Authentic Asininity

by Jonah Goldberg
The idea that authenticity is its own reward is contrary to vast swathes of conservative thought.

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 the cast of the Gorilla Channel, who get this “news”letter via sign language. Banana.),

As the sh**hole continues to hit the fan, I find myself in one of those moods where I think everyone, on the right and left, is arguing about the wrong things. Lest folks think I’m dodging the issues that they all seem desperate to debate, I’ll address a bunch of them before I make my case.

Let’s start with the question of Donald Trump’s racism. I find the competition to be most offended by the offensiveness of President Trump’s fecal-crater comments to be more than a little tedious.

Don’t get me wrong: I think they were offensive and, yes, racist. But that, to me, is the least interesting aspect of this episode of The Trump Show. Many liberals seem to think that if they can just prove Donald Trump is racist, The Trump Show will be cancelled. But it doesn’t work that way, not least because — all evidence to the contrary — we are not living in a reality-TV universe. Also, Trump’s bridge-and-tunnel–style bigotry, utterly familiar to anyone who grew up in New York City, has been obvious for a long time.

No, he’s not a Klansman. The pillowcases at Mar-a-Lago don’t have eyeholes cut out of them. But Trump is a man of deeply held prejudices, a glandular decision-maker who famously thinks his instincts are more dispositive than any expert’s judgment or any rational argument. His bigotry isn’t the biological racism of Woodrow Wilson, but of a midtown-Manhattan doorman from Queens who gives the Nigerian deliveryman a harder time than he deserves.

Vox Deplorable

Then there’s the conservative response, or rather responses. For the Trump faithful, this incident is just more proof that Trump tells it like it is and that he isn’t politically correct. The real outrage to them — per usual — is the hypocrisy of people who are outraged. Thus the waves of whataboutist fury crashing every few minutes on Twitter.

In some cases, the “real story” is that Trump’s critics are unpatriotic:

And, of course, What about Hillary!?

The “What About Biden” talking point is lamer than a three-legged horse. I agree that Biden got ridiculously favorable press coverage because many reporters saw him as the wacky, lovable uncle who forgets to take off his pajamas and shouts crazy stuff into the turkey hole at Thanksgiving dinner. But Biden’s F-bomb got enormous press coverage. It was also decried by legions of conservatives, many of whom have suddenly changed their views of profanity. Is the argument really that Joe frickn’ Biden gets to define acceptable language now? Lastly, Biden wasn’t disparaging anyone. Saying something is a “big f***ing deal” and insulting millions of people are different things, even if both involve profanity.

Then there’s the old standby that this is just Trump being Trump, and we must all respect the fact that he’s the authentic oracle of his people. Here’s Jesse Watters last night on The Five:

“This is how the forgotten men and women of America talk at the bar,” Watters told his co-hosts.

“If you’re at a bar, and you’re in Wisconsin, and you think they’re bringing in a bunch of Haiti people, or El Salvadorians, or people from Niger, this is how some people talk,” he said.

“Is it graceful? No,” he added. “Is it polite or delicate? Absolutely not. Is it a little offensive? Of course it is. But you know what? This doesn’t move the needle at all.”

“This is who Trump is . . . and if he offends some people, fine,” Watters concluded.

I think this is largely true. It’s also a pathetic defense. Donald Trump isn’t the president of “forgotten” white men in bars. He’s the president of the United States of America. Which means he’s the president of Haitian Americans and Nigerian Americans and, well, African Americans. Saying we should deport a blanket category of Americans because they came from the wrong countries is grotesquely simplistic. (He’s also in charge of conducting foreign policy, and there is no way to spin this as anything but a colossal act of unforced dick-stepping.)

This argument sets a profoundly pernicious precedent. The idea that anything the president says can be justified by simply asserting that he’s speaking in the authentic voice of his base is an argument no conservative would dream of making under an Elizabeth Warren presidency. Lending credence to it is not only politically myopic, but it lends support to the centrifugal forces tearing this country apart. It is the type of thinking I associate with “sh**hole” countries — to borrow a phrase. In many third-world countries, tribes and other factions vie to gain power and then reward only their team. That is contrary to virtually everything good and noble about our constitutional system.

Authentic Asininity

This defense is of a piece with the putrid moral relativism coursing through conservatism these days. The other day, Jerry Falwell, the Bishop of Hereford of the Trump administration, tweeted:

I could write a whole “news”letter on the problems with this effort to define deviancy down. Too much can be invested in the idea of “presidentialness.” But a normal, traditional, conservative understanding of the term involves being well-mannered, temperate, decent, and mindful of the dignity of the office. It is, in short, an ideal of leadership and good character (as Jim Geraghty discusses well today). Falwell, in a riot of sycophantic sophistry, not only wants to argue that whatever a president does is presidential but also seeks to elevate the idea that authenticity is its own reward. This is contrary to vast swathes of conservative and Christian thought. A person can be authentically evil, crude, bigoted, or asinine. That is not a defense of any of those things. I’m no expert, but my understanding of Christianity is that behavior is supposed to be informed by more than one’s “authentic” feelings and instincts. Satan is nothing if not authentic.

As I write at length in my forthcoming book, this society-wide romantic obsession with authenticity — not just among Trump supporters, but across the left and much of the right — is a deeply corrupting force. But let’s stay on topic.

The White House’s initial statement — which didn’t deny the sh**hole report — says in part, “Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people.” Put aside the blasé and unsubstantiated insinuation of unpatriotic motives to critics and the political class generally. The upshot of this claim is that calling scores of nations — many of which are our allies — “sh**holes” is really a form of fighting for the American people. If that were true, virtually any crude insult would be just another example of “presidential” heroism. Count me out of that idiotic argument.

Distinctions Matter

Finally, some serious conservatives have tried to make the case that there’s a legitimate argument behind the great “sh**holes versus Norway” distinction. My friend and colleague Rich Lowry made a manful effort in this regard Thursday night. He conceded that the remark was offensive and ill-advised, but quickly pivoted to the fact that the “freak out” over this incident betrays a refusal to deal with the realities of the world in general and immigration generally. We should be able to distinguish sh**holes from shinolaholes, as it were.

On the merits, I think Rich largely came out the winner, though I have my disagreements. For instance, I think there’s much to recommend a skills-based system of immigration. But a skills-based system wouldn’t bar all Africans or Haitians from immigrating to America. Unfortunately, it’s not at all clear that the president doesn’t think “skills-based” isn’t a euphemism for “white people.” Donald Trump is worried that Nigerian immigrants won’t “go back to their huts.” Maybe that’s because Nigerian immigrants are better educated than the average American.

But yes, I would rather live in Norway than Haiti. Yes, some African countries are, as Rich says, “basket-cases.” And yes, Ben Shapiro is right when he says:

The problem with being forced to make these arguments in defense of Trump is the risk of having people think that, when you pull off the mask of intelligent conservatism, all that lies underneath is the face of Trumpism. Trump is unaware of the sophisticated arguments for many of his positions. Why so many conservatives feel compelled to say “What he really means is X” is often unfathomable to me.

The Real Issue(s)

If anyone is still with me, let me now turn to what I think is the real significance of all this. It’s not immigration or racism or profanity; it’s Donald Trump and what he is doing to the country and his party.

Remember how this week unfolded. A few days ago, in the wake of the Michael Wolff book, there was an at times hysterical national debate over whether Trump was mentally unfit for office. Then Trump held a meeting on camera for 52 minutes, in which he managed to remember everyone’s name (thank you, nameplates!). He was sociable, polite, and rational. The fact that many are arguing that being able to demonstrate these qualities for just shy of an hour constitutes a brilliant political masterstroke is one of the great examples in modern memory of lowering the bar to just off the ground.

But while the optics of the meeting were good, the substance was little better than a train wreck. The president revealed that he understands remarkably little about the signature issue of his campaign (listen to The Editors’ latest podcast for the best dissection of this whole Very Special Episode of The Trump Show). In the meeting, Trump said things that had Ann Coulter figuratively punting her cat across the room.

That’s all ancient history in our hyper-accelerated news cycle, but the important point isn’t that Trump proved his mental competency; it’s that he proved, once again, that he lives solely in the moment. The arrow of his compass doesn’t point to true north, but at him.

Guys at the bar in Wisconsin may — or may not — love the way he talks. But most Americans don’t. His biggest fans may think he’s a Sun Tzu–reading chess master, but, for a majority of Americans, he’s a pilot who talks a big game but doesn’t really know how to fly. He’s winging it.

Indeed, the furor over the meeting — and now the shadow of the sh**hole — eclipsed another perfect example of Trump’s free-floating conception of his interests. His administration has been working for months to get the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) renewed. But all it took was a libertarian stem-winder by Judge Andrew Napolitano on Fox and Friends to have the president flip positions on the issue. For 90 minutes, the White House and Congress were thrown into chaos because of a tweet belched out from the contextless void of presidential “executive time.”

I have no desire to try to persuade the Resistance types about anything. And I am under no illusions that anything I can say will persuade the Trump cheerleaders. But, when it comes to the broad cross-section of reasonable conservatives, I still feel compelled to act like Chief Brody in Jaws 2, yelling at the town council that we have a shark problem.

For 90 minutes, the White House and Congress were thrown into chaos because of a tweet belched out from the contextless void of presidential ‘executive time.’

Every day, I hear people on Fox or Fox Business arguing that economic growth will compensate for the tweeting and all the other drama. There’s zero evidence for this in the polls. Trump gets a lot of credit for the economy, and confidence in the economy itself is very high. The latest Quinnipiac poll has 66 percent of the country feeling that the economy is “good or excellent.” It also shows that 66 percent of the country believes that Trump has damaged America’s reputation around the world (this was before the sh**hole comment). It also finds:

67 percent disapprove of Trump

75 percent say he does not share their values

81 percent feel Trump isn’t level-headed

72 percent believe he isn’t honest

69 percent say Trump doesn’t care about average Americans

Republicans have bet that James Carville was right and that the logic of “it’s the economy, stupid” will vanquish all obstacles. But this has never been an Iron Law of Politics. Not long ago, conservatives understood this. We used to mock the weak-tea Marxism of “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” arguments that held economic interests were the only valid reason to support a party or politician. Now, economic determinism is the story Republicans tell themselves as they white-knuckle it through the night.

It’s certainly possible that 4 or 5 percent economic growth will rally more support. But every time we have one of these moments — when parents have to turn off the news because they don’t want their kids to hear what the president said or did — it makes economic growth matter less. As I’ve been saying for over a year, the real base or key constituency of the Republican party is suburban, college-educated families. They surely like lower taxes and economic growth. But they also like being able to say they support a Republican president without being embarrassed. As we saw in Alabama, all that is required for Democrats to win is for those people not to show up — and that was in Alabama.

Of course, this is unbridled speculation, but I would wager that the sh**hole controversy alone is worth about $171 billion in GDP growth. That’s 1 percent of GDP. What I mean is, every time we have one of these crazy episodes, the need for more economic growth to compensate increases.

Every time we have one of these crazy episodes, the need for more economic growth to compensate increases.

But forget about 2018 or even 2020. The long-term threat to conservatism and, by extension, the GOP is profound. Young people — the largest voting bloc now — are utterly turned off to the Republican party. That doesn’t make them right, but that’s irrelevant. Their opinions are hardening every single day, even as old white people shuttle off this mortal coil.

Maybe there’s a deep and principled argument to make in favor of Trump’s sh**holish gaffes. But very few people outside the ranks of the converted want to hear it. All they hear are defenses of, or deflections from, the issues that arouse their passion. When conservatives and Republicans rush to defend Trump’s indefensible actions, all they are doing is convincing more people that “Trumpism” isn’t confined to Trump. That damage won’t be erased by another record stock-market closing or an uptick in the GDP numbers. It will outlive The Trump Show for generations.

Various & Sundry

I recorded two episodes of The Remnant this week. The first was with Michael Rubin, an intensely informed expert on Iran and the Middle East. The conversation was less jocular than usual, but I thought it was amazingly informative and compelling. The second episode was a free-ranging conversation with Charles Murray about everything under the sun from Martinis and, yes, bullfighting, to the sources of true human happiness. If you haven’t listened, please give it a shot. I thought it was great. And if you do listen but haven’t subscribed, please do so.

Canine Update: The beasts are doing great. While Pippa still has a few scabs from the big fight, she’s forgotten the whole thing (I think). The exciting news is that we finally bought a dog car — a 13-year-old Honda Element. So now we can return to leashless adventures in the mornings. Indeed, I got to take them on a special lunchtime trip today. They’re coping with unseasonably warm weather, proving the need for a dog car. Meanwhile, here’s proof that Zoë puts her work obligations ahead of her comfort.

Last week’s G-File

I started off this crazy week with a hit on NPR’s Morning Edition.

I don’t like Steve Bannon, but I also don’t like Soviet-esque ritual denunciations.

I also don’t like the way Net Neutrality activists are treating Ajit Pai.

The latest Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast

Steve Bannon’s rise and fall

Fire and Fury, signifying nothing

The DACA ruling and our desiccated constitutional system

This week’s first Remnant, exploring the Middle East and Islam with Michael Rubin

This week’s second Remnant, exploring genes, gin, and government with Charles Murray

Why have we let actors become our moral guides?

Dick Durbin’s Dim ‘History’ Lesson

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Man eats tacos for an entire year

Stray dog welcomed into Alaska family

Michigan pizzeria will deliver pizza and plow your driveway

Camera that recorded its own disappearance returned to owner

Cold weather in D.C.

An ice-age flute that can play the “Star-Spangled Banner”

Using a potato as an instrument

How Star Wars used Skellig Michael

Writers on writing

Testing a 427-year-old mousetrap

Australian birds hunt prey with fire

The birds with black-hole feathers

Very not dumb guy has very not dumb way of lighting a lightbulb

Why some people curse in their sleep

Finding Air Bud’s grave

The CIA, a king, and an actress walked into a bar . . . 

How alligators survive icy conditions

Why dolphins are deep thinkers

Traumatic personality changes . . . from bad to good

Squirrel snow plow

It’ll have to do until we get the Gorilla Channel: Mountain gorillas at home, in pictures

The Bannon Fallacy

by Jonah Goldberg
No one destroyed Bannon save Bannon himself.

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 with merely average-size nuclear buttons),

It would take a heart of stone not to laugh at the downfall of Steve Bannon.

The most famous thing Anthony Scaramucci ever said was that Bannon kept trying to fellate himself (he used a more colorful phrase). Despite Bannon’s passing resemblance to Ron Jeremy, most observers rightly took this charge to be figurative. If Bannon actually attempted to gratify himself in such a manner, dozens of people would likely lose their eyesight as the buttons from all of Bannon’s shirts rocketed across the room.

But, figuratively, the charge rang true. Bannon’s motto is “honey badger don’t give a sh**.” In an interview with Gabriel Sherman for Vanity Fair, Sherman asked Bannon what he thought about the criticism about him. “I don’t give a f***. . . . You can call me anything you want. Do you think I give a sh**? I literally don’t care.”

If this were an episode of Arrested Development, the narrator would now chime in and say, “He literally cared a lot.”

First of all, people who create mottos about how they don’t care what people think tend to be precisely the sort of people who care what other people think. Another dead giveaway: When you repeatedly invite reporters from places such as Vanity Fair to follow you around and record your Stakhanovite disregard for the opinions of others. Similarly, people who famously call back every reporter seeking a quote are the kind of people who love being buttered up by journalists. Likewise, people who hungrily cooperate with authors looking to turn them into political celebrities are really into the idea of being political celebrities. Staffers who take credit for their bosses’ political victories, on the record, tend not to be aloof islands of self-confidence either. People desperate to let you know that their philosophical lodestars are obscure mystics and cranks — he studied Evola and Guénon! — tend to be compensating for something.

If Bannon truly didn’t care about the “Opposition Party,” his term for the mainstream media, he wouldn’t have lost his job in the White House, the favor of the Mercers, and what was left of his reputation. But he just couldn’t resist talking to reporters and claiming credit for the accomplishments of others. Lenin famously said that “the capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.” Bannon gave the Opposition the rope they used to hang him for free — but not before he and his band of comment-section Bolsheviks did enormous damage.

The Bannon Fallacy

Bannon is a common character in Washington: a megalomaniac who made the mistake of believing his own bullshit. Bannon believed he was the intellectual leader of a real grassroots movement, and all that was needed to midwife it into reality was to Astroturf as much rage and unthinking paranoia as the Mercer family’s money could buy. As I’ve said many times, Bannon’s self-proclaimed Leninism was mostly the kind of b.s. one spouts to rally the twentysomethings in their cubicles to churn out more ethically bankrupt clickbait fodder. There was, however, a grain of truth to it. Lenin was a real radical who wanted to tear everything down. But his motto wasn’t “Honey badger don’t give a sh*t” — it was “The worse the better.” Both men share a theory that by exacerbating social tensions — heightening the contradictions in Marxobabble — they would emerge victorious. The biggest difference between the two men is that Lenin knew what he was doing.

There is a Nietzschean quality to both Bannon and the host organism he fed off. Rhetorically, Trump extols strength and power and denigrates rules and norms. But Trump’s Nietzscheanism is almost entirely in service to his own glory. He simply wants praise for its own sake. Bannon’s fetishization of strength and power and his denigration of rules and norms stems from a potted theory about how to burn it all down so he can rule the ashes. He’s like Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, ensorcelled by the sheer will of the Viet Cong who cut off the inoculated arms of village children:

I thought: My God, the genius of that. The genius! The will to do that: perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we, because they could stand it. These were not monsters. These were men, trained cadres — these men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who have children, who are filled with love — but they had the strength — the strength! — to do that.

But instead of actual evil men of action, Bannon was infatuated with the will of Pepe the Frog and the minions of the alt-right. He marveled at the performance art of Milo not because of any intellectual merit, but because it was transgressive, which is its own reward to the radical mind.

People spend too much time trying to figure out if Bannon is a bigot. Who cares? Isn’t it even more damning that he was perfectly comfortable to enlist bigots to his cause simply to leach off their passion and intensity? Maybe on some obscure moral calculus being a neo-Nazi is worse than lending aid and comfort to neo-Nazis because they’re useful hordes to unleash on your enemies. But I cannot see how that is an exoneration.

Because Bannon consistently confuses means and ends, he was fine with forming an alliance of convenience with the alt-right when he thought it could help him. It was a stupid gamble, providing yet more proof that he has a thumbless grasp on how politics actually works. But his denunciations of the alt-right, including, most recently, Paul Nehlen, only came after the bets didn’t pay off. If the motley army of neo-Nazis, Russian bot accounts, Gamergate veterans, and comment-section trolls proved to be as powerful as Bannon foolishly believed, he would never have denounced them.

Bannon likes to talk a big game about the importance of ideas, but his idea of how politics works is entirely anti-intellectual, and that’s what spelled his doom. He talks a lot about the Trump agenda, and yet he’s made it his project to destroy any politician Trump actually needs if they dare stray from public sycophancy to Trump or fealty to Bannon’s dog’s-breakfast ideology.

That’s because he’s made the calculation that the most passionate disciples of Trump’s cult of personality are the feedstock for his nationalist army. He goes around the country stumping for crackpots and bigots, claiming to be the Joan of Arc of Trumpism, boasting incessantly of his courage and loyalty to Trump as evidenced by his willingness to stick with Trump during “Billy Bush Weekend.” He used his website to serve as a “journalistic” praetorian guard around Roy Moore, solely to defend Donald Trump from an inconvenient talking point. And, again, if the crackpots and bigots had turned out to be winners rather than the losers Bannon manages to find like a truffle pig, he would have stuck with them, because he thinks that’s how you build a national front: pas d’ennemis à droite.

Bannon goes around the country stumping for crackpots and bigots, claiming to be the Joan of Arc of Trumpism,

I think it’s a morally bankrupt and politically dumb strategy (even if it might be a lucrative one), but it has some internal logic. There’s just one problem: Bannon can’t stick to it. He just can’t help but boast to liberal reporters about how great and brilliant he is. He can’t resist talking smack about his rivals and denigrating the reality-show nationalist that plucked him out of relative obscurity, because despite all the impressive verbiage, Bannon can’t help but make himself the story. No man is a hero to his valet, particularly when the valet thinks he’s a world-historical figure in his own right.

That’s why this is all so hilarious. No one destroyed Bannon save Bannon himself. In his effort to fellate himself, he overshot the target, crammed his head up his own ass, and now finds himself confused and alone in a dark corner of his own making.

Various & Sundry

My apologies for last week’s lack of both a G-File and an installment of The Remnant. I was in Hawaii over the Christmas holiday, and as I was hurling across the Pacific in a flying disease vector, I picked up the flu and, as I learned earlier this week, a mild case of pneumonia. I’m still kind of out of it. Even writing saps my energy pretty drastically.

Canine Update: So last week, we got a call at 5:00 a.m. in Hawaii. Kirsten, our dogwalker, was in tears, calling from the vet. Here’s what happened: Kirsten had both dogs on leashes for a neighborhood walk. Pippa, who is terrible on a leash, usually runs free, but Kirsten thought it best to have them both on leashes given the heavily trafficked route she was taking. Well, some idiot had thrown some chicken bones on the street. Now, if you know dogs, you know that meat stumbled upon is twice as sweet as meat served. It is considered one of the great treasures in life. Zoë lunged for the bones and, shockingly, so did Pip.

Zoë, unsurprisingly, got her hackles up and defended her prize. Pippa, very surprisingly, somehow thought she could get the bones for herself. Even stranger, she wouldn’t heed Zoë’s warnings, and they got into a fight. Every time Kirsten tried to isolate one, the other would try to seize the advantage. I don’t want to blame the victim, but in many respects, it was Pippa’s fault for not deferring to Zoë, despite several warning growls and nips at Pippa’s snout. It turned into an ugly and unprecedented fight (in the past, Pippa always ran from a serious fight). Pippa got in a few figurative licks, but Zoë mopped the floor with her, as the leashes got tangled. It only ended when a guy with a leaf blower ran over and pulled Zoë away by her hind legs and tied her to a branch (to Zoë’s credit, she showed zero aggression to the human, maintaining a near-perfect record in this regard). Meanwhile, poor Pippa had to get a bunch of sutures on her face and snout. She also had to spend a few days in the Cone of Shame. There was a lot of blood. The two of them held a grudge for a day or two, but it’s all water under the bridge now. Or perhaps ice under the bridge. I’m taking Pippa to get the sutures out today.

It was all pretty terrible, and Kirsten wouldn’t send us pictures of Pippa’s mashed up face for fear it would ruin our trip. I think some of the backstory has to do with the stress of the family being away for so long and some kind of potted theory among the beasts about changing the pecking order in the new pack. Pippa has been much more assertive over the last few months. I think that’s over.

If there’s a larger point here, it’s that I wish people wouldn’t throw human food on the street. Chicken bones are dangerous for dogs in their own right. But with two dogs, particularly on leashes (which tend to bring out aggression in canines much the same way Twitter does for humans), it can lead to stuff like this.

ICYMI . . . 

Catch up on The Remnant — the latest episode was with Chris Stirewalt of Fox News.

The most recent G-File

Who deserves credit for Trump’s victories?

Why are things so weird?

The rise and fall of Steve Bannon

What new things has Fire and Fury really revealed?

The voter-fraud commission dies a partisan death.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Wednesday links

Legendary airport K-9 Piper dies

How much Bitcoin could you mine with the heat of one human body?

Pilot flies shelter dogs to new homes

The chaos of the 1904 Olympic marathon

Eleven last meals of the rich and famous

Dolphins use pufferfish to get high

Can telemarketers be stopped?

Top ten most important documents lost to history

Sex robots can be hacked

Turkmenistan’s president bans black cars

Boy narrowly escapes sharks

Why do we need to sleep?

The shrimp whose claws are sonic weapons

The odyssey of Larry Walters

America and the ‘Original Position’

by Jonah Goldberg
If you were hovering above Earth looking to be born randomly into any time period in human history, you’d pick now — and in America.

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 all you folks on the mainland),

I’m writing this on a plane to San Francisco (actually, I started it in my car, but that’s a different story). By the time you read this, I will hopefully be over the Pacific en route to Hawaii to spend Christmas with my wife’s side of the family.

Hawaii is great. But if you’ve ever tried to get there from the East Coast, you know it’s a pretty brutal trip. Look at it on the map. It’s just farther away from everything than everything else is from everything. But you probably also know that this is a very high-order First World Problem. I’m very lucky to be doing this.

Luck All the Way Down

Of course, we’re all very lucky, in the broadest sense of the term. As Olivia Newton John might say if she went to grad school, let’s get metaphysical. The late philosopher John Rawls had a thought experiment called “the original position.” The basic idea is to imagine that you are a disembodied soul waiting outside this world in a kind of placeless, meaningless limbo — sort of like a Delaware rest stop. He then asks you to think about what kind of society you would want to be born into. But here’s the catch: You won’t know if you’ll be born rich or poor, smart or dumb, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, gay, straight, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, never mind if you’ll be able to fit 43 Cheetos in your mouth at one time. You’ll be behind what Rawls called a “veil of ignorance.”

Obviously, if there were, say, a one-in-five chance you’d be born black, you probably wouldn’t want to be born into a society that makes black people slaves. If there’s a 99 percent chance you’d be born poor, you probably wouldn’t want to be born in feudal Europe, Asia, or any other society where peasants had no rights and few means of improving their lot in life.

(It’s a useful thought experiment, but it has its flaws. Rawls was a pretty standard liberal, and that sometimes got in the way. For instance, he was also pro-abortion, at least in the first trimester. That’s a problem for the original position, because I’m pretty sure that one of the criteria I would value if I were off in some metaphysical Forbidden Zone trying to decide where I would want to be born, would be that I be allowed to be born in the first place. Another problem: I generally don’t like political philosophy that starts from the assumption we can create societies from scratch, as if we were God. Societies are emergent properties full of other emergent properties. The assumption, even for the sake of a thought experiment, that we can know how best to create a society from scratch, can lead to some horrible things. The Jacobins tried that, and the guillotines had to sharpened every week as a result. The Founders, on the other hand, raked the past and the British tradition and built on the best stuff they found.)

Anyway, where was I? Oh, right. If you were hovering above Earth looking to be born randomly into any time period in human history, you’d pick now if you had any brains. And if you could pick a place, you’d pick a Western liberal democracy, and probably the United States of America (though as much as it pains me to say it, you wouldn’t be crazy to pick Canada or the U.K. or Holland). Sure, if you could pick being rich, white, and male — and didn’t really care too much about the plight of others — you might take the 1950s. But even then, your choices for food, entertainment, etc. would be terribly curtailed compared to today. If you chose to be a billionaire in 1917, you could still die from a minor infection, and good Thai food would be entirely unknown to you. You’d certainly never enjoy watching a Star Wars movie on an IMAX screen in air conditioning. In other words, while your homes would be bigger and cooler if you were a billionaire in 1917, a typical orthodontist in Peoria in 2017 is in many respects much richer than a billionaire a century earlier.

Still, that’s not the deal on offer. You have to buy an incarnation lottery ticket, and the results would be random.

I’m not big on dividing people up by abstract categories, and I certainly don’t mean them to be pejorative. But as a historical matter, being born poor, gay, black, Jewish, ugly, weird, handicapped, etc. today may certainly come with some problems or challenges, but on the whole those traits are less of a shackle or barrier than at any time in the past. The only trait where I think it might be a closer call is dumbness. All other things being equal, a not-terribly-intelligent person with a good work ethic and some decent values might have had more opportunities before machines replaced strong backs. But even here, I can think of lots of exceptions.

What Makes Us Rich

Anyway, here’s the Thing. I mean here’s the thing: All the wealth we’ve accumulated is ultimately between our ears.

While working on my book, I read all these different accounts of where capitalism comes from. I was amazed by how many of them start from the assumption that wealth is . . . stuff. Depending on which Marxist you’re talking to, capitalism is the ill-gotten-booty of the Industrial Revolution, slavery, imperialism, and the rest. I don’t want to get into all of that here — there will be plenty of time when the book comes out.

But all of these assumptions are based on the idea that having stuff makes you rich. Now, in fairness, that’s true for individuals. But it doesn’t really work that way for societies.

Writing about Venezuela earlier this week is what got this in my head. Venezuela is poor and getting poorer by the minute: Babies are dying from starvation.

Meanwhile, Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world. According to lots of people, not just Marxists, this should make no sense. Oil is valuable. If you have more of it than anyone else, you should be able to make money. For a decade, the American Left loved Hugo Chávez and then Nicolás Maduro because they allegedly redistributed all of the country’s wealth from the rich to the poor. These dictators were using The Peoples’ resources for the common good. Blah blah blah.

It turns out that the greatest resource a country has is its institutions. In economics, an institution is just a rule, which is why the rule of law in general and property rights in particular are the most important institutions there are, with the exception of the family. Take away the rule of law in any country, anywhere and that country will get very poor, very fast. Stop protecting the fruits of someone’s labor, enforcing legal contracts, guarding against theft from the state or the mob (a distinction without a difference in Venezuela’s case) and wealth starts to evaporate.

Take away the rule of law in any country, anywhere and that country will get very poor, very fast.

But even that is too complicated. Oil is worthless on its own. If you went back in time to the Arabian Peninsula before oil became a valuable commodity, you wouldn’t look at the squabbling nomads and call them rich, even though they were playing polo with a goat’s head above billions of barrels of oil. Go get lost in the Amazon by yourself. What would you rather have, a map or big-ass diamond? The diamond only has value once you get out of the jungle, but you can’t get out without the map.

I know what you’re thinking: This reminds me of when Captain Kirk had to fight the Gorn. The planet Kirk lands on is full of minerals and gems worth a fortune elsewhere but, as Kirk says, he’d gladly trade it all for a phaser or a good club. Eventually, Kirk wins the fight because the real weapon of value, i.e., the real value, was human ingenuity. This is what Julian Simon meant when he said human beings were the “ultimate resource.”

When Tax Cuts Equal Giving, It’s Mob Rule

I bring all of this up because this is where my typing took me. But, also, because I think there’s an important point here that seems lost in all the conversation about the GOP tax plan. I’m not going to get into the punditry on all of that. Rather, I want to address something much more basic: People are nuts.

I keep hearing about how tax cuts are “giveaways” for the rich. Never mind that some rich people will see their taxes go up. This is philosophically grotesque. The people saying it may be more civilized and restrained than the pro-government mobs in the streets of Caracas, but it’s still basically the same idea: “The People” or “the nation” own everything. The state is the expression of the peoples’ spirit or of the nation’s “will,” and therefore it effectively owns everything. Thus, taking less money from you is the same as giving you more money.

This is why populism and nationalism, taken to their natural conclusions, always lead to statism. The state is the only expression of the national or popular will that encompasses everybody. So, the more you talk about how the fundamental unit of society is a mythologized collective called “The People” or the nation, the more you are rhetorically empowering the state.

Sure, the Constitution begins with the words “We the People,” but that is not a populist sentiment — it’s a statement of precedence in terms of authority: The people come before the government (not the European notion of the state). The spirit of the Constitution is entirely about the fact that The People are not all one thing. It places the rights of a single person above those of the entire federal government! It assumes not only that the people will disagree among themselves, but that the country will be better off if there is such disagreement. No populist frets about the tyranny of the majority. American patriots do.

This may sound far afield, but it’s not. How we understand wealth reflects and informs how we understand politics and power — and vice versa. If you believe wealth resides in stuff and that stuff is finite — like oil under the ground or gold in the Lannister mines — then the state has a good case for figuring out how best to distribute it.

There will be no investment or ingenuity if there is no guarantee that you will be able to collect on that investment or reap the benefits of your innovation.

But if you recognize that humans create wealth with their brains and their industry and that it therefore belongs to them, you’ll be a little more humble about the state’s “right” to take as much as it wants to spend how it wants. Human ingenuity is the engine of wealth creation, and there is no other.

But that doesn’t mean government doesn’t play a role. Because, as I said, there will be no wealth creation if there is no rule of law. There will be no investment or ingenuity if there is no guarantee that you will be able to collect on that investment or reap the benefits of your innovation. Without such an environment, the biggest mob wins. And when the mob wins, children starve to death in what should be one of the richest countries in the world.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: So, if you listened to this week’s Remnant podcast, you heard me talk about some of this. But we had quite a dramatic start to the week on Monday. We were doing our typical neighborhood patrol: Zoë on the extendo-leash, Pippa chasing tennis balls up and down the sides streets of my neighborhood.

As you know by now, Pippa is a sweetheart. She will run up to strangers and drop a tennis ball at their feet, and then beg them to throw it for her. Whenever she does this, I warn these nice people, “If you throw it, she might go home with you.” Well, Monday morning, as we were making our way back home, a teenager walked out of her house and in our direction. Pippa seemed interested in maybe offering her a turn with her tennis ball. It turned out the girl was walking up to a car, presumably to carpool to school. Pippa was even more interested. When the girl opened the passenger-side door, Pippa was like, “Oh, a car ride! I like car rides! Maybe the human will take me to the park.” She then headed off to jump in the car. Pippa has zero sense of stranger danger.

But the real drama came as we walked up the last side street before my block. I usually let Zoë chase squirrels when she’s on the leash in my neighborhood because they all stick really close to the trees and fences and whatnot. So, Zoë goes after a particularly thick den of squirrel activity. They all scatter. But not before the Dingo leaps up, knocks the branches out from underneath one, and then outruns it . . . and bites.

Author’s Note: I do not like it when my dog kills squirrels. It’s an aesthetic thing. I do not like watching any cute thing killing any other cute thing, even squirrels — which are smug and overrunning the D.C. ecosystem.

Anyway, back to our story. Zoë shakes this thing, and it made sounds that I do not like. I yell at Zoë to drop it, at first because I think the squirrel might be saved or at least to avoid having to pry it out of her mouth, which I hate doing. (The dogwalker invented the technique of holding Zoë’s head under water in the creek, which will do the trick.) Also, I had no idea who was watching this spectacle from behind their living-room curtains, and Zoë already has a bad reputation in the neighborhood. Anyway, to my surprise, I give a yank on the leash, and the squirrel leaps from of Zoë’s jaws of death. And Zoë is pissed. She’s even more pissed when I hold her back. Meanwhile, the poor squirrel is in rough shape. If they made a rodent version of John Wick: Chapter 2, this would be the final scene, with little furry Keanu limping away.

But then, to my surprise, Pippa gets in on the action. She shows no ferocity or even anger. She just starts chasing it, almost herding it. When she tries to mouth it, I yell at her, and she stops. But finally, Pippa corners it on the front lawn of someone’s house, and then Pippa does her Springer Spaniel thing. She points at the squirrel! She just stands above it, waiting for orders from me to bring her the strangest quail a Springer has ever seen. Meanwhile, Zoë is just going bananas, screaming “Attica! Attica!” in Dingoese because she thinks the Spaniel is claiming her kill, and Pippa is flummoxed that I don’t want her to bring me the still-breathing squirrel.

Anyway, this was all just a bit much before 7:15 in the morning.

You got this extra-long canine update in part because even if I write a G-File next week, there probably won’t be a canine update because I will be in Hawaii without the beasts. We tried to load them up with attention before we left, but it rarely works. The good news is that Kirsten is housesitting and dogsitting over Christmas break, so they’re in great hands. They always have a good time with her. And no one will yell at them about being on the couch.

Last week’s G-File

My Monday NPR hit

Could tax reform be the GOP’s Obamacare?

If socialism keeps failing (see Venezuela), why is getting more popular?

My podcast with Jeffrey Goldberg (no relation)

The latest episode of The Remnant, with Arthur Brooks, tries to find the meaning of life.

Will the Republican bet on tax reform pay off?

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Thursday links

An off button for the Internet

Iceland’s Christmas witch

12,000 dominoes

Thunderstorm timelapse

Why do we give toasts?

The worst passwords of 2017

London’s secret tunnels

Why do we get the meat sweats?

These Media Screw-Ups Would Make Dan Rather Proud

by Jonah Goldberg
They think they already know how the Trump–Russia story will end, so they’re rushing past the truth to nail down their version of it.

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 Readers (even including John Podhoretz and the 16 percent of Twitter that literally hates dogs),

In 2004, when Dan Rather stepped on his own johnson like a freshly gelded eunuch told to dance on his own junk like Michael Flatly, Lord of the Dance, I wrote:

Across the media universe the questions pour out: Why is Dan Rather doing this to himself? Why does he drag this out? Why won’t he just come clean? Why would he let this happen in the first place? Why is CBS standing by him? Why. . . why. . . why?

There is only one plausible answer: Ours is a just and decent God.

I was a younger and more immature man then, so I will confess my schadenfreude was so intense I loved that story more than some dead relatives of mine. Any time I could return to it, I would. For instance, three years later, when Rather announced he was going to sue CBS for his “wrongful” termination, I picked up the theme of God’s generosity:

Well, God has not forsaken us. Dan Rather seems divinely inspired to crash more times than a Kennedy driving home from an office party. The multimillionaire semi-retired newsman is suing for $70 million, $1 million for every year he’s been alive since he was five years old. Which is fitting, because that’s what he sounds like.

Now, for you kids too young to know why Dan Rather lost his job, GET OFF MY LAWN YOU HOOLIGANS! And stop with the memes already!

But if you forgot, the basic story goes like this: Just two months before the 2004 election, Dan Rather and his crack news team at 60 Minutes II reported that George W. Bush had been AWOL during his time in the National Guard. He based this on some documents provided by a guy named Bill Burkett. It turned out that the documents were almost certainly forgeries. I put that “almost” in there as a nod to journalistic decorum. I think they were forgeries. What I am certain about, however, is that Rather and his team didn’t bother to authenticate them properly.

Indeed, one of the reasons I was so giddy about the Rather story — aside from the fact that I couldn’t stand Dan Rather — is that the Memogate story was one of the epochal moments in Internet history. Instapundit, the folks at Power Line, Charles Johnson, and our own Jim Geraghty, along with other members of the so-called Pajamahedeen, made their internet bones by meticulously — and often hilariously — dismantling the CBS story in real time. They showed how the documents had to have been made on a word processor.

What made the story so enjoyable is that Rather just refused to admit he did anything wrong. According to Rather, the story was “Fake But Accurate,” as a memorable New York Times headline put it. My favorite bit was a particularly piquant pas de deux of jackassery, when Rather said with a straight face that if the documents turned out to be fake, he’d “love to break that story” too. It was almost like he thought he deserved a Pulitzer for reporting a false story and another for proving his own story was fake. Rather’s dismantling of his own credibility, I wrote at the time, was like watching a robot ordered to take himself apart and put himself back in the box.

The whole thing is such a fond memory that I’m in danger of rambling on like an old-timer around the campfire regaling you with stories of the good old days. “Why sonny, let me tell you about fax machines and why we say ‘dial a phone number.’”

So let me cut to the chase. At no point did I think that Dan Rather and his 60 Minutes II team deliberately lied, at least not about the initial story. Instead, what I thought was obvious then — and now — is that they just wanted the story to be true so badly that they couldn’t see the problems with it. Their mistakes were driven by partisan bias — Dan Rather loathed the Bushes going back to the Pleistocene, and his producers were all chronic sufferers of Bush Derangement Syndrome — and groupthink. As I wrote at the time:

My guess is that Dan Rather truly believes he fell for those forged documents because he was just trying to get a scoop. But no one at CBS raised the necessary objections because they were all eager to nail Bush. No one — not even an idiot — said, “Hey maybe we should take an extra week to make sure these things are real.” Not even after their own consultants said the documents were iffier than a new “Rollecks” watch. If the target had been a Democrat, the usual safeguards would have kicked in. 

I bring this up because the media has been Dan Rathering itself lately. Mark Hemingway has a good rundown of all the screw-ups, which we don’t need to repeat here. It seems obvious to me that the mainstream media are consumed by a similar groupthink. The press, for good reasons and bad, starts from the premise that Trump is guilty of “collusion.” It’s like they think they already know how the story will end, so they rush not to find out the truth but to be the first to nail down a foreordained outcome.

A CONSPIRACY OF DOTS

This is all very bad. But it’s not lying and it’s not a conspiracy. It’s groupthink. I keep seeing people saying things like, “How come these mistakes never go the other way?”

Donald Trump has fueled the idea that the news media deliberately makes stuff up about him. It wouldn’t surprise me if there are some actual examples of this, but I think they’re very rare. Opinions vary on why Trump does this. Some think it’s part of a brilliant master strategy, while others think he narcissistically and dishonestly claims that any inconvenient news is a lie and relies on the fact that his supporters will always take his word for it. I’m in the second camp.

Consider Dave Weigel’s inaccurate tweet about the crowd size at Trump’s recent rally (where Trump campaigned for Roy Moore). The moment it was pointed out to Weigel that the image was from earlier in the evening, he took it down. Hours later, Trump tweeted:

I don’t think Weigel lied. He made a mistake, acknowledged it, and apologized for it. But for many that wasn’t good enough. It had to be proof of a lie.

Again, why do these mistakes always go one way!?

The question begs the question. It assumes that if these were just errors, many would be in Trump’s favor, and that never happens. So it must be deliberate deceit. It’s a version of conspiratorial thinking that thinks there must be coordinated will behind undesirable events. But that’s not how things usually work. And drawing “subjective intention from objective consequences,” as William F. Buckley once put it, is a form of paranoid thinking.

The reason the mistakes all go one way is that the mainstream media are biased to the left in general and against Trump in particular. Neither of these things is a newsflash.

As for liberal media bias, you can go back to Walter Duranty’s Pulitzer for denying Stalin’s man-made famine. I can rant for hours about Daniel Schorr — then CBS’s chief foreign correspondent — “reporting” that Goldwater’s vacation in Germany was really an effort to link up with neo-Nazis in “Hitler’s stomping ground.” The press’ reporting of Hurricane Katrina — billed by press Brahmins as their finest hour — was a riot of hysteria and groupthink. And don’t even get me started on George H. W. Bush and the supermarket scanner story.

As for the feeding frenzy with Trump, despite claims that I reflexively take an anti-Trump position on everything (I’m not Jen Rubin, folks), I am perfectly happy to concede that the media mob against Trump has been ridiculous at times — because all mobs are ridiculous by their nature. I have been generally skeptical of the Russia collusion story, hewing as much as possible to the rule of “Trust Nothing, Defend Nothing.” The coverage of his praiseworthy decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was pathetic. And the hysteria about net neutrality is as close to a modern-day example of St. Vitus’s Dance as I can recall.

But what I won’t do is substitute one groupthink for another. To listen to Trump’s amen corner, every inconvenient fact is a lie, every Trump blunder proof of his genius, every media error evidence of some vast conspiracy. I think the revelations about the DOJ and FBI are troubling for all the reasons that we laid out in our editorial and have been explained by Andy McCarthy. But the idea that, say, the FBI is akin to the KGB is grotesque. And the widespread insinuation that anything Mueller finds will be fraudulent is slanderous nonsense, unless you honestly believe Mueller and his entire team will literally manufacture evidence, which is, you know, a crime.

The media are making these claims easier to hurl and more plausible to those who want to believe them. I’m not making a moral equivalence argument between, say, Breitbart and CNN, I’m just saying I want no part of any of it.

TRANS WHAT NOW?

One last broader point.

Last week I attended a conference put on by the Poynter Institute. A major theme of the day was how to restore trust in the media. It was an interesting event. But one of the more remarkable things about it was how a lot of people were working on the assumption that distrust of the media is a new phenomenon. As someone whose dad — a lifelong editor working “behind enemy lines” in the mainstream media, as he liked to joke — spent much of his free time taking a red pen to the New York Times, I found it rather remarkable — which is why I am remarking upon it.

This didn’t start with Donald Trump, something I think a lot of smart mainstream journalists will concede. What many of them have trouble processing is that they earned that distrust. Over at Vox, a publication that has always fancied itself a purely data- and fact-driven haven of “explanatory journalism,” David Roberts writes of an “epistemic breach.”

The primary source of this breach, to make a long story short, is the US conservative movement’s rejection of the mainstream institutions devoted to gathering and disseminating knowledge (journalism, science, the academy) — the ones society has appointed as referees in matters of factual dispute.

In their place, the right has created its own parallel set of institutions, most notably its own media ecosystem.

But the right’s institutions are not of the same kind as the ones they seek to displace. Mainstream scientists and journalists see themselves as beholden to values and standards that transcend party or faction. They try to separate truth from tribal interests and have developed various guild rules and procedures to help do that. They see themselves as neutral arbiters, even if they do not always uphold that ideal in practice.

I actually agree with quite a few of his points (as they somewhat track an argument I make at length in my forthcoming book), but I think it’s worth dwelling on his biggest mistake. It’s true that conservatives set up parallel institutions. I work at three of them. That story has more layers than your typical Steve Bannon ensemble, but I’ll cut to the chase. There is a reason conservatives set up these institutions: because progressives made the existing institutions increasingly inhospitable to people who didnt subscribe to their groupthink. In other words, he gets much of the causation backward.

Science, for obvious reasons, has been the most immune to these trends (when I visit college campuses, most of the conservative professors I meet come from the science departments). As I discussed at length with Steve Hayward last week, conservatives fled the universities — in at least one case, literally at gunpoint — and went to think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute because their heterodoxy was unacceptable to the new orthodoxy.

The corruption of what Ezra Klein calls “transpartisan institutions” isn’t downstream of what’s happened to conservatism and the country; it’s way, way upstream. Try being a sincere evangelical Christian at the New York Times or NPR. Heck, try being a military historian at a major university. Roberts writes about “tribal epistemology” — a subject I’ve written and read a great deal about — but he defines it almost solely as a pejorative label of the right. Tribal epistemology is not a right-wing phenomenon, it’s a human phenomenon, and self-declared pragmatists and empiricists are just as susceptible to it as anyone else.

The academy’s emphasis on diversity — good and defensible in modest terms — has metastasized into a tribal form of identity politics. Universities push to admit a broad spectrum of genders, races, and ethnicities but enforce only a narrow slice of the spectrum for diversity of thought. The University of California instructs its staff that terms such as “melting pot” and “assimilation” are now bigoted trigger words, and yet we’re supposed to believe that the guilds of academia aren’t hostile to the perfectly defensible views of millions of Americans? And we’re not supposed to laugh when they simultaneously hold fast to the claim that they are neutral arbiters of the facts?

This is not some crackpot view from an epistemically castrated right-wing pundit. It’s Jonathan Haidt’s mission these days. Even the president of Wesleyan University thinks this is obvious. John McWhorter offered some moving testimony of the subtle racism among white campus intellectuals who simply assume that all black people must share Ta-Nehisi Coates’s angry and nihilistic view of race in America.

Progressives have become so drunk on their own Kool-Aid that they think they’re sober. Paul Krugman literally thinks “facts have a liberal bias.” I don’t think we would have Donald Trump if Barack Obama hadn’t lied Obamacare into passage — “You can keep you doctor,” etc. But where were all of the self-anointed champions of transpartisan objectivity? They spent their days not just disagreeing with the fact-based arguments of conservatives and libertarians; they were openly mocking them for denying reality.

Again, I agree we’ve got deep problems with tribalism on the right. But that’s just one facet of the deeper problems that America, right and left, has with the corruption of tribalism.

VARIOUS & SUNDRY

The latest episode of the The Remnant is up. In it I address a wide range of listener questions, rant a bit about Roy Moore and Steve Bannon, discuss conservative books and veganism, and yes, do a brief reading of some Donald Trump erotica. Thanks for all the reviews at iTunes, and if you haven’t subscribed, please do. The metrics for podcasts aren’t exactly as scientific as Nielsen ratings, but one thing that definitely counts is subscribing. I really want to keep getting more adventurous with this thing — and I don’t just mean more readings of disturbing erotica. Your support helps in all sorts of ways.

Canine Update: Everything is basically okay with the beasts. Zoë is getting really frustrated with the lack of morning sorties into the woods, but hopefully we’ll get the new dog car soon. Otherwise, she’s the same old dingo, needy and jealous for attention. Meanwhile, one worrisome development is that Pippa has gotten a bit growly when we try to move her. When it’s bedtime, she immediately wants to sleep on my wife’s pillow. If she’s there more than a minute, she believes she has officially laid claim to the spot. But normally she just goes limp like a civil-rights protestor — we call it Rosa Barks mode. The last few nights, she’s tried to pull off being intimidating. She’s not, but I don’t like these kinds of changes in personality. My theory is that she might have a sore leg or something and is protective. On the other hand, she’s been standing up to Zoë a bit more, which Zoë finds immensely entertaining. She’s also becoming more brazen with her demands for in-house tennis-ball work, which could also turn into a problem. She’s stashed them everywhere. We’re monitoring the situation. They’re good dogs.

Charleston Report: The Fair Jessica and I had a wonderful time in Charleston, despite the weather. A quick review of restaurants: I have to report that I thought Husk was a bit of disappointment. We were seated next to a very loud group of women in town for a wedding. The waiter was very slow to take our drink order and a bit too much of a hipster. The martinis were small. Some of the food was really great, but all of it was terribly clever and small-portioned. It was a very good meal, but it didn’t live up to the hype. We had a fantastic lunch at Xiao Bao Biscuit. The hipster quotient was very high, but the food and friendliness were great. We had to wait a while for lunch at 167 Raw, but the clam chowder alone was worth it. The fish tacos were very good, but the shrimp taco was fantastic. Our finest meal was at Magnolia’s. The food was amazing and I have to say our waiter — nicknamed Pierre, but not a Frenchie — might have been the best waiter I’ve had in years. He gave us all sorts of tips about where to eat, walked us through the menu and wine expertly, and had that perfect balance of conversation and leaving us alone. At the end of the night he gave us a written-out list of places to go on this trip or the next. All in all, it’s a great eating town. We would have done more sight-seeing, but the weather was not cooperative.

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File.

What Trump meant — and didn’t mean — with his “do anything” tweet.

My appearance on the Andrew Klavan podcast.

Will tax reform be the GOP’s Obamacare?

Roy Moore: the aftermath.

The Walking Dead is a hot mess.

My appearance on Glenn Beck to discuss Roy Moore.

Transcript here, if you don’t like listening to me talk.

My latest appearance on Special Report.

A Christmas GLoP.

President Trump is losing Fox News viewers.

And now, the weird stuff:

The secret life of “um”

Woman prefers ghostly lovers

The best heists of 2017

How The Phantom Menace’s climactic lightsaber battle came to be

Most citizens of the Star Wars galaxy are probably illiterate

The un-death of cinema

Switzerland is ready for civilization’s collapse

Drone photos of New York

The Atlantic’s photos of the week

Naked man jumps onto moving truck near Dulles Airport

What can you do without a brain?

Training snow rescue dogs

Basset hound performs mysterious ritual

Basset hound is not a morning person

Corgi snow plow

Against One-Thingism

by Jonah Goldberg
Politics isn’t life — or, at least, it shouldn’t be.

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 Readers (and all the ships at sea),

It’s a cold and rainy morning here in Charleston, S.C. I’m in my tenebrous hotel room awaiting dawn, or at least the gloaming of false dawn and the promise of coffee it will bring.

I don’t mean to sound gloomy. I’m actually quite chipper. But that’s because I’m spending the weekend with the Fair Jessica eating Charleston’s finest fare — so what is there to complain about? Last night, I had fried chicken skins and pimiento cheese, while drinking a martini at Husk. How bad could life be?

In that sense, I feel a bit like that stock character in Godzilla and various disaster movies who’s oblivious to the calamities around him. I’m not quite like Walter Matthau in Earthquake — so drunk he doesn’t notice the world falling down around him — but hey, the day is young.

I’m Not Your Strawman, Buttercup

I bring this up for a couple reasons. First, because every day, as I inchworm-spelunk through my Twitter mentions like Andy Dufresne leaving Shawshank prison, I hear from people — and algorithms pretending to be people — about how miserable, sad, regretful, and “butthurt” I am for this, that, or the other thing going on in Washington.

For years, this kind of thing came at me overwhelmingly from the Left. These days it comes at me mostly from “the Right” or, to be more specific, from the MAGA/Bannon swamps. And it’s just weird to me. Sure, I have my good days and bad, like everyone else. You know, like when you wake up in the camping section of a Walmart in a strange town, covered in blood not your own (“You didn’t specify whether that’s a good day or a bad one.” — The Couch).

My point is that politics isn’t life — or, at least, it shouldn’t be. I used to think when I got this kind of grief from the Left that it was evidence that the progressives take politics way too seriously. If you’re heartbroken whenever your “team” loses, then your “enemies” must feel the same way when they lose.

In other words, it’s a kind of projection — the assumption that someone else’s emotional state mirrors your own. This dynamic doesn’t quite fit the textbook definition of projection because, at least as I understand it, Freud thought projection was a kind of denial. A bigot accuses others of being the real bigots to conceal his own bigotry, or something like that.

The difference with so many of the people I hear from is that they aren’t denying anything. Because they think politics is everything, they assume I must think so, too. I don’t. The whole point of being a conservative and — I would argue — an American is to see politics as only a fraction of one’s life.

Just Say No to One-Thingism

Which brings me to the second reason. In this week’s Remnant podcast, I had a wide-ranging conversation with one of my favorite people, Steve Hayward. At the very end, we started giving advice to youngn’s just starting their careers. We even raised the idea of doing a whole show on life advice for young politicos, or young conservatives, or carbon-based life forms (we didn’t really nail it down). But the subject has been on my mind a bit since we recorded the podcast.

So, as I prepare to enjoy a vacation weekend away from politics, here’s some advice: Don’t invest that much of your soul in politics. In fact, don’t invest your whole soul in anything.

Now, if you want to be an Olympic wrestler or the world’s best competitive eater, this isn’t necessarily great advice. But if you want to be a happy and relatively successful person over the course of your whole life, you need to diversify your portfolio. A few years ago, I wrote about this at length in a G-File titled “Love Isn’t All You Need” (back when it only came out in email, so no link, alas). In it, I railed against “one-thingism” — the idea, promulgated by Curly in City Slickers, that you should find that one thing in life and dedicate yourself to it.

This is horrible, terrible, no-good advice. Just because it comes from Curly doesn’t mean it’s not the philosophy of zealots, stalkers, radicals, terrorists, and extremists of all stripes.

Put aside the complicated question of religion for a moment. No thing in your life should be your everything: no cause, no business, no movement, no institution. Likewise, you shouldn’t make any person your only reason to get out of bed in the morning. You won’t be doing your child or spouse any favors if you do that. Indeed, your smothering will likely lead to a maladjusted kid or a spouse who loses respect for you or perhaps seeks a restraining order. Unwavering love is great. Unwavering attention or obsession: terrible.

The simple fact is that in this fallen and flawed world, putting all of your chips on a single thing or person is an invitation for massive disappointment or, simply, a wasted life. First of all, when you give all of your soul to something, it can become a kind of enslavement. You forfeit your own agency, and your loyalty is no longer seen as something that the object of your love needs to earn. For Luca Brasi, the Corleone family is his One Thing, and that makes him a golem.

If you think X is already deserving of your whole soul, it becomes difficult to imagine being outside X. And, as a result, you lose the critical distance necessary to offer constructive criticism. This is why too much devotion is destructive in politics and society generally. Instead of being a force for improvement, you’re taken for granted as a loyal foot soldier, booster, or cheerleader. For the one-thingist — the Communist, Fascist, Jihadist, or, less dramatically, the college-football booster, the crazy fanboy, or some other tribalist thinker — if the object of your devotion can do no wrong, then you will never be an advocate for improvement, you’ll be a reliable apologist for the worst actions of your cause.

It is a hallmark of a modern and free society that you can divide up your loyalties and passions. It’s only when you’re in a life-or-death struggle that one-thingism makes any sense. In a zombie apocalypse, keeping your children or spouse alive is an acceptable One Thing. In a totalitarian regime, revolution could be an acceptable One Thing. But in a free and prosperous society, the route to real meaning and happiness is Many Things.

In a free and prosperous society, the route to real meaning and happiness is Many Things.

Even in religion, I think one-thingism is best avoided. I know Abraham was asked to put God before his own child, but that didn’t mean Abraham didn’t love Isaac. One of Christianity’s greatest contributions to Western civilization was to create the space for multiple loyalties. Jesus says we must render unto Caesar — but only what is Caesar’s. St. Augustine divides the world into the City of Man and the City of God — a division that wasn’t geographic but spiritual and psychological. Protestantism accelerated this trend in countless ways (wait for my book).

As a matter of a life well-lived, I think it’s admirable and good to be informed by your faith in all of your endeavors. But some endeavors needn’t be seen through the prism of religious one-thingism. The man of God and the atheist alike can love college football or be comrades on a bowling team.

More Eggs, Different Baskets

It’s a bit of a cliché to say that nobody ever said on their deathbed, “I wish I spent more time at the office” or, “I spent too much time with my kids.” And that’s good advice. If you’re organizing your life around how you want to be remembered when you die, you should think more about your eulogy than your résumé. I’ve been to memorial services where speakers share stories about a great career, but share little to nothing about being a great father, mother, wife, husband, or friend. I find it heartbreaking.

But the key to a rich and healthy life is not putting all your eggs in a single basket. Find the two, three, or five baskets that give you meaning and hold them tight. But give new baskets a try from time to time.

As a gross generalization, I think women understand this better than men. In part because even successful professional women tend to be the primary parent for their kids, women understand intimately the tradeoffs between competing devotions. In my experience, women have more hobbies than men, too. And they’re better at engaging in civil society, from school fundraisers to neighborhood associations to informal groups of friends. Men, particularly successful ones, are more likely to throw themselves into their work to the exclusion of other important things. Then, six months after retirement, they discover that playing golf all the time is boring, and they get miserable or sick or drunk or bat-guano crazy about politics.

You Asked for This

Speaking of bat-guano crazy politics, let me change gears. Last year, Kevin Williamson wrote a post in the Corner titled “Remember, You Asked for This.” It was about the decision to nominate Donald Trump.

Well, I want to offer something similar. Right now, it looks like Roy Moore will be elected the next senator from Alabama. Because Donald Trump endorsed him, the Republican National Committee is once again helping to fund Moore’s campaign, and Steve Bannon is praising him as a man of great integrity while denigrating Mitt Romney, a mensch who flushes more integrity down the toilet every morning than Bannon has displayed since becoming a blood-and-soil Jeremiah.

You can forget the sexual allegations against Moore — though you can be sure no one else will, because the Democrats and the media will be reminding voters about it constantly. Forget the fact that Moore is a grifter and huckster who claims America is evil and had 9/11 coming but that we were great when slavery was legal. Put aside all the arguments about how “we” need his vote or that Republicans shouldn’t unilaterally disarm.

The simple fact is this guy, if elected, will be a disaster for Trump, conservatives, and the GOP alike — even if he votes in partisan lockstep with the Trump agenda. The mere act of him voting for good legislation will make it harder for some senators to vote for it. Moore will say stupid, offensive, and bigoted things — and every Republican, starting with Trump himself, will be asked to respond.

The simple fact is this guy, if elected, will be a disaster for Trump, conservatives, and the GOP alike

Moore voters in Alabama, of course, will deserve much of the blame, but so will a large coalition of national Republicans — starting with Donald Trump — as well as cable-news and talk-radio boosters and rationalizers, and of course Bannon himself, who let this world-historic cock-up happen based on a potted theory that Mitch McConnell is an enemy or that you can build a “nationalist” movement around a credibly accused child molester and theocratic bigot and constitutional illiterate.

In short, you asked for this. You know who you are, and if you don’t, you should prepare to be reminded in the months to come.

Various & Sundry

And now for some prideful begging.

I say prideful because “shameless” doesn’t cover it. I’m outright proud to ask for your help. As I wrote above, I don’t think you should give everything of yourself to anything. But you should do what you can, where you can, and when you can for the institutions in your life that matter. You’ll almost always get more out than you put in. That’s certainly true for me. One of the things that I’ve given a huge chunk of myself to for almost 20 years has been National Review, and I’m the better man for it.

Over that time, some things have changed in NR World. My job titles have changed (I’m a senior editor now), but I’m also a fellow of the National Review Institute, which has become the umbrella organization of the whole National Review enterprise or, better yet, the National Review mission.

Bill Buckley himself always said that the mission comes before the magazine — but that the magazine was the best, but not the only, way to carry it out. That’s why he founded National Review Institute to support the mission. NRI sponsors conferences, speeches, and educational programs around the country, hosted by National Review writers, editors, and contributors. (If you must know, most of my salary now comes from the Institute. Lowry mostly pays me in chickens.) Without NRI, I couldn’t have finished my book. NRI fellow Kevin Williamson runs a journalism program. NRI drops David French behind enemy lines on one campus after another to fight for free speech.

We are trying to raise $250,000 for NRI. That’s a big lift. The good news is your contribution to NRI is tax deductible. The great news is that it literally makes everything we do either easier, better, or just plain possible. I know there are differences of opinion about the current political situation among longtime friends. But if your concern is the long game — for the country or the conservative cause — supporting what we do is imperative.

Again, because most people have lots of things going on in their lives — work, family, friends, faith, hobbies, etc. — not everyone can give as much of themselves to the conservative cause as we do here. But the only reason we can do as much as we do is because of you and people like you. We live every day knowing that we are indebted not just to Bill Buckley but to the numerous people who give what they can to keep the mission alive. Please donate, here.

Canine Update: The dogs have been on edge all week. The problem is that whenever they see one of the humans take out luggage, they know something bad is going to happen (though when we surprise them and invite them on a road trip, it’s pretty awesome). This week, there was a lot of that. I went to NYC, came home, packed again, and went to Charleston. Yesterday morning, The Fair Jessica packed, too. Anyway, it makes them very mopey and needy. Still, when I came home yesterday, I got some good wiggle-greetings (watch to the end to see how Pippa presses her agenda pretty quickly). Anyway, they’re in good hands with Kirsten, our loyal dogwalker, and having much fun, which alleviates a lot of the guilt. But it’s always hard to leave them when they think you’re leaving forever.

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File

Time’s troll of the year

Debts and deficits should not be partisan issues. But they are.

The RNC’s conscience-free backing of Roy Moore

The latest Remnant podcast

What happens if Roy Moore wins?

President Trump was right to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

And now, the weird stuff

Debby’s Thursday links

Patient corgis

When movies shot real bullets at actors

And arrows!

Possum breaks into liquor store, gets drunk

Dogs feel our anger

What if we destroyed the moon?

Seventeen-foot Burmese python found in Florida Everglades

Stunts with Thomas the Tank Engine

The logic of area codes

If spiders worked together, they could eat all humans in a year

Was Lenin a mushroom?

Do animals cry?

Are fumes from an Irish Viagra plant . . . affecting local males (animals too)?

Dog causes chaos at Cats performance

The Chinese navy vs. jellyfish

The yeti is . . . 

Ancient cave art has oldest depiction of leashed dogs

Flickr’s top photos of the year

Don’t Choose the Lesser of Two Evils

by Jonah Goldberg
This is the odious logic of the ‘Flight 93 Election’ taken to the sewer.

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 lesbians, gays, bisexuals, socialists, and, presumably, the globalist cuck avocado-eaters who are trying to take down a good man like Roy Moore),

As Matt Lauer said while the string of nubile production assistants was brought before him, bound together at the neck by their collars, “I don’t know where to begin” (and then the door, as if by magic, locked behind them).

Much like everyone else who pecks letters on a keyboard for a living, I’ve written a bunch about the sexual-harassment stuff lately, and I don’t want to dwell — like Lauer’s eyes on the backside of a Bryn Mawr intern as she picks up a pencil — overly long on it here. But I think I need to for just a bit in order to make the point I want to make.

We have been drenched in “whataboutism” and hypocrisy-policing for a while now. But it’s mutating into something different. People are just inventing standards on the fly. Watching people slap together rationalizations to explain why their pervert or cad shouldn’t be held to the same standard as our pervert or cad is exhausting. At times, it’s like listening John Candy explain why he should get the top bunk or Captain Kirk teaching the mob how to play Fizzbin.

For instance, I’ve particularly enjoyed listening to members of the Congressional Black Caucus grab at every branch as they collectively fall down the jackass tree.

Representative James Clyburn apparently tried to suggest this was all a white, racist conspiracy:

Of course, this isn’t true. At least one of John Conyers’s accusers is black. It’s not clear whether Clyburn was just cynically lying to distract from his friend’s obvious guilt. But what would be more fascinating is if Clyburn really believed what he was saying. I can only presume that Conyers — a very left-wing fellow — is not a famous employer of white racists. I don’t know if Stormfront is hiring, but I just have to think that having “Legislative Aide, Office of John Conyers” is not what you would want on your résumé.

It is intriguing, however, to think that Clyburn actually believes that white women — who were ideologically inclined to work for Conyers in the first place — are still so racist that they would falsely accuse a black icon, just to take him down.

Of course, Nancy Pelosi moved off her “Icons Not Included” argument pretty quickly, on account of the stupidity. But that’s never been a barrier for Sheila Jackson Lee, who insists Conyers is a “patriot” — “patriot” being the new “icon” — so it’s up to him to decide whether to resign, even though she believes the women are telling the truth.

Cruz Control

But the Congressional Black Caucus is hardly the only team in the National Hypocrisy League. Here’s Ted Cruz MacGuyvering a double standard out of invisible tooth picks, chewing gum, and a nine-volt battery in front of our eyes.

Now, I’d be more than happy to see Al Franken go, and it pains me to even backhandedly defend a guy I have detested for decades, but, again, squeezing the asses of grown women or making a pass at them isn’t the same thing as sexually assaulting teenagers.

Ass-Grabbery Versus Ephebophilic Assault

Still, I’m not a Cruz hater. Maybe he and all the other conservatives playing this game are serious. So, I have an idea. I don’t commission pieces for NRO anymore, but I know some of the top people there quite well (I saved Rich Lowry’s life in a Mexican prison, after all). I think I can get something good published by calling in a few favors. So, I’m just going to openly solicit an op-ed from Ted Cruz — or any other prominent conservative. Please make the case that what Franken is accused of having done is worse — or even morally equivalent to — what Moore is accused of. Here are the ground rules: You have to concede that the accusations against both are true. And, you can’t appeal to their public-policy positions. It has to be a straight-up comparison of alleged misdeed to alleged misdeed.

Because, you see, even as parody I have a hard time conceiving of how that argument would go. Maybe something like:

The buttocks of a grown woman are the sanctum sanctorum of the Temple of the Fairer Sex. And State Fairs are the locum sacrum of the patriotic spirit. To violate a citizen while posing for a picture like that violates all that once — and will again — made America great. Meanwhile, who among us hasn’t liquored up a 14-year-old girl, grabbed her crotch, and tried to make her grab theirs? As for the charges of sexual assault against a 16-year-old girl in a car, please. For starters, this was 1977. The Edicts of the Council of Nicaea weren’t even fully in effect yet in Alabama. Teen brides were not only common, but most Alabamian men of stature — such as Roy Moore, already a titan of the legal community at age 31 — had harems. If anything, we should salute Moore’s restraint and commitment to monogamy.

Also, let’s not forget that the freedom of the automobile is baked into the American character, extending not just to the freedom to travel but the freedom to do what one wants in one’s own car. It is an extension of the sanctity of the home, which has been part of Anglo-American common law since Edward Coke wrote in 1628: “For a man’s house is his castle, et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium [and each man’s home is his safest refuge].”

In 1763, William Pitt clarified the meaning of a “castle”: “The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the crown. It may be frail — its roof may shake — the wind may blow through it — the storm may enter — the rain may enter — but the King of England cannot enter.” Surely, the ever-expanding conception of liberty must similarly extend to a man’s ride. What happens in a bro’s car, stays in the car.

When the Lesser of Two Evils = Evil

The “best” non-parodic attempt of doing something like this appeared Thursday over at The Federalist. And I put “best” in quotation marks because it was awful.

I really don’t want to linger on this, like Al Franken’s hand on the effulgent bottom of a milk-fed damsel of the Gopher State, because David French already went Godzilla versus Bambi on it yesterday. But, like Garrison Keillor at a Tijuana Donkey Show, I just can’t look away.

Tully Borland, a philosophy professor (!), writes, “Never voting for a lesser evil means never voting.” This is morally poisonous sophistry and casuistry. It is what de Tocqueville would call a clear but false idea. Borland concedes, more or less, that Roy Moore is guilty as charged. But because Moore’s opponent is pro-abortion, Moore is the superior choice — despite the fact he is the more evil man in his personal conduct. The upshot of this position is that there are essentially no minimal standards of personal conduct that justify not voting for a child molester and sexual predator, if it might lend aid and comfort to pro-abortion forces.

Now, I’m sure — or at least I presume — that Borland would object to this, saying that there’s something Moore could have done that would amount to disqualifying behavior. But his methodology leaves no foundation for establishing what that might be. He could just as easily say, “Sure, Moore shot a man in Reno just to watch him die, but what is one man’s life compared to the millions of unborn slaughtered in this country?”

This is the odious logic of the “Flight 93 Election” taken to the sewer. It’s fine to wave your hands and say, “Never voting for a lesser evil means never voting.” And, yes, it’s absolutely true that every choice between two humans is a choice of lesser evils to one extent or another, because we are all flawed and fallen.

But that is a warrant to say, “Vote for the rapist because he’s better than the murderer.” Of course, that’s not Borland’s argument. His argument isn’t that Doug Jones is an evil man per se, it’s that the Democrats are so evil and the Alabama Senate seat is so important, Republicans should abandon any standards of personal conduct that are inconvenient to victory. To Borland, even not voting for either of them equates to choosing the greater evil. That’s not only grotesque, it’s a kind of moral nihilism that cannot be neatly contained purely in the realm of politics. It’s soul corrupting.

The Way Out

I tried to make this argument earlier in the week, but I think it’s important enough to try again. Partisanship by its very nature will create double standards, and there is no way to get around that. I, for one, am done listening to most partisans, on the left and the right, talk about the perils of deficit spending. I’ve come to the conclusion that Democrats think deficits are bad when they’re created by tax cuts that send money back to the people who earn it. Republicans think deficits are bad when they’re created in order to fund more government programs or redistribute wealth. Obviously, I am more sympathetic to the Republican position. But the real argument is about the role of government. The dangers of deficits are just a useful cudgel to beat back policies you don’t like. When Paul Krugman thought Hillary would win, he favored more deficit spending. When Trump won, Krugman was scandalized by deficits.

This stuff can be maddening, but it’s all fair game in the zone of life that defines politics. The problem, as I’ve written and discussed quite a bit, is that the zone of life that defines politics is spreading like a cancer. Politics is a lifestyle choice, and lifestyle choices are political. “The personal is political” used to be a clichéd slogan on college campuses and among abortion activists. Now it’s a description of the way in which many people live. In the past, we had a broad moral consensus and sharp political disagreements. Our understanding of good character wasn’t a Republican or Democratic thing, it was just an American thing or a Judeo-Christian thing. This isn’t to say that we didn’t have perverts and pigs in olden days, but we at least had the good sense to understand that being one was shameful. There was a downside to that insofar as that public norms covered up a lot of terrible private misdeeds. The press corps’ hiding of the Caligulan behavior of the Kennedy brood being just the most obvious example.

As Rousseau once observed somewhere, censorship is useful for preserving morals, but it’s useless for restoring them.

That moral consensus, for good and ill, started to break down in the 1960s. In the 1990s, Bill Clinton shattered it among liberal elites, who scrambled to find reasons to celebrate the president’s European sophistication as evidenced by his willingness to diddle the interns.

We never fully recovered. Right now, we’re trying to put the pieces back together. That’s what the new “zero tolerance” wave is really all about. But it’s hard because so many institutions have been weakened or delegitimized. As Rousseau once observed somewhere, censorship is useful for preserving morals, but it’s useless for restoring them. And because politics is no longer contained to arguments about the growth of government, taxes, etc., our definitions of good character and basic morality are now yoked to political expediency.

What we need — again — are universal standards of moral conduct. When politicians, journalists, and philosophers can, in the same breath, say they are deeply troubled by the behavior of pigs and predators when they have a D next to their name but are blasé about pigs and predators who have Rs next to theirs, you know that we have a lot of work ahead of us.

Various & Sundry

The new Remnant podcast is up. I ventured into hardcore wonkery this week with trade guru Scott Lincicome (I completely forgot to ask him about his controversial views on nachos, my apologies). I fear it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Scott is a brilliant expert on trade and I’m . . . not. But writing my book has made me much more interested in the subject, and I wanted to explore some of those themes. I’m extremely grateful to all the listeners and subscribers, and I hope you’ll at least give this week’s episode a try. To compensate for the eggheadery, I may have to do a whole episode on women’s prison movies just to even things out. Meanwhile, last week’s conservative dork-out with Matthew Continetti drove our numbers on iTunes to as high as 38th among news and politics podcasts, beating, at least for a while, podcasts by Rush Limbaugh, Rachel Maddow, and the like. And I’m still getting rave emails about Andy Ferguson’s appearance.

Canine Update: The beasts are doing well. Though we had a brief scare the other morning when Pippa was limping around the house. My wife inspected her paw and discovered that Pippa had a piece of kibble stuck between the paw pads. Kibble is something of a hazard in our house. You see, Zoë has this instinctive habit of getting a mouthful of dry dog food out of her bowl and carrying it elsewhere in the house, usually the living-room carpet, and spitting it out. It would be fine if she then ate it all. But she often doesn’t. I know this isn’t behavior unique to Carolina dogs, but it is mystifying and annoying nonetheless, particularly when you’re walking in the dark.

We discovered something else weird recently. We haven’t had the SUV lately because we’re getting it ready for resale. We’ve decided it’s too nice a car to get destroyed by dogs, and we’re looking for a Honda Element, which we’ve concluded is the ideal dog car. In the meantime, I haven’t been able to take the dogs to the park in the mornings, so I walk them around the neighborhood. The thing is that Zoë can’t be off leash, because she’s a wild child. Pippa can be. She follows orders when cars are coming, and, besides, she needs to chase tennis balls or she will explode, leaving nothing but a smoldering crater for miles around. Anyway, my wife noticed that when she has to put Pippa on a leash to cross busy streets for the big walks on weekends (she treks to the Potomac on foot), Zoë gets furious about Pippa being on a leash. Somehow Zoë has concluded that leashes are for beta dogs. Anyway, they still get at least one big off-leash adventure per day, thanks to our indispensable dog whisperer/walker Kirsten. They had a particularly good time since the last G-File, so much so they were too tired to wrestle the other night. Behold the Crocadingo! They also continue to get the attention they demand on the homefront.

And now, some other stuff

The most recent new G-File

Justice League disappoints

Sexual misconduct and double standards

Matt Lauer, Fox News, and sexual harassment

What did Project Veritas prove about the Washington Post?

Al Franken is bad.

Trump has not changed.

The New York Times Citizens United hypocrisy

My latest appearance on Special Report

And now, the weird stuff

Debby’s Thursday links

Retired Marine keeps his promise

Giant fireball in Finland lights up the night sky

Dog that served in Afghanistan gets highest honor

How to terraform Mars?

The last of the iron lungs

A cigar-shaped asteroid?

Meatballs spill in Sweden

Harvard’s hair collection

Dog vs. tennis ball

Man about to launch himself in homemade rocket to prove the Earth is flat

Man kills snake on a train

Wild turkeys besiege California neighborhood

The best emergency food for your doomsday bunker

When will the Earth try to kill us again?

Dog saves woman from attempted robbery

Why do birds rub ants on themselves?

Behold: a white crocodile

The enduring mystery of the Max Headroom TV hack

Dog reunited with owner

How to liquefy sand

Dog loves owl

New York City rats display genetic variation

That ’90s Show

by Jonah Goldberg
The real problem with the new liberal awakening about Bill Clinton isn’t the hypocrisy, it’s the historical revisionism.

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 (Unless you’re in trigonometry class, in which case I don’t want to bother you),

What a marvelously stupid time to be alive.

My scorecard is now completely illegible. Right-wingers tell me that Al Franken must resign for behavior far less offensive than what Roy Moore has been accused of, but also that, even if the allegations against Moore are true, he shouldn’t drop out of his Senate race because it was 40 years ago. Even the governor of Alabama says she believes Moore’s accusers but will vote for him.

Meanwhile, left-wingers are saying . . . well, they’re saying a lot of things, which I’ll get to in a second.

But first, there’s this:

Nailed it. This is how the Elites (note the ominous capitalization) operate, don’t you know? Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey couldn’t stop the Elites from pulling their careers apart like wolves fighting over a carcass. But, they could still implement Emergency Distraction Protocol No. 219. That’s the thing about the Elites: Even when they lose, they win.

Still, I can’t quite figure out the argument. Is Moore some kind of sleeper agent who cruised the high schools for jailbait in the 1970s, just in case the Elites would one day need a distraction from their own scandals 40 years down the road? Or are the female accusers the real sleepers? In this scenario, Ben Affleck calls these women on their cell phones while they’re at Cracker Barrel or Home Depot and says, “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, but I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep. Remember. Miles to go before I sleep.” Then, suddenly, they make their accusations against Moore?

It’s probably unfair of me to single out this guy on Twitter, but he speaks for a mindset that is all over the place these days: “They” are screwing “Us.”

“How?” you ask.

“Don’t be so naïve,” they respond.

Explanations of how “they” dupe you miss the point. What matters is the paranoid certainty that “they” are winning by cheating, somehow.

William F. Buckley once explained that his objection to Robert Welch and the Birchers was their practice of ascribing “subjective intention from objective consequences.” Communists scored a “win” on Eisenhower’s watch, so that must mean that Ike is a Communist!

This is a natural human tendency. It probably gave humans an evolutionary advantage (as I discuss in my forthcoming book). Concepts such as luck and superstition, which exist in every society in every age, are based on an irrational belief that there is some extra-rational connection between objective consequences and subjective intent that can be discovered through intuition and even manipulated. I bang my drums. No vampires appear. Vampires must hate these drums! Reason connects dots using facts, logic, and evidence, but not all the dots we connect are connected rationally. Reason doesn’t define how we see the world.

Similarly, tribes are held together by internal solidarity and external suspicion that only occasionally has anything to do with rational design. They are always looking to get us. We have to stick together. As I wrote last winter (when another Bannon favorite was in the news for matters relating to underage sex):

Evolutionary psychologist John Tooby recently wrote that if he could explain one scientific concept to the public, it would be the “coalitional instinct.” In our natural habitat, to be alone was to be vulnerable. If “you had no coalition, you were nakedly at the mercy of everyone else, so the instinct to belong to a coalition has urgency, pre-existing and superseding any policy-driven basis for membership,” Tooby wrote on Edge.org. “This is why group beliefs are free to be so weird.” We overlook the hypocrisies and shortcomings within our coalition out of a desire to protect ourselves from our enemies.

The relevant point here is that paranoid populism and tribalism derive their power from the instinct for ascribing every misfortune to human will and planning. Again, “they” are out to get “us,” and the proof can be found in our anger or bad luck. So everything we do to stop “them” is self-justifying.

One problem: The world isn’t nearly so bleak and zero-sum. Take it from someone who gets called an “elitist” ten times a day and who has met and talked to more bona fide elites — senators, scientists, billionaires, etc. — than I could possibly list: No one is “running” the show (Yuval Levin and I talked about this at some length towards the end of this episode of The Remnant podcast). In reality, there’s no Oz behind the curtain, no cabal successfully pulling the strings or pulling the wool over our eyes. American politics is a big, sprawling, buzzing confusion of competing interests, agendas, and arguments. You think everything is going according to Mitch McConnell’s plan? Donald Trump’s? Nancy Pelosi’s? The Koch brothers’? George Soros’s?

Please.

And that’s a good thing — because it means we still live in a free country. In places such as China, Russia, and, most obviously, North Korea, it’s much more plausible to claim that They are ruining our lives, depriving us of our freedoms, or otherwise manipulating us — because “they” are. I’m not saying elites in America haven’t done bad things. All I’m saying is that the elites are not monolithic and that every elite I’ve ever met thinks things aren’t going the way they want them to.

That ’90s Show

As Bill Clinton must be screaming at the TV these days, let’s change the subject.

Lots of people, here at NRO and elsewhere, have written many fine articles on what they believe to be the hypocrisy and bravery-on-the-cheap of liberal writers and politicians suddenly discovering that Bill Clinton’s predatory sexual behavior was double-plus ungood. And they have a good case: Some of these tardy conversions do have the air of Frenchmen declaring in late 1945 that they were in the resistance all along.

Upon examination, many of the cynical interpretations do have weight. For starters, it’s just super inconvenient to denounce sexual harassment and sexual assault while lugging around that giant iron asterisk that says, “Except for Bill Clinton.” If the Clintons were not all used-up politically, I very much doubt that Senator Kirsten Gillibrand would be lamenting the fact that Bill Clinton hadn’t resigned when he played “The Traveling Salesman and the Farmer’s Daughter” with an intern.

But as I discuss on the latest Remnant podcast, there’s a downside to all the gloating on the right. When people change their minds and accept your position, pelting them with rotten cabbage is not necessarily the best response. As a general proposition, it’s a good thing when people in the wrong “flip-flop” to the right position. If my kid starts cleaning up her room without being asked, I’m not going shout, “Hypocrite!” at her. I understand that the political climate makes that more difficult, given that there really is more than a little cynicism at play. But I think it’s worth keeping in mind.

Get Me a Rewrite!

Anyway, my real problem with the new liberal awakening today isn’t the hypocrisy; it’s the historical revisionism. This morning, I heard an MSNBC reporter talking about how “we” didn’t really think through the consequences of Bill Clinton’s actions in the 1990s. Michelle Goldberg (no relation) spends the bulk of her New York Times column blaming conservatives for making it hard to believe the truth about Bill Clinton.

None of this is true. In the 1990s, liberals knew about Bill Clinton’s cheating ways. Bill and Hillary basically conceded the truth of it in a 60 Minutes interview in the wake of the Gennifer Flowers story. Oh, they denied her specific allegation in Clintonian fashion. Bill was a genius at sounding like he was telling the whole truth when he was really telling a mincing, legalistic lie. (Bill later admitted, under oath in 1998, that he had been knocking boots with Flowers). Regardless, Bill and Hillary spoke in obvious code that their marriage was . . . flawed. And all of the commentary at the time was, “We get it. That’s good enough.”

Joe Klein’s Primary Colors, a thinly veiled novel about Clinton, was a sensation with liberals, none of whom objected to, or questioned, the premise that the Bill Clinton character had an affair.

After the Lewinsky scandal broke, very few liberals not in the employ of the Clintons — or otherwise dependent on, or fearful of, them — acted as if they didn’t believe the allegation. They celebrated it! There were exceptions; I remember Cokie Roberts and David Broder being horrified. But among cultural liberals — writers, Hollywood types (particularly the Weinstein crowd), etc. — the motivating passion was celebration, not denial. Jack Nicholson cheered Clinton: “What would be the alternative leadership — should it be somebody who doesn’t want to f**k?” Nicholson added, “Bill, you’re great. Keep on!”

After the Lewinsky scandal broke, very few liberals not in the employ of the Clintons — or otherwise dependent on, or fearful of, them — acted as if they didn’t believe the allegation.

Read this article from the New York Observer — if you can stomach it — titled,New York Supergals Love That Naughty Prez.” They covered all the weighty issues, e.g., is oral sex cheating? And would you do him? “The consensus, as [Erica] Jong expressed it, was that a Presidential ‘f*ckabout’ was far better than a ‘fascist pig’ like Kenneth Starr.” The “only person who minds that Bill Clinton’s having sex without being in love,” said Elizabeth Benedict, “is Ken Starr.” Susan Shellogg, a former dominatrix, offered the only substantive criticism: “I think the President is reckless for not practicing safe sex if she has stains on her dress. She was not using a condom. That’s a big story.”

In an even more embarrassing Rolling Stone symposium, rapper DMX said,

All [Clinton] did was get some p***y, you know what I’m saying? . . . He’s a dog, man. Men are dogs. The fronting ones are the ones who don’t act like dogs. Those are the ones you watch. He’s doing his job. Whether he gets impeached should be determined by that, not where his (manhood) is at.

Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner, a man of famously Caligulan sexual appetites, summed up the attitude well:

What we have is a Republican majority in the House, held hostage by hate-drunk zealots and McCarthy-esque character assassins arguing the proposition that the president’s personal life must be absolutely flawless, [and] that should he have less than such moral purity, he has no right as a sworn officer of the Constitution to personal privacy.

In the same issue, Nicholson called the investigation a “coup d’état” and compared Bill Clinton to abolitionist zealot John Brown.

It was amidst all of this talk that the idea of Bill Clinton being “the first black president” was born, because, you see, he was being persecuted for not following bourgeois morality, or something. Jane Smiley, writing in The New Yorker, argued that Bill Clinton was so much more preferable to George H. W. Bush, because Bush was a warmonger who liked launching missiles more than having sex:

Maybe what Clinton did in the Oval Office was love, or infatuation, or just sex. At the very least, it was a desire to make a connection with another person, a habitual desire for which Clinton is well known, and sometimes ridiculed. But this desire to connect is something I trust, because it seems to be the one thing that he can’t get rid of. If we as a nation choose to put ourselves through the national pain of impeachment rather than the national healing of forgiveness, we will have only ourselves to blame when the next fellow comes along who would rather launch an air strike than a pass.

Now, not all of these people excused, say, Juanita Broaddrick’s utterly plausible claim that Bill Clinton raped her. But one reason they didn’t was that NBC News kept that allegation secret throughout the impeachment hearings because they believed it was true.

Condemning the Wrong Hypocrisy

I could go on about this for quite a while, but I’ll cut to the chase and say a word about the hypocrisy. During the latter half of the 1980s and the tail end of the Bush presidency, feminists and their liberal allies had worked tireless — and sometimes fanatically — to fight sexual harassment, very broadly defined. They pelted — rightly — Senator Bob Packwood from the public stage. They derailed Senator John Tower’s nomination to be secretary of defense on the grounds that he was a “womanizer.” Even entirely consensual sexual relationships between powerful male superiors and subordinates were inherently exploitative, they argued. Hence, Clarence Thomas’s alleged overtures were out-frick’n-rageous according to liberals.

And then they threw it all away to defend Bill Clinton. His “affair” with Lewinsky — hardly his only extramarital affair, according to 8 katrillion rumors spread off-camera by liberal journalists — was suddenly just an attempt to “connect” with another person. Never mind that he couldn’t remember her name and led on a naïve intern. The Big He was a lovable dog, and anyone who had a problem with that was the problem. Ronald Reagan wouldn’t take off his jacket in the Oval Office. Bill Clinton literally took off his pants in it.

As John Podhoretz notes on the Commentary podcast, Maureen Dowd raked the Clintons over the coals for their shabby dealings and scandals for years. But when the issue turned to Bill’s “sex life,” suddenly she mounted the parapets to defend him against the Comstock Ken Starr.

Why? Well, part of it was simply the corrupting nature of power. Donald Trump is not the first president to benefit from a standard-bending cult of personality. In fact, they all have benefitted from this dynamic to one extent or another.

But there’s another factor that hasn’t gotten any attention these days as far as I can tell. American liberalism in the 1990s was shot through with a kind of anti-Christian panic. They didn’t put it in those terms, of course, but it poured out between the lines even when phrased differently. All of the tedious op-eds about Salem and The Crucible, the snide references to Ken Starr’s faith, the lazy dot-connecting between the Christian Right and the “persecution” of Bill Clinton: It was everywhere.

The rising obsession with sexual liberation married to hatred of “scolds” and judgmental traditionalists simply swamped everything else. Gloria Steinem set fire to her integrity and minted the “one free grope rule” in the New York Times. Katie Roiphe, also in the Times, celebrated Monica as a go-getter who used her sexuality to her advantage.

Anyone who objected to this garbage was a “sexual McCarthyite,” as Alan Dershowitz put it in his book Sexual McCarthyism. Indeed, as I noted at the time, the corruption didn’t just rot the present, it poisoned the past. Suddenly, anti-Communism was now really about homophobia and not, you know, opposition to Communism.

The corruption didn’t just rot the present, it poisoned the past.

So, now we’re in this very weird place. Liberals are rediscovering an old position and claiming either through denial or ignorance that it is a new one. Meanwhile, many conservatives are responding to the left-wing flip with a right-wing flop. In 2011, only 30 percent of white Evangelicals said that “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.” In 2016, that number more than doubled to 72 percent. White Evangelicals used to be the religious group that was least tolerant of immoral acts by public officials. In the wake of Trump, they are now the demographic most tolerant of immoral acts in politicians. I’ve spent the last week arguing with people on Twitter who claim I’m naïve, puritanical, weak, liberal, or dumb for arguing that, if true, Roy Moore’s behavior is disqualifying.

We are in big trouble when the tribal response of our enemies picking up our positions causes us to take up theirs.

Various & Sundry

As I mentioned, the latest Remnant podcast is up. I covered some of the same material above in a bit of a rantier-than-usual stream of consciousness. But I also made room for calling out John Podhoretz, Sonny Bunch, Rich Lowry, and all of these people determined to take me down a notch. Also, as promised, we finally got around to a reading of some (PG-rated) Bigfoot Erotica. The podcast is doing well, and I’m grateful to everyone who’s given it a shot. I do have one request: We’re doing great in terms of downloads. But it seems like a disproportionate share of people are listening through the podcast’s NRO page. It would be great for me in all sorts of ways if you could actually subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or the like so that a) you never miss an episode and b) we get our subscription numbers more in line with downloads.

Canine Update: The beasts are still loving fall. The only problem is that our SUV, a.k.a. “the dog car,” has been out getting detailed (we’re thinking of selling it to get a more practical canine conveyance). This means poor Zoë has to do a leash walk every morning, while Pippa still gets to chase tennis balls as we walk around my neighborhood. I can’t let Zoë run around the neighborhood off-leash because she might chase something into traffic, disappear in someone’s backyard, or get into a squabble with someone else’s dog. She clearly resents the double standard. So, every now and then, she just tackles Pippa and demands that she wrestle instead. But the thing is that once Tennis Ball Protocol Alpha Omega 1 has been triggered, Pippa has no desire to play any other games. Meanwhile, I discovered last night that Zoë doesn’t want any further part of my vendetta against John Podhoretz, even though he has cast so many aspersions on my dogs. He’s just bitter that they helped me crush him in his poll about who has the better Twitter feed.

Last week’s G-File

Hillary and Uranium One

Roy Moore and sexual conspiracies

The latest Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast

Hillary and Uranium One, continued

My latest appearance on Special Report

The latest Remnant podcast, with bonus Bigfoot erotica

Russia’s national interest is not our national interest.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Remorseful thieves return stolen puppy to little girl

The U.S. government’s zombie apocalypse plan

Why doesn’t the U.S. have to worry about coups?

The chicken that lived headless for two years

Why fish don’t swim upside-down

Surfer escapes shark encounter by punching it in the nose

A lakebed containing half the elements known to mankind

Is 63 the answer to life, the universe, and everything?

Real dog jealous of toy dog

The man with auto-brewery syndrome

Detroit police officers fight each other in undercover operation gone wrong

How dogs teach us to stop worrying and be happy

Christian Bale’s weight transformations over the years

The dog that can’t catch

Weird things picked up on weather radar

A corgi race

Antarctica in photos

Why Nazis loved decaf

You’ve heard of pizza rat. Now get ready for . . . 

American Heart Association president has heart attack at AHA’s annual conference

Navy admits to drawing phallic graffiti in the sky

(Stanley Kubrick would be proud)

Less Is Moore

by Jonah Goldberg
The events of the last 24 hours are the unavoidable consequence of replacing conservative principles and arguments with the new lodestars of ‘fighting’ and ‘winning.’

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 indulging in the psilanthropist heresy),

In Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History, the famous British historian argued that civilizations get into trouble when the elites start adopting the customs and attitudes of the lower classes.

That’s a paraphrase because I’ve never managed to finish Toynbee’s whole twelve-volume opus. I stare at it like a lone seagull looking at a beached blue whale: “I’m never gonna finish this thing alone.” Also, while a brilliant guy, Toynbee had a prose style that was a bit like Finnish opera; I’m sure they’re saying something important, but I’m having a hard time following it. Here, for instance, is one of the several passages where Toynbee makes the point I referenced above:

[We] see the dominant minority began to “go native”; catch a glimpse of the two adversaries at the fleeting moment at which, in their rival masquerades in one another’s borrowed plumage, they assume the grotesque generic resemblance of the griffin to the chimera; and finally watch the ci-devant [former] dominant minority lose the last traces of its original form by sinking to meet the triumphant barbarian at a common level of unmitigated barbarism.

If you want a more digestible version of this argument, and one more relevant to the moment at hand, I heartily recommend Kevin Williamson’s brilliant essay from last month, “The White Minstrel Show.”

Anyway, I bring this up because it seems to me that it’s a good moment to point out that our elites are garbage.

But wait!

This might seem like a familiar argument these days. After all, populism is the mood of the hour. The “Establishment” is everyone’s favorite nest of boogeymen.

But I am not soiling myself with Bannonism or flirting with Sandersism. I’ve not laid down the pen and picked up the pitchfork. You won’t be getting any emails from me asking you to put your credit-card number where your mouth is to show the Deep State Swamp One Percent Globalists who’s boss.

My indictment of the elites — at least for the purposes of the point I want to make here — is not that they are too snobbish, it’s that they’re not snobbish enough. It’s not that they’re too powerful, it’s that they’ve gelded themselves.

Conservatives used to mock leftists and liberals for being “prolier than thou.” Plagued with guilt over their economic privilege, lefty eggheads and politicians would pretend to be regular Joes, all in an effort to leach authenticity from the masses that they wanted to boss around for their own good.

Because we live in an age when class distinctions matter less and racial and gender distinctions matter more, the old charge of being a member of the economic ruling class (“Economic Royalists” as FDR used to say) has lost much of its bite. When, thanks to the glories of the free market, everyone from rappers to professional wrestlers to reality-show stars can be rich, simply having money is no longer proof of being a traitor to your class. Today, you don’t fake your authenticity by hiding your wealth but by “keeping it real.”

On the left at least, “white privilege” is the new “economic privilege.” Prolier than thou has morphed into “Woker than thou,” but the same insecurities are at play. Most of our economic elites are where they are because, in their private lives, they still operate on some version of bourgeois values. They wait until they are done with their education before they get married. They wait until they’re married before they have children. They save money and shower attention — perhaps too much attention — on their children. But, as Charles Murray has documented at great length, they refuse to preach what they themselves actually practice. They are terrified of being judgmental, of seeming elitist. And so the hallmark of an elitist these days is to pretend you’re not one.

That’s because in today’s hyper-egalitarian popular culture, no one is allowed to say that anything or anyone is better than anything or anyone else if there is any truth to the claim whatsoever. That would be hurtful, triggering, elitist. What matters is authenticity and solidarity with victims. We must wear the figurative dunce cap and confess our privilege.

In the Great Hierarchy of Anathematization these days, “Racist!” still has the top brick of the pyramid. But not far below are “Elitist!” and “Hypocrite!”

These trends are not unique to the Left. They afflict the whole of society and the totality of our civilization. But they play themselves out differently on either side of the ideological spectrum.

Realer ’Murican Than Y’All

On the right, a new version of prolier than thou is the new hotness. Steve Bannon is a multimillionaire former Goldman Sachs globalist who made much of his fortune in Hollywood. But his new racket — no less of a racket for being sincere — is to make himself the Joan of Arc to the Trumpen proletariat. He sells people — many no doubt decent — on the idea that there is a Great and Powerful Oz behind the curtain keeping them down, thwarting their dreams and denying them their destiny. The Republican Establishment is whatever Bannon or Sean Hannity (another multimillionaire who wears his Budweiser on his sleeve) needs it to be. It is simultaneously oppressively powerful, blocking Donald Trump’s “agenda” at every turn, and outrageously weak, full of Quislings refusing to fight the cultural Marxists and George Soros’s army of social-justice ninjas.

And because so many people believe this tripe, everyone in the Establishment pretends they are against it. They are like aristocrats of the old order donning workman’s clothes to avoid the revolutionary mobs. All of this only makes Bannon’s life easier and the Establishment more pathetic. When no one will defend or deny the existence of your strawman, it’s easy to win a debate. Nothing proves the need for intensifying the witch hunt more than the witches’ ability to evade capture.

When no one will defend or deny the existence of your strawman, it’s easy to win a debate.

Oh, and spare me Bill Buckley’s Boston-phonebook quip. It doesn’t do the work you think it does. Bill was among the most cultured men I’ve ever met. He spoke French, Spanish, and Latin. He played the harpsichord and could converse intelligently about art, music, and literature. He lamented the Catholic Church’s decision to abandon the Latin Mass in the name of appealing to the common man. His point about the Harvard faculty wasn’t an endorsement of populism — it was an indictment of a specific elite. He detested rabble rousers and carnival barkers every bit as much as he despised the hubris of progressive technocrats and social engineers. He understood that there were good elites and bad elites, good common people and bad. In this he was a true classical liberal: He took people as he found them. He loved to talk to people, all people, and he treated them with respect, which is the soul of good manners. He was comfortable in his own skin, which allowed him to recognize what was good and bad about both high culture and low. He owned yachts and called caviar “cav.” He also served peanut-butter crackers with bacon as an hors d’oeuvre (they were delicious).

In short, he was not simply a man of distinction. He was a man who made distinctions, which is the very definition of serious thinking.

Less is Moore

But serious thinking is a thing in short supply these days. When I called for conservatives to disassociate themselves from Judge Roy Moore, the response from so many Bannonistas was depressing in its vacuity. But he’s a True Conservative®! No, he’s not. But he loves the Constitution! No, he doesn’t. He’s a real Christian! Really? He’ll fight for the Trump agenda! He will? Trump supported his more conservative opponent, and Moore didn’t even know what DACA was and he opposed Obamacare repeal. And, of course, Shut up, you anti-Christian bigot!

All of this was hogwash then, and it’s hogwash now. What mattered is that people invested in Moore a meaning and symbolism he doesn’t deserve: He is one of us and he is against them. He’s not a person, he’s a talisman, a dashboard saint to a cause. I’m pretty sure Luther Strange is a conservative, a Christian, and a Constitutionalist. What he’s not is a thumb in the eye.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve written about the unfolding corruption of conservatism these last few years, but the events of the last 24 hours have shocked me about how deep the rot goes. Forget the people who refuse to even give the heavily sourced and corroborated Washington Post account a fair reading on the tired and predictable pretense that inconvenient facts are simply proof of the conspiracy against them. What galls and astounds me are the supposedly conservative public figures arguing that even if it’s true that Moore molested a 14-year-old girl, it doesn’t matter because, well, because the Bible said it was okay or Democrats are eeeeevil or it was a long time ago. At least Roy Moore admits that the allegation is serious and has denied it.

Bless my heart, I assumed that people who are so much more sanctimonious and preachy than I am would be able to draw a line at plying 14-year-old girls with booze and molesting them, particularly when the guy they’re defending won’t even defend the behavior himself. You’d think this would be the Colonel Nicholson moment where, like Alec Guinness in Bridge on the River Kwai, they would mutter to themselves, “My God, what have I done?” and collapse to the ground.

But no. They’d rather be more pro-kid-touching than the alleged kid-toucher himself.

This is the unavoidable consequence of a movement that is in the process of replacing conservative principles and arguments with the new lodestars of “fighting” and “winning.” Fighting and winning are amoral concepts, embraced equally by freedom fighters and totalitarians alike. Serious thinking begins with asking, “What are we fighting for?” “What are we trying to win?” But the distinctions don’t end there. “What are we willing to do for the sake of winning?” “What means will we tolerate to achieve our ends?”

But even raising such questions is the stuff of cucks and swamp-dwellers. We are becoming the Party of Wales, and the “butthurt” of those we hate is its own reward.

The premise Bannon and Co. are working on is in the great tradition of vital lies, like the Myth of the General Strike.

And, I should say, I would have more respect for this Nietzschean codswallop if I thought it would work. But the premise Bannon and Co. are working on is in the great tradition of vital lies, like the Myth of the General Strike. Yes, it helps organize your troops, but it also paves the way to defeat. I have no doubt that many of the people clinging to Moore are not only decent in their own lives but sincere in their belief that they are fighting a good fight. Colonel Nicholson was a good man, too. But he was enslaved by a rationalization that was not rational. Roy Moore is a poison pill for the Republican party. Even if you think he’s misunderstood, the cold, hard fact is that a large majority of Americans share that misunderstanding (which I think is actually the correct understanding of the man).

As I wrote last night, Moore is a negative ad made flesh. He’s an albatross — a “Jonah” as sailors might put it. If you really believe that winning, fighting, or fulfilling the “Trump agenda” are the most important things, you should throw him overboard and let him wander his southern Nineveh like a prophet. Sending him to Washington and embracing him as a representative of what the GOP stands for would be the greatest Hanukkah present you could give to Chuck Schumer.

The Selective Liberalism of ‘Liberalism’

One last thing on a slightly different subject. Last night, I tweeted that as the father of a 14-year-old girl, I was enraged by all the talk of Moore’s alleged behavior being no big deal.

I was inundated with virtue-signaling asininity from liberals boasting how they don’t need a 14-year-old daughter to be appalled. Others accused me of saying that I would be okay with Moore’s behavior if I didn’t have 14-year-old daughter.

Countless other blue-checkmark bandersnatches put the sophist in sophisticated by progsplaining to me that one shouldn’t need any particular attachment or allegiance to condemn such behavior. To which I say, borrowing from Sophocles, “No duh.” But the idea that having a daughter the same age that one of Moore’s accusers was at the time of the crime doesn’t give me access to some particular — not unique or monopolized, just particular — moral or emotional revulsion strikes me as plainly idiotic.

But it is fascinatingly hypocritical. The essence of today’s identity politics is that being a member of some category — black, white, female, cisgendered this or that — gives one particular insights into society and all of its structures of oppression. The same people who — I assume — have no problem with a Supreme Court justice saying that a “wise Latina” can come to better decisions than a run-of-the-mill Pale Penis Person suddenly want to tell me that having a 14-year-old daughter has no weight whatsoever in how I might respond to a lecherous 31-year-old plying a 14-year-old girl with booze and molesting her. I despise racism and identity politics, but I am capable of also understanding that a black person’s response to racism is more personal and less abstract than my own.

By all means, I think everyone should be appalled. But what I find fascinating is how the people making this argument in the wake of the wave of sexual-assault revelations are implicitly jettisoning their identity-politics dogma. I will gladly stop prefacing any statement with “As the father of a 14-year-old daughter . . . ” if everyone else will stop saying “As a gay man . . . ” or “As a woman . . . ” But I doubt anyone will take me up on it, because for a lot of people today, that’s the only kind of argument they know how to make.

Various & Sundry

The Commentary Roast was a grand time for everyone, except maybe me. As I explain on the latest episode of The Remnant podcast, I didn’t mind all of the vile lies and baseless insults. What I had a much harder time with were the compliments (flattery, even when sincere, feels like someone saying, “Nice doggy,” until they can find a rock). Still, I know I will look back on it as one of the great moments of both my professional and personal life. I care more about my friends than politics, but this reminded me how unbelievably lucky I am that my friendships and my politics live easily with each other. Thank you to everyone.

Speaking of The Remnant, this week’s guest was Ramesh Ponnuru, who was gracious enough to stop calculating Pi to the millionth place on short notice and fill-in. I was supposed to record it in NYC at NR’s new HQ, but Lowry was so late for the recording of The Editors (my first appearance) that there was no time to record an episode with him and Charlie Cooke. We’ll have to save my planned debate over nationalism and the drug war for another day. In this episode, I talk to Ramesh about tax reform, immigration, being microagressed by the Dalai Lama, and the role that spouses play in the life of a pundit. Also, afterwards, I went on a bit of a tear about neoconservatism and recapped the Roast a bit.

Canine Update: The fall weather is making Pippa crazy. I think I mentioned before that Pippa knows how to open the door to the backyard. It has a handle instead of a knob. What she does is just wig-out on her hind legs swatting at it like she’s in a Three Stooges slap fight until it opens. She lacks the grace of the velociraptors in Jurassic Park, but she gets the job done.

Anyway, these days, any time I get out of a chair, she assumes it’s because I desperately want to spend the next hour throwing a tennis ball in the backyard. She starts barking and running for the door like John Belushi trying to get his Delta House brothers to run for the exit and take down Faber College. “Let’s do it!” Meanwhile ever-needy Zoë now thinks that throwing the tennis ball for Pippa is my way of playing favorites, so she is increasingly determined to play the Sheriff Clarke of the fun police. She keeps a close eye on Pippa at all times. But they’re both very happy beasts. As I might have mentioned last week, Zoë’s got a new boyfriend, Ben. The only downside of the weather is it’s getting too cold for outside baths.

Last week’s G-File

My capital “C” Conversation with Bill Kristol

Why America is divided on guns.

Why Roy Moore isn’t worth saving.

Republicans can’t afford to chase away their own.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

The location of the Microsoft Windows XP wallpaper

(Clickhole: Windows 95 maze screensaver house for sale)

D.C. has America’s largest collection of parasites

The fungus that takes over ants’ bodies

Using the Bible to date the oldest known eclipse

Scientists create new skin for sick patient

The size of things in the universe

The secret life of live mascots

Dog reunites with owner

2017 Wildlife Comedy Photo Award finalists

The dinosaur-killing asteroid was perfectly positioned for maximum damage

The true history of the Orient Express

Kelly’s Heroes

by Jonah Goldberg
John Kelly has immense moral authority — but I also think he’s spending it down, rapidly.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (Particularly those of you who identify as G-File readers),

Thursday night, during the final commercial break on Special Report, host Bret Baier got word through his earpiece that President Trump’s Twitter feed was . . . Gone.

“Gone? Like not there?” I asked.

“I think so,” Baier responded, sounding a bit like maybe he really didn’t.

Since commercial breaks are largely considered off the record, at least as far as I’m concerned, and Special Report is one of the few TV shows I actually care about being on, I will spare you any further dialogue. But I will always remember where I was during those eleven minutes when it seemed truly possible that the tweeting was over.

The questions flooded into my mind. How will CNN and MSNBC fill all the extra airtime? How will Sean do his opening monologue? Will Bill Mitchell spend his days refreshing his browser like a cocaine-study monkey hitting the lever over and over again, hoping this time it will pay off?

I thought of that scene in Excalibur when Lancelot and Guinevere discover King Arthur’s sword betwixt their adulterously naked bodies.

The president without a Twitter feed! The land without a president!

I joke of course (and alas), but it really is true that whether you love it, hate it, or stare at it with unblinking befuddlement like it’s that severed head that sprouts crab legs and tries to walk out of the room in The Thing, Donald Trump’s Twitter account has dominated our political life in profound ways.

Remember that scene in Good Will Hunting? No, not the idiotic one where Matt Damon pretends that Howard Zinn is the pinnacle of historical scholarship. I mean the good one, where Ben Affleck gives that little speech about how the best part of his day is when he shows up at Damon’s house and thinks, for just ten seconds, “he won’t be there.” I often wonder if John Kelly spends his mornings the same way, when Trump’s Twitter feed is silent.

Or at least I used to.

Kelly’s Heroes

As I wrote in the wake of Kelly’s press conference and George W. Bush’s speech a few weeks ago, I think Kelly has immense moral authority, and he deserves respect for his talents and his service.

But I also think he’s spending it down, rapidly. First there was his factual error regarding Frederica Wilson, which he should have apologized for.

Then came his interview this week with Laura Ingraham, in which he praised Robert E. Lee and offered his popular-but-wrong theory that the Civil War was caused by a failure to “compromise.”

I think Adam Serwer is very persuasive when he argues that this is simply untrue. Before the Civil War, the story of slavery in America is the story of one compromise with evil after another, starting with the three-fifths clause of the Constitution.

But it’s not simply untrue; it’s untrue in complicated ways.

Writing about Kelly’s comments this week, my National Review colleague David French gently concedes that Kelly was wrong about the compromise part. Instead, he addressed the question of whether honorable men could fight in a dishonorable cause:

I agree with General Kelly on his core point. Honorable men could and did choose to fight for the Confederacy. That does not mean that they fought for an honorable cause. The southern states seceded to preserve slavery. That’s plain from their articles of secession. While a free people have a right to self-determination — and that includes a right of secession — the cause for which they seceded was repugnant and reprehensible. No amount of revisionist history can permit the descendants of Confederates to turn away from this terrible truth.

But many truths operate at once, and here are others. In 1861, the invading northern army was not seeking to free the slaves. It was attempting to restore the union by sheer force of arms. The Confederates who lived in the southern states — even those who opposed secession — saw themselves as citizens of their states, yes, but also as citizens of an entirely different and new nation. One nation was invading another, and invasions mean death, destruction, and despair.

I think David is right that many truths can operate at once. This is true for every human being. Men and women of science can be religious and superstitious. Self-described feminists and religious moralists can be sexual harassers. Socialists can be money-grubbers, and passionate capitalists can be, and often are, the most passionate philanthropists. Even a pacifist can fantasize about beating someone with a tire iron when cut off in traffic. We all love to condemn cognitive dissonance, but we’re all hypocrites when we do so.

And what is true of individual humans is even more true of human societies. There were honorable men scooped up in the Wehrmacht (I’m not sure you can say the same about the SS). There were evil men fighting on the side of the Allies and the Union alike. If you read, say, Roll Jordan, Roll, you’ll even “discover” that some black slaves had complicated views about Southern society. Why? Because they’re humans, and humans, as John Locke observed, naturally come to different positions based on different experiences and different interpretations of their experiences.

None of this changes the fundamental moral issue: Slavery was evil. Nazism was evil. Evil is evil — even if some people can’t see it for what it is from their vantage point.

Serwer makes a very important observation:

What is strange is that the circumstances surrounding the abolition of slavery and the preservation of the Union are regarded as tragic. The issues debated on the eve of the Revolutionary War were more amenable to compromise than those that rent the Union in two in 1861. Many Americans died in the Revolutionary War; neither the United States nor Great Britain today regards its outcome as lamentable. Few regret that George Washington and King George III didn’t sit down at a table and hash out a compromise. Almost no one wrings their hands today about the uncivil tone of the Boston Tea Party, or the colonists’ stubborn insistence on self-governance.

I’m a big defender of the American Revolution, but it’s easy for me to concede the moral stakes in our fight with King George pale in comparison to the moral stakes of the Civil War. And yet, if I say, “Benedict Arnold was a villain,” no one but a few pedantic history buffs will bother to argue with me. If I say, “Robert E. Lee was a villain,” my email box will overflow with outrage.

Many people, mostly on the left, will claim such responses are proof of racism or white supremacy. And, believe me, I am happy to concede that is true for some people. But it’s not true for vastly more people. For instance, there’s not a racist bone in David French’s body as far as I can tell (the best proof of that is probably his adopted Ethiopian daughter, but it’s hardly the only proof). Rather, people make complicated distinctions that often fall afoul of narrow rational analysis. And sometimes people look at the same set of facts and simply draw different conclusions from them.

And that’s where the issue of compromise comes in. The Civil War was fought over slavery and to save the Union. The war settled the issue of slavery, but it was less clear at the time that it settled the question of the Union. When we defeated Japan and Germany, the Allies understood that needlessly humiliating our former enemies would be folly. Indeed, the humiliation of Germany after the First World War was widely understood to be one of the main causes of the Second.

Abraham Lincoln, who’d spent his political life with one eye on principles and one eye on the compromises necessary to fulfill those principles, understood this better than anyone. That is why, as the war was rapidly concluding, Lincoln ended his Second Inaugural by saying:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Allowing southerners to save face in the wake of world-destroying defeat was the real compromise. One can run the counterfactuals all day long: Perhaps things would have been better if the Union took the approach of post-war German governments and banned any expression of nostalgia for, or pride in, the antebellum regime. There was certainly some of that during Reconstruction. Maybe there should have been more. The sudden imposition of Jim Crow laws that came after Reconstruction supports the idea that there should have been a tougher northern approach to the post-war South. (I’d like to think I’d have been in the Radical Republican camp myself.) But it’s hard for me to second-guess the wisdom of Lincoln’s basic instincts.

What gets lost, however, in all the talk of compromise, both before and after the war, is that compromise is not, strictly speaking, a principle. As Oakeshott says, “A ‘compromise’ is not a position; it can only be defended pragmatically.” I think this is right.

But there’s an irony to this view. Compromises aren’t principles, but allowing for the possibility of compromise is a principle. It’s called “freedom” or “pluralism.” It is axiomatic. In a free society, all people must be free. That’s why slavery had to go and could not — ultimately — be compromised with. But, after that, free people must be allowed to live how they want to live so long as that doesn’t infringe on someone else’s freedom. That requires compromise, not in law but in life. People have a right to be wrong.

Kelly’s Mistake

I really didn’t want to get into this stuff today. But I felt compelled to because I did want to explain why I think Kelly’s comments in his Fox interview were such a mistake. On Twitter the other day, I said that Kelly “should stop giving interviews.” And for the next day or so, I was inundated with demands to answer the question “But is he right?” I’ve tried to answer that question above. But I think that question is irrelevant.

As a rule, chiefs of staff should work behind the scenes. They are White House information-flow managers, not spokespeople. For reasons that should be quite familiar now, that role is more important in the Trump administration than any other in memory. This president likes to rely on fawning reviews from click-bait outlets, shows such as Fox & Friends, and the sewage-recycling system of his own Twitter feed. Kelly is supposed to be one of the “grown-ups,” who not only protects the president from bad information, but the country from what he might do with that information.

For reasons that Noah Rothman lays out in detail, Kelly has opted to trade his non-partisan stature to lend aid and comfort to President Trump’s culture-war games. Willingly or reluctantly, Kelly is making himself into a spokesman for Trumpism. In doing so, he’s putting intellectual meat on the thin bones of Trump’s Twitter outbursts. If you are all-in for MAGAism, this probably doesn’t bother you. But if you’re among the majority of Americans who have problems with the way Trump divides the country, this is a worrisome turn.

And if you’re a Republican who takes some pride in the fact that the GOP is the Party of Lincoln and that it was founded as an abolitionist party, then watching Kelly and Trump defending “our heritage” of the Confederacy, then you might be watching the spectacle with unblinking befuddlement.

Allahu Akbar! This Is a Dumb Controversy!

Never let it be said that the New York Times is above a little trolling. Yesterday, the Times tweeted

As I joked, that “somehow” is carrying so much weight, it’s going to get a hernia. Of course, in the article, the Times does get around to acknowledging, perhaps a bit too reluctantly, that the reason the phrase gets “intertwined” with terrorism is that pretty much whenever Islamic terrorists kill people, they shout “Allahu akbar!”

The suggestion that it’s weird for people to connect the two is what’s weird.

If a radical faction of Amish terrorists shouted “Rumspringa!” every time they galloped their horse carts through civilians, would we really be so shocked that the word became associated with (terribly ineffective) terrorism? Ditto if a cult of Sonny Bunch worshippers blew themselves up right after shouting, “Sucker Punch is genius!”

Now, if you know anything about Islam, you should know that “Allahu akbar” is not solely a villain’s catchphrase. Muslims also say it at weddings, births, Bar Mitzvahs — wait no, strike that last one — and countless other joyful events. Or, at least, I thought we all knew that.

CNN’s Jake Tapper said as much the other day in the wake of the New York terror attack. And the reaction from some corners proved me wrong. Sean Hannity threw an extended hissy fit over the comment.

My favorite part was in the beginning when Hannity says, “liberal fake news’ CNN’s fake Jake Tapper.”

Wait, Fake Jake Tapper said something? Well, what did the real Jake Tapper say? Why does CNN use Fake Jake Tapper? Is the real Jake in CNN prison or something? I want to hear more about this doppelganger.

Anyway, both Hannity and the Times seem to be working from equally incorrect premises. Hannity thinks it’s ridiculous to point out that, for countless millions of Muslims, Allahu akbar has nothing to do with terrorism. Meanwhile, the Times seems to think that it’s bizarre that Islam’s signature phrase has been associated at all with terrorism. The Times doesn’t put it as bluntly as, say, Hillary Clinton, who said that Muslims have “nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism,” but it’s still missing the point.

It seems to me that the sane position is where the Venn Diagram overlaps. Islam isn’t purely about terrorism –terrorists kill more Muslims than non-Muslims, by a wide margin. But Islamic terrorism is Islamic. It draws on Islamic scripture, and the leaders of ISIS, al-Qaeda, and Iran know far more about Islam than any of the Westerners who say that Islam has nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.

It seems to me that the sane position is where the Venn Diagram overlaps.

And even if you think such distinctions are incorrect, and you truly believe that all of Islam is the problem, not just the terrorist sliver of it, think about what that means as a matter of policy. Billions of people are Muslims — as are millions of Americans, including many in our military. Treating them all as terrorists wouldn’t simply be unjust, it would be idiotically suicidal. By all means, let’s crush the terrorists. But that requires help from Muslims, not treating them all as evil. Lincoln understood this about the South. The Allies understood this about Germany and Japan. You’d think more people could understand this about Islam.

Various & Sundry

The latest Remnant podcast is out, and it was great fun. I had Andy Ferguson in to talk about why he’s not a TV pundit, what constitutes a real martini, whether evolutionary psychology is B.S., and other fun topics, including whether or not Steve Hayes is a horrible boss. We also have a new email address for the podcast: [email protected]. Please share comments, suggestions, etc. if you can. Subscriptions are going very well, but if you haven’t subscribed yet, I beseech you to do so, even if you’re not a regular podcast aficionado. It helps with everything from advertising to my self-esteem.

Canine Update: The beasts are well, though we have to remain constantly vigilant for ticks this time of year. Just as people rob banks because that’s where the money is, the dingo goes deep into the bush because that’s where the critters are — and that means into the heart of tickness. The other morning, she returned from a sortie deep in some brambles where deer are known hatch their evil schemes. She came back with, by my count, 13 ticks crawling on her. I spent the better part of the morning like a mommy chimpanzee, searching for them before they could implant. Also, Zoë is continuing her effort to understand what the spaniel’s strange fascination with tennis balls is. She really doesn’t see the appeal, but she sees me playing with Pippa, and I think she thinks I’m playing favorites and gets jealous. I try to make up for it in other ways. Still, anytime Pippa gets more attention than her, the Dingo pouts, fumes, or intercedes.

As I’ve explained a few times around here, now that my wife doesn’t work from home, we’ve had to rely on our dogwalker Kirsten on weekdays for the midday perambulations. I still walk the dogs every morning when I’m in town (save my birthday and Father’s Day) and at least once every evening. The Fair Jessica handles the big midday adventures on weekends, usually along the Potomac, and the first walk of the evening when she gets home. But on workdays, it’s Kirsten who handles the big adventure, which is great because they love her more than anyone on earth — with the merely possible exception of my wife and me. They also get to run with a full pack of dogs, which is what dogs really want to do, and their mischief batteries get drained to acceptable levels. But perhaps the best upside, at least for their fans from afar, is we get some terrific action shots. I bring all of this up because lots of people are complimenting me for some of the photos, and I want her to get the credit she deserves.

Update: Long after I packed this “News”letter into the pneumatic tube, I got word from Kirsten that Zoë has a crush on a dog named Ben. I may have to have this young man over to my house to discuss his intentions.

Last week’s G-File.

The Paul Manafort indictment

Tax ‘loopholes’ aren’t loopholes.

If Republicans can’t cut taxes, why have Republicans?

The latest Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast

The opioid crisis and drug legalization

Politicizing mass-casualty incidents

The latest Remnant podcast, featuring Andy Ferguson and alcohol

When Donna Brazile admits Hillary rigged the DNC primary . . . 

Why Trump should ignore the Mueller investigation . . . unless he knows it will go badly for him.

My latest Special Report appearance

Both of our parties are dysfunctional.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday Links

How this dog conquered its fears

Living art

What’s the worst taste in the world?

Sleep better with a sense of purpose?

Dog rescued from abandoned Colorado mineshaft

Boy playing with umbrella hit by lightning during a storm

Unrelated: Men get struck by lightning more than women

Puerto Rican dogs rescued after Hurricane Maria available for adoption in New York

In search of Russia’s lost gold

A planet where it snows sunscreen’s active ingredient

Octopuses mysteriously crawl out of the ocean en masse

The most photographed man of the 19th century was . . . 

Blockbuster Video has become an Alaskan tourist attraction

What were medieval monsters anyway?

Do humans love dogs more than other people?

Blind runner to compete unaided in New York Marathon

The last atomic tests, in pictures

The New Snowflake Caucus

by Jonah Goldberg
Political parties and ideological movements are defined every bit as much by what they say as what they do.

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 the most morally upstanding sex robots among you),

I learned an important lesson about writing when I was a TV producer: The audience never knows what you don’t show them.

What I mean by this is that if you cut something — an interview, a graphic, a fantastic montage of Godzilla wearing a sun dress with Mel Tormé on his shoulder while fighting all of the denizens of Monster Island — the viewer (or reader) doesn’t know about it. The reason this is important is that the creator of any piece of work can never experience that work the same way the consumer can. When I read a long, edited essay or book I’ve written, I often can’t help but focus on the stuff that’s not there. I mourn all the “darlings” that had to be killed. But the audience can’t miss what it doesn’t know ever existed.

Anyway, I bring this up for two reasons. First, because I think this is a useful insight for young writers and others who tend to project their frustrations onto the reader.

Second, because I just cut an extended “Dear Reader” gag that replaced “Dear Reader” with “Dear Penthouse” and then went on an extended riff about a certain network-news lothario who gets a lot of action. “I never thought something like this would happen to me . . . ”

I thought it was funny, but upon rereading it, I also thought, “Hmmm . . . too soon.” Indeed, these stories are coming out too fast and are too raw for some people. So I killed it.

And now you know. Maybe one day when my Too Hot for an Obscure “News”Letter collection comes out, you’ll get to read it in full.

But now that I stand amidst the rubble of the shattered fourth wall, let’s start over.

The Unbearable Lightness of the Trump Agenda

Last week was quite a humdinger.

I’ll spare you the recap, on the assumption that, you, my brilliant and informed Dear Readers, are up to speed on the details.

Responding to the week’s events, the editors of The Weekly Standard write:

Everyone’s talking about the civil war in the Republican Party. It seems more like a surrender to us.

The great bulk of elected Republicans have surrendered to the forces of Donald J. Trump. And they didn’t even put up much of a fight. Has a hostile takeover of a historic institution ever been accomplished with less resistance?

The flag of surrender went up before many blows were even landed.

Not surprisingly, I agree with this.

What I find so shocking is not so much the capitulation but the terms of the surrender. Or, rather, I should say the term — singular — of surrender, because there seems to be only one requirement expected of Republicans: Lavish praise on Donald Trump no matter what he does or says. Or at the very least, never, ever criticize him. Policy is an afterthought.

Again, The Standard:

A reporter for Politico recently asked John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, for his views on a potential bipartisan compromise extending cost-sharing payments under Obamacare. “I’m with the president,” Cornyn told Seung Min Kim. When she asked him where, exactly, Trump is on the plan, Cornyn threw his hands in the air. So Cornyn doesn’t know what Trump’s position is — but he knows that he shares it.

The Trump agenda begins and ends with personal loyalty to Trump — not to the Trump agenda, but to the Trump personality.

Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some facts.

Trumpists in Name Only?

Because my first column this week argued for shunning Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore, my Twitter feed was already acting like the industrial fan at the end of a sewer pipe. But after Ben Sasse’s comments on my latest podcast were picked up, that fecal mist felt like the cool zone at an amusement park by comparison.

Even the briefest tour of the grand continental landscape of asininity that materialized — on Twitter, in comment sections, etc. — would be like taking a walking tour through a Hieronymus Bosch painting.

But there is one cave of ignorance that’s worth spelunking with a lantern in hand. Countless people said Sasse should leave the Republican party because he’s a squish, a RINO, a Democrat, etc. As stupid as all that is, such statements seem like bon mots at the Algonquin roundtable compared to such acidic cranial flatulence as this:

I think — or hope! — that even the most sane-yet-ardent Trump supporters wince at this racialist buffoonery. So we’ll ignore the “traitorous anti-white” nonsense. But this poltroon speaks for many more sane people when he insinuates that criticizing Trump is by definition leftwing.

Sasse likes to point out he is the third most conservative senator by voting record. I’m not sure how he reached that figure, but it seems plausible given that the American Conservative Union gave him a 100 percent conservative score in both 2015 and in 2016. Meanwhile, John Cornyn had a score of 71 in 2015and a79 in 2016.

But, remember, Sasse is the RINO squish traitor.

Ah, quoth the Bannonite mobs, but he’s thwarting Trump’s agenda! Conservatism is a dead creed. What matters now is the new nationalism and supporting our president’s pursuit of coveted wins. Nothing else matters.

Well, according to FiveThirtyEight, Sasse has voted with Trump 90.2 percent of the time. He supported the Graham-Cassidy health-care bill, admittedly with reservations. But if Sasse had his way, the president would have had more than one big win by now.

Likewise, Jeff Flake has voted with Trump 90 percent of the time and Mitch McConnell — that cloven-hoofed, demon-headed Mephistopheles of the Establishment — has voted for the Trump legislative agenda on 96.1 percent of his votes.

If Sasse had his way, the president would have had more than one big win by now.

Meanwhile, one could argue that no senator is more responsible for denying Donald Trump a “win” on health care than Rand Paul. At every turn, Paul made repealing and replacing Obamacare harder. Whichever route the White House and McConnell pursued, Paul insisted on going the other way, on the grounds that going any other direction would be a compromise of his principles.

And yet, the Trumpistas don’t excoriate Paul. Even Susan Collins, a true RINO if such a term has any meaning and such a creature exists in the Senate, has been largely been spared the wrath of Trump and his armies.

Now, when I talk about Trumpistas, I don’t actually mean most politicians or political activists. Politicians and activists have prudential considerations that are often at variance with simply telling inconvenient truths. (You could look it up.) This isn’t always damning. For instance, as Charlie Cooke notes on the latest episode of The Editors podcast, a pro-life politician or activist may not like what Trump says, but such people have their eyes on a larger cause. They have to decide what is the lesser evil: condemning boorishness or failing to advance the pro-life cause. Losing a seat to the Democrats is worse for the pro-life cause than appeasing the Trump White House — or at least a reasonable person could come to that conclusion. (And lest liberals get sanctimonious about this, the same logic works for the pro-choice cause — and has for decades.)

I think such considerations are legitimate even when I may disagree with them. When I listen to Hugh Hewitt decry Flake and Bob Corker for their “drama” — but not Trump (!) — I can almost hear him shouting: “Will you all shut up! We’ve got judges to get on the Court!”

This is what could be called the Blinder Caucus. It seems every time I hear Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell talk about life in the Trump presidency, they talk about the importance of putting on their blinders and focusing entirely on getting things done. The subtext is that they don’t like how Trump does things, but they’ve got work to do.

It seems to me that technique hasn’t worked too well. But we can argue about that another time.

I’m more interested in the psychological factors animating commentators and the rank-and-file Trumpublicans of the GOP.

They also talk about wanting to get things done and the importance of fulfilling the Trump “agenda.” But they reserve their purest passion and most sustained vitriol not for people who don’t vote with Trump, but for people who do vote with Trump but who also refuse to remain silent. The same holds for Trump himself.

Why?

Well, in the president’s case, the answer is obvious: his own Brobdingnagian yet astoundingly fragile ego. Because Trump cares so little about policy, he can forgive policy differences quite easily. What he can’t forgive is anyone even hinting that the emperor’s new clothes are, at best, invisible to the naked eye.

I’ll give Steve Bannon credit. He understood this from the get-go. He understood that criticizing Trump for the Access Hollywood tape was the kind of disloyalty Trump cares about. But criticizing a tax-reform proposal? He won’t care, at least not if it’s couched in compliments. The Breitbart folks are quick to point out that they criticized Trump when he seemed to be capitulating on DACA — “Amnesty Don” and all that. This was at Bannon’s direction of course. But Bannon & Co. never, ever criticize the man himself. When Trump is doing wrong, it’s because the “Globalists” or the “Establishment” are giving the king bad information and whispering treason in his ear.

The New Snowflake Caucus

It really is amazing. The people most likely to mock “snowflakes” and ask if you’ve been “triggered” have the most Pavlovian responses to criticism of Trump. They can’t seem to handle hearing anyone pointing out Trump’s personal, ideological, political, or managerial failings. To use their lingua franca, it is the stuff of “butthurt.”

I don’t think there’s a single reason for this. It’s more like an arsenal of psychological defense mechanisms. Off the top of my head:

There’s the kneejerk anger at having it pointed out that your hero is out of his depth and that all of your assurances of superhuman skill and winningness were so much naïve piffle. There’s the blind tribal fury of saying things that lend aid and comfort to liberals. And we can’t leave out the discomfort, particularly acute among those with a long record of claiming ideological purity, of having the extent of their capitulation exposed.

Which brings us to the enabling. Everyone understands Trump can’t help himself. The rest of us, therefore, should make allowances for that and not provoke him. “You should have known Dad would fly off the handle!” So Trump is held to one standard and everyone else to another. Ted Cruz is right that the Republicans have work to do. But who has taken his eye off the ball more than anyone else in Washington? Hint: It’s not Jeff Flake, it’s not Bob Corker, and it’s not Ben Sasse. It’s most emphatically not Mitch McConnell, who gave Trump his biggest win — Justice Gorsuch — and who is doing yeoman’s work to get conservatives on the lower courts.

It’s the guy who’d rather fight Gold Star families and rant about the NFL. It’s the guy who talks about revoking licenses for the press and talks about Confederate generals as “our heritage.” But just as there’s no reasoning with Dad when he gets into the Dewar’s, there’s no talking Trump out of his Twitter when he gets into one of his “moods.”

Just as there’s no reasoning with Dad when he gets into the Dewar’s, there’s no talking Trump out of his Twitter when he gets into one of his ‘moods.’

And, finally, there’s the fact that, like Trump, many of these people don’t care about policy either. As Michael Brendan Dougherty recently pointed out, the culture-war spats and nasty personal fights are to a very real extent Trump’s true agenda, or at least it’s what people who love the Trump Show love about the Trump Show.

Where does this end? I don’t know. But I do know that political parties and ideological movements are defined every bit as much by what they say as what they do. The rhetoric yields the reality. And I for one think it’s worth pushing back against the forces that think the best way to win over voters — and the president — is for goonish felons to talk, however coded, about what a big d**k the president has.

“[Former congressman Michael] Grimm admits he’s only met Trump a few times, and never in a meaningful way. As a congressman, he’d visited the president’s Trump Tower office as a formality more than anything else, just like every other New York politician. But his impression of Trump, he told me, was a lasting and positive one — so positive, in fact, that if the president were the kind of person who paid close attention to his press coverage, he might come across Grimm complimenting him effusively.

“I remember saying to myself, I never realized what a large man — I mean stature-wise, he’s a big man, with massive hands,” Grimm said, outstretching his own regular hands above the table. “I don’t have small hands, but when I shook hands with him, the first time I shook hands with him, I realized he was a big man.” He sensed my skepticism. “He is!” he said, defensively. “I thought they were pretty big. You don’t think so? I thought he had a big, strong grip. I’m dead serious.” He went on about how Trump is “a pretty big guy” and “not a small man even for his height” and how his hands were “more like a workman’s hands” than those of “a CEO.”

If this is the cause you want your party to surrender to, be my guest. I kind of thought conservatism and the Party of Lincoln stood for something more than one man’s fragile ego and the people determined to protect it. I prefer to fight. If you don’t like that, remember “But he fights!” can be a principle for everyone — for people without principles and also for those of us who have them.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: I’ve been away from the doggos a lot this week, and that has made them particularly needy when I am around. It does make coming home more fun.

It’s funny — after nearly two years of Zoë not caring one bit about tennis balls, she’s changed her position a bit, though not in a way that speaks entirely well of her. More and more often, she simply takes Pippa’s tennis ball and holds on to it so nobody can play. Pippa will never take it from her because she’s Belgium to Zoë’s Germany. It’s really pretty mean. On the other hand, when Pippa won’t take “No!” for an answer, it’s kind of nice to be bailed out by the Dingo. But then this morning, when Pippa was bringing me a tennis ball in the kitchen, Zoë, already jealous, got down off the chair, went into the living room, and found her own ball and brought it to me. I really hope this doesn’t evolve even more. The last thing I need is a legitimately ball-obsessed Dingo on my hands.

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File

William F. Buckley wouldn’t have endorsed Roy Moore.

Trump, not Flake and Corker, is the source of D.C.’s drama.

The latest episode of The Remnant, with special guest stars Ben Sasse and David French

The Clintons and the Russian dossier

And now, the spooky stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Father Amorth, the Vatican Exorcist

Oakland’s spooky Halloween marionette show

The spookiest ghost stories of all 50 states

The creepiest urban legend in every state

Creating the sounds of Halloween

The strange world of haunted TVs

Capturing Lincoln’s ghost on camera

What happened to the severed head of Peter the Great’s lover

Monsters out for young blood

Skull pizzas

In China, ghosts demand cash

The skull tower of Nis

The world’s weirdest museums

A haunted house with actual psychiatric patients

How urban legends spread

The origin of nightmares

The hunt for the brain-eating amoebas of Yellowstone

The cursed sites of the Internet (not including Twitter)

What Americans fear

Candid haunted-house reaction pictures

Some of the creepiest articles on Wikipedia

The mysterious valley of the headless corpses

The criminal history of bed-sheet ghosts

Better sleep can improve your fear resilience

Bush and Kelly: Truth Tellers

by Jonah Goldberg
We all have something to learn from the two speeches, not least Donald Trump.

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,

Yesterday, two important men said some important things.

Former president George W. Bush gave an impassioned, eloquent speech on the current moral, civil, and political climate in the United States and across the West.

John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, gave less formal, but arguably more powerful, remarks in the briefing room yesterday. Kelly scolded a Democratic congresswoman, Frederica Wilson, and, really, the entire country, much like a disappointed father or grandfather might.

But it seems like almost everybody is only hearing what they want to hear. Liberals, the media, and — importantly — President Trump’s Amen Corner all heard the same thing in Bush’s remarks: “Blah, blah, blah, blah, Trump Bad.” That’s why Bush is suddenly benefitting from a strange new respect from liberals and a strange new hatred from former supporters.

Meanwhile, John Kelly is being hailed by most conservatives as a heroic champion of moral verities and a brilliantly effective defender of the president of the United States, while liberals — particularly of the piss-from-a-great-height MSNBC variety — are denouncing Kelly as, at best, an enabler of the president and, at worst, a racist.

I’m disgusted with a great deal of this, but rather than argue against any of that, I want to ask you to entertain a thought experiment. Imagine, if just for a moment, that all of you who fall into one of these camps are entirely wrong.

What if President Bush was aiming his fire at Democrats and liberals? What if Kelly was actually lecturing his boss?

If you can take off the partisan blinders and restrain your tribal instincts, it’s not all that hard to see it that way.

Bush’s Lesson for Liberals

“Disagreement escalates into dehumanization,” observed the former president, who was infamously depicted on the cover of the Village Voice as a vampire sucking the blood out of the Statue of Liberty. “Too often,” Bush continued, “we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions — forgetting the image of God we should see in each other.”

Imagine for just a moment that this wasn’t aimed at white supremacists or spurious nationalists or self-described “deplorables,” but at the legions of identity-politics peddlers who insist that white people — particularly white men — are metaphysically incapable of shedding their privilege and racism. Envisage the possibility Bush had in mind a fourth-rate comedian who held up Donald Trump’s decapitated head or a late-night talk-show host who called Trump “Putin’s c**k holster.” Or maybe, just maybe, he had in mind not Donald Trump, but Trump’s opponent in the 2016 election, who said:

“You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?” [Hillary Clinton] said to applause and laughter. “The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it. And, unfortunately, there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.”

Also in his speech, Bush warned that “our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”

Is it so outlandish that he had in mind the liberal and leftist icons who claimed that 9/11 was an inside job? Could this not be aimed at Spike Lee, who entertained the possibility that Bush blew up the levees in New Orleans? Might those words land with sufficient force on those already determined to turn the tragedy in Niger into an elaborate ruse? Might he not have in mind the people who started with the conclusion that Trump colluded with the Russians to win the election and worked backwards from there? Might he not be aiming his remarks at the author of Democracy in Chains (a National Book Award finalist!) — a fabulist’s work of near fiction about how free-market economics is a secret racist conspiracy? Do these slings and arrows fall so short of Jane Mayer’s ongoing effort to turn the Koch brothers into James Bond villains?

If you’re a liberal and your only response was ‘Take that Trump!’ you really haven’t been paying attention.

Is there nothing in Bush’s warning about the failures of socialist centralized planning and the dangers of protectionism for Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and their legions of fans to ruminate on? Couldn’t his call to revere constitutional principles find some purchase in the legions of ignorant miscreants who think the First Amendment has exceeded its sell-by date? Or perhaps in Donald Trump’s predecessor, who thinks our Constitution is a living, breathing document whose true meaning can only be found through the magical powers of empathy?

President Bush observed that our “discourse” has become “degraded by casual cruelty.” If you’re a liberal and your only response was “Take that Trump!” you really haven’t been paying attention, and you surely don’t have a Twitter account. You probably missed Joe Biden telling African Americans that Mitt Romney wanted to “Put y’all back in chains.” You missed the SNL writer who, on inauguration day, said ten-year-old Barron Trump “will be this country’s first homeschool shooter.”

Kelly’s Tutorial for Trump

Now let’s turn to John Kelly’s remarks.

I have no novel interpretation of his discussion of the sanctity of the fallen and the sorrow of their loved ones or of the gratitude we should have for their sacrifice. Those remarks were so powerful because they were rooted in every kind of truth — factual, moral, and, most movingly, personal. This man and leader of men, this father of the fallen, knows of what he speaks.

The more controversial remarks came later. Kelly said:

You know, when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases. Life — the dignity of life — is sacred. That’s gone. Religion, that seems to be gone as well.

Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer. But I just thought — the selfless devotion that brings a man or woman to die on the battlefield, I just thought that that might be sacred.

Many liberals increasingly despise Kelly and other members of the administration for “enabling” Trump. But among many conservative critics and skeptics of Donald Trump, there is an enormous wellspring of gratitude and admiration for Kelly, James Mattis, and H. R. McMaster. Fairly or not, it is widely believed that these patriotic military men are protecting the country — and the commander in chief himself — from Donald Trump’s worst instincts and inadequacies. It is a difficult job for all of the familiar reasons, not least among them the president’s staggering, glandular vanity. Scolding the president directly is the surest way to get him to follow the worst course of action.

So while it may not be the case, it’s nonetheless useful to imagine that Kelly’s intended audience wasn’t the press or the American people, but the president himself. The man surely knew the president was listening.

The trends Kelly alludes to are real and lamentable, and they predate Donald Trump’s arrival on the national political scene. But it strikes me as indisputable that Trump personifies these trends, and if Kelly were not trying to do his job, he would acknowledge that.

Perhaps Kelly was criticizing the Gold Star Khan family in his remarks about the convention. But he could just as plausibly have had the president in mind. We need not rehearse all of the ways in which Donald Trump — who has bragged of his adultery and sexual assaults and who has insulted women’s looks — has less than an exemplary record of honoring the sanctity of women.

I understand that many Christian groups have convinced themselves that Trump is an instrument of God, but let us not delude ourselves that he is also a man of God.

“Why do I have to repent?” Trump once asked Anderson Cooper. “Why do I have to ask for forgiveness if [I’m] not making mistakes?

As for the dignity of life, if Jane Mayer is to be believed — admittedly a big “if” — the long-time pro-choice president mocks Mike Pence for his views on abortion.

And then there’s the larger theme of Kelly’s remarks: the role of sacrifice, particularly the ultimate sacrifice paid by our military. President Trump has said he always felt like he served because he went to a military academy for high school (one strains to contain laughter at the thought of Trump’s boosters accepting that answer from a Democrat). But when the call came, he discovered bone spurs in his feet. Trump is hardly unique among politicians in getting deferments. But he is unique in how he talks about sacrifice.

And then there’s the larger theme of Kelly’s remarks: the role of sacrifice, particularly the ultimate sacrifice paid by our military.

At the Democratic Convention, Khizr Khan echoed some of Kelly’s sentiments when he said, “Go look at the graves of brave patriots who died defending the United States of America. You will see all faiths, genders, and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”

In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Trump used the occasion to criticize Khan’s wife for staying silent. When Stephanopoulos asked Trump what sacrifices he had made, this was the best he could offer:

I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I’ve had tremendous success. I think I’ve done a lot.

I’m no expert, but it seems to me that boasting of one’s success is a poor substitute for the Christian virtue of humility and an even poorer analogue to the sacrifice of the Khans.

I am open to the argument that Khan should not have politicized his son’s death, though it is hard for me to second guess a father in such circumstances. But even if you think Khan was in error, can you deny that Trump took a bad situation and made it worse? (Spare me the four-dimensional-chess explanations).

Again, it may just be a fanciful thought experiment, but I would like to think that Kelly was, in his own subtle way, appealing to Donald Trump’s own conscience and saying “Enough” in the only way he could. But here’s the important point: Even if that was not Kelly’s motivation, even if Bush was not aiming his fire solely leftward, the wisdom in their remarks stands on its own and should have purchase across the ideological spectrum.

Blame For Everyone

I hope readers can appreciate that this has not been an exercise in “whataboutism.” What I am trying to do is illustrate that both Kelly and Bush had something important to say to the people cherry-picking the bits they want to endorse or take offense at. When I praised Bush’s speech on Twitter yesterday, the immediate response from scores of people was, in summary: “Bush has no credibility because he didn’t denounce Barack Obama’s transgressions.” Others, predictably, bleated about how “Of course a Never Trumper would like that speech!”

If one takes this partisan myopia seriously, one cannot call for civility, for the rule of law, or for civilizational confidence and the free market unless one first makes it clear that the current president is both blameless and awesome. One cannot denounce “white supremacy” — on the day an avowed white supremacist spoke in Florida — without Trump’s cheerleaders saying, “How dare you say that about me?” Well, if you’re not a white supremacist, then maybe he wasn’t talking about you? But you cannot deny that such people exist. And if you take the position that denunciations of white supremacists are attacks on all Trump supporters, how does that help your cause?

If you take the position that denunciations of white supremacists are attacks on all Trump supporters, how does that help your cause?

I have no doubt that I have made my own contributions to the crappy state of American politics. Some longtime readers of mine write me every week to complain that they miss the “old” me who always went for the jugular. I think I still do enough of that where warranted, but if I’ve learned anything from the last few years (particularly while working on a book about all the themes Bush talked about on Thursday), it’s that my “side” isn’t immune to the zero-sum logic of tribalism.

On Thursday, I recorded a podcast with Jeffrey Goldberg (no relation) for The Atlantic. He wanted to know what it’s like to be “ideologically homeless.” I told him I’m not ideologically homeless at all. I’m more ideologically grounded and confident than I’ve ever been. What I am is politically homeless, and that’s something new for me.

As a conservative, I certainly believe that most of our problems today have their roots on the left. But as a Republican by default, I also believe that the blame for our woes is fairly widely distributed. George Bush has his flaws, and I’ve pointed out many of them over the years. But conservatives, of all people, should understand that there are no perfect messengers, because there are no perfect people. Bush’s speech — and Kelly’s remarks — can be read on their own merits, and we all — all — have something to learn from them, not least Donald Trump.

Various & Sundry

I know today’s G-File lacked much mirth or jocularity (“You didn’t even do a Dear Reader gag, you monster” — The Couch). It just wasn’t in me today. Or rather it was in me, but I didn’t want to detract from the point I was trying to make. Maybe next week I’ll dedicate the entire “news”letter to Frederica Wilson’s hats, an issue that is sure to unify the Right.

Canine Update: The beasts are in rare form these days. The fall weather has them going bonkers. Even the good cat is getting in on it.

I didn’t think it was possible, but Pippa has become even more tennis-ball obsessed. Which brings up an important point. Many members of #TeamPippa lecture me on how I don’t indulge the spaniel enough (tell that to the Dingo!). For instance, if I were to follow the guidance of many the replies to this video, the authorities would find Pippa barking at my emaciated corpse, saying, “Death is not an excuse! Throw the ball again!”

The latest Remnant podcast is out. Steve Hayes and I indulged in rank punditry, discussed buffalo wings, told stories about Charles Krauthammer, and discussed why Wisconsin punches above its weight in politics. As always, it’s a work in progress. I’m sorry we were tardy in releasing it — but there were some technical issues having to do with the thick residue of cheese product Steve left on everything. I appreciate your patience, and I am very grateful for the positive response, positive reviews (very helpful), and even the constructive criticism. If you can subscribe, that would be great. It’s the only metric the suits care about.

I was on Special Report last night, and contrary to the expectations of many, I largely defended President Trump.

Last week’s G-File (which I liked quite a bit)

My AEI video on the so-called Blade Runner curse

Trump doesn’t just think of himself as the boss, but also as “the talent.”

Conrad Black and “Never Trump”

Steve Bannon is overrated.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Are smartphones killing us?

How ballpoint pens and a new world flight record saved us from applying deodorant by hand

On the ocean, hic adhuc sunt dracones

Puppies can manipulate their owners

Texas man arrested for $1.2 million fajita theft

How Stoics dealt with anger

The enigma of the Mona Lisa smile

Texas beer ninja

1977 in pictures

The courage of bomb dogs

Where priests buy their clothes

Kangaroo brawl

The first recorded pizza delivery

This worm hasn’t had sex in 18 million years

Is your fish depressed?

Why the trial by ordeal was actually an effective test of guilt

Hero dog protects goats in wildfire

UPS drivers and the dogs they meet

Does alcohol improve foreign-language skills?

What would happen if you jumped into lava?

Where losers’ political-campaign merchandise goes to die

How deep humans have drilled into the Earth

(Beware of going too deep.)

Pretending to be Batman helps kids stay on task

The man who traveled back in time to save the Internet

Binders Full of Asininity

by Jonah Goldberg
The basic rules of decency are meaningless if they change depending on whether or not the accused has an R or a D after his name.

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 (please petition the Federal “News”letter Authority not to revoke my license),

Even for someone who thinks the only difference between 2016 and 2017 is that in 2017 the universe decided to take the condom off, this has been a truly remarkable week. Rather than focus on the totality of it all, however, I’m gonna try to make one extended point.

Allow me to quote . . . myself:

One of my favorite scenes in Scarface is when Meryl Streep compliments Peter MacNicol’s seersucker suit. Oh, wait. That’s Sophie’s Choice. I get them confused sometimes. One of my favorite scenes from Scarface is when Tony Montana shoots the Colombian assassin in the head before he can blow up some guy’s car. There are just way too many expletives for this family-oriented “news”letter to transcribe more of the dialogue than absolutely necessary. But you can find it here. Besides, the line I have in mind is pretty short: “You stupid f**k, look at you now.”

Hold that thought.

In last week’s decidedly un-jocular “news”letter, I wrote about how the hypocrisy of the Left’s newfound outrage at Russia’s meddling in our politics can’t be summarized by saying “Romney was right!” when he said Russia was our biggest geopolitical foe in a debate with Barack Obama. Starting with George Kennan’s Long Telegram, conservatives spent the entirety of the Cold War pointing out that the Russians were undermining American life, and we got mocked and ridiculed for it by self-styled sophisticates who thought such concerns were little more than paranoia.

The ridicule didn’t end with the Cold War (when, by the way, the extent and danger of Russian meddling were much greater than they are now). Liberals were so invested in the idea that the political Right made too big a deal about Soviet Communism and that we used our hawkishness as an unfair wedge issue against Democrats that when Mitt Romney said an incandescently true thing about Putin’s Russia, liberals rolled their eyes and then laughed uproariously at Obama’s “the 1980s called” quip. In other words, they were so married to the myth of their moral and intellectual superiority, liberals preferred to stick with the punch-line than even imagine that reality wasn’t on their side.

Which brings me to another Mitt Romney debate comment that received similar mockery and self-flattering giggling. During the second presidential debate in 2012, Romney was asked about pay equity. In the course of his answer, he said:

I had the chance to pull together a cabinet, and all the applicants seemed to be men . . . I went to a number of women’s groups and said, “Can you help us find folks?” and they brought us whole binders full of women.

Now, I’ll happily grant that the phrase “binders full of women” is an awkward one. It sounds like the menus they bring out on Jeffrey Epstein’s plane when Bill Clinton and Harvey Weinstein settle in for a weekend getaway.

But here’s the thing: What Romney did was exactly what feminist groups insist elected politicians should do. He saw that there were “too many” men in the applicant pool, so he reached out to some feminist groups and asked for help. Some feminist groups reached out to him — and he listened to them, too. And then he hired more women.

Here’s the thing: What Romney did was exactly what feminist groups insist elected politicians should do.

The monster!

Here’s Jon Stewart mocking him for it. Here’s Ronan Farrow. And here’s Bill Maher, a man who must be sweating like a hooker in church over Hollywood’s post-Weinstein zero-tolerance for piggishness toward women.

Blinded by the Might

“Virtue signaling” is an over-used term these days. One problem with the concept is that it often implies a touch of cynicism to the signaler: “I want people to believe that I’m as righteous as this symbolic gesture suggests.”

To be sure, there often is cynicism involved. For instance, people who drive Teslas in states in which electricity is predominately coal-generated signal a lot of virtue — but they do nothing about greenhouse-gas emissions because their cars essentially run on coal and condescension. More relevant, Harvey Weinstein, that bloated carbuncle of hormones and insecurity, virtue signaled with cash quite a lot. In his initial statement after the scandal broke, Weinstein tried it again, offering to atone for his transgressions by going after the NRA. Even for Hollywood liberals, that was too pathetic. It wasn’t virtue signaling so much as an attempt to buy an indulgence from the Church of Liberalism.

Speaking of indulgences, we should note that Weinstein is no fool. He had good reason to believe it might work. Ten years ago, Republican senator Larry Craig was caught using airport men’s rooms like a Greek gymnasium. At the time, I wrote a cheeky column on how if we have carbon offsets to atone for sinful fossil-fuel use, we should also have gay-sex offsets:

The same market-based approach is used by environmentally crapulent liberal celebrities all the time. They use private jets, drive around with big entourages and own numerous energy-sucking homes. To make amends, they purchase an indulgence in the form of “carbon offsets” — a contract whereby the equivalent amount of greenhouse gases are soaked up by newly planted trees and the like.

So why not do the same thing with gay sex? Cruise the bus station, cut a check to the heterosexuality-promoting organization of your choice.

You laugh (I hope), but this is how much of liberalism — and, alas, conservatism — operates today. Public piety, support for the right causes, and old-fashioned power and celebrity can buy a lot of indulgence from your “side.” That was true of Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, and, of course, Donald Trump.

Not all their sins were equal, but the patterns were mostly the same. The only one in that list, by the way, who “got away with it” in the end was Bill Clinton. The Big He was too big to fail.

But here’s the thing: What we call virtue-signaling isn’t always cynical. Some people actually become convinced of their — or their side’s — inherent virtue. The flipside of that coin is their equal conviction that the other side is inherently un-virtuous.

Mitt Romney is a perfect case-in-point. Romney is by no means a perfect man — he’d be the first to admit that. But he is, by any reasonable standard (particularly for rich politicians), a deeply virtuous man. But liberals were working off their dogma, and so they assumed that he simply must be sexist or racist or a nostalgic, irrational anti-Communist, because that is what conservatives are. They leapt on the binders and Russia comments and turned their myopia into proof of Romney’s falsehood and ran with it.

The Perils of Hypocrisy Witch Hunts

I weary of all the “this is why we got Trump” hot takes, but I think it’s appropriate here.

When the media and Hollywood insist that anyone they dislike must be a villainous bigot, the all-too-natural political and psychological response is to discount such claims as vacuous knee-jerk ad hominem wolf-crying. And when it seems like the standards of good conduct are only used as weapons against conservatives, it should not be shocking when conservatives say, “To Hell with it” and play the same game.

Back to that column on Senator Craig’s toe-tapping adventures:

Since most on the Left think Craig’s alleged sexual liaisons are perfectly benign, they shouldn’t object. “Who are we to judge?” and all that. Rather, the Left claims it hates Craig’s hypocrisy, not his behavior . . . 

 . . . The Left claims to hate “moralizers.” So any failure to live like Jesus while telling others to follow his example is an outrage, even the defining challenge of our lives. (In 2005, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean pledged, “I will use whatever position I have in order to root out hypocrisy.”) One solution to the hypocrisy epidemic, of course, is to have no morals at all. You can’t violate your principles if you don’t have any. Another solution: simply define down your principles until they are conveniently consistent with your preferred lifestyle.

This is what has happened to vast swathes of the Right. Because too many right-wing celebrities are guilty of boorish behavior (or worse), including the president, the only thing left to argue about is how liberals “have no right to judge” Trump. In other words, they’re playing the same game liberals have played for decades. Moral behavior isn’t the issue, only the hypocrisy of your enemies. Take segments about liberal hypocrisy out of Sean Hannity’s show and all you’d have left is reports about the heroic wheat harvests under Comrade Trump’s heroic guidance concluded by some lady rappers doing extended cuts to fill in the other 48 minutes.

Lost in the bilious argle-bargle is the value of the virtues being betrayed. In the wake of my column earlier this week, I’ve been inundated with charges of RINOism, treachery, weak-kneeism, both-sidism, and moral superiority from “conservatives” — all for saying that harassing and assaulting women is bad when conservatives do it too. Failing to acknowledge that is itself hypocritical. From liberals, I’ve gotten reams of whataboutist rage. “Did you condemn Roger Ailes?” (Yes, but not enough.) “Did you condemn Donald “grab them by the p*ssy” Trump?” (Uh, yeah.)

Lost in the bilious argle-bargle is the value of the virtues being betrayed.

(Some conservatives even hit me with, “What about Clinton? Did you complain about Bill Clinton!?” I laughed pretty hard at that.)

But let’s assume I am hypocritical for having failed to unleash as much ire on Trump, Ailes, and O’Reilly as I have on Weinstein and Clinton. That is no exoneration of Weinstein or Clinton. There is no transitive property at work here. Weinstein and Clinton’s sins don’t absolve the sins of Trump or Ailes. The basic rules of decency are meaningless if they change depending on whether or not the accused has an R or a D after his name.

What a thin and pathetic moral bunker “whataboutism” is, if it lets you hide from the truth that morality and sin aren’t monopolized by a party.

Of course, sexual harassment is just one facet of the larger trend. If Barack Obama talked about revoking Fox News’ “license,” conservatives would rightly be furious. But when Donald Trump does it, the smart Trumpist response is, “LOL! Look at the liberal butt hurt!” “More trolling please,” and “Finally a president who fights!” The dumb Trumpist response is, “Yeah! Take away their licenses!”

Again, it is not shocking that some conservatives, weary of being held to a higher standard than liberals, grew weary of those standards in favor of the new idols of “winning” and “fighting.” What has been shocking, however, is the scale of conservative surrender.

It’s war, fight fire with fire; if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em; what about X,Y, and Z?: These are the new rallying cries on much of the right.

And as much as that breaks my heart, I can’t help but want to shout leftward, “You stupid f**ks, look at you now.”

Various & Sundry

I’ll be on CBS’s Face the Nation this Sunday.

The latest episode of The Remnant is out. On the podcast, I talk to Ben Sasse about the logjam in the Senate and how to avoid politicizing our children. Corn came up again, too. Also, I responded to listener feedback, discussed whataboutism and journalism, and told stories about the dogs. Speaking of which . . . 

Canine Update: It appears that the pooping-in-the-house crisis has abated, knock on wood. We think it’s because we switched their dog food. The beasts are doing quite well. They were very happy to see me when I got back from a speech to the Conservative Forum of Silicon Valley, a wonderful group of patriotic Americans (and not just because I had the second-largest crowd in their history, edging out Kevin Williamson!). The dingo remains exceedingly needy. Zoë has kept the weight off since her diet (as you can see from this action-shot taken by our dog-walker extraordinaire). Therefore, we have resumed the occasional ice-cream treat tradition. You can tell the difference between their personalities here. Zoë is a scarfer; Pippa is a licker. Oh and here’s Zoë ruling over her pack.

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File

Harvey Weinstein (and others) need to go to jail.

Harvey Weinstein and hypocrisy

Laser volcano lancing, now more than ever

The third episode of The Remnant, my new podcast

The GOP is hogtied by a divided Senate.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Why do people fear Friday the 13th?

When volcanoes created a temporary atmosphere on the moon

The legends are true

How wolves changed Yellowstone

Dog works out

Dog saves owner’s life in Puerto Rico

Dog teamwork

Shy shelter dog gets adopted

Puppies rescued from Puerto Rico soon available for adoption

Family dog finds missing toddler

Recolorized Civil War photos

The (other) island where scientists bring extinct reptiles back to life

The making of the swordfight in The Princess Bride

When Arnold Schwarzenegger tricked Sylvester Stallone into taking a movie role

Parasite turns marsh-dwelling shrimp into orange zombie

Red Dawn at the New York Times

by Jonah Goldberg
The revolution was betrayed! ‘Real’ socialism is a worthy goal! It’s never been tried!

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 who can imagine a great Dear Reader gag here),

The New York Times is not widely known as a hotbed of necromancy — the mystical science of communicating with or even raising the dead — but I’m starting to wonder if it is trying to get my late father to come back to earth so he can walk through the Gray Lady’s offices and slap the editors with a semi-frozen mackerel.

The Times has been running a series on Communism called “The Red Century.” It’s really, really weird. At times, it feels like the greatest high-brow trolling effort in recorded history. Some of the headlines read like they were plucked from the reject pile at The Onion. I particularly enjoyed “Why Women Had Better Sex Under Socialism.” One wonders what all the women who had to service their prison guards for a crust of bread would think about that. With the exception of one essay by Harvey Klehr, the upshot seems to be an effort to rehabilitate Communism for a certain kind of New York Times liberal who desperately needs to cling to the belief that he was on the right side of an argument he lost.

The tone is less “Communism was awesome” and more “Well, we sophisticated people understand it was a mixed bag, so let’s focus on the bright spots.” E.g., Mao’s collectivization liberated women from domestic service and put them to work in factories (that is the millions of women who weren’t killed in the process).

This passage from Vivian Gornick’s gauzy memoir of Communism captures the overall spirit of the series (emphasis mine):

Most Communists never set foot in party headquarters, laid eyes on a Central Committee member, or were privy to policy-making sessions. But every rank-and-filer knew that party unionists were crucial to the rise of industrial labor; party lawyers defended blacks in the South; party organizers lived, worked, and sometimes died with miners in Appalachia; farm workers in California; steel workers in Pittsburgh. What made it all real were the organizations the party built: the International Workers Order, the National Negro Congress, the Unemployment Councils. Whenever some new world catastrophe announced itself throughout the Depression and World War II, The Daily Worker sold out in minutes.

It is perhaps hard to understand now, but at that time, in this place, the Marxist vision of world solidarity as translated by the Communist Party induced in the most ordinary of men and women a sense of one’s own humanity that ran deep, made life feel large; large and clarified. It was to this clarity of inner being that so many became not only attached, but addicted. No reward of life, no love nor fame nor wealth, could compete with the experience. It was this all-in-allness of world and self that, all too often, made of the Communists true believers who could not face up to the police state corruption at the heart of their faith, even when a 3-year-old could see that it was eating itself alive.

I wrote about Gornick’s essay on the Corner at the time, so I won’t dwell on it now. But the ideas here and throughout the series are fairly obvious, because so many of them hardened into sad clichés long ago. The motives were good! The revolution was betrayed! “Real” socialism is a worthy goal! It’s never been tried!

Frankly, I find the Twitter feed of the Socialist Party of Great Britain more entertaining and more honest:

It’s an incredibly useful debating tactic to say that every failed socialist country wasn’t really socialist because it had a ruling class. The problem is that there will never be a “true” socialist country because ruling classes are inevitable. The unapologetic reds should spend a little less time reading Marx and read more Max Nomad, Milovan Djilas, Max Schachtman, James Burnham, and other Communists and former Communists who understood that any attempt to create a “true socialist” society runs into the Iron Law of Oligarchy. Every organization requires some small group of people to make important decisions. They may use their special knowledge and power to help people, but it’s also a sure bet that they will use it to help themselves as well. A society without democratic institutions and market mechanisms by its nature will invest bureaucrats with enormous power to make choices about how other people will live.

Anyway, what got me thinking about Communism in the first place was this story. It turns out that Russian meddling in the election wasn’t reserved for generating an army of MAGA Twitter bots:

A social media campaign calling itself “Blacktivist” and linked to the Russian government used both Facebook and Twitter in an apparent attempt to amplify racial tensions during the U.S. presidential election, two sources with knowledge of the matter told CNN.

This is amusing for a bunch of reasons, but the relevant one brings us back to the Times’ Red Century stuff. It is absolutely true that many dedicated American Communists and Communist sympathizers cared sincerely and passionately about civil rights. And that cause was indeed good and noble. But what gets left out of the picture is that Soviet support for their cause was not good and noble. It was, simply, evil and cynical. First of all, the notion that a totalitarian dictatorship that murdered and enslaved its own people actually cared about civil rights for Americans shouldn’t have passed the laugh test.

But on the matter of Russia’s meddling in American politics, the hypocrisy of American liberals isn’t remotely captured by shouting “Romney was right!” about Russia.

Russia’s meddling in American politics has continued, with only the briefest interruption in the 1990s, for a century. Liberals may only recently have discovered “fake news” — but that crap has been made in Russia for decades. The Soviets, with the aid of useful idiots and even-more-useful agents, convinced large swathes of the world that the CIA created AIDS. During the Korean War, they fabricated “confessions” and other evidence that America used biological-warfare weapons. The Soviets undermined democratic societies — and developing countries throughout the world — with conspiracy theories planted in newspapers and TV shows and peddled by seemingly legitimate academics. Moscow’s Patrice Lumumba University (no really) granted Ph.D.s in Holocaust denial and anti-Zionist canards.

The Soviets loved black radicals in the U.S. not because they gave a rat’s ass about black empowerment or civil rights but because they wanted to sow unrest in America. At minimum, they liked to use images of civil unrest for even greater propaganda victories. But the ultimate goal, until the very end of the Cold War, was the collapse of the United States.

I’d go into further detail, but ThinkProgress actually has a very good article on this history:

For instance, as described in Christopher Andrew’s The Sword and the Shield, a detailed composition of KGB operations compiled by a former KGB archivist, Soviet operations to stoke racial tensions spiked in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1967, Moscow aimed at removing Martin Luther King, Jr., from his leadership role within the broader civil rights movement. Per Andrew, KGB higher-ups approved a plan to “place articles in the African press, which could then be reprinted in American newspapers, portraying King as an ‘Uncle Tom’ who was secretly receiving government subsidies to tame the civil rights movement and prevent it threatening the Johnson administration.” (Writes Andrew, MLK “was probably the only prominent American to be the target of active measures by both the FBI and the KGB.”)

As War is Boring’s Darien Cavanaugh added, the campaign sought to replace King with Stokely Carmichael, hoping a less pacifist leader would help spark a race war within the U.S. The drive also included, in a harbinger of the Facebook ads to come, distributing fabricated pamphlets that showed far-right groups bent on “developing a plan for the physical elimination of leading figures in the Negro movement in the U.S.”

Growing bolder by the early 1970s, the KGB moved beyond innuendo into a far more violent strain of its campaign. Moscow higher-ups — including then-KGB chief Yuri Andropov, who would eventually lead the Soviet Union in the early 1980s — signed off on pamphlets, to be sent to African-American militants, which said that Jewish vigilante groups viewed them as “black mongrels.” Writes Cavanaugh, the pamphlets “were distributed to 30 black militant groups in the New York area.”

Meanwhile, the KGB approved a plan to release explosives in “the Negro section of New York,” with one KGB official suggesting bombing “one of the Negro colleges” as a back-up option. Following the planned bombing, KGB agents would then issue anonymous phone calls “to two or three black organizations, claiming that the explosion was the work of the Jewish Defense League.”

I know this is running long, but two points need to be made. First, when you read about how American Communists and fellow-travelers had the best of intentions and were on the right side of history, bear in mind that these people were at best noble dupes and useful idiots for an evil empire.

Second, for the conservatives out there who have suddenly developed a strange new respect for Vladimir Putin because he’s a “strong leader” or some other flaming garbage, you should keep in mind that the former KGB agent is an unapologetic creature of that evil empire, shorn of Marxist pretense. He is doing to America today what he was trained to do.

Various & Sundry

By now, you’ve probably heard that the podcast is up and running. The debut episode featured renowned corn-stalk-urination specialist Ben Sasse. For the second episode, I invited my cellmate from Rykers, Yuval Levin.

No one knows better than this guy that it’s still a work in progress. But the early reviews have been pretty positive. I’m still eager for feedback. I’m married to nothing (except my wife). We’ll probably get some new music in there soon (send your suggestions), and I’ve got all kinds of weird ideas about the format, but I’m open to hearing more (if someone can figure out how to incorporate dogs as podcast guests, I’d love to hear from you). I’m told that it’s very important that you give it 8 trillion stars at iTunes and other platforms and that you actually subscribe. At a minimum, I would love to have more subscribers than that villainous coven podcast The Editors.

Canine Update: Because I believe in honest reporting in this “news”letter, I feel compelled to share the shame of the Goldberg house these days. One of the dogs has been pooping in the house. We don’t know who’s doing it, though I suspect it’s Pippa. One of the great things about having a Carolina dog is that they are, like Sir John Gielgud, very private poopers. When we’re in the woods, Zoë prefers to run off out of sight and do her business in some secret ancient poop burial ground. Meanwhile, Pippa is like some eccentric British aristocrat and thinks her poop is a problem for the help to take care of. Anyway, it’s dismaying because we don’t think either of them is sick, and they keep pointing the damning paw of blame at each other. The cats think it’s all disgusting.

Meanwhile the only other thing of note to report is that Pippa was shnurfling around in some leaves the other day and uncovered a frog that proceeded to jump right into her face. Our cherished dogwalker Kirsten said that Pippa let out a shriek that frightened all of the other dogs in the pack, along with Kirsten herself. Pippa had PTSD for a while afterwards. I’m actually at a conference in upstate New York right now, but I’m told that the beasts miss me greatly (File photos). Almost as much as I miss them.

Book Update: I’m not sure I officially told you folks yet, but the manuscript has been accepted by the publisher. So now I am waiting for page proofs, which is a whole different level of Book Hell. The pub date is set for late April, and I’m going to be doing a lot of promotion for it in the spring. If you know of an organization that might want to host an event in 2018 for the book, please let me know. You can send an email to [email protected].

Oh, and just a reminder for folks in Northern California: I will be speaking to the Conservative Forum of Silicon Valley next week.

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File

The Las Vegas shooting and politicization

Tevi Troy for HHS secretary

The Republican base is beyond Trump’s control.

My interview with Hugh Hewitt about Tevi Troy

The second episode of my new podcast, with guest star Yuval Levin

The NRA doesn’t buy its support.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday Links

The abandoned Soviet germ-warfare island

We’re probably not living in a computer simulation

Jeremy Bentham’s head exhumed

Drunk man claims to be time traveler from the future to warn about aliens

If aliens exist, we’ll know by 2035

A 30-foot, 900-pound snake

(But can it turn into James Earl Jones?)

Painting art with flight paths

Did something come before the Big Bang?

Are space, time, and gravity all just illusions?

Do you want to own a toilet museum?

Saint Nick’s tomb found?

The Battle of Athens (Georgia)

The history of the X-Ray

London’s creepiest cemetery

Roy Moore: Gladiator

by Jonah Goldberg
Our games reflect the politics of the age and in turn the politics of the age reflected our games.

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 else I have failed),

I would respect Roy Moore a lot more if he began his victory speech last week by taking his gavel and hurling it at the CNN cameras in the back of the room, shouting “Are you not entertained!

But, unlike Russell Crowe’s Maximus, Moore can’t, or won’t, let the mask slip to show his disdain for the spectacle he has become. Whether that’s because he’s extremely disciplined in his cynicism or because he’s extremely sincere in his jackassery, I have no idea. Nor do I really care.

What’s going on with his voters, on the other hand, matters to me. Which brings me back to this gladiator thing. Gladiatorial games served a number of purposes in Ancient Rome. First of all, what else are you going to use all those Carthaginians for? Blood sport was also entertainment, of course, but with a political purpose. By extolling violent victory in battle as the highest aesthetic value, the Romans kept the populace committed to imperial expansion (many of the most popular games were “reenactments” of glorious Roman victories). By legitimizing and glorifying cruelty, emperors had a convenient tool for terrorizing their enemies, keeping the people in line, and satisfying their own sadism, as when Commodus tied prisoners together and clubbed them to death, pretending that he was Hercules slaughtering “giants.” Or when a heckler in the stands jeered at one of Domitian’s favorite gladiators and the emperor responded by having him pulled from his seat and thrown to wild dogs in the arena.

In short, the games reflected the politics of the age and in turn the politics of the age reflected the games. Figuring out which way the causal arrows went in Roman culture is like trying to find the starting point of a Mobius strip.

Buy Gold And Pass The Gunpowder!

With the exception of MMA and boxing, which are weak substitutes for watching dudes disembowel each other with pikes and swords, we don’t have literal gladiatorial games in America today. But we have plenty of figurative ones. Lots of movies, video games (“Finish him!”), and TV shows all serve a similar function, even if our political rulers don’t play anything like the kind of role the emperors did in dictating the stories they tell. Is the popularity of The Walking Dead, and its countless apocalyptic knock-offs, a reflection of the political climate or a driver of it? The only sensible answer is “both.”

Lots of people like to divide the world into different categorical or conceptual silos. This is entertainment. That is politics. This stuff over here is journalism, and that stuff is sports. Oh, and this is the head of Alfredo Garcia. Etc.

I very much like to keep these silos separate as much as possible (in fact, that’s a huge theme of my forthcoming book). But the truth has always been that all of these things bleed into each other (literally so in the case of Garcia). No, I’m not saying that football is a crypto-fascist metaphor for nuclear war. But I’m saying that we carry ideas across all of these borders, in part because that’s just how language works. (For instance, sports, journalism and politics are a battleground of martial metaphors: campaign, over the top, ceasefire, crossfire, besieged, firestorm, salvo, hotshot, friendly-fire, launch, collateral damage, decimated, firestorm, and on and on).

One place you can see this pretty clearly is advertising. Because advertising is driven by a single motive — sell the product — ad-makers are brilliant at grabbing knickknacks from whichever cultural bin will hold the eyes or ears of the consumer. In 1969, Columbia Records launched an ad campaign around the slogan, “The Man Can’t Bust Our Music.” The effort was a bit of a fizzle, much like Pepsi’s recent effort to glom onto Black Lives Matter, but you get the point.

Well, have you noticed how ads from the NRA and gold bugs have changed their tone of late? No doubt in part because a Republican-controlled government poses little plausible threat to gun rights, the NRA is now investing heavily in partisan tribalism and paranoid fear of social unrest.

Now, I should say, there’s a lot I agree with in the ads, but the tone and overall message strikes me as exploitative and creepy coming from a gun-rights group. I have the same feeling about this odd battleships-and-bullion mash-up of patriotism, nostalgia, militarism, and paranoia from our friends at Rosland Capital.

Politics as Entertainment

Conservatives in particular love to complain about the politicization of entertainment. I gather the new incarnation of Will and Grace will be leading the Parade of Horribles for a few days until something else takes its place. Who could have predicted that?

But as I’ve written a few times recently, there’s a flip side to the politicization of popular culture. When you lower the barriers between politics and entertainment you get more politics in entertainment, but you also get more entertainment in your politics. It’s like the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials, “Hey, you got your politics in my popular culture!” “You got your popular culture in my politics!”

Whether they are two great tastes that go great together is a matter of taste. But when it happens neither politics nor entertainment are the same. Donald Trump leapt into politics from the worlds of reality shows and professional wrestling. In those worlds, the most important thing is holding the attention of the audience. In wrestling, if you can be popular playing the “face” — the good guy — great. But it’s far better to be a ratings-grabbing “heel” — the bad guy — than to be a boring face. The same goes for reality shows. Puck from the Real World and Richard Hatch from Survivor proved long ago that compelling a**holes are better than boring nice people. As far as I can tell, all of the Desperate Housewives are horrible people.

But here’s the thing. Asininity is in the eye of the beholder these days. Which brings me back to Roy Moore.

I’m open to correction, but this guy strikes me as nothing more than a bigoted, theocratic, and ignorant buffoon. The supposed standard-bearer of True Trumpism in the race did not even know what DACA was or who the Dreamers were. Friends of mine tell me the voters don’t care, because he’s on the right side of the immigration issue and most of them couldn’t tell you what DACA stands for. Okay, what that says about the voters — or the authenticity of nationalistic populism — is a topic for another day. But that’s all irrelevant. We elect senators to know . . . something about public policy. It seems reasonable that, at a time when Trump’s surrender on DACA was causing Ann Coulter to call for his impeachment, the Optimus Prime of True Trumpism should at least have a passing understanding of the core issue of the Faith. But, hey, I’m a pie-eyed idealist.

The reality is policy expertise and ideological coherence are not central to Moore’s character. When he asks the director “What’s my motivation?” the answer is not “crafting sound legislation.” It’s “stick it to the hippies, ay-rabs, and queers!”

And this explains something that will undoubtedly be lost on every MSNBC host and New York Times editor. Most of the people who voted for Moore don’t actually agree with him. They find him entertaining.

I have no doubt that many of the people who voted for him are decent people. I’d also bet lots of them don’t agree with Moore’s shtick. Do all the patriotic Alabamans who voted for Moore believe that 9/11 was God’s wrath on a sinful America? Or that America is “the focus of evil in the world?” I very much doubt it. Do they all think evolution is “fake”? Some? Sure. All? No way.

Moore is like a right-wing version of the “Progressive Liberal” heel. I’m sure many like his brashness and forthrightness and his unapologetic defense of Christianity. And while I haven’t run a focus group or anything, I strongly suspect his real value-add is that he horrifies all the right people. Like that other political stock character with the same last name, Michael Moore, his appeal lies in the fact he’s a living Internet troll.

In the same vein, we also know that Moore won in part because voters were led to believe that this would be a hilarious way to screw with Mitch McConnell and “The Establishment.” I think that’s either an incredibly juvenile or cynical motivation when you look at what the real-world consequences of his election would be. Yes, he’ll make McConnell’s job harder (Whoopee!). But he’ll also make Trump’s job harder. He’ll say something idiotic about how health-care reform should pay for electroshock therapy for transgender Muslims and the White House will have to respond. Moderate — and sane conservative — Republicans will have to distance themselves if they want to hold onto their seats. And the Democrats Trump wants to cut deals with will have a harder time doing anything with the Party of Moore. No matter how you slice it, it will be harder for Trump to rack up any of his coveted “wins.” The Republican brand will be tarnished even more as mainstream media outlets and late-night comedians gleefully broadcast Moore’s asininity to the broader public. But, yeah, sure: It’ll be entertaining for people who now follow politics like it’s one long pro-wrestling kayfabe.

The Price of Failure

These trends will get worse for lots of reasons. I could write a book about all of the reasons. Oh, wait: I pretty much did. But one reason is worth pointing out as the GOP moves into the tax-reform episode of this reality show. The more unproductive and dysfunctional Washington is, the more it seems irrelevant to, or incapable of improving, the lives of regular people, the lower the stakes become in treating politics like entertainment. If “The Establishment” can’t deliver the goods, why not just treat it like the straight man for clowns like Moore?

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: The beasts are ecstatic about the arrival of fall weather. But a small problem. Pippa, who’s always been a bit tetched in the cabeza, is getting weirder. In the mornings she’s super eager to go out, but when we get to the park before dawn these days she’s afraid of the dark. When I drive to the park she will chase a ball and then run right back into the car and hide. It takes a while to coax her back out and actually walk, which is unfair to Zoë. This phobia has been an intermittent problem ever since she got scared by two Corgis wearing flashing neon collars. That was when she ran over a mile home and I thought she was lost forever. In that episode, Zoë attacked one of the Corgis, on the assumption they were deadly aliens. I pulled her off very quickly and she’s much better about that sort of thing now. But the other morning we saw the dreaded neon Corgis again. I put Zoë on a leash immediately and she wasn’t even hostile. But Pippa ran away again, this time into the woods. Once the entirely harmless Corgis were out of sight Pippa came running back and hid in the foot-well of the front passenger seat. But now, it’s a problem at night too. Normally, Pippa will automatically go bonkers at the mere suggestion of going outside — like when I get out of a chair. But a lot of nights these days, you have to get her really worked up about the idea of going outside, and then she tends to just hide on my front lawn. It wouldn’t be a big deal, except the days are getting shorter and the darkness, horrible darkness, is ever more unavoidable.

Oh! One more canine update: The Zoë plush toy is out!

In other news . . .  The William F. Buckley Program is soliciting proposals for how best to advance Bill’s ideals. And there are cash prizes! Details here.

Don’t forget the NRI Dinner is coming up!

Or the Commentary Roast of Yours Truly.

I will be speaking at American University on October 4.

I will be speaking to the Conservative Forum of Silicon Valley on October 10.

ICYMI . . . 

The latest Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast.

The first half of my interview with Michael Graham on his Ricochet podcast.

My latest appearance on Special Report.

The second half of my interview with Michael Graham on his Ricochet podcast.

Bernie Sanders’s health-care proposal was more ‘extreme’ than Graham-Cassidy

Dogs really do love you.

Does America still believe in the right to be wrong?

Oh, a note about this column. I got an email asking me about whether or not I was influenced by Kevin “Seamus” Hasson’s book The Right To Be Wrong. Hasson founded the Becket Fund, a truly great organization. It is entirely possible Hasson influenced me by osmosis, but I have to say I was unaware of the book. Still, I’ve gone ahead and bought it.

Roy Moore’s passionate incoherence

Corporations are not omnipotent.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Guys: Be careful . . . lifting

Nuclear Armageddon savior has died

Why back to school season feels like the New Year

Quadcopter kaleidoscope

Iceland’s phallological museum

Iceland’s sorcery and witchcraft museum

The skills to pay the bills

Renaissance paintings and hallucinogens

Behold: pumpkin-spice pizza

Behold: Fireball-whiskey bagels

Behold: the dadbod fanny pack

A history of the Star Trek double-arm punch

Binge-watching TV is killing us

What if the dinosaurs hadn’t died out?

Ocean creatures with humanlike teeth

The pissing figure in art

Why we love end of the world prophecies

I’d like to be, under the sea, in an octopus’s city, in the shade . . . 

Cow raised to be a dog

Award-winning underwater photos

Trump’s Triangulation

by Jonah Goldberg
As an objective matter, triangulation in politics is almost always a smart move.

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 you Kentuckians, who know how to appreciate the life-giving glory that is our sun in all its radiant fulgor),

So as Bill Clinton said to the intern the next morning when she asked him, “What’s my name?”: I got nothing.

It feels like pretty much everything that can be said about the DACA “deal” has been said already, though it hasn’t been said by everybody quite yet.

But here’s something that you haven’t heard much, certainly not from me: President Trump has had a pretty good few weeks. This is certainly true when grading on a curve based on his previous weeks’ performance. But that’s a bit like plotting the high points of a dead-cat bounce. No, he’s actually had a legitimately good week or two.

You see, for presidents — and other carbon-based life forms — what counts as a “success” isn’t always what you do, but what you avoid.

(I learned this lesson as a young man after I was kidnapped and forced to live in the fetid dungeons set up for the illegal fighting pits deep below Prague. Any day you could avoid fighting Günther the Undying with his preferred weapon — a long motorcycle chain with a cinderblock at the end — was a good day. The whoosh-whoosh-whoosh-smack-splat sound of that chunk of concrete hitting my friend Lothar’s head still gives me shivers. That’s why I mastered the “Pick him! Pick him!” eyeball gesture, which I still use every now and then when Lowry walks into a meeting and says something like, “Who wants to write the editorial about debt reduction in the next budget?” It works as well on Ramesh as it did on Lothar.)

Whether you want to give President Trump 100 percent of the credit or just some sane amount, the fact is that the federal response to two daunting hurricanes has been, by all accounts, a very good one. I think presidents play a much smaller role in these things than the press (and the public) like to pretend. But you can be sure that if the response had gone badly or if there were even a few convenient excuses to attack Trump over the administration’s response, he would have gotten a ton of blame. Dogs that don’t bark don’t get a lot of attention from the press, but I think people notice these things (hurricane ratings dwarf the typical Politburo-sized panel discussion on Russian collusion).

Then there’s the fact that Trump reached out to the Democrats. Wearing my partisan hat, I want to melt into the Balkan hills and fight the Nazis. Wearing my political partisan hat, however, I don’t like the idea of striking deals with “Chuck and Nancy.” As a conservative, I would prefer it if Trump were more inclined to use DACA as a bargaining chip, as I write in my column today and as NR elucidates in our editorial for the umpteenth time.

But as an objective matter, triangulation in politics is almost always a smart move, at least at first. Do it too much or pick the wrong thing to triangulate on, and it can blow up on you. But as a general proposition, Chuck Schumer was right on the hot mike — whoops, sorry, I meant hot mic. (Chuck on the hot Mike would be different). Anyway, on Thursday, Schumer was (allegedly) caught by a hot mic on the Senate floor saying:

Here’s what I told him: “Mr. President, you are much better off sometimes stepping right and sometimes step left. [If] you have to step just in one direction, you’re boxed.”

This has been a central insight of presidential politics for as long as left and right had any meaning in American life. FDR was slipperier than a greased dachshund; Nixon alternated between using a chair and a whip on conservatives and feeding them red meat; George W. Bush touted himself as a “compassionate conservative” and started his presidency by working with Ted Kennedy on education. Bill Clinton smoked pot but didn’t inhale, said he agreed with opponents of the first Persian Gulf War but would have voted with supporters, picked vacation spots based on how they polled with swing voters, and liked Miller Lite because it was less filling and it tasted great. He followed Yogi Berra’s advice in all things: When you come to a fork in the road, take it. More on that in a minute.

The point is that Trump’s reaching out to the opposition party is normal behavior for presidents. They understand that simply pandering to the base will hurt you with the meaty chunk of voters in the middle of the ideological bell curve. That’s why even when Barack Obama did radical things, he sold them as commonsense “pragmatic” policies. The Left knew what it was getting, and many in the middle thought it all sounded reasonable enough.

The Shock of The New

There are two reasons why Trump’s maneuver seems so weird and came as such a shock to the leaders of Trump Inc., as well as to some of the Trump voters suffering from political Stockholm syndrome. First, Trump’s presidency hasn’t been “normal” in the same way a fluorescent-green cycloptic grizzly bear wearing Mr. Rogers’s sweater as he plays Chopin on a banjo is not “typical.”

The second reason, which is obviously related to the first, is that he’s simply winging it. I am convinced Trump agreed to the debt-ceiling deal last week on the fly in the Oval Office as way to piss off Mitch McConnell and nothing more. He liked the results in the media so, like the tic-tac-toe chicken I mentioned in last week’s “news”letter, he kept pecking in that direction.

If you believed that it was normal for a commander in chief to pull the oars of his White House based on the drumbeats coming from Fox & Friends and Sean Hannity, seeing him suddenly veer off course must come as quite a shock to the system. I’m sure that dude in Grizzly Man, who really believed he was in perfect harmony with the bears of Alaska, couldn’t have been more shocked when his friend started eating his face.

Various & Sundry (In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida Edition):

I have a lot more on my mind, but I’m going to cut this week’s “news”letter atypically short today because I have a mountain of work to do on the book by Monday. But in recompense, herewith an extended version of the V&S section.

Above, I said I’d return to the topic of Bill Clinton’s triangulation, which was going to be the second part of this “news”letter. So, let me make the point more succinctly. There’s a good conversation in this week’s edition of The Editors podcast about Hillary Clinton’s book. As Charlie notes, lots of liberals were — and are — angry that most “Never Trump” conservatives didn’t endorse Hillary (an anger shared by some pro-Trump conservatives seeking a balm for their cognitive dissonance).

There’s nothing (I can think of) in the realm of the possible that Hillary could have done that would have convinced me to endorse her. But the point remains that she could have run a campaign that appealed more to the center. Charlie & Co. credit a hubris in technocratic liberalism that assumes liberals are simply right on every issue, so there’s no need to change position on anything. Bill may have thought he was right on every issue, but he understood that politics is about more than being right — it’s about understanding and wooing people you think are wrong. Every president in our lifetime understood that, save for Barack Obama. The problem is it worked for Obama. Which is why I think that there’s a second reason why Hillary didn’t adapt the way her husband did.

There’s nothing (I can think of) in the realm of the possible that Hillary could have done that would have convinced me to endorse her.

As I wrote repeatedly — to much scorn from the Left — Hillary thought she could use gender the way Obama used race to put together an Obama-style coalition of lefty young people and minorities. But gender and race have different frequencies in American politics and culture. Running a base campaign rooted on the idea that it was “her turn” just wasn’t compelling enough. Also, the fact that Obama wore thin on people by the end of his presidency and devastated the Democratic party should have signaled to Hillary that replaying Obama’s strategy was ill-advised.

Of course, there’s a third factor. Hillary was a known quantity for 30 years, and lots of people who may have liked the idea of a female president didn’t want this woman being president. No one wanted to watch a lugubrious robot on TV for the next four years, particularly when The Trump Show was on a competing channel.

I have a lot of thoughts on Russ Roberts’s essay on tribalism, but as I have almost completed a whole book on tribalism, I’ll save them for later. Meanwhile, you should read his essay.

My Friday column is okay, but I think the first three quotes really capture the nature of the moment we’re in.

Many were sorry to hear that the Cassini space probe crashed into Saturn this week, ending a 20-year mission. I, for one, feel no such remorse. I like space probes that weren’t captured.

Congratulations to Ben Shapiro for his successful foray into the safe-space-for-stupidity at Berkeley. Truth be told, I have mixed emotions about the whole thing. I like and respect Ben, and I’m happy for him that he’s gotten all this attention. But I can’t get past the idiocy of the whole spectacle. I surely disagree with Ben on a few issues (though I don’t know what they are), but the idea that he isn’t a perfectly normal conservative strikes me as bizarre. So, the idea that hordes of people succumbed to St. Vitus’s Dance at the thought of him saying conservative things leaves me oddly numb. In a normal world, there would have been a large contingent of professors and administrators who largely shared Ben’s worldview, given that his worldview is shared by tens of millions of Americans and, until fairly recently, would have been considered fairly conventional even among many Democrats. The fact that Berkeley doesn’t understand that seems like all the reason you’d need to fire the entire administration and start from scratch. What other business would allow itself to become openly hostile to such a massive slice of the market?

In more encouraging news, Harvard rescinded its fellowship to Chelsea Manning (which, ironically is what Bradley Manning did to himself, if you catch my drift). But as Noah Rothman was the first to catch, Harvard didn’t rescind the invitation, just the honorific “fellow.” Apparently, Harvard’s president thought that if he buried that fact in a morass of verbiage that makes an iTunes user agreement seem riveting, no one would notice. And, if not for that meddling kid at Commentary, they would have gotten away with it.

Canine Update: All is well in doggo world, for the most part. One of the more interesting developments is that Pippa has discovered that if she beats Zoë to the spot next to me, Zoë won’t kill her. So now, when I walk toward the over-sized chair in the kitchen to work or watch TV, they race like fraternity brothers to get the shotgun position. Zoë is pissed about it, but because she’s turning into such a sweet girl, all she does is pout when she loses.

Yesterday, some dogs were frolicking in front of the house, and this enraged Zoë. I caught the end of it on video in which you can see how Pippa was just lending moral support to Zoë — the spaniel really couldn’t care less. Speaking of frolicking, here’s how I spend a big chunk of my days of late (turn up the volume).

This started as a Corner post and turned into a whole article on the ackamarackus bordering on flimflam that is the “Republicans Don’t Believe In Science” clatfart and bushwa.

Don’t forget: There’s still time to sign up for the Fourth Annual William F. Buckley Jr. Prize Dinner on October 25, 2017, at Gotham Hall in NYC. James Rosen in a Carmen Miranda outfit will emcee. We will be honoring Tom Wolfe, who will get the WFB Prize for Leadership in Political Thought. And Bruce and Suzie Kovner will be receiving the WFB Prize for Leadership in Supporting Liberty. And, since I have no role in the ceremonies, I will be happily at the bar making with the chitchat and badinage. Details here.

Oh, and if for some reason you can’t make it (Shame! Shame!), there’s the Commentary Roast a month later.

And now the other stuff.

Last week’s G-File.

Feminists find “homosocialism” in man caves.

My Monday NPR hit

Rachel Maddow’s Woodrow Wilson dishonesty

Is Hillary Clinton Cersei Lannister?

Trump doesn’t care about “Trumpism,” only “winning.”

Watch people make fun of me at the Commentary Roast.

Columbia Journalism Review asked me what to make of the conservative commentariat’s reaction to Trump’s DACA-deal talk.

And then I wrote a column about it.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

The Voynich Manuscript . . . still unsolved

Behold: The Fatberg of London

How Americans are winning the battle over the English language

African wild dogs vote by sneezing

The best protected treasure vaults

Southwest Airlines flies puppies and kittens away from hurricane

Animals in unexpected places

When America and Great Britain almost went to war over a pig

Arkansas woman uses state money to buy a dog a tuxedo

Two babies born back-to-back in the same Burger King parking lot

Chainsaw nun is the hero we need

Why we can’t stop hurricanes

Drunk bro successfully swims across Hoover Dam

Police take (a different) drunk bro home, take selfie with him to help him remember how he got there

Cassini probe ends its Saturn mission

Trump’s Dance with Dems

by Jonah Goldberg
Pro-Trump pundits look at his outbursts and spasmodic actions and imbue them with meaning that simply isn’t there.

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 Readers (particularly those in Irma’s path. Please stay safe),

In Ancient Rome, a haruspex — a type of priest — would carefully study the entrails of sacrificial animals in order to divine the intent of the gods, the course of events, or even who might win the big game this weekend between the Gladiators and the Lions.

The haruspices were very smart people. They used their intelligence to explain how the enlarged liver of a pigeon meant that the wheat harvest would be good or how the length of a chicken’s colon proved that Caesar’s gout would clear up. Haruspices are not to be confused with augurs, who made similar determinations based upon the flight formation of birds and the sounds they made. Those guys were idiots! That’s not science!

Actually, I kid — the augurs were very smart too. By taking the auspices of birds, they could explain whether Rome should go to war with the Peoples’ Front of Judea or the Judean Peoples’ Front. The Roman historian Livy noted, “Who does not know that this city was founded only after taking the auspices, that everything in war and in peace, at home and abroad, was done only after taking the auspices?”

But here’s the thing. These men — and they were all men, damn the patriarchy — were extremely smart, but their intelligence was reflected entirely in their explanations. The entrails had no magical properties. A rooster spleen will not tell you whether you should destroy Carthage, never mind whether you will survive the attempt. The V-formation of geese has no bearing whatsoever on whether you should or will stab Caesar. The genius of it all lay in the sales job. No doubt some — many! — haruspices and augurs believed what they were saying (even if they were willing to be compensated for taking a second look at a dove’s bowels in the event some rich senator was looking for a different ruling). I’m sure many palm readers believe what they say, too.

Connecting Random Dots

Why do I bring all of this up? Because I am coming around to the position that the vast bulk of punditry in defense of Donald Trump is little different from hepatoscopy, chiromancy, tasseography, and other “sciences” that imbue essentially random phenomena with deep and prophetic significance (this is not to say that orbistry, the practice of explaining everything weird in this crazy world, is not 100 percent correct). Let’s just look at the past week.

On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to “immediately terminate” the DACA program if elected. In June, he flipped and said it would stay in place. Going into this week, the White House signaled that it would get rid of the program. On Tuesday, Trump’s attorney general came out and declared that the program was unconstitutional. And, in a move I praised, Trump said that he would give the task of dealing with the issue to Congress. But, after watching negative TV coverage and bristling at Barack Obama’s criticism, Trump flopped. In a tweet, Trump suggested he wants Congress to legalize the program, not get rid of it. And if Congress failed, he might have to “revisit” the issue, implying that Trump might use the same unconstitutional measures Obama used:

Now, in fairness to Trump, he’s always been torn on the issue, and rightly so. Deporting the “Dreamers” is a terrible idea. But the position of most immigration hawks has always been that we should trade some form of amnesty in exchange for serious border-security measures and/or implementation of E-verify or similar steps.

So, let’s consider instead the other big news this week. President Trump threw Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and the House Freedom Caucus under the bus to cut a deal with “Chuck and Nancy” on a short-term extension of the debt ceiling. Wait, scratch that. He didn’t “cut a deal” with the Democrats, he simply took their first offer in exchange for . . . nothing. He took a “deal” to get Harvey relief passed despite the fact that Harvey relief would have passed anyway. This was not The Art of the Deal. It was — to borrow a phrase from Seth Mandel — The Art of the Kneel.

Trump kicked the can to December, when his leverage will be weaker, apparently in a glandular act of spite against McConnell and Ryan. John Boehner was hounded out of office by tea-party types for even considering cutting far better debt-ceiling deals with Barack Obama.

In both of these cases, the response from legions of Trumpers was rapturous approval of his genius and/or his willingness to punish McConnell and Ryan. Here’s Lou Dobbs:

See if you can follow the logic. Paul Ryan, a lifelong Republican and the most conservative speaker of the House in living memory, took the fiscal hawks’ position, going back to the Ted Cruz government-shutdown circus of 2013. Donald Trump, until recently a life-long Democrat and New York liberal, embraced the opening offer from the leaders of the Democratic party, Chuck and Nancy. And Dobbs’s instantaneous conclusion? Paul Ryan, who over-performed Donald Trump in the 2016 election by 12 points, is the “RINO.” Does anyone doubt that if the policy positions were rearranged and Ryan had insisted on a short-term deal, Dobbs would be castigating that position?

I won’t clutter this “news”letter up with all of the claims that Trump’s handling of DACA and the debt-ceiling were brilliant masterstrokes.

Matt Walsh captures the spirit nicely:

But here’s the thing: So much of the “analytical” punditry about Donald Trump’s genius isn’t analysis at all. It’s a form of haruspicy. The priests of the Trump cult look at Trump’s kneejerk, in-the-moment, utterly instinctual, and unthinking outbursts and spasmodic actions like the death rattle of a vivisected chicken and imbue them with meaning that simply isn’t there. They connect cherry-picked dots to create an image of sagacity, sometimes brilliantly, but the dots are just dots.

To this day, no one can explain to me how Trump is playing so far above everyone else — nth level chess! — and yet has the worst poll numbers in history and can’t get anything done. The thought that he’s in way over his head is just too terrible to contemplate, and so we get all of these ornate — and sometimes quite clever — explanations about how Trump has outfoxed everyone yet again.

But the man is not some political chess master — he’s a tic-tac-toe chicken pecking at whatever morsel of provocation his sphincterless id lights upon. If not every day, then certainly every week, Trump tweets something that causes his sane supporters to suffer from scrotal constriction and makes his life tougher and his agenda more difficult.

And yet the response from the augurs and haruspices is to write the rest of the story. They are like Chauncey Gardiner’s enablers, refusing to concede what is so obvious: Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing.

Again, I don’t mean to suggest that this augury is all dumb or even without merit. I think Ben Domenech’s take on Trump’s pivot includes many good points, but it is based to some extent on at least two erroneous assumptions: 1) that there’s a plan, a scheme, or a strategy behind his moves, beyond his extemporaneous impulse to screw people who annoy him, or simply to get attention, and 2) that even if there were a long-term plan, scheme, or strategy behind Trump’s actions, he could actually stick to it long enough to see it come to fruition. Ben may be right that Trump will now work with Democrats more. It would be consistent with his record and character — but if he does, it will be because he was manipulated into doing so. Tic-tac-toe chickens often win the game. But that’s because the machine’s owner knows where to put the pellets, not because the chicken knows what he’s doing.

Maddow’s Nonsense

The other night, I happened to catch Rachel Maddow’s opening monologue. You can watch the whole thing here.

As longtime readers know, I am a charter member in the International Order of Woodrow Wilson Haters. So when Maddow began her show talking about Wilson, I took the bait.

I don’t have the room or energy to cover the whole thing, but the monologue was a horrendous display of intellectual dishonesty. I say “dishonesty” because Maddow is actually quite bright and she, I think, chooses her words fairly deliberately, at least when she pre-produces or writes things.

She begins by noting that Wilson was reelected in 1916 on a promise to keep us out of the war in Europe (no one called it “World War I” then, a fact Hollywood sometimes forgets). She notes that going into the 1918 midterms, Wilson was very unpopular for the “war and other stuff.” (“Other stuff” being a useful rhetorical carpet to sweep myriad outrages under.) Wilson’s party, the Democratic party, got “shellacked.” And because of that the Republican party took control of Congress, enabling Albert Johnson to take over the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization. Maddow correctly notes that Johnson was a Republican and a eugenicist and a staunch racist opponent of immigration.

But she’s very keen on repeatedly pointing out these partisan affiliations, leaving the impression that the evil tide of eugenics was held at bay by the Democratic party until, tragically, the Republicans got into power.

She then says:

Soon after he took over, the House of Representatives Committee on Immigration and Naturalization hired themselves an expert eugenics agent. Albert Johnson, the chairman, in addition to serving in Congress, he had become the president of the Eugenics Research Association of America, and once he was chairman of that committee, he brought on one of the officers from the Eugenics Research Association of America, this guy Harry Laughlin, to become an expert eugenics agent to the Immigration Committee in Congress. And together these two eugenicists got to work.

In 1922, Harry Laughlin created this chart [pictured] — ooh, look! Science! It’s a chart! You can see diagonal there that’s the watermark of Truman State University, they’ve preserved this document online as part of their history of eugenics project. But this is a chart that Harry Laughlin created when he was the expert eugenics consultant for that congressional committee. What this chart purports to show is the “relative social inadequacy” of various immigrant races in the United States. What counts as social inadequacy? Well, according to the chart, that includes “feeblemindedness, insanity, crime, epilepsy, tuberculosis, blindness, deafness, deformity, and dependency.” And then the chart ranks your likelihood of being any of those things, or having any of those things, based on your national origin.

Maddow’s ultimate goal is to make Jeff Sessions the modern incarnation of Albert Johnson. I think that’s stupid, but I also think it’s uninteresting. My core objection is how she frames this historical backdrop, though I should say that I wouldn’t be so worked up if she didn’t seem so smug about her cleverness in making this patently misleading argument.

I should also note that I have no problem criticizing Johnson or Laughlin or the 1924 Immigration Act — co-sponsored by Johnson and Senator David Reed.

Let’s start there. While Maddow is eager to point out that Johnson was a Republican and implies that he did these terrible things only because Republicans tragically gained power, she leaves out that the Immigration Act passed by massive veto-proof majorities in both houses (308 to 62 in the House; 69 to 9 in the Senate). Maddow also makes it sound like anti-immigration sentiment was driven entirely by eugenic racism, when it was a good deal more complicated than that.

One of the complicating factors was the lingering role of the First Red Scare, fueled in large part by the Wilson administration (the Palmer Raids, recall, were led by Wilson’s attorney general). It was Woodrow Wilson who ripped into “hyphenated-Americans”: “Any man who carries a hyphen about with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic whenever he gets ready.”

Another complicating factor, which Maddow completely leaves out, is that Woodrow Wilson was a committed racist — the most racist president of the 20th century — who shared many of Johnson’s views. Indeed, Wilson was almost surely more racist than Johnson, believing that it was a shame the South lost the Civil War. He supported Jim Crow and re-segregated the federal government, viciously purging black workers from the civil service.

Wilson supported Jim Crow and re-segregated the federal government, viciously purging black workers from the civil service.

He also helped advance the eugenic agenda. As governor of New Jersey, Wilson signed legislation authorizing the forcible sterilization of “the hopelessly defective and criminal classes.” He believed that blacks and Asian immigrants couldn’t be made into Americans and that they shouldn’t be permitted to vote. In his History of the American People, Wilson wrote that good, white men could not be expected to “live upon a handful of rice for a pittance” and compete with the Chinese, “who with their yellow skin and strange debasing habits of life seemed to them hardly fellow men at all but evil spirits, rather.”

More broadly, eugenics was central to the entire progressive project. Countless policies that Maddow endorses — the minimum wage chief among them — were promulgated by the leading progressives of the day as a way to encourage the growth of the fit and superior races at the expense of the unfit ones.

Yes, yes, Harry Laughlin was eugenicist and a “consultant” to Albert Johnson. La-di-frickin’-da. Read Thomas Leonard’s Illiberal Reformers, and you’ll find lists of famous progressive economists and intellectuals who were mentors, advisers, and consultants to Wilson who were soaked-to-the-bone racists and eugenicists. Indeed, Laughlin was a widely admired public intellectual among progressives and a political ally of no less than Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood. Sanger (who was opposed to abortion, by the way) sold her birth-control agenda in explicitly eugenic terms. When some eugenicists expressed skepticism about birth control being an essential priority, she reassured them:

Eugenicists may remember that not many years ago this program for race regeneration was subjected to the cruel ridicule of stupidity and ignorance. Today Eugenics is suggested by the most diverse minds as the most adequate and thorough avenue to the solution of racial, political and social problems. The most intransigent and daring teachers and scientists have lent their support to this great biological interpretation of the human race. The war has emphasized its necessity. The doctrine of Birth Control is now passing through the stage of ridicule, prejudice and misunderstanding. A few years ago this new weapon of civilization and freedom was condemned as immoral, destructive, obscene. Gradually the criticisms are lessening –understanding is taking the place of misunderstanding. The eugenic and civilization value of Birth Control is becoming apparent to the enlightened and the intelligent.

But maybe I’m missing something about the crucial relevance of hiring Laughlin as a consultant. What, then, to make of Dr. Edwin Katzen-Ellenbogen? He was a member of the Eugenics Research Association, too (the ERA, by the way, was a subsidiary of the Carnegie Institution). When Woodrow Wilson was elected governor of New Jersey, Katzen-Ellenbogen was hired as the chief eugenicist of his administration. Wilson asked him to draft the forced-sterilization law, which created Wilson’s Board of Examiners of Feebleminded, Epileptics, and Other Defectives. Katzen-Ellenbogen ended up working at Buchenwald where he killed thousands.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: While I was at Davidson College yesterday, I got a text from Kirsten, our invaluable dog walker. Zoë and her best pack buddy, Sammy, were doing their usual wrestling when they apparently rolled over a nest of yellowjackets. Both were attacked. Zoë had at least 20 of the buggers on her, and Kirsten tried to scrape them off with a stick. But Zoë — in the midst of an understandable freakout — didn’t understand that the stick was a tool for good and ran away from Kirsten. After clearing out of the area, Zoë and Sammy were okay, but clearly pretty traumatized.

My wife gave Zoë extra attention last night and tried to explain that sticks have multiple uses. Other than that, the beasts are good. The good cat is supervising, and Zoë is adjusting to the end of summer and remains quite demanding of my attention. The rains have made the dog park particularly good for digging, which Zoë appreciates. Zoë got to chase a rabbit yesterday morning on our dawn perambulation, and Pippa remains as spanielly as ever. Both doggers remain fascinated by turtles.

The huge audience (the fake media will never report how huge) was extremely polite and civil.

I had a great time at Davidson College last night. I’ve been to scores of colleges over the years, and Davidson remains one of the most impressive standouts (I hope my daughter will at least put it on her list one day). There were some stupid flyers calling for some kind of resistance to my talk, which included a bunch of supposedly outrageous quotes by me. But the huge audience (the fake media will never report how huge) was extremely polite and civil. And while some of the questions from the kids were decidedly hostile, they were nonetheless all fair game and civilly asked. I’m still working through how to talk about my upcoming book, and it was very helpful for me to hear from people who didn’t necessarily like what I had to say. Thanks to everyone — friend and foe alike — for the great turnout. I apologize for not hanging around afterward to sign books or get assaulted, but the administration was keen on getting me out of there, not least because it had been a very long day (and the bars were closing soon).

Oh, and I should have been doing this for a while, but the Fourth Annual William F. Buckley Jr. Prize Dinner is coming up: October 25, 2017, at Gotham Hall in NYC. No less than James Rosen — currently on parole — will be the emcee. We will be honoring Tom Wolfe, who will get the WFB Prize for Leadership in Political Thought. And Bruce and Suzie Kovner will be receiving the WFB Prize for Leadership in Supporting Liberty. The Kovners are not well known to the general public, but in the word of liberty-promoting philanthropy, they are superstars.

We’ll also be saying something or other about Rich Lowry’s 25 years at NR.

It should be a blast, a veritable Cannonball Run of conservative luminaries with music provided by the Juilliard School. Proceeds will also go towards helping me buy pants. Details here.

In other news . . . 

I’ll be on Special Report Friday night. (By the way, the feedback on the beard has been mostly positive so I think I’ll keep it for a while longer).

Last week’s G-File

My Q&A for Davidson College, in advance of my speech there yesterday

My latest appearance on Special Report

My take on Trump and DACA

Antifa is bad, but it shouldn’t be designated as a terrorist organization.

The Game of Thrones Ricochet GLoP, with Sonny Bunch and Ross Douthat replacing Rob Long. (Nobody wanted to bite at my suggestion that Game of Thrones is neoconservative, alas).

Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Thursday links

The Voynich Manuscript, solved

Robbers hold up party . . . of police officers

What is an octopus?

Is marijuana bad for sperm health?

Beware the Bryozoan blob

Dog worshiped as deity

Mario is no longer a plumber

Where did dragons come from?

Where can you find them?

The longest place name

Freddie Mercury, stamp collector

Peter the Great, beard hater

Prize-winning photos of birds

Police dog enjoys a treat

Convenience-store worker mans his post

But could he have stopped this seagull?

A history of napkins

A dialect coach assesses actors’ impersonations of real people

The Idiot Boys of Antifa and the Alt-Right

by Jonah Goldberg
A lot of what’s happened over the last 10,000 years can be attributed to hormonally charged young men pulling stupid crap.

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 particularly those among you who will be experiencing kalsarikännit over the holiday weekend),

Well, as Bob Menendez said when he walked through the door of a certain Hoboken “social club,” I’m home. And as the New Jersey senator said when the electronic cash-counting machine broke down, I’ve got a lot of work to do. So, as the former vice chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus said when the bed in his hotel suite was covered in various Las Vegas–area “hostesses,” I’m gonna jump right in.

As everyone should, I was reading the new essay by my old friend, Matt “Two-Drink Minimum” Labash. He writes about Antifa and all that jazz. One passage stuck out for me. Matt “I Only Carry Stacks of Single Dollar Bills” Labash profiles a couple of anti-Antifa activists who get called fascists and white supremacists, despite the fact one is half-Japanese and the other is Samoan and neither is a fascist nor white supremacist (more on that in a bit). The Samoan guy goes by the name “Tiny” and serves as a kind of bodyguard to Joey at various protests and counter-protests. Matt “If Only You Could See My Tattoos” Labash writes:

Tiny, 21, also came to politics through anger. Convinced all Trumpkins were racists, “I’d drive around and beat them up,” he says nonchalantly. When he couldn’t find any to sass him back in street encounters after he’d provoked them, he’d go home and watch other Trump supporters get pounded online. “It made me happy. F—in’ racists getting beaten up,” he said. While looking for more anti-Trumpkin-violence to enjoy, he clicked one day on video from one of Joey’s rallies. “He gave a speech” about love and unity, says Tiny. “Everything he said made me confused. I thought all these f—ers were violent and racist. So I kind of had a change of heart and reached out to Joey. If I had found out about antifa before finding out about him, I’d have been antifa, too.”

This reminded me of a passage from Michael Burleigh’s wonderful book, The Third Reich: A New History (which you can also find in my book). He recounts a story of a young Patrick Leigh Fermor, a British guy traveling around Germany in the early 1930s. One night, he made some drinking buddies in a Rhineland workers’ pub. They were still all wearing their nightshift overalls. One of the guys he met offered to let Fermor crash at his pad. Fermor climbed a ladder to the attic where the guest bed was, and he found “a shrine to Hitleriana”:

The walls were covered with flags, photographs, posters, slogans and emblems. His SA uniforms hung neatly ironed on a hanger . . . When I said that it must be rather claustrophobic with all that stuff on the walls, he laughed and sat down on the bed, and said: “Mensch! You should have seen it last year! You would have laughed! Then it was all red flags, stars, hammers, sickles, pictures of Lenin and Stalin and Workers of the World Unite! . . . Then, suddenly when Hitler came to power, I understood it was all nonsense and lies. I realized Adolf was the man for me. All of a sudden!” He snapped his fingers in the air. “And here I am!” . . . Had a lot of people done the same, then? “Millions! I tell you, I was astonished how easily they all changed sides!”

Now, I don’t think a lot of Antifa types are poised to become Trumpers, never mind alt-righters or fascists or Nazis (all of these things are different, by the way). Nor do I think there will be lots of conversions the other way.

But I do think there’s a tendency to take all of these people too seriously. Put aside the question of whether Antifa is “morally indistinguishable” from neo-Nazis, as my friend and colleague Marc Thiessen writes. Also, leave aside whether they’re ideologically similar.

It seems to me the elephant in the room people that keep breezing past is whether or not these people are psychologically similar. I remember when Antifa types first started showing up on television breaking stuff, setting fires, punching people, and the like, my wife said, “Those are just idiot boys looking for an excuse to break stuff and get in fights.”

Can anyone really dispute that this is a huge part of what’s going on with all these radicals on the left and the alt-right? A big swathe of the bad things that have happened over the last 10,000 years can be attributed to hormonally charged young men pulling stupid crap. Yes, yes, before the feminists get mad at me, plenty of young women have done stupid crap, too (indeed, there’s a weird school of thought that thinks it’s a great triumph when women live down to the lowest standards of men, but that’s a subject for another time).

If you want to get all Darwinian about it, you could chalk it up the common behavior of male chimpanzees and humans alike of getting into fights to impress females. If you want to get all Moynihanny about it, you can blame the degradation of families and fatherhood. Or you can blame secularization, or the ennui that comes with late-stage capitalism, or the frick’n influence of Nietzsche or Mr. Rogers. The point is young people, particularly males, love to create drama, defy authority, and anoint themselves the heroic warriors of their tale.

In that passage from Matt “Those Aren’t Pillows” Labash’s essay, Tiny admits he would have joined Antifa if he had stumbled on a different YouTube video. That pretty much tells you all you need to know. Some people just want an excuse to act on impulses that have remarkably little, if anything, to do with ideology. Radicalism is better understood as a psychological drive than a serious intellectual position.

The best analogy is to criminal outfits. I’m sure if you talked to a Crip or a Blood, they’d be able to talk your ear off about how different Crips and Bloods are from each other. But I think all rational people understand the differences are smaller than those between Coke and Pepsi. My hunch is that if you held everything else constant, a Crip born in Blood territory would grow up to be a Blood. If Tony Soprano had been born a Lupertazzi instead, how much would change? And if Millhouse had been born in Shelbyville, he’d be saying those damn Springfieldians are the ones addicted to sweets.

Trying Too Hard

Intellectuals and ideologues of various stripes tend not to like these kinds of explanations, for the largely laudable reason that they make a living working with ideas (and partisans like to make hay wherever they can). This is why conservatives often place too much emphasis on bad left-wing ideas to explain the breakdown in morals, marriage, etc. As I’ve written many times before, the car and the birth-control pill have — for good and ill — done more to overturn settled institutions and customs than Nietzsche or Marx ever could. But pills and automobiles are hard to argue with, so like drunks searching for their car keys under the street lamp because that’s where the light is good, intellectuals focus on the stuff they can argue with.

Take this fairly representative Twitter thread from a writer trying to insist that there are deep and profound ideological differences between Antifa and the alt-right, particularly this bit:

Before I get to my actual point, a few clarifications.

First of all, Stalinism was genocidal (so were Leninism, Maoism, Jacobinism, Pol Potism, etc.). The only legitimate retort to this is immorally legalistic. The Soviets successfully lobbied the U.N. to exclude the kinds of mass murder the Soviets were guilty of from the official definition of genocide.

Second, capitalism did not “give us chattel slavery.” I don’t know where it started, but people who peddle this line seem to think the word “chattel” only applies to American slavery. But all “chattel” means is “property,” and people kept slaves as property on every continent — save Antarctica — since the dawn of the Agricultural Revolution. The Ancient Greeks, Romans, Aztecs, Chinese, Native Americans, et al. all practiced “chattel slavery” for thousands of years. It even exists today in the Islamic State. You know who else had slaves? Stalin. If you want to call it “forced labor” that’s fine — though I doubt it would be a meaningful distinction to the millions sent into bondage by Stalin.

Third, the idea that an ideology being based on “equality” somehow exonerates it is ridiculous. It, of course, depends on what you mean by equality. Equality under the rule of law is the bedrock principle of liberal democracy. Enforced economic equality is the stuff of totalitarianism. And not just economic equality; if you’re confused on this point, you should read Harrison Bergeron.

Equality under the rule of law is the bedrock principle of liberal democracy. Enforced economic equality is the stuff of totalitarianism.

I don’t want to start cannibalizing my forthcoming book, but the simple fact is that most of these ideological rationalizations for why Antifa is so very different from the alt-right or “fascists” are morally obtuse distractions. Sure, the ideological arguments invoked by Antifa and the alt-right are different. Fine. Also, who cares? Let’s say for the sake of argument Antifa is “better” than the alt-right? Congrats! You’ve established that you’re better than Nazis. Good for you. The relevant question is whether Antifa’s behavior is morally or legally justifiable and the obvious answer is “Of course not.”

But as Irving Kristol once said, “When we lack the will to see things as they really are, there is nothing so mystifying as the obvious.” And so supposedly serious people expend enormous energy trying to explain why their pet goon squads are morally superior to other goon squads.

Never mind that the people exhausting themselves trying to justify Antifa’s antics consistently steal a base. As Matt “Smell My Fingers” Labash demonstrates, many of the people these self-styled Roter Frontkämpferbund are beating up aren’t fascists, save in the sense Orwell had in mind when he wrote that “the word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable.’” Sure, Antifa will beat up fascists, and my dog will chase squirrels. But my dog will also chase chipmunks, rabbits, mice, crows, deer, and — given the chance — gnus. Antifa appears equally discriminating.

And, unlike conservatives who condemn the white supremacists and neo-nazis, the leftists defending Antifa are actually lending aid and comfort to them by crafting ridiculous rationalizations for their behavior. As we’ve seen, that’s all these shmucks need.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: The doggos were very happy to see me, almost as happy as I was to see them. Zoë’s neediness seems to have been exacerbated by my long absence. She demands a lot more scratching than even before I left on our West Coast trip. And while Pippa demanded an unusual amount of lap-dog time, she’s still more interested in tennis-ball retrieval. The problem is that, with the end of summer, lots of plants are shedding their burrs and seedlings, which, for some evolutionary reason, are perfectly suited for spaniel fur. And, according to Murphy’s Law, a thrown tennis ball must land in precisely the spot where such vegan hate-balls are densest. I spent the better part of an hour yanking them out of her ears and the tufts of hair on her head we call her toupee. The early fall weather also has them living with their mischief batteries overcharged.

Oh, since we’re on the topic of dogs, here’s my (latest) defense of my dog obsession. I gave a great shout out to the Dogist (and a lot of new Twitter followers). I didn’t get a thank you, which is weird. Still it’s a great account.

I am pretty much consumed with the final edits of the manuscript for the next two weeks, but I will be on Special Report either next Tuesday or Wednesday. I will also be giving a talk at Davidson College next Thursday.

Oh, and we recorded a new GLoP this week (Read the comments for images of Ricardo Montalban as a Japanese crime lord).

Here’s some other stuff I wrote recently:

Last week’s G-File.

Getting the record straight on Antifa violence.

Americans come together to help one another in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

Good news: NASA is working on super-volcano mitigation.

How do you solve a problem like North Korea?

And now, the weird stuff.

One of the great corrections

Debby’s Tuesday links

Debby’s Friday links

A parasite-infested mummy

The greatest rabbits in film history

How women got dressed in 18th-century England

Peeing statues

What would aliens look like?

Every song of the summer since 1958

Historic tree in Houston weathers Harvey, everything else

“Sea dragon” fossil found

How a blind traveler felt his way around the world

A cube made of every collectible element on Earth

Scared, abandoned dog rescued, becomes happy

Beware the floating fire-ant colonies of Texas

Hawk and snake cause Montana fire

Speed limits worldwide

A monarch caterpillar enters its cocoon

Behold: a transparent squid

Scientists working on shark repellent

(Batman did it first.)

Dog runs up wall

Flock of birds cancels baseball game in Japan

Nine Hurricane Harvey survivor dogs

The Revenge of El Jabato

by Jonah Goldberg
Progress depends on knowing where you’ve been.

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 exalted knights of the sword of covfefe),

Greetings from Southern California. Some of you may remember that I’m out here doing a little father-daughter adventuring. I’ll save those details for the end. Now that the suits have robbed this “news”letter of even the pretense of newsletteriness, I feel like cluttering this up with personal details at the top is no longer justifiable. So, we’ll just have to see if there’s time to get to my take on the eclipse, the canine update, the fact that today is my 16th wedding anniversary, or that guy I stabbed outside the Peking Restaurant in Westminster, Calif., (they have fantastic dumplings, btw). Thanks a lot, suits.

I don’t want to sound disgruntled about how calling this a “news”letter is even less of a nomer than it was before. I would like it to go beknownst to the reader that I am in fact quite gruntled this morning. In fact, I am so overflowing with feck and gruntle, it is my intention to have my prose seem as choate and promptu as I, your humble correspondent, seem chalant and kempt. I know that you, dear readers, are defatigable with tiresome gimmicks and mayed by my cessant writing about my bridled support for the president. And while some of you are merely whelmed by my less than dignant criticisms and bounded optimism, many are not. So, if it doesn’t seem too petuous of me, I’d like to avoid discussing our flappable commander in chief and his peccable presidential demeanor. I went to sleep at a godly hour last night but I did not wake at one. (Apologies to Jack Winter.)

So, let’s start this again.                                       

Greetings from New Numantia!

My Friday column is about how the new wave of iconoclasm today isn’t really about iconoclasm, and it isn’t really new. Iconoclasm — the toppling or destroying of statues and images — is merely a symptom of our underlying civilizational illness.

I wanted to write about Numantia in the column, but I got too dragged into the nitty-gritty of the controversy over Christopher Columbus, specifically the ridiculousness of Melissa Mark-Viverito, the speaker of the New York City Council, wanting to pull down the statue of Columbus in Columbus Circle. So, let me pick up where I left off. I concluded:

My point is not that the world ushered in by Christopher Columbus has been very good to Mark-Viverito, though it obviously has. It is that toppling some statues or even incanting some nonsense about “cultural appropriation” cannot separate the iconoclasts from the culture they live in. The mobs of students — and their enabling professors and administrators — renaming buildings and bowdlerizing the language are still products of Western civilization. Even the poseurs who think Googling a few phrases from Karl Marx and wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt make them anti-colonialists are disciples of Western thinkers. Where does Mark-Viverito think her mother’s feminism came from? The Arawaks?

For centuries, to the extent that educated Muslims talked about the Crusades at all, it was to boast about how they emerged victorious from them. But Osama bin Laden and his ilk read too much Noam Chomsky and caught the Western disease of victimization and resentment.

That is the plague sweeping the land now. And tearing down some statues and renaming some streets isn’t a cure, it’s a symptom.

Old Numantia

I guess I should back up. What is — or was — Numantia? It was an ancient mountain town in Spain (an oppidum if you need a Word of the Day). It was also the Iberian Celtic Alamo. When the Roman Empire was consolidating power in the Mediterranean, a bunch of native tribes resisted and defeated the Romans time and again. Numantia was sort of like their Tora Bora (though it probably had a smaller porn stockpile).

Finally, in 143 b.c., Scipio Africanus Minor was made consul (for a second time) because he was known to have an impressive stockpile of canned whup-ass. The Senate believed he was the only man capable of crushing the Numantines and restoring honor to the Roman army. Scipio accepted the job, but he kept his whup-ass mostly in the tins, despite the fact that he was given some 30,000 soldiers.

Scipio, a great student of war and history, was well-versed in the classic blunders, the most famous of which at the time was: “Never get involved in a land war in Numantia.”

So, instead, he launched a legendary siege, ringing Numantia with forts, walls, and towers. He even rigged a badass thingamabob across the River Duero. He moored huge trees on either side and strung a cable across festooned with blades and spearheads that constantly spun around thanks to the current, making it impossible to swim or boat past. If you disregard the tragedy, horror, and death, the whole thing was really quite impressive, in a Game of Thrones kind of way.

Eventually, Scipio starved the Numantines out. Some Numantines killed themselves, others were captured and sold into slavery.

But like the Alamo and Masada, the story of Numantia lived on. Cervantes even wrote a tragedy, The Siege of Numantia. And to this day, Spaniards hold festivals in their honor. Yuval Harari recounts how Numantia became a symbol of Spanish nationalism and independence. In Spain, during the 1950s and 1960s, the Golden Age of Comics, the greatest Spanish superhero was El Jabato, a fictional Iberian rebel fighting off the Romans:

But here’s the point (you knew I’d get to it eventually). For all the romanticizing of Iberian resistance, Harari notes, the celebration of Numantia is really a tribute to the triumph of Rome. The Numantian language is dead. Cervantes wrote in Spanish, a derivative of Roman Latin, using Latin script. The Spanish are overwhelmingly Catholic, and Catholics tend to pray in the language of the Romans. And the head of the Church, of course, is in Rome. Harari:

Similarly, modern Spanish law derives from Roman law; Spanish politics is built on Roman foundations; and Spanish cuisine and architecture owe a far greater debt to Roman legacies than to those of the Celts of Iberia. Nothing is really left of Numantia save ruins. Even its story has reached us thanks only to the writings of Roman historians. It was tailored to the tastes of Roman audiences which relished tales of freedom-loving barbarians.

The victory of Rome over Numantia was so complete that the victors co-opted the very memory of the vanquished. [Emphasis mine]

The Confederate Exception

The fight over Confederate statues is an outlier in the larger trend of iconoclasm in part because there are good arguments on the side of taking at least some of these statues down. Many of the monuments — statues as well as street names — to the Confederacy were put up as an asinine rebuke to the Civil Rights Movement. More charitably, some saw them as a consolation prize in this, their final defeat, at the hands of Lincoln’s American Empire of Liberty. Robert E. Lee was a kind of El Jabato of the self-styled beautiful losers.

My own attitude toward those monuments is somewhere between agnostic and pragmatically against them. If this controversy were an isolated event, unconnected from the larger war on the past, I’d say get rid of them for the most part. If all they represent is an irritable mental gesture against the Civil Rights Acts, then who needs them? And if the past-eating langoliers of today could be satiated with a few busts of Nathan Bedford Forrest, I’d be happy to feed them.

You Lost, and That’s Okay

But something else is going on. Many liberals love to mock “the War on Christmas” as so much talk-radio filler. And they often have a point. But many of these liberals are the first to argue that we need to replace Christmas with “Winter Break” or bore me to death with pseudo-sophisticated lectures about pagan solstices. As I mentioned in the column, “crusade” is now a triggering-word. So is “assimilation.” People take offense at saying, “America is the land of opportunity” or a “melting pot.” Yale and Silicon Valley think the word “master” is a hate crime, even when applied to liberal administrators and hard drives. I’ve been writing for years that America is suffering from a kind of autoimmune disorder where we’ve become allergic to our own civilization.

The universities infested by entitled little Jacobins are Western institutions, but every day the rabble take sledgehammers to the soapboxes they stand on.

The fascinating part is that this disease — one I chronicle at book-length in my forthcoming book — is a product of the West, too, particularly in America. Our congenital distrust of authority and suspicion of history were born in the Enlightenment and it informs us all, progressives and conservatives alike. It is what makes America great and exceptional, but in too big of a dose, it becomes lethal. Letting go of the past is the great American curative for all manner of European social and political pathologies. But letting go is not the same thing as forgetting, and forgetting is not the same thing as hating. The progressive push to erase the past has gone from being a remedy for social resentment to a cause of social resentment. The cure has become iatrogenic (iatrogenic ailments are conditions caused by the effort to cure other maladies).

When I listen to modern-day know-nothings of the Left and the “Right” curse modernity and capitalism, while hearkening back to some pre-Columbian Shangri-La that never was; or when ridiculous alt-righters prattle on about their Teutonic heritage and Viking vigor, you know what I see: a kind of Numantian cult.

They want to order off the Chinese menu of modernity, picking and choosing the dishes they like, while at the same time cursing the cuisine and the culture that created it. It’s like Hollywood lefties who crap on America, the only society in the world that could have ever made them incredibly wealthy for making movies about fart jokes. The universities infested by entitled little Jacobins are Western institutions, but every day the rabble take sledgehammers to the soapboxes they stand on. They take for granted their rights and privileges that derive entirely from the tradition they denounce. They think they are heroes in the real world, never realizing they are playing a game only made possible by the tradition they ignorantly claim to hate. And if they took the goals of the game and successfully applied them to the real world, they’d be the first to whine about how backward, unfair, and hard the world they created was.

They have no real tradition to draw upon save the one they claim is oppressive and cruel. They literally speak its language, use its laws, and benefit from its institutions, while claiming to be part of something more authentic.

We need the past like drivers need rearview mirrors. Get rid of the mirrors and, eventually, something terrible will happen. Similarly, if you concentrate on them too much, you’re sure to crash as well. Progress depends on knowing where you’ve been.

Various & Sundry

Simian Update: This is my second-to-last full day out west. It’s been a fun trip. We drove from Jackson Hole to Bend, Ore., and from Bend to Depoe Bay and from Depoe Bay to Portland. We then bade farewell to the Fair Jessica, who had to get back to work. Then my daughter and I launched our daddy-daughter adventure. We went indoor skydiving in Portland, which was really cool (I’d show you the video, but we’re still having trouble downloading it). Then we flew to Southern California. I’m typing this right now from poolside. My daughter just finished lunch and before that she had her first surfing lesson. Tomorrow we go to Universal Studios, where I expect to hemorrhage even more cash I don’t have.

Somewhere in there, we saw the eclipse (my daughter snapped some great pics and I broke new ground in eyewear fashion). It wasn’t cool the way I expected, but it was as cool as I had hoped. I was under the impression that a total eclipse meant the sunlight went away completely, like nighttime. It didn’t, at least not where we were. Instead, it was this fairly surreal twilight. It wasn’t quite a religious experience for me. Listening to some of the “experts” in advance of the event, I half expected petrified dragon eggs to hatch or the 2016 presidential race to be revealed as a dream. Instead, it was just nifty — and a great, memorable family experience. One thing I learned: In all of the movies and TV shows featuring eclipses, what you see on the screen isn’t what anybody sees with the naked eye. Even when the sun was 95 percent blocked, you really couldn’t see it without the special glasses. It turns out that cinematic eclipses are like loud explosions in space or good flan: kinda fake.

Oh and today is my 16th wedding anniversary. It kinda stinks that we’re apart for it. But after 16 years, delaying the celebration by a few days is not exactly a heavy lift, considering all the other stuff the Fair Jessica has to put up with. I remain, as ever, astonishingly lucky.

It also stinks that we had to leave the quadrupedal Goldbergs at home. We drove through hundreds of miles of doggie nirvana and spent hours pointing out things our beasts would like to jump into, run through, roll in, or chase. It never really feels like a full vacation when the beasts aren’t with us. The Fair Jessica says they freaked out appropriately upon her return. Normal canine updates to resume next week.

Last week’s G-File

On Charlottesville, Trump, and anti-Americanism

It’s only going to get weirder from here.

Why does the West hate itself so much?

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

The next solar eclipses, and the best places to see them

Beatles monuments in unexpected places

Two-headed turtle found in Florida

These smart pups can sniff out terrorists hiding in plain sight

When you miss the frisbee . . . 

Small child scores soccer goal

Formerly deaf people hear for the first time

What’s actually below New York City?

Scientists can take over animals’ brains now . . . 

Oh, and they also created a “holodeck” for animals, for some reason

Related: Me on why the Holodeck is stupid

Why are people from Indiana called Hoosiers?

The dog venerated by medieval Catholics as a saint

Dog loves her new bed

Man stops for Chick-fil-A while wife is in labor

An umbilical-cord-shaped iPhone charger

The ‘Last Straw’?

by Jonah Goldberg
This is the moment when Trumpism hits the fan.

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 Steve Bannon, who now has more time on his hands),

Normally, when I’m out of town, and I can only follow the news or check in on Twitter intermittently, I feel like the security guard at a sewage-treatment plant doing his morning rounds amidst the vats and pools: Same sh*t, different day.

But this week feels different. The fecal content is higher. The curlicues of shimmering methane distorting the air above Washington seem thicker.

Taking this metaphor beyond all good sense and taste, when I look at the gauges and dials in the control room, all the needles are in the red, and the sewage-outflow pipes are all pointed at the industrial turbines.

I feel like I’m Jack Lemon in a SyFy rip-off of The China Syndrome:

From the writers of Sharknado 7: The Sharkenating, SyFy brings you: Sh*t Show.

“My God. That’s not coolant water . . . that’s not water at all!”

In other words, it feels like this is the moment when Trumpism hits the fan.

Dead Presidency Walking?

Of course, it has felt like this to one extent or another before: when Trump denigrated John McCain’s military service, when he compared Ben Carson to a pedophile, when he smeared Ted Cruz’s father, when the Access Hollywood tape came out, after the various idiotic tweets, after he fired Comey, when he divulged intelligence sources and methods, etc.

And while this week will surely make every historian’s list of Great Moments in Presidents Stepping on Their Own Penises, he’ll surely survive this too. But survival is the wrong metric. Barring impeachment and removal, presidents can only be fired in elections. Lingering on for three-plus more years as a failed president is a kind of survival. The question is, is this presidency salvageable?

Reversible Entropy?

There’s a reason we have the expression: “The straw that breaks the camel’s back.” A piece of straw alone is not a burden for a camel. But if you pile on one burden after another, you reach “the last straw.”

This is one of the — if not the — most important dynamics in politics.

If you go back and look at any number of “spontaneous” political outbursts, you’ll discover that the actual people doing the, uh, out-bursting are actually responding to a long list of grievances and that the precipitating event was only the last straw. (A few that come to mind, in no particular order: the sudden emergence of the Tea Parties in 2009, the firestorms over Trent Lott’s comments about Strom Thurmond, George W. Bush’s nomination of Harriet Myers to the Supreme Court, Bill Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich, FDR’s court-packing scheme, the French and American Revolutions, Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, etc.)

For instance, the Arab Spring was ignited by the abuse of a street vendor in Tunisia, but the kindling for the region-wide political conflagration to come had accumulated over decades. You can imagine the anger and confusion of, say, Hosni Mubarak, who was left wondering why he had to step down because some peon in Tunis set himself on fire.

Hindsight is rarely 20/20 — but 20/20 foresight is an even rarer thing.

This tipping-point dynamic is one of the most interesting phenomena in politics, in part because it tends to catch so many people off guard. If it were obvious to everyone when we were approaching the Last Straw Moment, history would look very different, and we all would probably still be living under kings and emperors.

Sometimes historians have to come in like NTSB inspectors investigating a crash to explain the inevitability of something that everyone thought in the moment was spontaneous. Some of our Founding Fathers understood that slavery was doomed as an institution. Others believed it would endure forever. Hindsight is rarely 20/20 — but 20/20 foresight is an even rarer thing.

I have always believed that the Trump presidency would end badly because I believe character is destiny. There is no reasonable or morally sound definition of good character that Donald Trump can meet. That’s why we learned nothing new about Donald Trump this week. He can’t change. Some good, decent, and smart people couldn’t or wouldn’t see this. But every day, more people see this. The straw that breaks the camel’s back is a collective phenomenon, but like all collective phenomena it’s made up of a multitude of individual realizations.

For example, Julius Krein, the founder of the pro-Trump egghead journal American Affairs, reached his tipping point this week:

I supported the Republican in dozens of articles, radio and TV appearances, even as conservative friends and colleagues said I had to be kidding. As early as September 2015, I wrote that Mr. Trump was “the most serious candidate in the race.” Critics of the pro-Trump blog and then the nonprofit journal that I founded accused us of attempting to “understand Trump better than he understands himself.” I hoped that was the case. I saw the decline in this country — its weak economy and frayed social fabric — and I thought Mr. Trump’s willingness to move past partisan stalemates could begin a process of renewal.

It is now clear that my optimism was unfounded. I can’t stand by this disgraceful administration any longer, and I would urge anyone who once supported him as I did to stop defending the 45th president.

Like Joe Scarborough in the spring of 2016, he has hit his “Colonel Nicholson moment.” I was always skeptical of Krein’s project for the simple reason that crafting a coherent intellectual program around Donald Trump’s entirely glandular personality is like using the globule in a lava lamp as a ruler.

I don’t bring this up to say, “I told you so.” In fact, I think my fellow Trump skeptics on the right should resist the temptation to rub it in too much. For instance, I agree with many of the points Matt Lewis makes here, but rubbing salt into wounds elicits a reflex that is not helpful. Too many people have turned Trump into a populist or cultural avatar; “love me, love my president.” I think it is bizarre that so many people feel personally insulted when Donald Trump is insulted, but I think lots of entirely human reactions are bizarre. Trump is hardly the first political leader to elicit this kind of psychological reflex. Indeed, to some extent it’s true of every political and religious leader.

I do think it was idiotic to nominate Donald Trump as the GOP’s standard-bearer, but I do not think everyone who voted for him in the general election is an “idiot,” as Lewis suggests. Some of the smartest people I know voted for him, for defensible reasons. Krein and his fellow Trumpist intellectuals weren’t dumb, they were just wrong. And while I think the conservative movement would probably be in better shape if Hillary Clinton had won last November, I don’t think it’s nearly so obvious that America would be. But that is an entirely academic question at this point.

So why do I bring this up? Because the process of hitting the last straw is not uniform. My friend Hugh Hewitt thinks Trump’s support is solidifying:

I think that’s almost surely preposterous. But even if his anecdotal evidence is correct, what Hugh misses is that the camel is getting more burdened by the day. Trump’s core supporters — which now clearly includes the tiki-torch Nazis marching behind Obergruppenführers Richard Spencer and David Duke — may indeed be intensifying their investment in Trump, but far more people are intensifying their opposition to Trump, including as of this morning the folks at Breitbart.com. It’s funny. For a year now, they’ve been beating the drums insisting that everyone join the Trump cult of personality. But it turns out they were in it for Bannon all along. After all, no policy has changed. No new program has been announced. Trump is the same man he was yesterday. But with Bannon gone, the Breitbarters are going to war.

If Trump had a different character, I could imagine all sorts of scenarios in which he pivots, reboots, triangulates, or in some other way gets a do-over. But this week demonstrated — once again — that he can’t be anything other than what he is. The entropy is intensifying, the orbit is decaying, and rather than fight it, Trump is leaning into it. Think of it this way. Is there a remotely plausible scenario under which Julius Krein recants his denunciation of Trump? Is there a means by which the White House could entice all of the CEOs quitting these stupid councils and commissions to come back? What would that look like? The D.C. rumor mill is thick with stories of White House staffers looking for the exits and qualified people rejecting offers to come on board. Heck, what will now bring the Bannonistas back into the fold?

If you think Donald Trump has the skill and character necessary to reverse these trends, you also have to believe that Charlie Brown is going to kick the football this time around and that the scorpion is finally serious about not stinging the frog.

When Maximums Become Minimums

My Friday column is about the incandescently stupid idea that fighting Nazis is so virtuous that you can’t criticize “anti-fascists.” Noted political scientist Seth Rogen summarizes the attitude quite succinctly:

Having written a whole book on the topic, I know that Rogen speaks for millions, including some of the great (and allegedly great) intellectuals of the 20th century. And yet, I haven’t lost my ability to be shocked by the idiocy of it all. This mode of thinking is fundamentally religious. You might call it “Manichean Hegelianism.” In this binary formulation, the world is divided between the forces of Light and Darkness, Good and Evil — and evil cannot fight evil and good cannot fight good.

Even a moment of serious thought should demonstrate how absurd this is. Mob bosses kill each other all the time. There’s no rule that says serial killers can’t kill other serial killers. The quest for power routinely pits decent people against decent people and evil people against evil people. Every version of Henry Kissinger’s Iran–Iraq War joke captures this fundamental truth about the nature of reality. The Spanish Civil War pitted two bad movements against each other. Members of al-Qaeda and ISIS are not above killing each other. Stalin killed more Nazis than FDR did — but that doesn’t make Stalin a better man than FDR.

And that gets me to the rhetorical trope I find so poisonous. Let’s stipulate that Adolf Hitler was the most evil person ever. On the scale of evil, he scores 100 percent. Fine. What score should we ascribe to Stalin or Mao? Let’s say they score 90 percent. Who gives a rat’s ass? Certainly not the millions they murdered. If you watched your wife get raped by prison guards in the Gulag and then die in the snow, how much solace would you take from the fact that Hitler was “worse” on some asinine abstract metric of evil? If you want to argue that no one was worse than Hitler, have at it. But if you’re going to then argue that because someone wasn’t as bad as Hitler — or because someone fought Hitler — that they are somehow absolved of their own evil deeds, then you’re a fool. To do so is to render complex moral and historical questions into a pass/fail system. Suddenly, “not as bad as Hitler” becomes a passing grade.

Whether or not the antifa goons are better than the alt-right peckerwoods is an idiotic argument to have. It’s an entirely subjective and aesthetic question. If you think racism is the most evil thing ever, you’re going to say the KKK is worse than antifa. That’s fine by me. But who cares? Is there a fainter praise imaginable than “He’s better than a Klansman?”

Is there a fainter praise imaginable than ‘He’s better than a Klansman?’

The really infuriating part of this Manicheanism is its retroactivity. In the post-Charlottesville tumult, liberals have convinced themselves that the GOP is simply the face of institutional racism. Sadly, Donald Trump has made that an easy charge to levy. But as Kevin Williamson notes, this rush to tear down Confederate statues is really an example of the Democratic party cleaning up a mess it created. I’m reminded of something George Clooney said a decade ago: “Yes, I’m a liberal, and I’m sick of it being a bad word. I don’t know at what time in history liberals have stood on the wrong side of social issues.” One could be charitable and say, “It depends what you mean by liberal.” But as an institutional matter, the Democratic party’s history on race is far, far worse than the GOP’s. It breaks my heart that the GOP has allowed this to be forgotten. But as an historical matter, the idea that the party of Woodrow Wilson, Josephus Daniels, Robert Byrd, William Fulbright, Richard Ely, et al. has been the great bulwark against racism is laughable.

The simple truth is that history isn’t simple: The universe isn’t divided into the Forces of Goodness and the Forces of Evil. That divide runs through every human heart and, therefore, every human institution. Recognizing this fact is the first step toward humility and decency in politics and life. But we live in a tribal moment where people ascribe good and evil to vast swaths of humanity based upon the jerseys they wear. Sometimes, the jerseys do make the case. Wear a Klan hood or a swastika and I will judge the book by the cover. But just because you think you’re morally justified to punch a Nazi, don’t expect me to assume you’re one of the good guys.

Various & Sundry

Alas, no Canine Update this week, as the beasts are home with the dogsitter. It was very hard to say goodbye to them, not just because they barked and cried when they saw us carrying the luggage out the door. It was also hard because they would so love every place we’ve been this week. The Goldbergs are reaching the point where it’s not really a family vacation if the dogs aren’t with us. The dogsitter sent some proof-of-life pictures, and it sure looks like they miss us. Zoë in particular looks out the window in the hope we’ll return any minute. We miss them, too.

Last week’s G-File.

The latest Ricochet GLoP podcast.

Conservatism’s damaging game of footsie with the alt-right.

The alt-right and antifa are both terrible.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

NASA finally comes around to my volcano-lancing proposal?

Arachnophobes should not click this link

Or this one

This one . . . maybe

The world’s first underwater post office

Chimps can be taught to play rock-paper-scissors as well as four-year-olds

Andrew Ferguson on the Summer of Love

Trimming the world’s biggest yew hedge

Rio’s Olympic facilities are already dumps

Dog can balance anything on its nose

We finally know why flamingos stand on one leg

Pit bulls love a balloon

Squirrel ruins 21,000 gallons of milk

Goldfish survive winter by auto-generating alcohol

The genius of “Good Vibrations”

A cure for baldness?

How to predict an eclipse without a computer

Don’t watch the eclipse without eclipse glasses!

Dog gets ready for a walk

How long it takes to get out of U.S. cities on a Friday afternoon

Why do we like blankets even when it’s hot?

The 40-year history of Elvis sightings

What are these bugs trying to tell us?

But is it worth it? Men who eat more fruits and vegetables smell more attractive to women

Nork Agonistes

by Jonah Goldberg
If we normalize relations with North Korea, crappy regimes will recognize that nukes are the only viable insurance policy.

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 (or at least the ones with Wi-Fi in their fallout shelters),

Analysts are trying to work out what happens to markets in the event of an all-out nuclear war https://t.co/hGEOi45G44

— Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) August 11, 2017

Well, that’s a great tweet to get the weekend started.

From the article in the Wall Street Journal, not The Onion: “Strategists at Nordea Markets estimate that in the unlikely event of ‘a potentially uncontained military conflict’ in which global superpowers like China and Russia get involved, the European Central Bank would have to implement ‘highly dovish forward guidance’ and the yield curve would likely flatten due to weaker risk appetite.”

Oh, well, as long as the ECB will be issuing “highly dovish forward guidance” as the rest of us drink glowing puddle water and fight over rat meat, what is there to worry about?

Of course, as Bill Clinton explained about his promise to leave his wife for the Spearmint Rhino hostess, I exaggerate. I mean, where is it written that “all-out nuclear war” has to get out of hand or unduly roil financial markets? Most of us know that the best long-term financial strategy is to have a diverse portfolio of stocks and bonds and to not get caught-up in the daily volatility of the market. So, when I’m farming algae in tidal caves — the perfect hideout from the various warring tribes of marauders and eyeball-eating cults — I’ll reassure my wife not to worry: “I’m a buy-and-hold guy. Besides, Apple is poised for a huge comeback, once the Claremont McKenna militia clears the SEIU Reavers out of Palo Alto. There’s a huge pent-up demand out there.”

Nork Agonistes

On a more serious note, I don’t really think nuclear war is likely, but can you really say it’s not in the cards at all? That kinda sucks.

While I don’t agree with everything President Trump has done with regard to North Korea, this is one of those areas where he actually has solid grounds to blame his predecessors. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all deserve their share of the blame, though I put most of it on Clinton because the best opportunity for thwarting North Korea’s nuclear program was on his watch. Our relative power and status in the world was higher in 1994 — and North Korea’s vulnerability was greater — than at any time since.

Still, while presidents have an obligation to make the hard calls as commander in chief, it’d be wrong to put all of the blame on any of them. There was little-to-no will in Congress nor was there the appetite among the American people — never mind the media — to make the hard decisions when they should have been made. So, we just kicked the can and called it “strategic patience” or some other euphemism for “let the next guy handle this flaming turd of a problem.”

I want to write a column on all this next week, so I’ll save my “solution” to this whole mess for later. But I do want to discuss this idea that North Korea can be contained. Some very smart people make this case, arguing that if we could contain and deter the Soviets, we can certainly do likewise with this crappy Hellhole of a country, run by a sybaritic and sadistic dork.

The heart of the argument is that Kim Jong Un doesn’t want to die.

“In reality, while the North Korean president is a brutal dictator who does not hesitate to murder his own family members to strengthen his grip on power, there is nothing to indicate that he is irrational, much less suicidal,” writes Max Boot. “He is developing nuclear weapons for defensive, not offensive, reasons. He saw what happened to Moammar Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein — both overthrown by the U.S. — and he does not want the same thing to happen to him.”

It’s true that North Korea is very different from the Soviet Union or even China. The Soviets were a true expansionist empire. The Chinese are less imperial but they do have a very expansive view of “Greater China” and a palpable hunger for hegemony. Meanwhile, North Korea’s ideology is hyper-isolationist based on the mystical-nationalist hogwash of Juche. The aptly named Hermit kingdom subscribes to eugenic notions of racial purity and doesn’t want to expand its borders.

The Norks, say the advocates of more strategic patience, want to use nukes to get the world to recognize their legitimacy and normalize relations.

But it’s the prospect of normalized relations that makes me a skeptic. Even the most stable totalitarian regimes have trouble maintaining their stability in a global market order. The Soviet Union learned this with perestroika in the ’80s. The more you let your people understand that they don’t need to live in a squalid sewer system, the more dangerous the people become to the regime. China is not strictly a totalitarian regime for precisely this reason. The Communist Party recognized that if it didn’t give the people economic growth, the Communist Party would be overthrown. As it is, the Communist Party is as afraid of the people as the people are of the Communist Party.

Meanwhile, North Korea cannot afford anything like perestroika or Chinese-style markets because it would threaten the regime. The Kims ruled by closing the whole country off from the world. This political strategy yielded a very specific economic strategy. North Korea is not a kleptocracy nor is it strictly a Mafia state; it’s a de facto monarchy that operates as a criminal organization. It manufactures illegal drugs, counterfeits currency and cigarettes, and is a major human trafficker. On a broader scale, the North Korean regime is extortionist, threatening war to exact bribes from its neighbors and the West. But, unlike with the Mafia or Yakuza, it’s not “just business.” These activities are bound up with its larger ideology. And unlike in normal countries, even authoritarian ones, or even in the mafia, there are few, if any, factions that can marshal forces to counsel restraint. When you truly have one-man rule, the psychology of that one man is more important than conventional notions of national interest and “realism.”

North Korea cannot afford anything like perestroika or Chinese-style markets because it would threaten the regime.

If we normalize relations with North Korea, it will not suddenly embrace normal rules of trade and the free flow of capital and information for precisely the reasons I laid out above: Doing so would undermine the power of the regime as literally personified by Kim Jong-un. The more likely scenario is that Kim would simply double and triple down on the strategy that has kept his family in power for generations. When crazy has worked for you all your life, you don’t abandon it. The Norks have been brazen outlaws for decades without a credible nuclear deterrent. Why do we assume they’ll become Swiss once they have one?

This scenario is untenable and unreliable for a lot of reasons. But the biggest of them is that if North Korea is rewarded for its nuclear ambition, nuclear proliferation will go into overdrive. Already, very smart people, such as Charles Krauthammer, argue that the answer to this problem is for more countries to have nuclear weapons. And, while I think Charles is probably right that Japan and maybe South Korea will have to nuclearize, that’s not my main concern (the problem has never been nuclear weapons, but who has them).

First: A lot of unstable, crappy regimes will recognize that nukes are the only viable insurance policy.

Second: Does anyone think that Kim Jong-un would have serious qualms about selling nukes to anyone with enough cash? Heck, I’m sure he’d be happy to barter. If you were to unload a cargo ship with a crap-ton of Toblerone chocolate, Courvoisier, fidget spinners, Canadian porn, daily use Viagra, and maybe a box set of the director’s cuts of all Dennis Rodman’s movies on Blu-Ray, he’d shrug and say, “Go pick out any nuke you want off the shelf. Except for that green one. I’m saving that for a radical faction of ‘Up with People!’”

Radical, Man

Like the new sex robots that can talk to you about baseball, the term “radicalism” gets misused a lot.

In everyday parlance, it just means “extreme” as in extreme burritos, radical chicken wings, etc.

But radical comes from the Latin “radix” or “root” and implies a desire to fundamentally transform the entirety of society from the roots up. People who want to tear it all down and build something new are radicals (not to be confused with the ’90s one-hit-wonder band New Radicals).

Every decade or so some new group gets called “the radical Right.” But historically this has been less an apt description and more an example of how the Left controls so much of the language. If you want to restore the constitutional order and seek a democratic government that lives within its means, that doesn’t make you a radical, it makes you a conservative or a classical liberal or a patriot or a sane person, at least in my book. The term “radical Right” appeals to progressives because they — rightly — see conservatism as an opposing and — if we were better at it — destructive force to their various projects. If you want to undo, say, the concept of the “living Constitution,” then, from a progressive point of view, you are a radical.

But that point of view is objectively wrong. Wanting to restore an old order or revive a dying tradition isn’t radicalism. If you want to put a pejorative label on it, you can call it “reactionary,” but that word, too, is freighted with much Marxist and French Revolutionary baggage.

Good Radicalism and Bad

Political radicalism was once on the side of liberty. The first use of the phrase in a political context was by the British Whigs who wanted to overthrow the status quo and implement democracy. But long before the term entered the lexicon, radicalism was riding high in the saddle. The American Revolution was a radical event. So was the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in many respects. The French Revolution was, too. Though that went off the rails.

This is why traditional American conservatives cannot be radicals so long as they stay true to the mission of protecting and defending the principles of the American Founding. Clinton Rossiter famously said that “conservatism is the worship of dead revolutions.” That’s wrong, at least in the American context. The revolution isn’t dead. Conservatism here, in America, is the effort to keep the principles of the revolution alive.

That doesn’t make us reactionaries for the simple reason that returning to those revolutionary principles is progress. I’m reminded of one of my favorite passages by C. S. Lewis:

We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. There is nothing progressive about being pig-headed and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it’s pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We’re on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.

The New Radicals on the Right

This brings me to my point: Conservatives are not immune to the radical temptation, because conservatives are humans. But once you give in to that temptation, you are no longer a conservative. The same applies to liberals. A good “vital center” liberal ceases to be liberal the moment he sides with the radicals to his left. If Arthur Schlesinger decided it was better to work with the Communists than to fight them, he would have ceased being a liberal. So, it goes with various members of the alt-right. Once you deride champions of the Constitution as “paper worshippers,” “vellum supremacists,” and “parchment fetishists” and talk freely about the need to partition the soon-to-be-former United States into ethnic Bantustans, you’re not a conservative because you’ve lost any sense of gratitude for your country. You’re a radical.

Here’s what set me off:

Now, you’d be forgiven for missing the full incandescent stupidity of this. It took me a while to get it too. Maybe if I had stuck a fork in my frontal lobe, I would have groked it instantly.

Anyway, let me explain. An editor for Breitbart (God, I wish they’d change the name to Bannon.com), saw this Vogue cover photo showing Jennifer Lawrence in front of the Statue of Liberty and immediately assumed it was an attack on MAGAism.

How insane is it that a movement that claims to be the champion of Real America® and vows to restore American greatness now considers an image of the Statue of Liberty to be an assault on its values?

As Aristotle famously said, “WTF?” Is Mt. Rushmore an illegitimate American icon too now because it doesn’t have Donald Trump on it?

Philosophically, I have no major problems with the White House’s immigration proposal. I do have enormous problems with any movement that claims to be conservative that thinks that the Statue of Liberty is a symbol that only belongs to the Left. Where does that “thinking” end?

I do have enormous problems with any movement that claims to be conservative that thinks that the Statue of Liberty is a symbol that only belongs to the Left.

That I even have to explain such a thing is too depressing to dwell on. So, instead, let’s focus on the idiocy. Forget the impossibility of winning over the Left, liberals, or even moderates to your cause when you insist you need a trigger warning before being exposed to the Statue of Liberty. How many conservatives do you think want to be part of that movement? Conservatism in America isn’t the same thing as patriotism, but conservatism without patriotism simply isn’t conservatism. Unless radicals seize the government and impose their will on the majority — as Bolsheviks and Nazis succeeded in doing — radicalism always loses in a democracy because radicalism’s obsession with purity and revolution will always turn off more people than it attracts.

So, by all means, set up your shadow culture. I can’t wait for the ad campaigns for Sean Hannity’s new, ultra-musky cologne “Counter Punch.” Who wouldn’t want to see big, glossy photo spreads of Tomi Lahren wearing nothing but a panda-bear fur coat and a camouflage bikini unveiling her new Fall line? “110 percent American for 110 percent Americans!” (Fine print: Designed in America, assembled in China.)

Even the term “shadow cultural industry” makes the point. I’ve been arguing for 20 years that conservatives need to give up on the idea that we should set up a “parallel culture” for the simple reason that it’s our frick’n culture too. Ceding the commanding heights of our society — Hollywood, universities, journalism, etc. — to the Left is exactly what the Left wants us to do. But at least that argument was about tactics, not ideology. Now the new nationalists are taking this argument to its natural conclusion. And in the process, they’re shedding anything that can rightly be called conservative.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: The beasts are in fine form. The weather has been good in D.C., Orb be praised, so we’ve been getting in a lot of workouts. The Dingo continues be needier for affection, I think partly because she thinks the Spaniel gets too much attention in the form of tennis-ball work. In fact, Pippa is getting a bit too confident that Zoë has abandoned any desire to kill her. But it does make me feel bad sometimes because it’s hard to play with Zoë outside. I mean I can’t dress up in a giant squirrel outfit and have her chase me, not least because she’d catch me.

Zoë’s definition of “work” is very primitive: Hunt, kill, and protect (turn up the volume). Pippa’s is pretty much confined to fetching, at least until I take her bird hunting, her true vocation. She’s sort of like the geographer in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. She signed on to flush quail, which she was good at when she lived in Alaska and went on trips to North Dakota with my father-in-law. But just as the geographer ended up working as a French translator (for a guy who actually spoke English), now her job to is retrieve tennis balls.

Personal Update: I leave Monday for an extended trip out West. I have a speech in Jackson Hole on Tuesday and then the Goldbergs are driving out Oregon way to catch the eclipse. If vampires don’t seize the opportunity and kill us, my wife will fly back home, and my daughter and I will do an extended Daddy-Daughter adventure in Southern California. We haven’t worked out the details yet. I don’t know whether I will be G-Filing or not.

Last week’s Q&A G-File.

My continuing quibbles with Game of Thrones.

Our two-party system is stuck.

What to do about North Korea.

Abortion, slavery, and Schrödinger’s cat.

The Google controversy isn’t about diversity, but conformity.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Shipwrecked Doritos

Why do mosquitoes bite some people more than others?

Maps of music fandoms

Exclusive San Francisco street bought by San Jose residents

Flying to McDonald’s on a paramotor

Chinese city demolishes 36 buildings in 20 seconds

Accused burglar doesn’t flush toilet, leaves DNA for police

What is your opposite job?

Unmeltable ice cream?

Dog really doesn’t want to leave a park

Bear hijacks car

Corgi pup meets tennis ball for the first time

Harlem Globetrotter makes shot from 210 feet above hoop in a helicopter

Florida family discovers six-foot boa constrictor living in attic

World War II, depicted in detailed video map form

Man dressed as a Bigfoot-like creature for other reasons mistaken for actual Bigfoot by Bigfoot investigation team