imagine what compromises they might make for the greater good and for the cause of national solidarity when they had real power. Power and status are more seductive than 30 pieces of silver.

Rusty bleats a lot about “Conservatism Inc.” as if it were a particularly clever or novel epithet. But oddly he also thinks he’s using it correctly. Here I am invoking the central arguments made by conservative thinkers from the founding until 2016 — including, for most of its history, his own magazine. I am defending the vision of the founders, the insights of Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek, William F. Buckley, and the causes of religious and economic liberty which have made this country one of the most glorious accomplishments in all of human history, and he’s whining about how I’m being mean to the New Deal, which put an immigrant in jail for charging too little for pressing a suit and tried to erase religious practices that did not align with its central planning.

That’s not Conservatism Inc. That’s conservatism. American conservatism.

Conservatism Inc. these days is the lusting for the power, relevance, and fame we see all around us, and I guess Rusty wants his slice.

Various & Sundry
Canine Update: For the most part, all is great with the beasties. But there was one very bad incident for which we haven’t forgiven Zoë. The Dingo hasn’t gotten into a scrap with another dog for months, and she’s generally been an amazingly good girl about such things. We actually kind of thought we turned the corner. But then, while I was in Florida and my wife was shoveling snow, the Dingo got out of the house off leash at exactly the wrong moment. There are two very nice miniature spaniels on our block, and Zoë hates them with a blinding passion. Out in the park, she’s not territorial, but on our block she’s a member of Hezbollah and every other dog is an Israeli settler. She went after the dogs — who always try to pick fights with her, I should add — and she hurt them in the ensuing tussle. They’re okay now, but they did have to go the vet and we’ve obviously offered to pay the bill and have apologized profusely. Still, we need to revisit our security protocols. These things happen, but we hate it and we take it very seriously.

On the lighter side, that same weekend, the Fair Jessica had the dogs on a snow-covered trail along the Potomac. The only other person on the trail was a guy on a mountain bike riding in the snow (I didn’t think this was a thing). The guy said to her “Are those Jonah Goldberg’s dogs? Zoë and Pippa?” My wife thinks he thought she was the dog walker, so she said, “Yeah, those are <sarc> Jonah Goldberg’s </sarc> dogs.

I do think that one of the reasons Zoë was bad is that snow definitely brings out the wild side in her (and also the regal side). She doesn’t listen as well to the humans because it’s all so exciting! Pippa’s the same way, but as America’s Most Harmless Dog® it doesn’t really matter, and she always stays near the ball thrower anyway. But man do they love the snow! Pippa doesn’t even mind that no one noticed her new hairdo. The snow is also great because it depletes their batteries at an accelerated rate (once you get them inside). It also just makes them more photogenic.

ICYMI. . .

I’ve lost track of how many people said this latest episode of The Remnant podcast was among their favorites.

In fairness, I’ve also lost track of how many people have said “Shut up, cucks.” Decide for yourself.

Last week’s G-File

Will the shutdown ever end?

Chuck and Nancy vs. Nancy and Chuck

Trump’s “jokes”

The Russia muddle

What will the 2020 election be about?

Nancy Pelosi. . .is. . .right?

Giuliani isn’t helping Trump

How the media could hurt Democrats

The return of interbranch conflict?

Trump’s MacGuffin wall

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Thursday links

What’s the loudest sound in the universe?

Did you get that memo?

RIP one of the greatest Americans who ever lived

The past resurfaces

We have a lot of cheese

The swing at the end of the world

Lab-grown human blood vessels

I thought this was America!

Pizza for eels

King Tut’s space dagger

Maine’s giant ice disk

2018’s award-winning ocean photos

Otters on a water slide

Vatican track team

Don’t do this
Fat clubs

Curing potato depression

Accidentally tasting peppermint

Whack-a-mole for dogs

How each Michigan county got its name

Politics & Policy

The Elite Convergence

Senator Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) addresses Capitol Hill reporters in Washington, D.C., November 27, 2018. (Leah Millis/REUTERS)

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 those otherwise occupied by their doorbell love),

Like Jeffrey Epstein when the new Sears Junior Miss catalogue comes out, I don’t know where to begin.

About 20 minutes ago (my time), I caught some of Senator Kamala Harris’s road show on Morning Joe. If there were a platitude-eating fungus that rapidly reproduced, by the end of the segment, everyone would have died from the crushing weight of the world’s largest mushroom.

I don’t really take offense at the platitudes, given that we are talking about a politician and also a U.S. senator running for president. What did bug me quite a bit, though, was how she oozed the sense that she was just nailing it. And no, this isn’t a sexist thing. I know we’re in the phase of the asinine conversation when we’re supposed to believe that finding a specific liberal woman annoying or unlikable proves that you hate all women.

I reject all of this and all attempts to bully me into compliance. I belong to the school that says women are human beings, and that means they are distributed up and down the likability scale, just like men. I find Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez likable, but not as likable as Amy Klobuchar, and more likable than Elizabeth Warren. And, just to establish a baseline,  compared to, say, the late Helen Thomas (the Stygian goblin who used to roost in the White House press gallery, her scaly talons glistening under the camera lights), they’re all so likable I’d join their cross-country Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants if it meant not sitting next to Thomas on a short flight.

Anyway, former senator Bill Bradley had the same quality as Harris. He’d say something like “Elections are vital to democracy” and then stop talking, as if the audience needed time to absorb the shockwave of a truth bomb of such magnitude. I read somewhere that Bradley didn’t like to hear applause at the end of his speeches because he interpreted silence as a sign of the audience’s awe at his wisdom.

Harris wasn’t that bad, but it was close.

The Ties that Bind

But there’s a more important point to make. I caught her in the middle of a dense disquisition on how diversity and unity are not in conflict because we all have so much more in common than what separates us. I wasn’t taking notes, and there’s no transcript, but fortunately National Review ran a piece three days ago that has all of these supposedly spontaneous observations from this morning verbatim.

Here’s that version of those remarks:

“The vast majority of us have so much more in common than what separates us,” Harris said. “When people are waking up in the middle of the night with the thing that has been weighing on them . . . they aren’t waking up thinking that thought through the lens of the party with which they’re registered to vote. They are not thinking it through some demographic upholster.

When they wake up thinking that thought, it usually has to do with one of very few things: It usually has to do with their personal health, about their children, or their parents,” she continued. “Can I get a job? Keep a job? Pay the bills by the end of the month? Retire with dignity?”

Now, taken as a platitudinous slurry of pabulum — and how else could one take it? — this is largely true of all Americans. But you know who else it’s true of? Canadians. And Germans. The French. And many, many other humans. Admittedly, in places like Yemen or Syria the middle-of-the-night concerns are more stark: “Will my house get bombed?” “Will the militia conscript my son?” But what Kamala Harris is really saying here is only slightly more interesting or profound than noting that Americans are united by their bipedalism or need for oxygen.

Harris’s riff reflects a profound tension running through contemporary progressivism that has roots going back more than a century.

I don’t think I need to remind readers that I have my problems with the new fad for nationalism on the right. But it may be necessary to remind some that I have been railing against the nationalism of the left for 20 years. For all of its problems, right-wing nationalism at least draws on important and diverse wellsprings of meaning — history, culture, religion, tradition, and, most obviously, the concept of a nation. Left-wing nationalism draws its power almost entirely from a single source: the state. Indeed, the most remarkable thing about left-wing nationalism is that it doesn’t even acknowledge its nationalism. AOC may want to nationalize industry in the name of national unity, but because she calls it “socialism” it’s not scary.

As I noted in my column about the Green New Deal (and in dozens of other columns, scores of blogposts, and at least two books), the through-line of 20th- and now 21st-century liberalism has been William James’s idea of the moral equivalent of war. From the progressives of the Wilson era to the progressives of today, the idea has always been to use the state to unify the country by turning citizens into clients of the government in Washington. Wilson and FDR had elements of right-wing nationalism to them because they were products of an age when liberals could still invoke traditional concepts and customs that today are considered atavistic carbuncles on the body politic. But programmatically, they were left-wing nationalists in the sense that they wanted to use the government in Washington to guide the whole country in a single direction.

Real freedom required abandoning the individual pursuit of happiness and instead pursuing collective endeavors. As James’s disciple John Dewey argued, notions of individual rights and liberties were outdated impediments to getting us all to work together. “Natural rights and natural liberties exist only in the kingdom of mythological social zoology . . . organized social control” via a “socialized economy” is the only means to create “free” individuals.

The great thing about war, according to James and his disciples, was that it caused people to abandon their sense of individuality and rally around the state for large causes. James was a pacifist, but he loved that aspect of war, which is why he thought America should organize as if we were at war to conquer nature (the idea behind the Green New Deal — that we must organize as if we are at war to conquer climate change — has some ironic differences, but it’s basically the same notion). FDR wanted to use the technique of war to fight the Great Depression. From Kevin D. Williamson:

Roosevelt’s statement upon signing the NRA’s enabling legislation (the National Industrial Recovery Act) on June 16, 1933, clearly invoked the holy grail of sacrificial solidarity: “The challenge of this law is whether we can sink selfish interest and present a solid front against a common peril,” the president explained. Roosevelt specifically called upon the memory of the First World War: “I had part in the great cooperation of 1917 and 1918,” he said, “and it is my faith that we can count on our industry once more to join in our general purpose to lift this new threat and to do it without taking any advantage of the public trust which has this day been reposed without stint in the good faith and high purpose of American business.” F.D.R. was hardly modest in his claims for the act: “It is the most important attempt of this kind in history. As in the great crisis of the World War, it puts a whole people to the simple but vital test: — ‘Must we go on in many groping, disorganized, separate units to defeat or shall we move as one great team to victory?’”

So let’s look again at the things that Harris says unite us. Concerns about personal health, the health of loved ones, the ability to work, pay the bills, and retire with dignity.

I am not saying that there is no role for government in addressing these concerns. But two things are worth noting: Nowhere does she say that the things that unite us are a concern about our rights and freedoms. Nowhere does she say that what we all share is a desire to pursue happiness as we see it, enjoy the fruits of our labors, or be allowed to practice our faiths or to raise our children the way we want to. Her definition of national unity hinges on the idea that we should all come together as clients of the federal government. In this, she’s offering nothing new to FDR’s “Economic Bill of Rights.” All she’s doing is coating the pill with a film of cliché.

My Elite Problem — And Theirs

Until yesterday, I’ve stayed mostly quiet on the Tucker Carlson debate raging across the right. One of my frustrations, I must say, is that there were more worthy and timely opportunities to debate these issues than a cable-news diatribe aimed at defending the current administration and the forces it has unleashed. This debate is long overdue, but there were better touchstones for it, like Charles Murray’s Coming Apart or J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy or even Rick Santorum’s presidential bids.

Anyway, here’s a very brief summary of the relevant and smart disagreements (there are a plethora of irrelevant and dumb disagreements) that probably leaves out way too much nuance. Tucker argues that “elites” have rigged the system for their own benefit and that they have done so deliberately. David French and David L. Bahnsen concede that elites have made some poor policy decisions, but they do not subscribe to the conspiracy-theory version of this tale. More importantly, they argue that the real problem is cultural and can be summed up in the phrase “personal responsibility.” Government policies — and larger economic forces that government has little control over — may have made circumstances more difficult for some Americans, but that doesn’t mean they should be treated as victims or see themselves as such. I agree with them.

Meanwhile folks such as Michael Brendan Dougherty and Reihan Salam argue that personal responsibility is of course hugely important, but that doesn’t absolve elites from their culpability, nor does it mean we shouldn’t fix the policies that have led to various problems. I agree with them, too.

Where I disagree with pretty much everybody is that we are mostly looking at the wrong elites. With the complicated and limited exception of the immigration question, I share David French’s skepticism that if we only had listened to the Oren Casses, Patrick Deneens, Tucker Carlsons, and Michael Brendan Dougherties of ten, 20, 50 (or in Deneen’s case 300) years ago, we wouldn’t have many of the same problems we see today.

The supposedly halcyon age of the 1950s and early 1960s was not as idyllic as the nostalgia merchants often claim (just ask blacks, women, Jews, gays, cancer victims, the disabled, people born too late for the polio vaccine, Korean War vets, et al).

More to the point, the factors that made the 1950s economy seem so desirable depended on things that cannot be easily replicated and/or were largely outside the power of policymakers to meaningfully effect. The Great Depression and World War II created enormous pent-up consumer demand at precisely the moment that America was singularly well-positioned to exploit. Europe was in rubble, and our industrial base was massively expanded. Returning soldiers were eager to get to work, and technology was poised to make all manner of gadgets and geegaws affordable.

The idea that all of our problems since then can be attributed to our trade, monetary, or industrial policies, and that we’d be better off if only the propeller heads at the OMB or Commerce Department had embraced economic nationalism, strikes me as wildly unpersuasive, and at times vaguely Marxist.

For instance, post–World War II feminism has many authors, but among the most important are technology and education. For centuries, the division of labor between home — where women ruled — and outside work, largely a male domain, was fairly equitable. Men did not have it great in the fields, factories, mines, or trenches, but the work required to maintain a home was no picnic. Modern technologies freed wives and mothers from often backbreaking and always exhausting labor. And that’s a good thing. Mechanization reduced the need for a strong back, and education opened the opportunities for women to do much of the same work that men did, sometimes better. And that’s a good thing. Betty Friedan’s claim that being a housewife was like being a Jew in a “comfortable concentration camp” was grotesquely asinine, but the more basic point that morally, philosophically, and practically there was no good reason to keep women barefoot and pregnant — when they didn’t want to be — was hard to argue with. Similarly, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan pointed out, the birth-control pill had more to do with the breakdown of all sorts of norms than anything Gloria Steinem wrote, just as the automobile had done more to transform sexual norms than any French novel or German philosopher.

I bring this up because to the extent that the problems facing marriage and the family are the result of elites making bad policy decisions, the policy decisions that would have prevented most of those problems are ones few of those cheering Tucker’s monologue would consider reversing. I mean maybe Mike Pence in his heart would like to get rid of birth control as the first president of Gilead, but that’s not going to happen.

So which elites do I have a problem with? Let me put it this way. For years, conservatives have quoted my late friend Andrew Breitbart’s pithy rephrasing of a very old idea: “Politics is downstream of culture.” The odd thing is that, almost overnight, many of the same conservatives now argue as if industrial and trade policy is upstream of culture. Some even shriek about how the “neocons” don’t understand that the free market is just a tool, when it was the neocons who had made this argument for decades and were chastised by the “true conservatives” for it (see Irving Kristol’s “Two Cheers For Capitalism” or “When Virtue Loses All Her Loveliness”).

Where I agree with many of my new nationalist brethren on the right is that patriotism is important. Assimilation is important. Gratitude for this wonderful country and all that it has done is important. Forget important, these things are vital. The elites who have helped fray the social fabric, who have argued that self-expression is more important than self-discipline, that religion is for suckers, that morality is situational but judgmentalism is immoral, that instant personal authenticity is the only ethical lodestar, these are the elites I have a problem with, because they have done more to undermine notions of personal responsibility than all of the U.S. trade representatives combined.

Capitalism does play a major negative role in all of this, as Schumpeter predicted and as I discuss in my book. It forces efficiencies on institutions that depend on their quirkiness to be attractive, erodes both good and bad customs and traditions, and makes instant gratification ever more attainable. But the solution to these problems must be cultural and rise from the bottom up, not statist and imposed from above.

I have been arguing with conservative nationalists for a couple of years now that my problem with nationalism as an ideological imperative is that by its own logic it must be centralizing, because the state is the only institution that can speak for the whole nation. The perplexed expressions from my friends in response to this critique has perplexed me. But in the wake of Carlson’s diatribe, many of the same conservatives have made my point for me. The government in Washington is now, all of a sudden, upstream of culture, and once good-intentioned nationalists control the knobs and buttons of the state, we’ll fix all of the problems with our culture. They sound a lot more like Kamala Harris than they realize.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: The dogs were very, very happy to greet us upon our return from vacation. They’ve been very good girls, though Pippa’s sense of entitlement is getting out of control. Yesterday, after we got back from our morning walk, she kept barking at the Fair Jessica and me, demanding additional fun in the backyard. When I manfully yelled “No!” she walked off in a huff to the dog bed and pouted. She would not even look at me. Indeed, both of them tend to look at me these days as if I owe them money or I forgot their birthday. But before you take their side, let me assure you that I still give them lots of attention. In other news, I’m taking my daughter with me for a speech in Florida today. But the Fair Jessica will be taking Pippa to the beauty salon for a new ’do. Fear not: We will not get rid of her trademark toupee, even though it sometimes leads to static problems.

ICYMI . . .

The last G-File

Dogs are good

Trump’s character

Military eminent domain is dumb

On the doorknob licker

Trump can’t declare an emergency to build the wall

This week’s first Remnant, with Oren Cass

The Green Leap Forward is dumb

Trump’s border wall speech was lacking

The Green Leap Forward is stale

Someone says I need to smoke more, doesn’t know me very well

Why the UN is awful

The free market is more than a tool

Steve King’s bigotry is anti-American

This week’s second Remnant, with Michael Strain

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s New Year links

Vegetables and sound effects

Lusty toads

Hangover cures

Combat hummingbirds

The Passion of Dr. Strangelove

Isaac Asimov’s predictions for 2019

Goodbye Burger City

The dogs of 2018

How to recognize fake AI-generated images

The temple of the flayed lord

Digitally tour the Brazilian museum consumed by fire last year

Nature’s parasites

Ultima Thule gets a theme song

Spilled chicken

Vulcan

Nebraska’s navy

Bounty hunters don’t exi–

The tunnels of Traverse City state hospital

J.R.R. Tolkien reading Lord of the Rings aloud

Wholesome

Aliens

Who among us…

Politics & Policy

The Power of Symbols in Our Politics of Disgust

A Border Patrol agent opens a gate on the U.S.-Mexican border fence near El Paso, Texas, January 2017. (Tomas Bravo/Reuters)

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 disappointed to find out that we ran out of Dear Reader gags and weird links one week before the end of the year),

I’m writing this from the Big Island. I said the Big Island, not “Big Island,” the sinister sobriquet for the cartel behind all island-related industries.

In other words, I’m in Hawaii, with my family and a big chunk of her family. I could tell you it’s not lovely, but it is. I could tell you I’d rather be back in Washington, but who would believe that?

Almost 36 hours into island living, I’ve had time to reflect. And one of the things I’ve learned is that I don’t want to work too hard at this “news”letter, but I also feel, as many Hawaiians who work at road repair do, that I should at least put in the bare minimum.

My column today is on how the most important factor driving our politics isn’t ideology or partisanship, but symbolism. Rather than repeat the whole argument again, I’ll wait while you go read it.

Okay, whether you did or not, here’s my thing. Symbols are enormous storehouses of meaning, identity, and experience. They are not trivial. We tend to talk about “interests” as being largely economic. But people can have deep interests in symbols, because symbols often represent our conception of the moral order that we want to live in. The rich Saudis who fund madrassas do not do so for profit, yet they consider it in their interest just the same.

Ever since Marx — or perhaps since Cicero, the popularizer of the phrase cui bono? — there have been people who want to reduce politics to a battle of economic interests. The fact that politics cannot be reduced to mere economic interests can drive some of these people nuts. Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? was a classic example of this frustration.

“People getting their fundamental interests wrong is what American political life is all about,” Frank wrote. “This species of derangement is the bedrock of our civic order; it is the foundation on which all else rests.” According to Frank, working-class people should support politicians who will serve their economic interests — and that’s it. A pro-life Catholic truck driver is a fool to vote for anyone who will not be good for truck drivers. Of course, we almost never hear the reverse of this argument: A pro-choice truck driver should vote for a pro-life politician so long as the politician looks out for truck drivers.

This form of analysis is itself a kind of derangement. Nowhere in the world, at any time, in any place, in any culture, has economics been the only consideration in political life. Fighting for the “Glory of Rome” is not an economic rallying cry. The split between Sunni and Shia may have economic components, but only a fool would argue it is fundamentally about economics. Even economists increasingly understand that economics is not really the study of “homo economicus,” or at least they understand that reducing humans to this mythical creature has explanatory power for only a fraction of our lives.

The Marxist historian who feels compelled to prove that commitment to the Confederate flag was rooted solely in class interest might truffle-pig out some evidence, but the dots he connects won’t yield a picture that represents reality.

Some symbols can be rational. The oak leaves that designate the rank of major in the U.S. Army are symbolic, for the simple reason that military organizations need ranks to function. Other symbols can be rationalized — the 50 stars on the U.S. flag, for instance, one for every state — but the meaning captured by the symbol is hardly purely rational. Both flag burners and flag wavers can agree on one thing: The flag has meaning beyond the merely instrumental necessity of having a piece of cloth that identifies a legal jurisdiction.

The Politics of Disgust

In The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt describes how our brains are preprogrammed with the ability — the need — to categorize some things as sacred or profane. And when we encounter something truly profane, the part of our brain that activates a sense of disgust is triggered.

Without any sense of sanctity, debates about abortion and cloning would be entirely utilitarian. Absent an instinct for sanctity, environmentalists would not recoil in horror at the paving of forests and would not have lapsed into epileptic fits of disgust at the BP oil spill, and the only arguments conservationists would offer in opposition to PLT sandwiches — Panda, Lettuce, and Tomato — would be about costs and benefits.

In other words, this is not a right–left thing. Ideological and religious considerations often determine what one faction or another is disgusted by, but the tendency to see the world through these lenses is universal.

And when I say sacred, I do not mean in a theological sense, though that is obviously one of the major outlets of sacralization. In our natural environment, we did not have bright lines between magic and science, superstition and reason, individual identity and group identity, or between religious dogma and hygiene. Indeed, as Haidt notes, our intuitions about sacredness and hygiene are deeply linked. The instinct for disgust probably evolved as a way to keep us from eating tainted food such as rotting carcasses, feces, or 7-Eleven sushi. But because humans are social animals, the disgust instinct became an important tool for social cooperation.

Rules about food preparation, sex, and bathing, and rules about moral hygiene, are, historically, tightly bound together in virtually every society. Hindus and Hebrews aren’t just overrepresented at Ivy League universities, they also share a rich history of merging notions of moral and religious hygiene with notions about food, sex, and cleanliness.

The rules manifest themselves differently in different places, of course. You can tell me that the people who freak out about genetically modified foods are dispassionate slaves to the facts, but you’ll have to work pretty hard to persuade me that their passion isn’t fueled by pre-rational associations of sacredness and hygiene. The fights over gender-neutral public bathrooms touch on a lot of different concerns, but it’s hard to deny that at least some of the outrage over the issue isn’t driven by these instincts (pretty much every family has gender-neutral bathrooms at home).

The Body Politic

Michael Burleigh has written several books exploring all of this from a very different angle. He argues that all of the supposedly secular ideologies that replaced the world of the divine right of kings were at root religious projects by another name. Nazism and Leninism were political religions, moving the lines between the sacred and profane in revolutionary ways, but ultimately keeping the lines themselves (Burleigh’s The Third Reich was a big influence on my first book).

The “body politic” — the idea that society is akin to a living organism — can be traced back to antiquity. But with the advent of the scientific revolution and, later, Darwinism, the metaphor was plucked from the realms of theology and mysticism and grounded in science. Nations were like living things, and all of the people and institutions within them were supposed to function like organs of the body. This meant that dissenting or wayward institutions or populations were seen as tumors or intrusions of foreign objects. The first German nationalists talked of foreign languages and customs as poisons and contaminates. Jews were parasites, an invasive species leaching the purity of the German essence. They often sounded like 18th-century versions of Colonel Ripper from Dr. Strangelove, who fretted over the purity of our precious bodily fluids.

The Nazis were obsessed with different notions of hygiene, most famously racial hygiene. The first victims of Nazi slaughter were “defective” Germans themselves, who were seen as a cancer on the body politic. The American progressives pursued the same line of thinking, albeit with less horrific results. But “less horrific” than the Holocaust leaves a lot room for horror, and the forced sterilizations, the persecution of “hyphenated Americans,” and other atrocities committed by American progressives are not absolved simply because they fell short of Hitler’s standard.

When I hear President Trump or his defenders argue for a wall in order to keep out diseases and to keep the country from becoming “dirtier,” I don’t hear Hitler or even Woodrow Wilson, but I do hear appeals to hygiene and sanctity far removed from strict public policy arguments.

My Year in Review

I hadn’t planned on writing this “news”letter this week because I’m on vacation. But since I can’t write one next week because of travel hassles, I figured I should grind this one out. It’s not a great hardship to sit by the pool smoking a cigar, my wife’s dirty looks notwithstanding. (Somehow they do not abate when I tell her it’s just the moral hygiene center of her brain talking.)

All in all, it’s been a better year than I feared it would be, but perhaps not as great as I might have hoped, had I not embraced the fact that hope is simply the word we use for the false confidence that comes between kicks to the groin.

Still, I have a lot to be grateful for. I’ll skip being overly sentimental about family and friends, while stipulating they are the sources of my deepest gratitude. I’ll stick to the professional stuff.

My book did well. It lingered on the bestseller lists for a respectable period of time, sorta like the creepy dude at the newsstand perusing the cooking and business magazines before “stumbling” on the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. And it’s still selling nicely enough that should I ever be drunk enough to agree to write another one, it won’t be huge financial risk.

I don’t mean to make light of the work I put into Suicide of the West (the book, not the phenomenon). I think it had some real impact and moved the debate to some modest degree. Yes, it would be nice if the impact were more of a crater and less of a dent, but even moving the needle a little is a victory to be proud of (and, please don’t harangue me about mixed metaphors. I mix metaphors like a blender beating a dead horse).

Nor do I want to give the impression that I only care about the filthy lucre. I know there are people who write books — or put their names on books somebody else wrote — just for the money. But that’s not me — at all. If it were, you can be sure I’d have had fewer pages and footnotes.

I don’t mean to sound superior, because the truth is, most of the people in my line of work aren’t in it for the money. Certainly no one at National Review chose this career because they thought it would be the fastest or most surefire route to a segment on MTV Cribs. Ramesh Ponnuru, for instance, could have used his Vulcan brain on Wall Street quite easily. Or he could have gone to medical school like pretty much every other Ponnuru in Kansas. Heck, David French and Andy McCarthy actually went to law school and worked as fancy-pants lawyers. They could have monetized their expertise and experience on a grand scale. With that accent of his, Charlie Cooke could be making bank narrating nature documentaries or starring in commercials asking the guy in the next Bentley if he has any Grey Poupon. Instead, once every two weeks, we all line up in front of Rich Lowry’s office to be paid in chickens, because this is the life we’ve chosen.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a set up for a National Review Institute fundraising pitch (but if you’re so inclined, helping out would be great). It’s simply to say that I feel very fortunate to be doing what I’m doing and being able to provide for my family in the process.

Oh sure, I still have my grievances. Indeed, I initially thought I might air them here, for grievances are among the greatest of all muses for a writer, particularly for “news”letter writers such as yours truly. And I won’t pretend that if sufficiently prodded I couldn’t give voice to my desire to visit the sort of wrath most associated with the God of the Hebrew Bible on various people. But that’s because writing a book is like having a kid in all sorts of ways. The people closest to you are very happy for you — at least after the first one — but no one really cares as much as you do. The small slights seem negligible to observers at a distance and like grievous and unforgivable wounds to the parent. But after a while, you come to understand it’s just part of life.

But back to the year that was. I’m enjoying hosting a podcast far more than I thought I would. And with the exception of Episode Eleven, I find that the physical toll it takes to be negligible.

My biggest concern, again professionally, remains the same as it was at the end of 2017, and 2016. And it should be utterly familiar to readers of this “news”letter or listeners of the aptly named Remnant. At a time when I’ve lost my taste for tribal, partisan fan service, the market for tribal, partisan fan service is raging — across the ideological spectrum. It causes me to worry for the country and the conservative movement — which are far more important considerations than my own prospects, of course. But since I’m talking about me (“Gosh, that’s a refreshing change of pace for this ‘news’letter” — The Couch), it’s also profoundly disorienting. Even if I could keep it from being personal — which I struggle to do, not always successfully — the fact is it is personal for others. Indeed, the whole reason politics have grown so ugly is that everywhere you look “the personal is political” — a phrase once the rallying cry for feminists and post-modernists. The personalization of politics is now the animating spirit of our age.

Earlier this week, I wrote a column about Donald Trump’s bad character, and, as I predicted, hordes of people took it personally. Many thought the smartest rebuttal was to attack me personally, as if proving I am a bad person would somehow disprove my argument. I understand the reaction. But the reaction doesn’t change the facts or how I see them. I’ve been writing against the psychology of populism for 20 years, I don’t see why I should cave to the spirit of populism at the precise moment I’m being proven right.

But the fact remains the times are changing, and I’m not inclined to change with them, at least not on the important things. That makes navigating the new landscape challenging in ways it’s never been before. So I just want to say thank you to you, dear readers, who have stuck it out with me as I’ve groped my way through it all, like Bill Clinton playing pin the tail on the donkey at the Playboy mansion.

Here’s to 2019, when we’ll all look back nostalgically on the sobriety and reasonableness of 2018.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: We’ve left the beasts behind. It’s for the best given that I don’t think either of them are well-suited to air travel. But I must say the dogs would love it here, particularly Zoë. The house we’re staying in is up in the hills of the big island on a nice plot of land. There are wild turkeys wandering the property, not to mention mongooses (mongeese?), and the occasional wild pig. I don’t know how Zoë would fare against either (though I definitely suspect the pigs would be too big a bite, as it were). But man would she love the challenge. There are also enough lesser rodents to keep her self-esteem high. It’s funny though, both my wife and I like hiking (she more than me, to be honest), but we both feel like hiking without dogs defeats some of the purpose. We were in Utah before Hawaii, and it took a huge amount of effort not to keep talking about how much Zoë and Pippa (and occasionally Gracie and Ralph — the good cat and my wife’s cat respectively) “would love it here.” Somehow, Gary is no substitute for the Dingo & The Spaniel.

We’ve left Zoë and Pippa in the best possible hands (sorry Jack Butler). Kirsten our dog walker is house-sitting, and the girls love Kirsten at least as much as they love us (of course, she’s like the fun aunt who feeds the kids ice cream and lets them stay up late). She is sending regularproof of lifeupdates from home, which I’ve been posting on Twitter. It’s amazing how much easier it is to enjoy yourself when you know your dogs aren’t miserable — or trying to tunnel out of a kennel. Though we do feel bad for Kirsten sometimes, since she has to deal with this sort of thing.

U.S.

Conservative Facts

President Trump speaks to reporters at a campaign event in Charleston, W.Va., August 21, 2018. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

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 all you mole-rat monarchists),

One or two times a year I wake up in a Japanese family’s living room with people screaming at me (oddly, they scream at me in flawless Gaelic). But none of that is important right now. Unrelatedly, one or two times a year I also write this “news”letter in advance of the morning it’s due.

For reasons I’ll explain at the end of this “news”letter, today is a crazy day for me. But it’s also turned out to be a crazy day for everyone else (or at least for everyone else in the world of politics and eccentric parenthetical stylings). General Mattis’s resignation, the border-funding fooferall (which is not a real word, but I’ll neologize as much as I want), Trump’s capitulation to both Ann Coulter and the president of Turkey, and whatever happened in the last few minutes since I checked Twitter has people across Washington lamenting that they picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.

All of this came after a federal judge floated the idea that Michael Flynn was a traitor (I’m persuaded by Andy McCarthy that this was a pretty outrageous error by Judge Sullivan, fwiw), James Comey admitted he broke FBI protocol to get a government official, the stock market continued to slide into the worst December since the Great Depression, and the Trump Foundation announced it would close down, leaving Palm Beach residents to wonder who will pay for Donald Trump’s portraits of Donald Trump now.

Also this week, reports that The Weekly Standard would be shut down and harvested for subscribers were confirmed.

Conservative Facts

Which brings me to the intended subject of this “news”letter. I’m not going to rehash the whole story here (John Podhoretz’s take is pretty much my own). Rather, I want to address what its shuttering brought to light: the bizarre need of some of Trump’s biggest fans to be dumb or dishonest in his defense.

There was always a yin-yang thing to conservatism. Its hard-headedness and philosophical realism about human nature and the limits it imposes on utopian schemes appealed to some and repulsed others. For those who see politics as a romantic enterprise, a means of pursuing collective salvation, conservatism seems mean-spirited. As Emerson put it: “There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism, joined with a certain superiority in its fact.” That’s what Ben Shapiro is getting at when he says “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” The hitch is that the reverse is also true: Feelings don’t care about your facts. Tell a young progressive activist we can’t afford socialism and the response will be overtly or subliminally emotional: “Why don’t you care about poor people!” or “Why do you love billionaires!?”

The problem conservatism faces these days is that many of the loudest voices have decided to embrace the meanness while throwing away the facts. This has been a trend for a long time now. But Donald Trump has accelerated the problem to critical mass, yielding an explosion of stupid and a radioactive cloud of meanness.

It’s as if people have decided they should live down to Hillary Clinton’s “deplorable” epithet. More on that in a moment. But first, since I already wrote the section below, allow me a not-quite-brief, not entirely non-sequitorial aside about neoconservatism. Feel free to skip ahead to the screed at the end if you’re not interested in the eggheadery.

What Is Neoconservatism?

Well, it depends on whom you ask. But let’s work on some common definitions, or at least descriptions.

Here’s the opening paragraph of the Wikipedia page for neoconservatism:

Neoconservatism (commonly shortened to neocon when labelling its adherents) is a political movement born in the United States during the 1960s among liberal hawks who became disenchanted with the increasingly pacifist foreign policy of the Democratic Party, and the growing New Left and counterculture, in particular the Vietnam protests. Some also began to question their liberal beliefs regarding domestic policies such as the Great Society.

This isn’t terrible, but it gets the chronology and emphases somewhat wrong (the Encyclopedia of American Conservatism gets it right, btw). The first neocons were intellectual rebels against the Great Society and the leftward drift of American liberalism (The Public Interest, the first neocon journal, was launched in 1965. It was dedicated entirely to domestic affairs, not foreign policy). Unable to reconcile the facts with the feelings of liberalism, a host of intellectuals decided they would stick with the facts, even if it meant that former friends and allies would call them mean for doing so.

The socialist writer Michael Harrington is usually credited with coining the term in 1973 as a way to disparage former socialists who moved rightward, but people have found earlier mentions of the term (Norman Podhoretz, for instance, called Walter Lipmann and Clinton Rossiter “neoconservatives” in 1963. And Karl Marx(!) called Lord Beaconsfield a Neo Conservative in 1883). It’s certainly true that Harrington popularized the label. Harrington’s essay supports my larger point, though. The Harrington essay that cemented the term “neoconservatism” in American discourse was titled “The Welfare State and Its Neoconservative Critics.” In other words, the original neoconservative critique wasn’t about foreign policy, but domestic policy.

According to William F. Buckley, the neoconservatives brought the rigor and language of sociology to conservatism, which until then had been overly, or at least too uniformly, Aristotelian. The Buckleyites (though certainly not folks like Burnham) tended to talk from first principles and natural laws and rights. The neocons looked at the data and discovered that the numbers tended to back up a lot of the things the Aristotelians had been saying.

The original neocons’ gateway drug to conservatism was the law of unintended consequences. Once eager to tear up Chesterton’s fences wherever they saw them, they discovered that reforms often yielded worse results. As Francis Fukuyama wrote over a decade ago, “If there is a single overarching theme to the domestic social policy critiques carried out by those who wrote for The Public Interest, it is the limits of social engineering. Ambitious efforts to seek social justice, these writers argued, often left societies worse off than before because they either required massive state intervention that disrupted organic social relations; or else produced unanticipated consequences.”

Another understanding of neoconservatism is that it was a movement of ex-Communists who moved rightward. There’s a benign version of this story and a malignant one. The harmless version is basically descriptive. Irving Kristol, Seymour Martin Lipset, et al., were once briefly socialists or Trotskyists, and as they grew more disillusioned with such utopianism they moved rightward. The invidious version of this story, still common in some feverish and swampy corners of the Right, is that they never let go of their underlying Trotskyist tendencies and were some kind of fifth column on the right. This version has sizable overlap with anti-Semitic fantasies about neoconservatism. More on that in a minute.

Part of the problem with even the benign version of this story is that there are so many exceptions that the explanatory power bleeds away. For instance, Bill Kristol, the supposed Demon Head of neoconservatism these days, was never a Communist or any other flavor of leftist (and he still isn’t). Neither were John Podhoretz, William Bennett, Jean Kirkpatrick, James Q. Wilson, David Brooks, and many, many others often described as neoconservatives. Another problem: If being a Communist-turned-conservative makes you a neocon, then many of the founders of National Review were neocons too. Frank Meyer, Whittaker Chambers, Max Eastman, and James Burnham were all far more committed and accomplished Communists than Irving & Co. ever were. Eastman was one of Trotsky’s close friends and his English-language translator. Burnham co-founded the American Workers Party with Sidney Hook. Chambers was a Soviet agent.

The idea that neoconservatism was primarily about foreign policy, specifically anti-Communism, further complicates things. Part of this is a by-product of the second wave of neoconservatives who joined the movement and the right in the 1970s, mostly through the pages of Commentary. These were rebels against not the welfare state but détente on the right and the radical anti-anti-Communists of the New Left (National Review ran a headline in 1971 on the awakening at Commentary: “Come on In, the Water’s Fine.”) Many of those writers, most famously Jeane Kirkpatrick, ended up leading the intellectual shock troops of the Reagan administration. But, again, if vigorous anti-Communism and hawkish military policy in its pursuit that defines (or defined) neoconservatism, then how does that distinguish those neocons from National Review conservatism and the foreign policy of, say, Barry “Rollback, not Containment” Goldwater?

It is certainly true that the foreign-policy neocons emphasized certain things more than generic conservatives, specifically the promotion of democracy abroad. In ill-intentioned hands, this fact is often used as a cover for invidious arguments about the how the neocons never really shed their Trotskyism and were still determined to “export revolution.” But for the most part, it can’t be supported by what these people actually wrote. Moreover, the idea that only neocons care about promoting democracy simply glosses over everything from the stated purpose of the First World War, the Marshall Plan, stuff like JFK’s inaugural address (“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty”), and this thing called the Reagan Doctrine.

And then there are the Joooooz. Outside of deranged comment sections and the swampy ecosystems of the “alt-right,” the sinister version of this theory is usually only hinted at or alluded to. Neocons only care about Israel is the Trojan horse that lets people get away with not saying the J-word. Those bagel-snarfing warmongers want real Americans to do their fighting for them. Pat Buchanan, when opposing the first Gulf War in 1992, listed only Jewish supporters of the war and then said they’d be sending “American kids with names like McAllister, Murphy, Gonzales and Leroy Brown” to do the fighting. Subtle. (By the way, Leroy Brown must have ended up fighting in the Gulf War after all. How else can we explain how quickly it ended? He was, after all, the baddest man in the whole damn town.)

Even the non-sinister version of the “neocon equals Jew” thing is a mess. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, many of the most vilified neoconservatives were people like Michael Novak, Father Richard Neuhaus, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Jeane Kirkpatrick, William Bennett, and later, even George Weigel. During the Iraq war, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, John Bolton, and virtually everybody who supported the war were called neocons. Funny, they don’t look neoconnish.

Whatever neoconservatism is, or was, its time as a distinct thing has been over for a while. In his memoir, Irving Kristol, “the Godfather of the Neoconservatives,” argued that the movement had run its course and dissolved into the conservative movement generally. This strikes me as inarguably true. Most of the people I’ve checked off — who are still alive — including Bill Kristol, don’t call themselves neoconservative anymore, and the few who do mostly do so as a nod to nostalgia more than anything else.

So today, neoconservatism has become what it started out as, an invidious term used by its opponents to single out and demonize people as inauthentic, un-American, unreliable, or otherwise suspicious heretics, traitors, or string-pullers. The chief difference is that they were once aliens in the midst of liberalism, now they are called aliens in the midst of conservatism. And it’s all bullsh**.

American Smallness

Which brings me to Chris Buskirk’s ridiculous manifesto of conservative liberation in response to the demise of The Weekly Standard. The editor of American Greatness, a journal whose tagline should be “Coming Up with Reasons Why Donald Trump’s Sh** Doesn’t Stink 24/7” opens with “Neoconservatism is dead, long live American conservatism” and then, amazingly, proceeds to get dumber.

Nowhere in his essay does Buskirk reveal that he has any real grasp of what neoconservatism was or is — and the best defense of his insinuation that neoconservatism was un-American is that it can be chalked up to bad writing.

But Buskirk doesn’t need to demonstrate fluency with the material because for him, “neoconservative” is an anathematizing word and nothing more. He says, “the life and death of The Weekly Standard is really the story of the death and rebirth of American conservatism, which is nothing more than the modern political expression of America’s founding principles.” A bit further on, he asserts that “for years, neoconservatives undermined and discredited the work of conservatives from Lincoln to Reagan . . .” This is so profoundly unserious that not only is it impossible to know where to begin, it’s a struggle to finish the sentence for fear the stupid will rub off. Does he have in mind the Straussians (Walter Berns, Robert Goldwin, et al.) at that neocon nest the American Enterprise Institute who wrote lovingly about Lincoln at book length for decades? Does he think Irving Kristol’s essay “The American Revolution as a Successful Revolution” was an indictment of the founding? Were these essays, on Abraham Lincoln published in The Weekly Standard or by its writers elsewhere, perfidious neocon attempts to topple him from his historic pedestal? What about Andy Ferguson’s loving book on Lincoln?

And what of the scores of neoconservatives who worked for Ronald Reagan and helped him advance the Reaganite agenda? Were they all fifth columnists? Or perhaps they were parasites attaching themselves to a “host organism,” as Buskirk repugnantly describes Kristol?

He doesn’t say, because Buskirk doesn’t rely on an argument. Save for a couple of Bill Kristol tweets out of context, he cites no writing and marshals no evidence. Instead, he lets a wink, or rather the stink, do all of his work. He knows his readers want to hear folderol about neocons. He knows they have their own insidious definitions of what they are and crave to have them confirmed. Bringing any definition or fact to his argument would get in the way of his naked assertions and slimy insinuations.

And what absurd assertions they are. I’m not a fan of tu quoque arguments, but the idea that American Greatness has standing to position itself as an organ dedicated to larger principles and ideas is hilarious, given that the website’s only purpose is to attach itself like a remora to Donald Trump, a man who doesn’t even call himself a conservative, even for convenience, anymore. Just this week, American Greatness’s Julie Kelly mocked Nancy French’s childhood trauma of being sexually abused. When I criticized her for it, Kelly snarked back something about how “Never Trumpers” have a problem with the truth. It’s like these people don’t see it. You cannot claim to care about the truth while being a rabid defender of this president’s hourly mendacity.

Anyway, Buskirk’s whole indictment of the amorphous enemy of neoconservatism is that they were transactional in their relationship to the GOP and conservatism. My God. Take away the largely defensible transactional arguments for Trumpism and what are you left with? Grotesque mockery of disabled people, Gold Star families, and other inconvenient people? Occasionally amusing reality-show spectacles and tweets that read like they’re coming out of a bourbon-bottle-strewn bunker dimly lit by DVR’d episodes of Justice Judge Jeanine?

I know I keep bringing it up — because it’s so damn funny — but American Greatness ran a piece floating the idea that Trump’s “covfefe” tweet just might have been a brilliant piece of historically and linguistically literate statecraft. That’s actually plausible compared to the idea that Trump is Moses saving conservatism from a “a purified strain of backward idolatry.”

Who is in conflict with the best principles of America: the magazine that for 23 years lionized the founders, Lincoln, and Reagan or the website that rationalizes literally anything Donald Trump does — from crony capitalism to denigrating the First Amendment to paying off porn stars — as either the inventions of his enemies or a small price to pay for national greatness? Not every contributor to American Greatness is dedicated to the art of turd polishing, but that is the site’s larger mission.

Don’t get me wrong, I had my disagreements with The Standard, but The Standard was dedicated to the morally serious work of grappling with ideas and persuading people to their various causes. American Greatness is dedicated to cramming American ideas into a Trump-shaped hole.

The larger point, however, is this larger trend. Trump’s sense of persecution is as contagious as his debating style. Facts are being subordinated to feelings, and the dominant feelings among many Trumpists are simply ugly. And even those who have not turned ugly see no problem working hand in hand with those who have. And how could they, given who they herald as their Moses.

Various & Sundry

If anybody’s left reading after all that, I should say that it’d be great if you could support National Review Institute this season. My full plea is here.

So I’m finishing this in an Uber to BWI Airport. I will be in Utah and then Hawaii with family until the new year. I just recorded a new episode of The Remnant with Sonny Bunch (with a special cameo by Matt Continetti to indulge in some rank punditry). This means that I will not see — in person — any of my quadrupeds until 2019. But I will try to send proof of life pics as I get them.

Canine Update: The timing of our departure worked out well. Kirsten, our dog-walker and house-sitter, picked up the beasts before we started to pack so the doggers didn’t get depressed when we took out the luggage. They’ve been having a good week, though. We gave them some toys this week, after a two-year ban because Zoë used to be very territorial about her toys with Pippa. But now they get along well enough it’s not a problem — yet. Pippa has been working hard and digging all of the mud puddles, and I’ve been spending some quality time with both of them. I’ll miss them, but they’re in good hands and will get to see their friends, so I’m pretty guilt-free over the whole thing, and I definitely need a break.

Thanks again to everyone who has stuck with this “news”letter and with The Remnant podcast this year. May 2019 be less crazy.

ICYMI. . .

Last week’s G-File

The Big Bang Theory and the modern economy

Climate change and the caravan

Emerald Robinson and lies

The latest Remnant

2020 and Trump’s dubious strategery

Congress and its abdication

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Arctic feces

Humongous fungus

Smoked reindeer heart

Nebraska Christmas spirit

Unpublished Vonnegut

Florida Scrooge

Ant memories

A very Die Hard Christmas

12 Days of Die Hard Christmas

Divine inspector

Cool Christmas choo-choos

Happy baby

Island for sale

Spider artist

Christmas for nerds

Cool science

Why did humans lose fur?

The best Christmas present

Scholar dog

Crowded apartment

Florida man

Package thief vs. glitter bomb

How Hollywood fakes snow

U.S.

G-File Mailbag: The Results of a Bad Idea

(Pixabay)

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 those of you just standing there eating Zarg nuts),

I had a bad idea. It wasn’t a terrible idea, like asking a meth addict to housesit or swimming with alligators to commune with nature (“these stoic guardians of our wetlands are so misunderstood!”). But it was a bad idea.

I thought it would be fun to ask NR readers (specifically that anointed tribe of lightworkers known as “NRPlus members” to pick the topic of this august “news”letter. Well, it’s 10:07 a.m. — and I just got the list. There are 294 requests. I have no idea whether that’s the raw junk, or if the guys in New York cut it down or stepped on it with baby powder (Sorry, I just re-watched The Wire and that’s where my head is at).

To get a sense of why this was a bad idea, let me review quickly a few entries almost at random. (Query: If there is no such thing as true randomness, can something be “almost random”? Isn’t saying “almost random” like saying “nearly infinite” or “mostly unique”?)

One reader suggested I write about “The continued baleful influence of German philosophy in American political and cultural life” — and then proceeded to offer an 800-word exploration of Santayana’s essay on German freedom. Another reader requested, “Anything about Melania, good, bad indifferent.” Another asked, “Does anyone actually like Christmas pageants?” Another asked, “The reasons NR has become the latest to succumb to Stockholm Syndrome under Trump — why is HR starting to sound like Trump’s Greek Chorus?” One person just wrote, “La Société pour L’encouragement des Autres,” while another flew this up the flagpole: “The inherent conservatism of fantasy (e.g., Star Wars) vs. the (seemingly) inherent radicalism of sci-fi (e.g., Star Trek). And where those boundaries break down (e.g., Robert Heinlein).” I was particularly intrigued by this request: “Make an argument that people of color should be oropendola to conservative thought.” And a sage named Cliff asked, “Write about how soliciting NRPlus for G-File ideas is totally not like the scene in Boogie Nights where Burt Reynolds and Heather Graham make a porno in the back of a limo with some random guy pulled off the street.”

Let me work through some of these right now so none can say I was totally unresponsive.

Better in the Original German

I am torn about the topic of German philosophy’s baleful influence on American political and cultural life. On the one hand, I think it’s absolutely true. As I have written at great length elsewhere, American progressivism represented a flowering of German ideas in America. Thousands of the academics who formed the intellectual backbone of progressivism studied in Germany or under German or German-trained academics. A generation or two later, another wave of German thought infected America. What Alan Bloom called “value relativism” crossed the Atlantic and remains the rage in many quarters. It wasn’t all bad, of course. It made it possible for Bloom to write this sentence: “The image of this astonishing Americanization of the German pathos can be seen in the smiling face of Louis Armstrong as he belts out the words of his great hit ‘Mack the Knife.’” More recently, as the reader suggests, many of the most serious and passionate defenses of nationalism can be traced directly back to Johann Fichte and Johann Herder (and presumably to some other Teutons not named Johann). Santayana’s point that the need for collective identity can masquerade as freedom has a lot of explanatory power. You can see this in the rhetoric of “national liberation” movements that use the language of liberty to defend both the sovereignty of nations and the legitimacy of nationalist regimes to claim that statism is a form of freedom when it is pushed in the name of “self-determination.” The problem is that self-determination for a nation can lead to the negation of self-determination of individual citizens. Mussolini wanted self-determination for Italy but not for individual Italians.

On the other hand, my views on how intellectual history works have been evolving of late. I think people use ideas to justify their desires more than the ideas shape their desires. But that’s a topic for another day.

Fair Melania

I like Melania Trump, to the extent I can figure out what she’s really about. I am not afraid to admit that one of the things I like about her is that she is very nice to look at. She’s certainly the most striking first lady of my lifetime. And, I suspect that she’s the best-looking first lady ever, no offense to Abigail Filmore.

Beyond the way she pings the radar of the male gaze, I like that Melania seems to have a very low tolerance for B.S., including, one suspects, from her husband.

Two Cheers for Christmas Pageants

I can’t say I am a huge fan of Christmas pageants per se, but I love local parades and virtually any other expression of local civic engagement. So I come down on the pro-pageant side. I have no idea if that is the majority position in America, but I doubt I am a minority of one on the issue.

Hostages to Trump?

I don’t think NR is suffering from Stockholm syndrome under Trump (and I assume HR is a typo, unless I’ve missed a bunch of MAGA memos from Human Resources). I do have my disagreements with some of my colleagues on specific facets of the stygian disco ball that is the current moment, but a few specific examples notwithstanding, I think what the reader is seeing has more to do with the battles various writers at NR are picking than their actual personal views. What I mean is, this is a conservative magazine with a heterodox group of writers. Many choose to spend their time arguing with liberals and liberal positions which, after all, is one of the reasons we’re here. For those who feel very strongly that the only issues worth debating involve Trump’s shortcomings, this can often seem like a defense, and sometimes it is. But, in a sense, to write is to choose what not to write about. Last week, I wrote a G-File about climate change. I heard from a bunch of people complaining that I should have been writing about whatever the controversy of the day was about Trump. They seemed to think that not writing about Trump amounted to giving Trump a pass. That’s not how it works. We live in a moment where lots of people only want to hear Trump praise or Trump criticism. It is impossible to get it right with some people in that climate.

Oui

I’ve never heard of “La Société pour L’encouragement des Autres,” and my very weak French tells me this means, “Make room, the Germans are coming.”

But Google Translate tells me that this means “The Society for the Encouragement of Others.” This sounds like a very nice society, and barring some new information, I am for it. Indeed, I think they should hold a Christmas pageant.

[SATURDAY MORNING UPDATE: Since this came out, I’ve heard from a bunch of people explaining what this is and why I’m a dufus. Sometimes the dufus claim is related to this section, and sometimes it’s not. And I will admit: I do feel like dufus. The “society” thing threw me off. But as a bunch of folks have noted this is a reference to the Voltaire quote which, once reminded of it, makes me feel dumb for needing to be reminded of it.]

Ecce Homo

I really like the question about the conservatism of fantasy and the radicalism of sci-fi. I’m not sure the distinction is a hard and fast one. There’s a lot of conservatism in sci-fi, because there’s a lot of conservatism in fiction. I don’t mean conservatism in the political, programmatic sense. I mean in the more fundamental sense that human nature is the universal constant of all literature. It is what makes the events on the page, whether in Mordor or on Mars, relatable to the reader. The idea that human nature cannot be perfected, that the interior life of human beings is guided by the same doubts, desires, and concerns we all share (to one extent or another) is what makes literature speak to larger truths. There is a radicalism that finds purchase in some sci-fi, because the dream of the perfectibility of man is the defining feature of utopianism, and most forms of the Enlightenment-influenced radicalism. Whenever I hear Jean-Luc Picard talk as if humans had moved past the atavisms of status, money, etc., I want to say, “Oh yeah, like you wouldn’t complain if you were busted to ensign?”

Ironically, fantasy lends itself more to realism about human nature precisely because it simply plucks humans out of a familiar world and places them in a different one. Perfectibility would ruin the conceit, so it’s left for elves or whatnot.

Whither the Oropendola?

I am fascinated by this question: “Make an argument that people of color should be oropendola to conservative thought.”

At first, I assumed this was just a typo and the reader meant to say “open to.” But oropendola is an actual word. From professor Wikipedia:

The oropendolas formerly comprised two or three genera of South and Central American passerine birds in the Icteridae New World blackbird family.

All the oropendolas are large birds with pointed bills, and long tails which are always at least partially bright yellow. Males are usually larger than females.

Maybe autocorrect changed a typo to oropendola? If so, I have a strange new respect for autocorrect software.

Anyway, I do not think people of color should be passerine birds towards conservative ideas, unless that implies they should flock to conservative ideas, in which case I am all for it. Conservative ideas about race, at least in the classical-liberal tradition (which should be the only way conservatives should think about such things), are the only moral and sustainable path forward for a diverse society. As a matter of coalitional politics, there are short-term gains for various groups trying to get more from government. But in the long run, this society can only survive if we take to heart the idea that we should treat people as individuals and not representatives of different groups, especially with regard to government policy. Coalitions will always exist, but they should be coalitions of belief, tradition, and shared interests grounded in the institutions of civil society, not abstract and arbitrary characteristics. The Founders recognized this, which is why they took coalitions — a.k.a. factions — into account.

But conservatives need to take their own ideas and rhetoric into account as well. I believe passionately in assimilation, but the definition of assimilation can’t be dictated by old white people nostalgic for one version of America that didn’t actually exist the way they remember it. The Madisonian vision creates room for different groups to live as they wish so long as they don’t become a powerful faction, using the power of the state, to impose their One Way of living on others. That means conservative Christians and social-justice warriors alike should have the freedom to live according to their values, but they should also have the imagination and tolerance required to let other communities go their own way.

It seems to me that this vision should appeal to people of color as much as anyone else, and in some cases more than most. Identity politics puts people in cages of meaning, reducing them to someone else’s idea of what a black (or Asian or whatever) person should think and do. Identity, whenever put to the test, always becomes an argument about loyalty to a group identity or abstract idea.

An oropendola can never be anything more than what it is. The behavior of one essentially describes the behavior of all. Humans are animals, but we are not just animals. Identity politics, taken to its extreme, reduces humans to animals.

Boogie Punditry

And finally, there’s Cliff’s Boogie Nights analogy. I thought it was really funny, in part because it’s kind of true. I don’t mean that in an insulting way. No offense to the profession, but there’s less skill to pornography than some might assume. Sure, you have prodigies like Ron Jeremy who can autofellate (a charge metaphorically leveled at this “news”letter from time to time). But basically, porn stars don’t do anything normal people can’t do. They may gild the lily with six-inch heels and trapezes or whatnot, but the main attraction is pretty universal.

The vast majority of questions I got were from basically normal people, and they were good questions. I am going to save the list for column and podcast topics down the line. Journalism, including opinion journalism, is a bit like pornography. It’s a specialty but not a science. The constitutional right to commit journalism isn’t a special right for a select few (despite what some in the guild might tell you), it’s a right we all have, just as the right to bear arms isn’t reserved solely for police. Over the years, I’ve learned more from NR readers than I have from any single professional expert. Indeed, my readers are in fact experts, some on a specific subject, but all of them are experts on their own views and concerns. Asking them for suggestions doesn’t feel debasing at all. It feels like a privilege.

So why was this a bad idea? Because there was no way to deal with all of these questions. I feel like Robin Williams in Moscow on the Hudson shopping for coffee.

But I also feel like I’m talking to a madman. I don’t mean this as an insult to anybody. It’s a problem I’ve had for years. From the earliest days of the G-File, I’ve had a tendency to lump all of my readers into a singular entity, like I’m writing to a single person. This is one reason why this “news”letter is so unpredictable and oropendola.

This also explains why every now and then I get persnickety with some reader who doesn’t deserve my persnicketiness (Persnickitude? Persnickitality?). I can get 20 emails complaining about something, and the 21st complaint triggers that defense mechanism that goes off when you feel like someone won’t leave a topic alone; “You keep saying that! Shut up already!”

The thing is the 21st emailer only said it once, but it feels like the 21st time to me. I had this problem on the recent NR cruise. A whole bunch of great people wanted to talk to me about the guy in the Oval Office. Individually they were all perfectly polite and sincere, but when you get the same question — or the same assertions — over and over again, it can be a drag. I really love the cruisers — and they love NR, if not always me — but it was a struggle for me to wait patiently as I heard the same arguments over and over.

I’ll close with a bit of an epiphany I had on the cruise. Over dinner, a lovely woman complained that many of the panels seemed to be avoiding the elephant in the room — i.e., Trump. I’m not sure I agreed with the complaint, in part because she also told me she walked out of a panel that was almost entirely about Trump. Regardless, I explained that even on a NR cruise, Trump is a divisive and polarizing figure. What I hadn’t really realized is how divisive and polarizing he is, not just among people but within them. The woman who walked out of a panel because someone had been too critical of Trump went on to explain how much she hates Trump’s behavior. A man at the table began a conversation about how the country will be ruined if Trump isn’t reelected in 2020 (prompting me to gird my loins for a lengthy argument about Flight 93ism). But over the course of dinner, he vented about how much he wished Melania or Jared could get him to stop being so crude, particularly on Twitter. In other words, there’s a huge amount of cognitive dissonance even among Trump’s biggest supporters.

Many of the most articulate Trump defenders will often use a rhetorical tactic of conceding Trump’s shortcomings, usually in compact “to be sure” asides (“Obviously, Trump’s tweeting isn’t always helpful,” “It would be better if Trump could articulate his position more artfully,” etc.). Once they’ve checked that box, they proceed to go hammer and tongs against any critics on the right or left who are less dismissive of Trump’s foibles. In other words, they concede the critique — but they just consider it less important than others do. I get the reverse criticism. I’ll praise his judicial appointments or offer support for regulatory reform, but I won’t ignore or minimize his defects or attribute to him nobility or genius his defenders claim to see behind his superficial shortcomings.

What I find simultaneously maddening and reassuring in all of this is the fact that what a lot of conservatives really want is way to reconcile these conflicting realities. It’s not that they all disagree with me about the man’s character, it’s that they wish I didn’t remind them of it. But I could stop writing tomorrow and the underlying problem would endure. Conservatism is being wracked by the collision of different tectonic plates. The need to celebrate the leader of the tribe is smashing into the need to defend not just ideological commitments but traditional notions of leadership and decency. The desire to push back on the left is crashing into the need to remain intellectually consistent. The subsequent earthquakes aren’t just on display on screens but in our own heads. And sitting motionless in the hope that will all be over soon, like Mike Pence in the Oval Office, won’t get anyone through. The process is just going to have to play itself out. My only hope is that we’ll have more than rubble to build on when it’s all over.

Various & Sundry

Me Update: I can’t tell you how delighted I am to be winding down my crazy travel schedule. Since Thanksgiving alone, I’ve been to New York City twice, Ithaca, Syracuse, Chicago, the Caribbean, and Concord, NH. I haven’t had a full week at home since September. I do have a bunch of travel coming up, but it’s all for and with family (minus quadrupeds, alas), and I’m so giddy about it I feel like Morgan Freeman should be narrating my walk on a beach. Still, I shouldn’t complain. It’s a good problem to have, given the givens.

Canine Update: The beasts are good but getting needier by the day.  It’s probably because I’m a sucker for them after being on the road so much. But they’re keeping their priorities straight. One strange development: I think Zoë knows that my phone takes her picture and she’s increasingly reluctant to hold still for photos like this (though if I bribe her with scritchesshe’ll put up with it). She clearly has a much richer interior life than Pippa. Though sometimes she does seem to be thinking something other than “Ball.” Sometimes she’s thinking “one more hour until Ball.” Pippa’s eye seems to be completely on the mend, which is great. And, since people keep asking me, Zoë has stopped expressing interest in tennis balls.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

Legalism and morality in partisan debates

My latest NPR hit

My latest Fox News hit

Legalism and morality in partisan debates

Chocolate river

Pence the Destroyer

Political standards after Trump and Clinton

Why are we antagonizing Vietnam War refugees?

Mea culpa

The latest Remnant, with Tyler Cowen

Trump can’t win in 2020, but Democrats can lose

And now, the weird stuff.

Friday links

The Chicago way

Good news, everyone

How Middle Earth shaped classic rock

RIP the ripped kangaroo

Bad news, everyone

Not what I ordered

Cursed beer

The urban/rural divide deepens

You’re driving wrong

This house outdoes yours in Christmas spirit

Mr. Dickens goes to Washington

Thor’s Well

Millennials have peaked

Last item:

Heart’s in Seattle

Energy & Environment

Identifying the Problem

A man carries an inflatable Earth balloon at the People’s Climate March in New York City in 2014. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

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 all passengers on Spaceship Earth),

So, as often happens, a weasel crawls up your tailpipe (I mean of your car, sicko). It then gets caught in the doohickey connecting the thing to thing that goes mmmm-chicka. And now your car is busted. The mechanic says it will cost $5,000 to de-weasel your diesel engine.

But you don’t have five grand lying around. So what do you do?

Obviously, you ask the mechanic how to raise $5,000. I mean, he’s an expert on how to fix your car, he must also be an expert on how to pay for it. Right?

Of course not.

My point here — or at least my first point — is that expertise doesn’t necessarily transfer over from one field to another.

A second point: Some problems cannot be undone simply by reversing the steps that led to the problem in the first place.

If someone stabs you in the chest with a metal spork (very difficult to find, by the way), you don’t necessarily want to pull it out immediately. That could cause you to bleed out. You can’t un-spill milk or un-spork your victim.

That leads me to a third, closely related, point. Just because someone can identify a problem — a weasel in the tailpipe, a spork in the chest, whatever — doesn’t mean they know the best way to fix it.

I’m no doctor, but if I see a spork handle protruding from your chest, I can give you a pretty good diagnosis of what your problem is — at least your medical problem. I may not be able to tell you why someone thought it necessary to stab you with a spork in the first place. But, beyond saying, “Dude, you should probably get that looked at” or, “I think you need to have that removed,” I’m not going to be a hell of a lot of good to you, save perhaps as a ride to the hospital.

I love those scenes in movies and TV shows where the medieval king or Roman emperor is sick with a fever or some other ailment, and the doctors come in and do a pretty good job of identifying the symptoms, if not necessarily the underlying malady. But when it comes time to prescribing treatment, they might as well be toddlers with beards. “Have his excellency eat the tails of four newts every morning before the sun clears the horizon. Then he must snort the dandruff of a Corsican beggar no older than half the King’s age minus seven. But not if the beggar is a ginger, for they are touched by the devil.”

A fourth point: Some enormous problems have no immediate solution, which means that committing massive amounts of energy and resources to fixing them now is a waste. When I was a kid, I read a science-fiction short story about humans embarking on an interstellar trip to a far-off habitable planet. The hitch: They didn’t have faster-than-light technology. I can’t remember whether their solution was to use suspended-animation chambers so that they could sleep for the several centuries it would take the ship to reach their destination or whether they planned to reproduce en route so that their descendants would colonize the planet (both standard devices in these kinds of stories). Either way, just as they were on the outskirts of the solar system and about to fully commit to the journey, an alien spacecraft appeared on their scanners or out the window (again I can’t remember). And then, suddenly, the alien ship vanished — traveling faster than light speed.

The captain’s response always stuck with me. “All right, let’s go home.”

The captain didn’t want to go home because he feared anal probing or anything like that. Rather, he realized that taking 500 years getting to some other planet was an enormous waste of time. Now that he knew it was possible to travel faster than the speed of light, there was no point to their journey. By the time they — or their great-great-great-great-great grandkids — made it to Alpha Centauri, or wherever they were heading, humans on Earth would surely have cracked the puzzle. Indeed, the fact that he knew it was possible made it infinitely more likely they’d figure out the technology because they now understood it was doable.

So what am I really getting at here? I’m trying to explain how I think about climate change.

Among the Believers

Max Boot, as part of his conservatism-renunciation tour, has been pestering me about climate change. Once a skeptic, he now proudly shouts all of the shibboleths of climate-change alarmists. He “believes” in science. And science speaks in one voice about the issue. The scientists — a monolithic bloc in his telling — have not only incontrovertibly diagnosed the problem, but they have also prescribed the only solution. And anyone who disagrees with either the diagnosis or the prescribed remedies must be doing so for one of two reasons: They are either prostitutes for the fossil-fuel industry or science-denying brainwashed ideologues.

Much like a man who thinks he can ride a wild polar bear to work because that way he can use the HOV lanes and park in the electric-car spots at his office garage, this is a stupid idea, I think, for a lot of different reasons.

First of all, while Boot’s depiction of Big Oil might be music to the ears of the green Left that still thinks the world looks like a Thomas Nast cartoon — with titans of industry portrayed as pigs at a trough or fat cats in fancy suits — that’s not the reality. Max wants a carbon tax. That’s an intellectually defensible position. But you know who else favors a carbon tax? ExxonMobil. You know what else ExxonMobil does? They spend huge amounts of money on low-carbon R&D. They just closed on the biggest wind and solar deal in the industry.

As for the notion that everyone else who disagrees with him is an ensorcelled science-hating ideologue, Boot needs to get out more. There are scads of people who are vastly more well-versed in the science than either of us who reach an array of different conclusions other than those of the chicken-little caucus. That doesn’t mean they’re all right — they can’t all be right because they have meaningfully different points of view — but it also doesn’t mean they’re all luddite ideologues. Roger Pielke, John Horgan, Judith Curry, Matt Ridley, Bjorn Lomborg, Ronald Bailey, Steve Hayward, and many others are serious people, many of whom concede the reality that man is changing the environment and climate in undesirable ways, but they get demonized by the climate-change industrial complex for poking holes in, or dissenting from, the groupthink.

From where I sit, it looks like Max, understandably dismayed by the realization that the people he relied upon to do much of his thinking for him are not who he thought they were, has simply decided to let a different group of people do his thinking for him.

But enough (already) about him. My own view of the climate change issue is that it is real. I do not think it is a hoax, though I do think there are plenty of people, institutions, and interests that use the tactics of hoaxers to hype the problem. I assume that the vast majority of them are what you might call “hoaxers in good faith”: They think the problem is grave enough that it is worth exaggerating the claims, hyping the threat, and hiding contrary evidence in an effort to rally public opinion. Others suffer from confirmation bias, immediately believing the worst-case scenarios from wildly complex — and historically unreliable — computer models without checking the math. Just last month, the authors of a widely publicized study saying the oceans were heating up much faster than thought had to issue a major correction.

The 2007 IPCC report claimed “science” proved the Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035. In 2010, they had to retract the claim:

The UN’s climate science body has admitted that a claim made in its 2007 report — that Himalayan glaciers could melt away by 2035 — was unfounded.

The admission today followed a New Scientist article last week that revealed the source of the claim made in the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was not peer-reviewed scientific literature — but a media interview with a scientist conducted in 1999. Several senior scientists have now said the claim was unrealistic and that the large Himalayan glaciers could not melt in a few decades.

Three Cheers for Skepticism

There are really two kinds of skepticism at work here. The first is the skepticism about the science itself, the other is skepticism towards the vast array of interests that benefit from climate hysteria, psychologically, politically, or economically. Both forms of skepticism are utterly defensible. But they shouldn’t be lumped together.

Science is skepticism. Science is questioning, testing, replicating, and re-verifying. Yes, there are some things that are “settled science” — the decay time of some isotope, the existence of gravity, the superiority of New York pizza — but what science is primarily about is unsettling settled science. All — all of the great scientists in human history were, to one extent or another, great because they shattered or transformed the scientific consensus of their time.

The second skepticism isn’t about science, but about scientism — the effort to use the language, techniques, constructs, and imagined mindset of science to do things science cannot do. “Scientism,” writes the philosopher Edward Feser, “is the view that all real knowledge is scientific knowledge — that there is no rational, objective form of inquiry that is not a branch of science.” I would go slightly farther and say that scientism is a form of religious thinking that thinks it is unreligious because it rejects traditional notions of religion. Back when engineering was considered the cure-all to our problems, “social engineers” (once a positive term) argued that they should be empowered to guide human affairs because science was the only legitimate source of truth.

In this way, scientism is a kind of priestcraft — a term coined by the writer James Harington to describe the way clergy would use their divine authority (back when everyone saw God as the ultimate source of truth) to serve their own interests. Or as Bill Murray says in Ghostbusters, “Back off man, I’m a scientist.” Neil deGrasse Tyson is a leading practitioner of this secular priestcraft, arguing that we should pick up where the Jacobins left off and organize society around the rule of scientific reason as determined by people, well, like him.

There is a profound irony at work when people such as Boot insist that his opponents are driven by self-interest when they disagree with him. Is it inconceivable that, say, Al Gore — who has made hundreds of millions as a climate-change Jeremiah — has a vested interest in climate change? This isn’t to say that Gore is lying. I’m sure he believes what he’s saying. But couldn’t he be a bit like Colonel Nicholson in Bridge over the River Kwai? A man so invested in a single idea he can’t see the costs of his actions or the possibility he’s taken a good idea too far?

Ultimately, I have no fundamental problem with people who think climate-change “deniers” are suffering from groupthink of some kind. What enrages me are the scientific practitioners of priestcraft who cannot imagine the possibility that they suffer from the same human foibles. I mean, they aren’t even consistent champions of science. They cherry-pick the issues where science lends political and cultural power to the stuff that they want to do anyway. When the issue is sex and gender, many of these same people might as well start a bonfire using medical and biology textbooks as kindling. The science has been slipping away from these people when it comes to abortion, particularly late-term abortions, for decades, but you won’t find these “believers in science” changing their positions any time soon.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is pushing a “Green New Deal.” As I’ve written 7 trillion times (give or take), progressives have wanted a “new New Deal” even before the first New Deal was over. Painting an age-old progressive idol green has nothing to do with science and everything to do with marketing.

So What Would I Do?

As I suggested in the bit about the science-fiction story, I don’t think there is very much to do right now. Oh, I am very much in favor of R&D for all sorts of things. Cold fusion would be the equivalent of discovering faster-than-light travel. Personally, I am very interested in geoengineering — the science of actually fixing the problem. I am convinced the world has a low-grade fever that could get dangerously high in the future. That fever isn’t all bad by the way: E.g., it extends growing seasons and accelerates tree growth.

But if you eat bad clams and get a fever, doctors treat the fever. They may also talk to you about your diet, but they first address the illness. We don’t have anywhere near the expertise or confidence to start seeding the atmosphere with particles that would reflect more sunlight, but we could get there in the next generation or two. The funny thing is that whenever I talk to people about this sort of thing, the science worshippers suddenly freak out and say, “What if the scientists are wrong!” That’s a great question. But not only when someone proposes something you don’t like.

And I’m open to a carbon tax and things of that sort, but the thing people lose sight of is that the United States really isn’t the big problem. They want a New Deal regardless, and the green part is just a rationalization. Meanwhile, China, India, Africa, etc., very much want to be rich (or at least not poor), and they will not agree to anything that substantially deters that mission. And we should want them to get rich. Wealthy societies protect their environments as treasured luxuries, poor societies use their environments as useful resources (and don’t get me started on the violence the first New Deal inflicted on nature).

In the meantime, climate change is crowding out concern for, and resources from, all sorts of other problems that have far more immediate effects. I worry far more about eroding biodiversity, over-fishing, ocean acidification, plastic pollution, and the like than I do about climate change. Climate change contributes to some of these problems, particularly ocean acidification, but these are far more fixable right now. Elephants aren’t being wiped out by climate change. And a Green New Deal won’t save them.

Various & Sundry

I’m writing this from the verandah of my cabin on the R.M.S. Oosterdam. It’s been another lovely and fun National Review cruise with a bunch of great people. If you’re wondering why I didn’t even mention Donald Trump in this “news”letter, it is because I am unbelievably exhausted with the topic (also, news seems to be moving fast on the Trump front, and I’m not too dialed into what’s happening). There has been all manner of fruitful, fiery, yet always friendly conversations about the man and the times, and I just couldn’t muster anything more on the subject. Also, I don’t have much to add to what I wrote last week.

Canine Update: The night before I left for the cruise, my wife and I were having dinner in front of the TV to watch the final episode of this season of Man in the High Castle, when Pippa came up to request a piece of the Fair Jessica’s steak. Normally, in these times, Pippa deploys her most powerful weapon: her puppy eyes. But there was a problem: One of them seemed to be looking off in the wrong direction. Given that she was abnormally tired to begin with, we thought she might have had a seizure or some kind of stroke or something. So, I rushed her to the money depository that operates as a veterinary hospital. Zoë was enraged that I was taking Pippa at dog-walking hour without her. The Dingo was clearly convinced that we were going to some canine amusement park, where instead of whack-a-mole, you get to play crunch-a-mole. Anyway, Pippa was very excited for a car ride at first but was more terrified than I’ve ever seen her when we got to the vet. She ran to the back of the beat-up Honda Element that is our dog car and curled into a quivering ball. In the waiting room, she kept jumping up and crawling over me like there must be some hidden bunker in my body that she could hide in. It turns out that she probably had an infection or maybe an ulcer than causes Horton’s syndrome, which can make an eye go droopy. She’s in no discomfort as far as we can tell, and she should be fine, but it was a bit scary. I really want to express my appreciation to everyone on Twitter who showed their concern for the girl.

I don’t know whether readers actually follow the links to the doggo pictures, but if you do, I’m sorry I can’t do it this week. Twitter is not loading for me right now.

I will be on Meet the Press on Sunday.

Last week’s G-File

RIP GHWB

GHWB in NR

My all-Goldberg Constitution Center panel

What was PETA (group-)thinking?

RIP GHWB, part II

The latest Remnant, with Charles Cooke

What AOC and DJT have in common

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Wednesday links

Debby’s Friday links

Arizona man thinks he’s a Florida man

Old liquor

A happy ending

I thought this was America

Fiat lux

Civic activism

Nerd wish-fulfillment opportunity

RIP Vishnu

Chick-fil-A supercentenarian

Cheesecake Factory uprising

Hot grease fight

Sloth history (cc: @senatorshoshana)

The Butlerian Jihad must begin now

The last French sword duel

White House

The Wars to Come

Robert Mueller on Capitol Hill, June 20, 2017 (Reuters/Aaron P. Bernstein)

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: The quickening is upon us. What I mean is that, while few people really have any clue what is going on, many are certain that It’s About to Go Down.

And so the Great Loin-Girding has begun.

In Green Rooms, in Editorial Rooms, in Conference Rooms of every hue and shape, and even in bathrooms where stewed bowels are uncorked like a confused drunk opening the emergency exit at 35,000 feet, people are preparing for what can only be described as the Mother of All Shinola Shows, only it won’t be shinola on the main stage. Reporters are rereading ten-year-old New Yorker profiles of bit players just so they can be ready to drop an obscure reference about a Russian oligarch. A striver at Breitbart is researching Robert Mueller’s family tree going back to the Duchy of Pomeria. Behind the scenes at Fox & Friends, things are more somber: There are a lot of prayer circles and quiet moments of solitude, as various hosts and producers stare out the window onto Sixth Avenue and ask themselves if they are ready for what is to come.

Over at Morning Joe, the preparations are more animated, as they contemplate the prospect of entering Cable-News Valhalla.

On the Hill, House Democrats, flush with the stench of midterm victory in their nostrils, are storming the vacated bunkers of the former majority, like Vikings sweeping into an unprotected English village or the caddies into the Bushwood pool on Caddy Day. The walls are being covered with photos of Trump and his associates, each held up by a pushpin and tied by red string to another pushpin holding up another photo and another, until a batwing-shaped web connects Trump to Vladimir Putin, the Saudi crown prince, Roy Cohn, and, thanks to Senator Cruz, both the Zodiac Killer and the real culprits in the Kennedy assassination.

Over on the Senate side, Chuck Schumer walks into a conference room and spots a fresh-out-of-Harvard self-styled freedom fighter, hunched over next to an oil-drum fire, sharpening pencils with the blade of a pair of child-safety scissors.

“All that hate’s gonna burn you up kid,” Schumer says.

“It keeps me warm,” replies the former senior-class president, as he throws an 8-by-10 glossy of Roger Stone into the fire.

Meanwhile, Republicans across the Hill are grabbing everything they can to bunker-in and target-harden. Book cases full of the proceedings of the Senate? Slide those mofos in front of the doors! Studies showing the scope of the fiscal crisis ahead of us? We may need that for toilet paper. Hapless tourists from Osh Kosh or Eugene visiting the rotunda are knocked over and shoved aside, their selfie-sticks clanging on the cold marble, their Smithsonian shopping bags full of astronaut ice cream and miniature Washington Monuments sent flying, as young Republicans roll giant water-cooler bottles down the hallway to prepare for the siege. “Sorry, ma’am, I don’t think you want to be here,” one of the more polite kids from Orrin Hatch’s office yells as they barrel past. “This is going to be bad.”

For reasons no one knows, but everyone understands, an old lady is standing outside the gallery shouting, “Flores! Flores para los muertos!”

Meanwhile, over at the White House, everyone is sweating like they ate gas-station sushi an hour ago and don’t have any change left for the coin-operated bathroom stall. You can’t even make a Downfall video joke without John Kelly screaming, “Stow that crap soldier!” Cigarette burns mar every desk and carpet, the smoke blending in with the stench of panic and intern urine. In the hallway, Mike Pence barges past a meeting trying to catch a chicken. No one bothers even to ask why.

Stephen Miller hasn’t been seen for days, but staffers hear the familiar rapid-fire sound — whock-whock-whock-OW! — emanating from his office as he plays Mumblety-peg with the pointy-end of a Statue of Liberty paperweight.

And then there’s the Oval Office, where the president keeps re-watching DVR’d episodes of Lou Dobbs, pausing every 15 seconds to growl at Rudy Giuliani: “See! Lou gets it! Why can’t you say something like that!? I should make him attorney general.”

Rudy’s constant, uncontrolled, and unprovoked laugher, punctuated by broad flashes of his new teeth, is as disorienting as it is hypnotic. “It’s all going great!” Rudy says with an enormous smile, tears streaming down his face.

“It’s all fine . . . this is fine.”

Two and Half Cheers for the Sidelines

Okay, I exaggerate — a little.

But the truth is that it really does feel like things are coming to a head.

I have no idea what Mueller will reveal, and I have no idea what Trump will do in response. But I am sure that we’re going to hear a lot of “Whose Side Are You On?” once Mueller walks to the cameras in his Grim Reaper’s cloak and swings his scythe.

For me, the answer is simple: I’m on nobody’s side. I don’t have a dog in this fight. To mix metaphors like a special blender for metaphors, I’m going to play the ball, not the man — or men. What I mean by that is that if the truth or facts or evidence is on Trump’s side, I’ll defend that. If it’s not on his side, I won’t be either.

That’s not going to be true for a lot of people who, for one reason or another, have invested way too much in Donald Trump and in the idea that he deserves their loyalty. That ain’t me.

I’ve spent the last couple years perhaps a bit too vexed by some of those people. I’ve finally figured out a way to make peace, in my own mind, with at least some of their behavior.

In print and in podcast, I’ve been talking a lot about how the two parties are shells of what they once were and how outside groups and institutions have filled the voids left behind by their shrinkage. The parties used to choose candidates and issues. Parties educated voters. Over the last 50 years, that function has essentially been outsourced to interest groups, media outlets, think tanks, etc. As a result, the dividers between different lanes shrunk or vanished. Writers and intellectuals on the left and the right became de facto political consultants and party activists. Many political consultants acted like public intellectuals or pundits. Intellectuals became entertainers and entertainers pretended to be intellectuals. Politicians quit their jobs to be TV talking heads, and TV talking heads run for office.

I look back on the last two decades, and, in hindsight, it’s easy for me to see all of it now, not just in others but in myself. Back in 2016, I didn’t understand how so many people, who had basically the same job description as I did, could reach such wildly different conclusions. Now, I feel like I understand it better. In this business, people like me wear a lot of different hats, figuratively speaking. Among the hats we wear: journalist, writer, author, TV pundit, intellectual, partisan, etc. In those roles, one can sometimes be a critic or a cheerleader for a party or a politician or a policy.

The point is that most of the time, it’s pretty easy to switch out one hat for another without feeling conflicted. Making the Republican case and the conservative case often seems — or seemed — like the same thing. In hindsight, I think I was too much of a partisan during the Iraq War, but it didn’t feel like I was being partisan at the time. I just thought the party and the president deserved defending from their critics on the left.

You Can Leave Your Hat On

Lots of people have argued that the rise of Donald Trump was a stress test for various institutions, and I think that’s right. But whereas I once thought a lot of people failed the test, I see it a little differently now.

The rise of Trumpism demanded that everybody decide which hat they were going to wear. Or to put it a little differently, they had to decide which hats were they willing to take off when push came to shove. For some people, the party hat (I don’t mean the type that kids wear at birthday parties) was the one hat that they wouldn’t take off. For others, it wasn’t so much a GOP thing as it was a populist thing. They hated the “establishment” — especially the Republican establishment — and because “Donald Trump” popped into someone’s head when Gozer demanded, “Choose the Form of the Destructor,” they went with him even though many might have preferred a different vessel. For many religious and social conservatives, they had to discard the Public Scold Hat (or at least the Credible and Morally Consistent Public Scold Hat). When you believe all of that “It’s War” crap, the only hat you’re supposed to wear is a helmet. And a lot of people, strapped one on for the cause.

For others, including self-described “Never Trumpers,” they — we — chose to discard the party hat and the populist hat. I don’t know the right label for the one I’m stuck with, in part because they all sound pretentious: intellectual, journalist, conservative, whatever.

I don’t know if thinking about it this way is helpful for anybody but me, but I find it clarifying and a bit reassuring. We all have lots of different roles or identities in us, and when a test comes, some people will choose one identity over another. I’m not going to lie, some people have disgusted me in how they’ve made “Trump-loyalist” their primary identity, jettisoning principles, reputation, and rationality in order to nimbly defend the guy. But a lot of people haven’t done that. They’ve simply tried to make the best out of a difficult situation.

There’s a reason why the Kavanaugh spectacle was the only time the broader American Right has unified during Trump’s presidency; it was because Donald Trump wasn’t the issue, even if he at times tried to make it about him. It was the one-time moment when all of the hats could converge or overlap each other.

There are those on the right who very much want the coming donnybrook to be like that again. It’s possible it will. It’s possible the Democrats will overreach or that Mueller will live down to the slanders grifters on the right have concocted about him. But I doubt it will happen. This will be about Trump. And while impeachment may not be warranted, he will not look good in this fight, because his true nature — and the nature of the creatures he surrounds himself with — will once again be exposed.

I’m not going to the mattresses in any of this, because I see no reason to give the president — or many of his most rabid opponents — the benefit of the doubt, never mind loyalty. The only major player here who deserves the benefit of the doubt right now is Robert Mueller. Because while we may learn that he made mistakes or overstepped, as of now, the one thing I know he cares about is the facts. About his slander-spewing right-wing critics — and to some extent his left-wing sanctifiers — I know no such thing.

Various & Sundry

Update: All of the above was written on Friday, in drips and drabs, as I wended my way from Syracuse to Chicago to home. Amidst all that, I tweeted an NPR story about Donald Trump Jr. that turned out to be wrong. Some Trump defenders pounced. That’s fine. The only thing remarkable about it was that many people seemed to think that I had some deep investment in the story or that I had egg on my face for tweeting a link to a news story. I just don’t see it that way, for several reasons. The first reason, you can find above; whatever the truth turns out to be is fine by me. Second, it was an entirely plausible story. If you don’t think it’s possible that Donald Trump Jr. might lie to Congress — you’ve been watching a different show than me.

But since we’re on the subject: There is this fascinating tendency among Trump’s praetorians to seize on every false or flawed news story — and there have certainly been many — as if it proves all of the stories about Trump are false. They simply aren’t. But, more to the point, some of these praetorians make it sound like they care very, very, very much about telling the truth. And yet there is precious little, if any criticism, about the president when he lies. And he lies very often. Then — when Trump lies — we get a lot of treacle about how “the American people knew what they were getting” or “he’s a disruptor” or “that’s just his style.” I concede that it’s a little bit apples and oranges. The press is supposed to be dedicated to reporting facts, and when journalists get it wrong, they should be held accountable. But the president should be held accountable too, particularly by people who are also in the press. If you only object to untruths when they are inconvenient to the president, you don’t actually care about the truth. You just want to use it to protect someone who doesn’t care about it either.

Canine Update: Something very strange is going on that may have reverberations in the Goldberg family for years to come. For as long as we’ve had her, Zoë has not cared much or at all about chasing tennis balls. Even after we got Pippa, Zoë didn’t get what the big deal is. Then, this week, Zoë decided that she had had enough.

The question is: “Enough of what?” Enough attention being heaped on Pippa? Enough with the incessant barking and bouncing? We don’t know. But Zoë’s suddenly interested in the tennis ball.

Just today, Kirsten (our invaluable dogwalker) took them out with the pack. She texted this (light typo fixes notwithstanding):

This is Zoë’s face after she grabbed the ball from Obi, Sampson and Pippa then danced around with it for 3 minutes THEN she proceeded to bury it, and as we were walking away Pippa ran back but Zoë beat her to it and laid down on top of where she put it making stinky faces. I finally dug it up and confiscated it, and this is her at the empty burial site. She is perplexed to say the least.

There’s even some late breaking video.

This report suggests to me that dog economics has finally kicked in. As Megan McCardle and I once discussed on The Remnant, dogs are deeply invested in the concept of the positional good. A stick only has value because other dogs want it. That’s why, at the dog park, you’ll see a long train of dogs chasing whoever has “The Stick,” even though there are more than enough sticks for everybody. What matters is to have The Stick — or in this case The Ball — that the other doggers want.

Now, it’s possible that this is just Zoë being a jerk. That wouldn’t be unprecedented. She’s a bit of a kick-down, kiss-up kind of gal. But that doesn’t explain another monumental development. On Thursday, Zoë let Pippa think that she was the “predator” in a grand game of dog-zoomie-hide-and-seek (over 77,000 views so far).

We think she may be having a midlife crisis or maybe some kind of epiphany. I just hope Pippa can cope.

Oh, and if you wanted to hear a genuine Carolina dog “arrooo,” this is it. Apparently, it can be triggering to other dogs, so play it in private (or send me video of them responding).

ICYMI . . .

The previous G-File

My C-SPAN Book TV interview

An AOC Theory

The pre-Thanksgiving Remnant, with James Kirchick

The poison of “stolen election” narratives

Trump’s odd definition of “America First”

A conflict of visions

The perils of symbolic nationalism

In re: Max Boot

Hillary Clinton almost has a point

The racist orcs are back!

The latest Remnant, with Mike Gallagher (and a bonus Jack Butler solo performance at the end)

America’s history of rejecting identity politics

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Thanksgiving links

A good man

Dart farts

Bear propaganda

Drunk curlers

Panoramas

Exorcise more

A happy ending

Strangely satisfying

The ocean’s Twilight Zone

LEGO digestion

A good dog

Avoid NYC subways

Another good dog

A piece of musical history

Good dogs

The origin of the sloppy joe

Florida Men — 1 Disguised in Bull Costume – Allegedly Tried to Burn Down Ex-Boyfriend’s Home With Spaghetti Sauce

Bee closeups

Bob Seger says goodbye

I’m not crying, you’re crying

Politics & Policy

Basta La Vista, Baby

Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, on CBS This Morning. (CBS via YouTube)

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 (And especially Martha McSally’s dog),

As I often note, I increasingly tend to see the political scene as a scripted reality show in which the writers don’t flesh out the dialogue so much as move characters into weird, wacky, confrontational, or embarrassing positions. It’s a lot like The Truman Show, except most of the cast isn’t fully in on it. Sometimes I imagine some writers’ room in the sky where a bunch of exhausted hacks with coffee breath struggle amidst the pizza boxes and broken pencils to figure out how to ratchet up the intensity from scene to scene or season to season. “Let’s have them just leave Reince on the tarmac!” “How about we put Jared in charge of Middle East Peace!” “Let’s have some fun with George and Kellyanne, I think there’s huge sitcom material there.”

“If only Roger Stone were still alive.”

“He is.”

“Whoa. Call his agent. We gotta have him on. A little goes a long way with that guy, but he could steal the show like Christopher Walken in Pulp Fiction talking about that watch he kept up his own a**, except instead of the watch we can use Stone’s whole head.”

The writer who came up with the whole “Anthony Weiner texting junk pics” got a lot of grief for a storyline that was a bit too on the nose, as it were, given Weiner’s name. But it was a ratings killer, and it set up much of the story arc for the next couple of seasons.

The trick is often in the little details that make this seem like a fully realized alternative reality, like the grittiness of Mos Eisley in the first Star Wars, or, more apt, the fake movie trailers at the beginning of Tropic Thunder.

Or, for example, the Trumpy Bear commercials.

Personally, I think this latest subplot with Jim Acosta and Donald Trump has been really boring. It would have been much cooler if President Trump owned the libs by pressing a button that opened a trap door beneath Acosta, and for added drama maybe he tried to grab hold of the microphone-carrying intern to prevent his fall. All we hear is a thud and then lions roaring. Or maybe Acosta falls alone but is only injured and just complains a lot like Will Ferrell when Dr. Evil sent him to his doom.

If I had to bet, the writers will have CNN credential Stormy Daniels next season, so she can ask weird sex questions — I mean weird questions about sex, not normal questions about weird sex. (BTW, “What’s the difference between erotic and kinky? Erotic is when you use a feather; kinky is when you use the whole chicken.”)

There are other times, when I like to imagine it’s less like a mashup of the writers’ rooms at the Sid Caesar Show, Desperate Housewives, and WWE, and more like we’re living in the world of the Gamesters of Triskilion, in which disembodied heads gamble with our puny lives for fun and profit.

“10,000 Quatloos they claim Acosta assaulted the intern!”

“20,000 Quatloos Corey Lewandowski pretends to be outraged by the manhandling of young women for partisan reasons.”

“No bet.”

“Okay, understandable.”

Basta!

I don’t want to beat a dead horse — unless it’s a zombie horse, in which case that might be necessary. But I cannot make up my mind about whether or not the Michael Avenatti storyline is one of the comedic subplots or part of the main dramatic narrative.

I have no idea what to make of the news that he was arrested for domestic abuse. His denials might be legit. The testimonials from his ex-wives seem credible to me. But I’m also skeptical that the LAPD would arrest a celebrity porn lawyer on completely bogus charges. And while I would love for Avenatti to be telling the truth when he accused Jacob Wohl of setting him up, I’m skeptical about that too. I mean, Wohl’s not as dumb as he looks, but that’s setting the bar very low. When it comes to organizing conspiracies, Wohl seems as useful as a white crayon.

I’m very conflicted about Avenatti because on the one hand I would very much like him to just go away. He started out as kind of interesting, but he’s turned into a really grating character. It’s like someone took the staggering self-regard of James Comey and wrapped it around a part-time Viagra-commercial actor who does all of his shopping at Duty Free boutiques at Middle Eastern airports. And that catchphrase — Basta! — is so unbelievably grating that he’s sort of turned into the Poochie or Urkel of this storyline, only with the oily sheen of a made-for-Cinemax movie about a creepy porn lawyer.

On the other hand, there’s part of me that really wants him to be innocent of these charges for the simple reason that when he tried to destroy Brett Kavanaugh he used the “Believe All Women” mantra as way to hide his impressively dishonest and unethical behavior from the press and the public. It would be wonderful to watch the smoke come out of his android brain-processor as he dealt with the feminist version of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy: “All women are telling the truth but this woman is a liar . . . zzzztt spork, sizzle.”

It Would Take a Heart of Stone Not To Laugh

Before you get all sanctimonious about me making light of domestic abuse or sexual assault, let me say “pull my finger.” No seriously, I take domestic abuse and sexual assault very seriously, and if Avenatti is proven guilty he should face the full weight of the law. But, more broadly speaking, what choice does one have but to laugh at the endless spray of crazy that streams out of every iPhone and TV screen like water out of a giant clown’s fake flower on a daily basis?

This is why I respectfully disagree with Bill Kristol here:

This is all technically correct, I suppose. But it misses the point. Just because some Republicans may be hypocrites for chortling at Avenatti doesn’t mean he’s not chortle-worthy. Nor does it mean that the most important thing about Avenatti’s continual self-beclowning is Republican hypocrisy. That hypocrisy is grating, of course. But let’s not lend aid and comfort to one jackass in a misplaced desire to condemn someone else’s jackassery.

Everyone Needs to Lighten Up

The single most exhausting feature of the Trump era is the soul-crushing humorlessness of so many Trump critics and Trump defenders. For many Trump critics, particularly but not entirely on the left, everything is a crisis of existential proportions. For Trump defenders, any criticism of Trump is a direct attack on his supporters.

I usually understand where it comes from, I think. Trump does represent a serious stress test not just for conservatism and “democratic norms” but also for many of the assumptions that liberals held dear about the arc of history. Few things are scarier than being knocked off the horse of your teleology. It’s a bummer when you think you have a rendezvous with destiny, and you end up waiting for Godot.

For Trump defenders, it requires incredible effort to keep yourself convinced that he’s the man you want him to be rather than the man he actually is. Orwell was right when he said, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” But the opposite is often true as well. It is incandescently obvious that Donald Trump is not the world’s best negotiator or an honest person, among other glaring truths. But for people either emotionally or professionally invested in Trump, any admission that the Trumpian eminence front is a put-on is a threat of one kind or another. Maintaining the fiction that the emperor’s new clothes are glorious and resplendent takes a lot of effort, too. (For instance, imagine the energy it takes even to attempt to argue that Trump’s accidental “covfefe” tweet was a “genius move that is a very powerful demonstration of his ability to persuade”).

I’m convinced that one of the things that causes Trump disciples to get so angry at conservative Trump critics is that we make it so much harder to sustain the fiction. Of course, Trump makes it much harder than we do, but Trump gets a pass because he is the object of the adulation, while we’re supposed to be in the pews yelling, “Amen.”

The order of the day is to maintain message discipline with Pence-like dedication. That would be hard enough without us snickering and jeering from the cheap seats. This explains the wildly veering claims about “Never Trumpers” (a label I reject, but that doesn’t matter to them). We’re at once utterly irrelevant and incredibly dangerous saboteurs, fake conservatives and ridiculously doctrinaire ideologues, who’d rather prattle about “muh principles” than rack up so many wins we’ll beg Trump to stop all the winning. We’re the ignorable pests they cannot ignore.

In Defense of Bill Kristol

Again, Bill Kristol is a friend of mine and I like and respect him a great deal. When people claim he’s not a conservative because he’s not a reflexive cheerleader for the president, I have to cover my ears for fear my eyes will roll out of my head. But that doesn’t mean I always agree with Bill on how he’s responded to the Trump era (something I can say about 92 percent of my fellow conservatives, in both the pro- and anti-Trump camps). But my disagreements don’t fill me with rage or drive me to grab a partisan Billy club so that I can chase him out of the Right. The effort to claim he’s not a conservative — solely because he’s a Trump opponent — is precisely the sort of thing I wrote about in last week’s “News”letter:

Indeed, more and more, liking Donald Trump is coming to define whether you’re on the team, and if you don’t like him — by which I mean, if you don’t celebrate his whole catalog the way the Bobs celebrated Michael Bolton’s — you’re part of the problem. Heck you’re not even a conservative.

Consider the fact that no president in American history succeeded in bending conservatism to his personality more than Ronald Reagan. And yet Reagan had plenty of critics on the right. Richard Viguerie lambasted Reagan. Howard Phillips called him a “useful idiot for Soviet propaganda.” Joel Skousen, the executive editor of Conservative Digest, said in 1983, ”Mr. Reagan is now seen as untrustworthy by many conservatives who believe he has betrayed his own principles in an effort to appease his critics.”

George Will, William F. Buckley, and numerous writers at National Review were personally fond of, or close to, Reagan, and usually supported him. But when the situation required it, they could be quite blistering in their criticisms. And yet, no one — or no one serious — claimed that Will and Buckley weren’t conservatives.

What changed? Well, lots of things. But one of them has been the populist takeover of the conservative movement. (I have an essay on this in the latest issue of NR.) Populist movements can vary in ideological content but they all share the same psychological passions. Independent thought, naysaying, and insufficient ardor are seen as a kind of disloyalty. Better and earlier than most, Matt Continetti recognized the crisis of the conservative intellectual this takeover represents.

I know I’m repeating myself, but it is just remarkable how the definition of a conservative for many people is primarily measured by support for Trump and/or hatred of Trump’s critics. My disagreements with Bill are entirely tactical and tonal, but I am at a loss to understand how any of my disagreements make him any less of a conservative today than he was five or 15 years ago. Bill Kristol is a conservative. About the people who say he isn’t one just because he won’t say the un-obvious, I’m not so sure.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: Because all of our go-to house- and pet-sitters are selfishly going home to be with their families on Thanksgiving, we’re probably going to have to bring the beasts to my mom’s for the holiday. It’s not ideal for a number of logistical reasons, among them the fact that Grandma has three extremely aristocratic cats. We can’t put them in a kennel because Zoë does not deal well with kennels. When she came out of one last time, something bad happened and she turned extremely hostile to other dogs. It took months to train that out of her. Pippa doesn’t deal with strange dogs very well either. Recall that when Zoë got into a scrap with some Corgis in apparently terrifying glow-in-the-dark collars, she ran more than a half-mile home to our house (crossing any number of streets). This brings me to a squabble I got into yesterday. A fight over at the D.C. bureau of the Daily Beast spilled out onto Twitter. Asawin Suebsaeng‏ argued that cats are superior to dogs because they are more convenient pets.

I responded:

A large number of people took me way too literally (I like Suebsaeng), but that happens on Twitter. But they should take me seriously on this point: I have two dogs and two cats. I love three of them (I’m merely fond of my wife’s cat). Cats can be affectionate. It’s far more debatable whether they are “loyal” in any meaningful sense. And cats are definitely more convenient. But convenience is not everything. Anyone who’s read this “news”letter or followed me on Twitter knows I invest a lot of time, money, and energy in my dogs. And that’s not for everybody, so by all means get yourself a cat until you’re ready for the major leagues of pet ownership. But dogs give back far more than cats do. I could get all poetic about this, but science is on my side. Dogs love us. They evolved to love us. They picked a side. As I wrote 17 years ago:

The dog is the only animal that volunteers for duty. If we want other animals — horses, oxen, mules, falcons, bears, or parrots — to come to our aid, we must either force them or bribe them. You might even call horses our slaves: Their spirit must actually be broken before they will agree to do anything for us. And, if the comparison of the jovial dog to the jovial Briton is a fair one, then the conclusion is unavoidable that cats share many attributes with our friends the French: They are coquettish when called, unavailable when needed, and always self-interested. If Lassie had been a cat, the barn would have burned down and Timmy would have starved to death at the bottom of the old well.

Anyway, my wing-gals are doing great. They continue to love the weather and express that love with zoomies and smiles and even a little soulful contemplation. The other day, Pippa lost her ball on the trail (it happens). So we had to resort to some old school stick throwing, to get the ya-yas out of her. She was particularly fond of one stick, which is now in the back of our car. But she’s found others, too.

They’re good dogs, and dogs are good.

Now for the sundry.

I’ll be on Special Report tonight.

I’ll be speaking at the Miami Book Fair tomorrow.

Oh, and next week we’re going to try something fun. By now you’ve heard of NRPlus, and if you haven’t signed up yet, you should. As an added bonus for NRPlussers, we’re going to let you decide what next week’s G-File should be about. I will take requests and try to accommodate as many of the suggested topics as possible while not descending into a pure Ask Me Anything listicle. We’ll announce details on the Corner next week.

Last week’s G-File

2020 will be crazy

Remembering Stan Lee

And now, the weird stuff.

Spy pup

Ralph Bakshi vs. LOTR

Where you can eat with your dog in NYC

Politics and porn: A history

The Crenshaw Moment

No jury would convict

On the other hand…

Hmmm. . .

Cats and art

Movie hacking

The first synthesizer

LEGO Helm’s Deep

Just don’t step on it

How to get a role in Bill and Ted 3

Nature is weird

Japan’s understanding of American history, circa 1861

Politics & Policy

Shooting the Stragglers

President Trump at a campaign rally in Indianapolis, Ind., November 2, 2018. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

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 (And those of you who identify as Readers),

I’m on a flight to Florida, and I have to get an essay done for the magazine and work on a new speech for tomorrow, so as Jeremy Corbyn said when asked to provide a list of things he loves about the Jews, I need to keep this short.

I keep seeing all of this stuff about how the midterms were everything from a blip to a huge victory for Trump and that he’s more likely than ever to get reelected. Ehhh . . . maybe. I can see the argument. I just don’t understand the confidence. Just consider the fact that were it not for the Benghazi hearings, Hillary Clinton would probably be president today — because it was those hearings that put her server in play.

I’m a skeptic about the Russia-collusion stuff, but the notion that there’s nothing for a subpoena-powered Democratic House to find in Trump’s closet just strikes me as nuttier than Mr. Peanut’s pool party.

Also, Trump won with a minority of the popular vote. He’s less popular today than he was in 2016, and the Democrats are way more motivated. The GOP coalition has shrunk while the Democratic coalition has expanded. I get that the Democrats have remarkable a gift for screwing things up. But I just can’t understand why anyone would have any confidence about predicting what happens next. The writers of this timeline, after all, put a huge emphasis on the crazy. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if in 2020 the president of the United States were a talking flounder.

But instead of looking at the fact that the Democratic coalition is bulging with young people, while millions of Republicans are leaving the GOP due to the ironclad rules of life expectancy, people are looking at things like Trump’s press conference as proof that 2020 is in the bag.

For example, here’s my friend Hugh Hewitt in the Washington Post:

President Trump will win reelection. Anyone who watched Wednesday’s presser after Trump’s big night Tuesday knows in his or her bones that it will happen, because the president is getting better and better at the job.

I found the whole column so strange. As Hugh admitted to me in a Twitter exchange, the point wasn’t to be empirical. Fair enough. We can chalk up the sweeping claim that anyone who watched the press conference knows in his or her bones that Trump will get reelected to poetic license. I mean, I don’t know that, though in fairness I didn’t watch the whole thing. I merely listened to a bunch of it on the radio, so maybe there was something subliminal in the video — like in The Ring or in those Silver Shamrock commercials from Halloween III — that compels one to believe he will be reelected simply by virtue of the fact that he displayed his usual press-bashing vindictiveness towards Republicans who don’t suck-up to him, and his usual, often entertaining turd-polishing of bad news.

But the fascinating thing about Hugh’s column is that he has redefined the job of the president into “combatant in chief.” What Hugh says about the political culture is largely true. Americans like combat — political, virtual, mortal (Finish him!), etc. — but I don’t understand why Hugh should celebrate the idea that the president of the United States should encourage and amplify that tendency. I’m sure he’d be more critical of a Democratic president doing anything like what Trump does. Moreover, just because the president is “good” at combat doesn’t mean his combativeness attracts more voters to him. Rather, it activates combativeness in his opponents. Not a lot of Democrats are going to say, “I love combat. Trump is better at combat than Nancy Pelosi. Therefore, I will vote for Trump.”

Beyond the wishcasting, these kinds of arguments — which are everywhere on the right these days — seem like Trump-norming to me. In gender-norming, women are rated on a curve. A female applicant can only carry a 110-pound dummy through an obstacle course? Let’s make that the standard for women on the firefighter’s test! Donald Trump can’t act presidential? Make “combativeness ”the new standard for presidents. We take the measure of the man — and make the man the new measure.

What Went Wrong

Let’s talk about the content of Trump’s combativeness. Jonathan Last has an interesting essay on the midterms, arguing that the combat closest to Trump’s heart is with the GOP itself:

It is important to understand that for all the talk about how Trumpism is a reaction to leftism and social-justice warriors and political correctness, the truth is that it is principally an intra-party fight. It’s the final crackup of Cold War Republicanism; a cultural revolution in which the lumpenproletariat seized control of the party from the pointy heads and exiled them to the labor camps. And like the Maoists, the Trumpers aren’t really interested in picking a fight with the other superpower. They’re much more concerned with controlling the near abroad — which is to say, the Republican party. That’s why they tend to focus their hatred on Republicans and conservatives who decline to get on board, rather than on Democrats and liberals. Jeff Flake is the enemy; Kamala Harris is just a random nonplayer character.

Always remember that Trumpers — the people who believe in him, not the remora fish looking for their bits of chum — care very little about the left. Their real opponents are other Republicans. Seen from that perspective, Tuesday’s vote was a huge success. Because for Trumpers, it’s never a binary choice. Wherever a Trump-skeptical Republican was running against a Democrat, Trumpism couldn’t lose.

I think Jonathan overstates a few things, but his central point strikes me as largely correct, particularly when it comes to Trump himself. He mocked candidates who lost because of him but insisted they really lost because they failed to embrace him. This is not a brilliant strategy for winning in 2020; it’s a blunt strategy for Trumpifying the party further. It’s also ridiculous on the merits. The idea that if only Barbara Comstock “embraced” Trump more, her D.C.-suburb constituents would have changed their mind is ludicrous. As Jonathan notes, Carlos Curbelo has a 72 percent Hispanic district, half of which is foreign born. No doubt they voted Curbelo out because they wanted more talk about diseased foreigners and sh**hole countries, not less.

But Trump either believes that the GOP loss of the House proves “people like me” wrong or he at least wants you to believe that. And it’s working.

Indeed, more and more, liking Donald Trump is coming to define whether you’re on the team, and if you don’t like him — by which I mean, if you don’t celebrate his whole catalog the way the Bobs celebrated Michael Bolton’s — you’re part of the problem. Heck you’re not even a conservative.

That’s why Katie Arrington, who defeated Mark Sanford in a primary by promising to be a loyal foot-soldier for Trump, blamed Sanford for her loss of a reliably Republican seat:

“We lost because Mark Sanford could not understand that this race was about the conservative movement — and not about him.”

I heard my friend Mollie Hemingway on Fox refer to the traditional suburban Republican voters the GOP lost as basically “Never Trump elitists.” I know Mollie has very strong views about how Trump-skeptical pundits shouldn’t be given much airtime anymore, but why write off the voters the GOP needs to be a majority party?

Conservatism Norming

My friend Henry Olsen, who is a brilliant election analyst, doesn’t quite do that. In today’s Washington Post, he notes that:

The party’s devastation in traditional, high-income suburban bastions is unmistakable. Nearly every House seat it lost was in these areas. Districts in suburban Atlanta, Houston and Dallas that voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 by between 15 and 24 points went Democratic. Districts that Republicans had held for decades outside Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia fell. The blue tide even swept away a GOP seat in Oklahoma City. This trend was more than a coastal fad.

Henry argues that the GOP is “irretrievably on a new path. Either it re-creates a William McKinley-style coalition based on the working-class voter or it dies.”

As a matter of pure political calculation for the GOP, I think Henry’s analysis and prognosis has a lot of merit, and if my overriding concern were winning elections, I might sign up. But Henry’s prescription has some problems if that’s not your only concern. I have no principled problem with the idea of the GOP putting the working class at the forefront of the GOP coalition (though as a policy matter, refusing to deal with entitlements in order to pander to the working class seems like a bad idea). But he wants to launch a long-term transformation of the GOP (and by extension, the conservative movement) based upon Donald Trump’s personality. His term for the working-class voters he wants behind the driver’s seat is literally “Trump Is Great Republicans” or TIGRs.

Henry wants some suburbia-friendly policies in the platform “but not to the extent they conflict with TIGR priorities.”

Can you see the problem yet?

Many — most? — of the people who think Trump Is Great are not primarily driven by public policy. The folks who watched that press conference and said, “This is awesome!” or shouted, “What a statesman!” do not think Trump is great because of policy X or Y. They think policy X or Y is great because Donald Trump says so.

The opposite is true as well. The voters who are horrified by Trump’s style, rhetoric, or personality are not going to be won over with policy. The college-educated suburban women who fled the GOP because of Trump aren’t going to be won back with child-tax credits, at least not as long as Trump is around.

Henry is absolutely right that there is an opportunity here for the Republicans — in the abstract. But in reality, Trump isn’t the guy to sell it. Trump’s chief priority isn’t anything like creating a lasting William McKinley–style coalition; it’s to be the center of attention.

What I find so interesting is how so much has changed so quickly. Just a few years ago, all of the arguments on the right were about how to better bend the GOP to conservatism. Jim DeMint said that he’d rather have 30 pure conservative senators than 60 squishy ones. Now, almost in the blink of an eye, the argument is how to bend conservatism to the GOP. If a woman can’t meet the physical standards, change the standards. If the GOP can’t meet the standards of traditional conservatism, change conservatism.

I have problems with both points of view. The DeMintian position was ridiculous. Majority parties always have diverse coalitions, because it is only by collecting a diverse coalition that you can assemble a majority. FDR’s coalition had everyone from socialist Jews and blacks to Klansmen in it. Goldwater’s coalition was much narrower, and he was trounced.

But the idea that all conservatism should be is a branding operation for the GOP to win elections is an awful idea too. Because that means its ultimate concern is winning, not being right.

Of course, humans have an almost bottomless capacity to convince themselves that they are right about whatever serves their interests. So, I have no doubt we would see such rationalizations about whatever path we went down.

This isn’t just conjecture.

Exhibit A: American liberalism. The starting point for American liberals, for generations, has been: “In our hearts we know we’re right” so therefore the priority shouldn’t be arguing about principles but arguing about how to get or keep liberals in power. The underlying principle was power as its own reward.

Exhibit B: The GOP right frick’n now.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: The girls are doing just fine. They continue to love the fall weather, though Pippa enjoys the autumn rains — and puddles — more than Zoë does. That’s not to say the Dingo won’t partake of such joys on occasion. The beasts are back at home, being watched by my researcher-producer-amanuensis-majordomo Jack Butler. I believe he understands the full scope of his responsibilities.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

Midterm humility

China’s national kibbutz

Who are the RINOs?

Midterm chicanery

More midterm chicanery

DeSantis and felon voting

On the Ross Kaminsky Show

Our weak parties

The 69th Remnant

Max Boot’s confusion

An encomium for Jeff Sessions

The second Remnant of the week

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Elephant listens to piano

Roman toilet humor

Tilda Swinton’s spaniels

Conspiracy theory for sale

Stanley Kubrick for sale

Humanity is good sometimes

When you get drunk one night and wake up in another country the next morning

Chasing Bigfoot

A lost duet, found

Llama salvation

That escalated quickly

Cool dog vest

Ducklings on a water slide

Florida man

This seems dubious

I’d like to be, under the sea

The dogs of Capitol Hill

Election Day and porn habits

Politics & Policy

A Conspiracy of Dunces

Jack Burkman (left) and Jacob Wohl at a news conference in Arlington, Va., November 1, 2018. (Josua Roberts/Reuters)

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 (Especially all incompetent conspiracy plotters),

When I was in eleventh grade, my English teacher, Mrs. Bab, made me sit in the front row right by her desk to keep me from getting into trouble or talking to friends. One day, when we were reading Beowulf, Mrs. Bab called on my friend Henry (I’ll leave his last name out of it) and asked him to summarize the story so far. Henry was a very capable B.S.er, but he was no match for Mrs. Bab.

Henry, who had not done the reading, offered an improvisational tour de force, repeating back random words he picked up from the classroom conversation. “Grendel and the Geats are fighting with Wiglaf for blah blah blah . . .”

Mrs. Bab offered a two-word rebuke: “Dreadful, Henry.”

But Henry didn’t pick up that he was being rebuked at all. He thought that she was giving him a hint. “Right,” Henry replied. “And then the Dreadfuls came down from Denmark . . .”

At this point, all time slowed down for me. I turned to Mrs. Bab and, with my best Puss ’n Boots eyes, I plaintively whispered, “Please. Let. Him. Go. On.”

I wanted to hear Henry go on and on about the marauding Dreadfuls. Perhaps after a while, he could have added the heroic tale of Sir Awful and his band of Incompletes and Unacceptables. But it was not to be.

I hadn’t thought about all that for a long time, but that rich bouillabaisse of feelings — schadenfreude (joy at the misfortune of others), fremdschämen (embarrassment for others who don’t have the good sense to be embarrassed for themselves), and plain joyful mirth and glee — came rushing back to me recently. This time, however, there was the added spice of Justice and Comeuppance in the broth. (Henry was at least my friend.)

The Limits of Civility

Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman are awful people. Now, let me admit my own hypocrisy here. As part of my growing disillusionment with partisan politics and disdain for raw tribalism, I’ve been trying — with only modest success — to pull back on the sort of casual mockery and demonization that was once part of my kit bag.

But the essence of serious thinking is the ability to make serious distinctions between superficially similar things (and finding similarities between superficially different things — such as nationalism and socialism). And if we can’t mock denizens of the coprophagic phylum inhabited by parasitasters such as Wohl and Burkman, then no one save the inhabitants of the handful of lower orders of garbage people — Nazis, terrorists, pedophiles, various Florida Men — can be mocked. That’s not a world I want to live in. Civilization isn’t achieved by eradicating social stigma, but by training it on the most worthy subjects.

Let’s Just Do It and Be Legends, Man

So, as I was saying: For the last 48 hours or so, these two jackwads have been beclowning themselves across such a broad spectrum of asininity that the mind reels to capture the glory of it. Only Hollywood could come up with a visual metaphor of their almost Nietzschean will to so completely live down to their reputations.

I suppose that I should back up. Jacob Wohl (rhymes with troll — for a reason) is a Twitter gadfly and former financial grifter who once claimed at the age of 18 to have had decades of experience as a hedge-fund manager. Jack Burkman’s first claim to fame came when he led an astroturf freak-out about an NFL quarterback being gay. Burkman’s own (gay) brother explained that it was “just an attention grab and a media grab to pander to those folks who pay him to lobby on their behalf.”

Perhaps in the same spirit, Burkman became even more famous by peddling conspiracy theories that Seth Rich was murdered because of his involvement in the leak of the DNC emails. I should also add that they both became Trump sycophants from afar, no doubt sensing opportunities for grift and the fame that could create more opportunities for grifting.

Which brings me to this week. Burkman and Wohl announced that they had learned of evidence that Robert Mueller had “brutally raped” a woman named Caroline Cass.

This evidence came from Surefire Intelligence, a supposedly highly regarded investigation firm.

Before their Thursday press conference, Wohl denied having anything to do with Surefire Intelligence. “I don’t have any involvement in any investigations of any kind,” he told NBC News.

But Wohl apparently had no idea that the journalism profession contains individuals who know how to use the Internet. Many of the photos on the Surefire Intelligence website were stock photos, including one of the Israeli model Bar Refaeli. Another shadowy image, when brightened, revealed Wohl himself. When NBC called the listed phone number for Surefire, it went straight to Wohl’s mom’s voicemail.

John McCormack has more details, but you get the point. These guys are idiots. Yes, they are funny idiots because it’s always funny when idiots celebrate their idiocy as genius. Burkman defended Wohl’s age at the press conference, insisting that “Jacob is a child prodigy who has eclipsed Mozart.”

(FWIW Mozart’s first public performance was at the age of five. At six, he played for the royal court. By seven, he played across Europe. At twelve, he wrote his first opera. And so on).

When Wohl was pressed for evidence that Mueller’s accuser even exists — she almost surely doesn’t — he offered a picture of a woman with her face blocked out.

It turns out that, again, Wohl underestimated the wizardry of the computer age. The woman in the picture was his “girlfriend.”

I put that in quotes because that woman denies she ever dated him.

It’s like Wohl is in his own Choose Your Own Adventure book, and every direction he goes leads him to a room where he has to punch himself in the crotch, while women he never dated point and laugh. No wonder this guy was Gateway Pundit’s ace reporter.

But just because they are idiots, that doesn’t mean they aren’t evil. Cesar Sayoc, the mail bomber from last week, was apparently an idiot too. We don’t know for sure yet, but it appears he really did think his bombs would work. If that’s the case, his incompetence has no bearing on his villainy. Likewise, these wormtongued rantallians wanted to falsely accuse Mueller of rape.

If you were outraged by what Brett Kavanaugh’s enemies tried to do to him, you should be no less outraged by what these peddlers of malicious jiggery-pokery tried to do. By all means laugh, I certainly am. But these guys need to go to jail all the same.

Maybe in prison, Wohl can fulfill his destiny as a child prodigy by inventing toilet-brewed pruno that Mozart could never have imagined.

Identity for Me, Not for Thee

I loved this line from CNN’s Don Lemon:

“We have to stop demonizing people and realize the biggest terror threat in this country is white men, most of them radicalized to the right, and we have to start doing something about them.”

As I said on Twitter, that sentence is like a snake eating its own tail. In a funny way, it reminds me of John Locke’s “Letter Concerning Toleration,” which was a hugely important advance for mankind and the ideas of religious tolerance and pluralism. Paraphrasing it in Lemonesque terms, Locke said, “We have to stop oppressing people of different faiths and realize that the biggest religious threat in this country is from Catholics, most of them radicalized by the evil pope in Rome, and we have to start doing something about them.”

In fairness, if you listen to the broader context, Lemon’s not quite as demonizing of all white men as it seems from just that one soundbite. But it remains the case that if a Fox News host said virtually the exact same thing but replaced “white men” with “black men” or “Muslim men,” you can be sure that Don Lemon would be among the first to decry the racism or bigotry on display, and no appeal to broader context or data would change his mind.

Oh, and about that data: Color me skeptical. The chart most frequently tweeted showing that right-wing white-male terrorism is America’s most serious threat begins in 2007, which is a pretty convenient date. But my skepticism isn’t really about the numbers. It’s the effort to lump in all of these different mass shooters as “right-wing” “white male” “terrorists.” For example, this article at Vox includes in its list of white-male killers the Las Vegas shooter and the Republican baseball-practice shooter. The former’s motives are unknown and the latter’s were left-wing. Again, I think that white-nationalist or white-supremacist groups are a real threat and that they should be taken seriously. But that’s not typically how it’s discussed on cable news or Twitter. In part because of Trump hatred but also Trump’s rhetoric, enormously important distinctions are blurred, and sweeping guilt by association is the order of the day.

Consider the understandable passion around the Squirrel Hill synagogue shooter. You would get the sense that anti-Semitic hate crimes in America are the sole provenance of angry white men. But anti-Semitic incidents (none nearly as horrific as the synagogue shooting) are remarkably common — far more common than anti-Muslim hate crimes. In New York City, where most of the media figures decrying the anti-Semitism unleashed by Trump live, not a single anti-Semitic act has been attributed to far-right groups in the last 22 months. And, again, anti-Semitic incidents are frequent in the Big Apple.

Contrary to what are surely the prevailing assumptions, anti-Semitic incidents have constituted half of all hate crimes in New York this year, according to the Police Department. To put that figure in context, there have been four times as many crimes motivated by bias against Jews — 142 in all — as there have against blacks. Hate crimes against Jews have outnumbered hate crimes targeted at transgender people by a factor of 20.

It’s almost as if anti-Semitism is a huge problem only when it can be used as a partisan cudgel.

The notion that white men — about a third of the U.S. population — are a terror threat is a real “Big, if true” statement. The problem with Lemon’s claim isn’t the point he was trying to make but the glibness of how he stated it — and how he thinks about it. And he’s hardly alone. You can find similar lazy bigotry on MSNBC and CNN daily.

Tucker Carlson made this point last night on Fox.

I agree with a lot of what Tucker says here. My only problem is that you can find the “right-wing” version of the same phenomena on Fox and elsewhere on the right all the time. Though, I will say that it’s less naked, in part because of the double standards we have about what you can and can’t say about white people and non-white people. And, unlike Lemon who has doubled-down on his comments, when Fox hosts cross a line, they often — though hardly always — apologize.

Party Proxies Everywhere

But there’s one thing Tucker said that I would like to focus on.

If you want to know what Democrats are thinking, watch CNN and MSNBC. Which over the past couple of years have come to function much as the DNC used to function, as the Democratic Party’s Brain Trust and mouthpiece.

I think this is indisputably true. I’ve been amazed of late to hear the folks on MSNBC’s Morning Joe openly exhort viewers to vote Democrat. It’s not remotely subtle anymore.

But can anyone dispute that something very similar can be said about Fox News?

There’s an important distinction to be made. There’s an asymmetry between Fox and MSNBC and CNN. Fox has a distinct separation between its opinion shows and news shows. The separation can get fuzzy for viewers, depending on what pundits are asked to come on as guests. But the actual news anchors — Bret Baier, Shepherd Smith, Chris Wallace, Bill Hemmer, etc. — do not hector viewers to vote Republican or go on opinion-laden stemwinders about how Comrade Trump will deliver the greatest wheat harvests man has ever seen. With a handful of exceptions, mostly at CNN (Jake Tapper and Wolf Blitzer come to mind), many of the news people at CNN and MSNBC often indulge in sweeping partisan punditry. I think Chuck Todd tries to be even-handed, but people such as Lemon, Chris Cuomo, Stephanie Ruhl, Andrea Mitchell, and Christiane Amanpour go back and forth across the line between news and opinion constantly.

This is one reason why Trump’s “fake news” and “enemy of the people” rhetoric works. Viewers see people who claim to be heroic guardians of objective reporting go on endless anti-Trump tirades that often drift into sweeping denunciations of Trump voters and even white people generally.

That said, the opinion side of Fox and Fox Business — where I still have quite a few friends — is top-heavy with people who serve as the de facto Brain Trust and mouthpiece for Donald Trump (with the most notable exceptions being Dana Perino and Neil Cavuto, both of whom I have a lot of respect for). There’s a reason why Fox & Friends is called the “President’s Daily Brief.”

My point here is one I keep returning to these days. Each team wants to say that the other team is violating norms — and they’re right. And each team says in response, “You’re a hypocrite” or, “Who are you to cast stones when so-and-so said X.” And they’re right, too.

Career-wise, it’s probably insane for me to write any of this. But I just don’t care anymore. This timeline is so bizarre that if I saw an old-fashioned British phone booth in my driveway, I’d jump in and hit every button I saw.

Maybe if I was lucky, it’d take me to the timeline where Mitch Daniels is president. Or maybe, even better, it’d take me to Spaniel Heaven.

Various & Sundry

There are two — two! — new Remnant podcasts this week. The first Remnant with Reihan is a freewheeling wonk-a-thon on immigration, nationalism, conservatism, and Reihan’s dismaying Bismarkian tendencies.

The second is double-whammy: a conversation with laid-off Uber driver Ben Sasse, and then some purely rank punditry from me.

Canine Update: The beasts love Fall. They love, love, love, love, love, love it (the cats like it too). We do have to look them over for ticks quite a bit these days, but they are on the junk that keeps the pests from actually attaching. A staple conversation between the Fair Jessica and me is how much Zoë and Pippa would like this place or that. Whenever we drive past a farm or ranch, we’ll say, “Oh, the Dingo would like it there” or some such. I’ll often say Zoë would like some place because it looks like it’s full of critters that she can hunt and kill. But my wife has always argued that Zoë’s true earthly Valhalla is suburbia. And it’s true. She loves being off leash running around through people’s yards chasing critters that think they are safe. We can’t really let her do that in our neighborhood because there are too many small dogs around, and Zoë has a number overlapping prejudices. She’s very territorial about her neighborhood — no other dogs but Pippa should be allowed here. She’s also a bit of a kick-down/kiss-up type. She’ll growl at big dogs on her turf, but she knows her limits. Nonetheless, I’ve always thought — with some evidence mind you — that Zoë’s semi-wild status came out most gloriously on mountain hikes and the like.

I’ve come to change my mind. The other morning, I had to get to the NPR studios very early. So we did a walk around the neighborhood around 5:00 a.m. I know from experience that no one walks their dogs that early around here. So I took a chance and let her off the leash. And Oh My Stars and Garters did she love it. She zoomed up and down the block, investigating one rumored rabbit bunker after another. She zipped around silently mouthing, “This is great! This is so great!” She didn’t catch anything. But it did dawn on me that not only was my wife right, but that this only buttressed her serial-killer status. So many of the great serial killers — Michael Myers, Freddy Kruger, the dude in the closet in When a Stranger Calls — preyed in suburban hunting grounds.

Meanwhile, Pippa’s a lover, so her favorite thing about suburbia is running up to people and dropping tennis balls at their feet. He true joys are water, mud, and tennis balls, preferably in combination. And while the water can’t come to Pippa, she’s perfectly happy chasing a tennis ball in the backyard or a tennis court or pretty much anyplace else.

Gracie meanwhile is more refined. Which Zoë and Pippa can appreciate.

ICYMI . . .

The latest GLoP

Last week’s G-File

Howard Dean is foolish

Trump is corrupting nationalism

My UNC–Chapel Hill speech

Trump didn’t cause the Pittsburgh massacre, but he’s not helping

John Locke on zombies

The upside of Trump’s Twitter obsession

My interview on Planet Hawkins

When NR’s fastest talkers collide

America shouldn’t become a parliamentary system

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

American saves Magna Carta

Americans drink Iceland’s beer

Fried brain sandwich

Are cats evil?

Are dogs good?

Well . . . are they?

A house of the future . . . as envisioned by 1945

The world’s first car

The last lighthouse keeper in Capri

If the Pentagon tried to build the Death Star . . .

Mr. Feeny for the win

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Politics & Policy

The Tribal Appeal of Conspiracy Theories

President Trump greets reporters outside a meeting with congressional Republicans in Washington, D.C., March 21, 2017. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

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 creepy dude in the raincoat who keeps asking people to inspect his suspicious package),

Last year I went through an IRS audit. I got through it okay. But it was exactly as much fun as you’d expect. Then last week, I came home from a grueling trek on the road to discover I was being audited again, this time for two different years’ tax returns — one of them for the year I had just been audited for! In case the IRS is reading this, let me say I am overjoyed to once again work with the fine and upstanding patriots of the Internal Revenue Service to ensure that I am paying my fair share.

It’s also a wonderful opportunity. At the risk of being charged with over-sharing with you, my dear readers, I am also in need of a colonoscopy. I am going to try to schedule it around the same time so that I can test the accuracy of a commonly used metaphor regarding these fiscal inspections.

Anyway, I bring this up because I keep getting asked, usually half-jokingly, “Do you think it’s because you criticized Trump?” My short answer: “No.”

Causation and Correlation

It’s a very human reaction. Superstition and reason are often pitted against one another as opposite forces, but they are both born from an evolutionary adaptation that allows us to connect dots. In our natural environment, our understanding of cause and effect often boiled down to the fallacy of correlation equaling causation. Countless dietary and hygiene rules were based on the fact that certain benefits accrued to those who followed them. Kosherism is more than a guide to healthy eating — but one can see how staying Kosher thousands of years before pasteurization, refrigeration, etc. might correlate highly with better outcomes.

But one of the key points at which superstition and reason part company is the fact that superstition is non-falsifiable. If the king sacrifices an ox to Baal in the hope he will end the draught, and it rains, Baal will get the credit for the rain. If it doesn’t rain, Baal doesn’t get the blame. Instead, it must be that Baal wanted two oxen — or maybe a virgin maiden or the head of Alfredo Garcia, whatever. If you keep offering sacrifices, it will eventually rain, and when it does, “Praise Baal!”

The Seduction of Conspiracy

Superstition takes many forms in modern societies — not just carrying around rabbit feet and playing lucky numbers at the casino. Conspiracy theories are a form of superstition. They work on the assumption that bad things must be willed by human actors. What makes conspiracy theories so compelling is that they are like a complex molecule in which Reason and Superstition stick to each other in just such a way that they can get passed the blood-brain barrier and, like a virus, wreak havoc in our minds. They make us think that we are reasoning our way toward some deeper truth: All those Post-It notes and red strings connecting 8×10 glossy photos can’t be wrong!

The central fallacy here is the idea that conspiracy theories are reasoning toward anything at all. It is in fact a form of pseudo-reasoning: thinking backward from the proposition that a bad event must have been caused by dark forces, which (allegedly) benefit from it. Like the drunk who only looks for his car keys where the light is good, the truth-seeker only looks for evidence to support the proposition. The levees in New Orleans did not hold, Spike Lee observed, so it must be because George W. Bush had them bombed.

Of course, everything becomes so much more complicated by the fact that sometimes there are conspiracies. But they are rare, they are almost never vast, they usually fail, and when they succeed it is most often more from luck than will. Whenever you hear someone insist that “there are no coincidences,” they are revealing that they live in a world of magical realism where powerful unseen forces are treating us all like pawns. It’s a form of secular demonology.

The Unravelling of the Conservative Mind

I’ll be honest: I am far more annoyed by conservatives who traffic in conspiracy theories than liberals who do so. My reasons are twofold. As a practical matter, it bothers me because they make conservatives look bad, and I consider myself more invested in protecting my “side” from making an ass of itself. More generally, it bothers me because conservatives are supposed to understand, as a matter of philosophy, the limits of planning.

For instance, it’s one thing for liberals to claim simultaneously that George W. Bush was an idiot and that this idiot nonetheless managed to orchestrate a massive conspiracy to attack the United States on 9/11. It’s another for conservatives, presumably trained in the laws of unintended consequences, the limits of reason, and the fatal conceit of planning, to argue that the hijackers were just a bunch of patsies for an operation that would have involved hundreds or thousands of American agents — without a single whistleblower among them. This can best be visually represented by someone turning Occam’s Razor into a heavy spoon or soup ladle and beating Friedrich Hayek about the head and neck with it. But that’s what happened to people such as Morgan Reynolds and Paul Craig Roberts. Worse, these people have to believe their colleagues and ideological comrades — whom they knew and for whom they often worked — were in fact brilliant mass murderers.

In the latest example of the massive race to be wrong first that spontaneously erupts after any mass shooting, terrorist attack, or similar calamity, a host of conservatives and “conservatives” sprinted to shout, “Cui Bono!?”

“Cui Bono” — literally “to whom is it a benefit” — is like the starter’s pistol for conspiracy theorists to strap on their helmet lamps and go spelunking into their own posteriors for an explanation that affirms their superstitious view of the world.

A case in point: Lou Dobbs.

“Fake News — Fake Bombs,” he tweeted from deep behind his own sphincter. “Who could possibly benefit by so much fakery?”

Ironically, I found the exact text of this tweet at CNN.com because Lou has blocked me. (It’s pretty funny that I had to go to a supposedly “fake news” source to find out what Dobbs actually said about fake news.)

Dobbs was hardly alone, and I’m not just referring to Candace Owens, Rush Limbaugh, and Donald Trump:

I’m referring to the millions of people who create a market incentive for pundits and politicians to float this garbage.

I am rethinking my glee over Alex Jones’s social-media defenestration, because it’s almost as if his banishment left a vacuum that more mainstream figures feel the urge to fill.

And while I enjoy watching a man scream at excrement in the middle of the street as much as the next guy — who can forget Isaiah Berlin in ’46 laying into that mound of manure? — I still feel like there are slightly better uses for Jones’s time. Besides, you’re not supposed to yell at your food.

All of this stems from the tribalism of the moment, where each side has concluded that persuasion is impossible and total victory is the only option. They work on the assumption that anyone who is not “us” is “them.” But the reality is that most Americans are neither, and any serious political movement should be interested in attracting the people in the middle to our side. Instead, by embracing our most unattractive façade, we make it that much easier for the other side to say, “See, they’re all like that.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I thought it was possible — though very unlikely — that some lone left-wing kook took it upon himself to send these bombs (or “bombs”) as a one-man “false-flag operation.” There are enough racial hoaxes on college campuses alone to demonstrate that some people are so desperate to make the world fit their paranoid vision that they will do whatever it takes to midwife it into reality. But the idea that George Soros or “The Democrats” or “The Fake News” plotted this out in some organized way is just staggeringly insipid and paranoid. How would that work? Would Soros, Maxine Waters, Robert De Niro, et al. meet like the Legion of Doom and plot to commit a felony that could put them in jail for the rest of their lives?

The Trump Contagion

Earlier this week, the president was nigh-upon insistent that the Democrats must be behind the immigrant caravan heading our way, with all of the speed of a steamroller in an Austin Powers movie. To be fair to Trump, it’s possible this is just rank cynicism given that the caravan is — or at least was — a political gift to Trump, not the Democrats. But the people who believe it don’t have that excuse.

And that’s why I increasingly feel more like a spectator to American politics than I ever have before. It’s really quite liberating, if exhausting. Because I have zero personal loyalty to, or emotional investment, in Donald Trump, I feel no need to defend him from legitimate criticism, never mind bend my understanding of conservatism to his behavior and rhetoric. This was a point I tried to make in my debate with Charles Kesler about the Trump presidency. Because humans are wired to believe that their leaders are worthy of being the leader, they bend their views to extol the character traits and priorities of the leader. Today, definitions of good character are being bent to fit Trump’s character, and the yardstick of what amounts to being presidential is being shaved down to a nub to match Trump’s conduct.

(Similarly, because I have no investment in the Democrats or the Mainstream Media, I feel no compulsion to rush to their defense either. As far as I am concerned, they are all living down to my expectations. They’re all making things worse, too. I’m certainly not going to do what Max Boot at times seems to be doing: constructing a revisionist history of conservatism to fully justify his abandonment of it. To be fair, Boot hasn’t gone Full Jen Rubin, but he does seem to be struggling to find a foothold on his descent in that direction.)

Newt Gingrich is a great example of how everything must be bent to the president’s personal needs. The man who led the expansion of NATO and the passage of NAFTA long ago cast aside these essential parts of his legacy, like so much ballast, in order to stay afloat on the Trumpian tide. But on Thursday, he reached a new low. When asked about a possible Supreme Court fight to release Trump’s tax returns, Gingrich said, “We’ll see whether or not the Kavanaugh fight was worth it.”

I’m sorry, the 40-plus-year fight to get constitutionalists on the Court wasn’t about protecting Donald Trump from embarrassment or criminal jeopardy. The reason why the Kavanaugh fight united nearly the entire conservative and Republican coalition wasn’t about circling the wagons around Trump. Indeed, the only reason the Right unified around Kavanaugh was that it wasn’t about Trump. If Trump had picked Jeanine Pirro, you would not have seen the Federalist Society, The Weekly Standard, Commentary, National Review, et al. rush to support her. During the confirmation fight, before the sexual-McCarthyism phase, conservatives — including, most emphatically, Kavanaugh himself — insisted that the charge that Kavanaugh would be a Trump crony on the bench was everything from wrong to an outrageous slander. Newt himself described the stakes very differently. When the fight was on, it was all about decency and patriotism.

Now that the fight is over, Newt is saying “never mind.” None of it would be “worth it” if Kavanaugh doesn’t protect the president’s tax returns — which candidate Trump said he would release! It profits a man nothing to lose his soul for all the world, but for Trump’s tax returns?

Tribalism is a helluva drug.

Transactional Shmansactional

This is the fatal flaw with the “transactional” defense of Trump. Very few people seem capable of sticking to it. The transactional argument holds that one can be critical of the man while celebrating what he is accomplishing (or what is being accomplished on his watch by Cocaine Mitch and others). In private, most of the conservatives I talk to around the country offer some version of this defense. And I find it utterly defensible, as far as it goes. Indeed, my own position of praising the good and condemning the bad is a version of the transactional defense, even if I was a critic of making the transaction in the first place. But anyone who actually acts on this view in public is instantly pilloried for his or her refusal to “pick a side.”

Indeed, the president’s job description is being retroactively rewritten as Media Troll in Chief.

And, as always happen with tribal logic takes over, the next phase of the argument is, “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” or, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

I’m gonna take pass on all of it. I’ll strap on my helmet and defend what’s worth defending, and criticize what’s worth criticizing, from a conservative worldview. And if that pleases neither side, that’s alright with me. Sometimes you have to stand athwart the asininity.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: As many of you know, when we first adopted Pippa, Zoë’s immediate reaction was the canine equivalent of the robots in the old video game Berserk. “Intruder Alert! Intruder Alert!” For the first several months, constant vigilance was required to keep Zoë from annihilating Pippa. Those days are over, but once every now and then, they get into a scrap. I hate saying that it’s always Pippa’s fault for not understanding she’s not the alpha, but it’s pretty much always Pippa’s fault for not understanding she’s not the alpha. That’s because, if Zoë shows aggression to Pippa, Pippa will usually back down. But if Pippa shows aggression to Zoë, Zoë pretty much will never back down. So it escalates quickly.

The other day, I took a nap after the morning walk because my plane didn’t get home until crazy late. Both doggers joined me. Pippa up on the couch with me, Zoë on the floor below. Everything seemed fine. But about 20 minutes after I fell asleep, I awoke to growling. It was Pippa growling at Zoë, and Zoë sorta growling back, more bemused than angry: “The spaniel can’t possibly starting something with me.” But she was. I don’t really know what happened, but my best guess is that Zoë grew tired of being in the beta spot on the floor, and Pippa, all snugly in a blanket and at my side, thought she shouldn’t have to relinquish her spot. The growling got worse, with Zoë starting to curl her lips in that canine gesture that means, “It is about to go down.” I grabbed Zoë and pinned her to the floor, which Pippa insanely mistook as my signal to make this a two-on-one situation. Pippa went after Zoë and the Dingo was like, “On no she didn’t!” and tried to go after Pippa. The Spaniel, shocked that I was now holding down the two of them, one arm apiece, looked at me like I was pulling a “Leeroy Jenkins,” blowing her carefully crafted plan to depose Zoë from her throne. It was crazily tense for a minute or two, until I kind of tossed Zoë backwards and dragged Pippa away, forcing her to go upstairs. All the while she was fuming, “This is our shot! You’re blowing it!”

Pippa went and sulked in her fancy kennel and Zoë was like, “That was weird.” And it ended. But it really put me on edge for a while. The last time something like this happened was when we were out of town and Zoë and Pippa got into a fight over some pieces of gutter chicken (not a euphemism: People, when you throw chicken bones in the street you are inviting bad things for dogs). Pippa ended up needing stitches. And again, it was because Pippa wouldn’t back down when Zoë, like the toughest guy in prison, said, “This is mine.”

Anyway, now they’re fine, sharing Zoë’s love for logs, and Pippa’s for hilarious jokes, and having a wonderful autumn with the pack (when they’re not fighting crime). Just today, they joined me on the very same couch to hear me record the latest episode of GLoP. They weren’t riveted. But they’re always excited to see the real alpha of the house. Zoë doesn’t always hold me in the same high regard.

My apologies for last week’s missing G-File. The travel schedule finally caught up with me, and there was just no way I could get it done. But given the relative dearth of complaints, I’m not sure it was particularly missed.

Thanks to everyone across the country who has come out to my various appearances. In general, the crowds have been among the best I’ve ever had — either qualitatively or quantitatively.

Things are slowing down a little bit. I only have one out of town gig next week — at UNC Chapel Hill. If you’re around, come on by.

ICYMI . . .

In defense of ideology

On voter apathy

The latest Remnant

The Saudis and Khashoggi

On The Axe Files with David Axelrod

Our vendetta politics

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Thursday links

Dog gets legs

Would traveling back in time destroy the universe?

A hero passes

Giant spider?

Runners live forever

The history of horror movie music

Furious mongoose

Stolen colon

Miracle dog dies

Behold: Titanic II

Crime smells

Rectangular iceberg

Arctic agony…

Frank Sinatra’s spaghetti and meatballs

Pokémon Go to Church

An octopus on ecstasy

Pregnant Minnesota woman gives birth after performing CPR to save husband

Naughty Marines

Bee parasite

Ancient shipwreck

Rational response

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