The People We Deserve

by Jonah Goldberg
Today, we have a ‘crisis of responsibility.’

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,

It’s not supposed to be like this.

I’m not just referring to the latest school shooting — itself a soul-deadening phrase: the latest school shooting.

I mean this whole mess. Bear with me.

We evolved to live in small bands of a dozen to a few dozen people. Our brains come pre-loaded with a numerical limit on the number of people we can really know (it’s called “Dunbar’s Number”). Fortunately, our brains are flexible and adaptive, which is why we’re not still eating grubs and tubers. We can, therefore, learn to live in communities larger than those typical of a wandering band of hunter-gatherers.

But there are limits. Rousseau was among the first moderns to articulate an “ideal” society — one that laid down the foundations for many totalitarian projects to follow. Nonetheless, he believed that his ideal society could only work in a relatively small society (i.e., roughly the size of his beloved Geneva).

The Founders, likewise, believed that size matters. They didn’t think freedom could work on a mass scale, run by a centralized government. So they created a system that was — to borrow a phrase — antifragile. It inverted the pyramid of power, delegating as much authority as possible to the people and the places where the people actually lived. Their constitutional framework was arguably the greatest melding of realism and idealism in all of human history. The Founders knew men weren’t angels, and so they set up a system that checked ambition with ambition.

But the Founders also understood that such a system couldn’t work unless the un-angelic people themselves were nonetheless reasonably virtuous. As George Washington argued, “The general Government . . . can never be in danger of degenerating into a monarchy, an Oligarchy, an Aristocracy, or any despotic or oppressive form; so long as there is any virtue in the body of the people.”

Getting What We Deserve

People often ask me why I am so hostile to George Pataki, a perfectly typical, albeit gormless, hack. It all began with something he said when, as governor, he signed New York’s hate-crime law. “It is conceivable,” Pataki said with studied solemnity, “that if this law had been in effect 100 years ago, the greatest hate crime of all, the Holocaust, could have been avoided.”

If I were in a more jocular mood, I could riff on the resplendent asininity of this for the rest of this “news”letter. After all, I still chuckle — 18 years later — at the thought of Hermann Goering or Joseph Goebbels telling Hitler, “Mein Fuhrer, my apologies, but we cannot exterminate the Jews because the democratic government we overthrew passed a hate-crime law.”

But I bring this up for a more specific reason. When the people become capable of profound evil, the law alone is a flimsy barricade — a cardboard dam holding back the river. When the people go south, the law will go with them. The Constitution’s only binding power is the reverence we hold for it. The same principle holds for religion. As Chesterton says, “Blasphemy itself could not survive religion; if anyone doubts that let him try to blaspheme Odin.”

I need to get back on track. To be clear, I am not arguing or suggesting that the American people have lost all virtue, never mind that there’s a holocaust around the corner. What I am getting at is that George Washington’s argument works the other way around, too. When the “general Government” starts to degenerate into “a monarchy, an Oligarchy, an Aristocracy, or any despotic or oppressive form,” the virtues of the people degenerate as a result. As Joseph de Maistre said, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.”

We don’t have a monarchical, aristocratic, or despotic government — though there are aspects of our government that are far closer to such adjectives than many would like to admit. But we talk about it like we think it should be. In the wake of this horrific shooting in Florida, journalists and politicians are shouting demands at the federal government and the president of the United States that neither can achieve if they are to stay consistent with the Constitution.

“Get rid of the guns!” “Stop this from happening!” TV hosts scream, as the networks shove cameras in the faces of grieving mothers and fathers of children still in body bags, while crediting their utterly understandable cries of anguish as coherent public-policy programs. The assumption is that, if only the president’s heart were in the right place, these terrible things wouldn’t be happening. It reminds me of the old lament of the Jews harassed by the pogroms, “If only the Czar knew!”

The Right is not immune to this monarchical thinking.

In the debate over guns, I think the Right has the better arguments (which is not to say I agree with all of them). But the Right is not immune to this monarchical thinking. The Right has its own cult of the presidency, because Americans have a cult of the presidency. The president recently took credit for the decline in airplane crashes — all around the world — and few of the usual suspects offered even a chortle. How often do you hear that this is the “Trump economy”? As a political talking point, that’s hardly remarkable, since all presidents take credit for a good economy. But conservatives used to mock the notion that a massively diversified economy could be run from a desk in the Oval Office. Under Obama, airheads and poltroons talked of him as a “lightworker” and pledged allegiance to him. Under Trump, loyalists “jokingly” pine for him to be a “dictator,” and religious leaders celebrate his glandular authenticity, while sharing memes of Jesus guiding his pen-hand. Americans, it seems, still crave a king.

Outsourcing Virtue

One of the things — really, the thing — that makes capitalism work is the division of labor. If we all churned our own butter or raised our own livestock, we’d have little time to do anything else. The problem is that we are not homo economicus. We do not restrict ourselves to the benefits of the division of labor for food and clothes, while reserving all other responsibilities to ourselves. As Albert Jay Nock put it (in what he called “Epstean’s Law”), “Man tends always to satisfy his needs and desires with the least possible exertion.”

We live in an age when we all too often want our local problems, even our personal problems, to be national problems because we think that the government in Washington is there to solve anything called a “national problem.” But the truth is that very few problems should be considered national problems because, among other reasons, most problems are in fact local ones and lend themselves almost exclusively to local solutions. David French makes this point quite well. If the government in Washington is ill-equipped or unable to stop a bad thing from happening, the response shouldn’t be to simply yell louder at it. The response should be, “Well, what can we do ourselves?”

This highlights the problem with capitalism. As Irving Kristol observed in one of his greatest works, “When Virtue Loses All Her Loveliness,” there is a difference between a “free society” and a “just” or “bourgeois” society. The Founders worked on the assumption that the people themselves would be the guardians of virtue, probity, norms, and even public safety in their own communities. And, as Kristol notes, for the first century or two of capitalism’s existence, it was largely synonymous with a just/bourgeois society.

But capitalism consistently divides labor into thinner and thinner slices, so that the habits of the heart that made capitalism work — thrift, industrious, decent manners — become less and less essential. In the process, virtue falls by the wayside, and we look to government or other sources of authority or simply the market to provide things we’ve ceased providing for ourselves, from parents who outsource moral education to schools, to college students who demand they be protected from scary ideas, to populists of the left and the right who demand that the government fix tectonic changes brought about by globalization and technology. I’m not saying people have become evil or even lazy, nor am I blaming the victims of horrendous crimes such as what we saw in Florida. I’m saying we have, as my friend David Bahnsen puts it in his new book, a “crisis of responsibility.” Everything must be easy. There needs to be an app for that, because I’m too damn busy.

And it is systemic. Many of our national legislators want to be pundits, decrying usurped powers that are wielded by the other branches of government, rather than legislating to stop it. Local politicians would rather pound the table about what the federal government should do to fix urgent problems — problems that they were elected to deal with — than fix the problems themselves. The whole framework created by the Founders was based on the assumption that our governing institutions would be jealous guardians of their power. They are now made up of people who are jealous guardians of their slots on Morning Joe or Fox and Friends.

Indeed, cable news and social media pour gasoline on the fire. The Founders envisioned a sprawling nation where most conversations were local in large part because all media were local. Today, there is literally a national conversation because technology allows us to have one, and it is garbage. It is garbage for precisely the reason Rousseau and the Founders would surmised. You cannot view a vast, sprawling, diverse, continental national such as ours as if it were a small community. But that’s what the “one-nation politics” fad does: It elevates every grievance and slight to a national shouting match. We get outraged by the lack of conformity of people who live thousands of miles away from us. As Megan McArdle has written, social media have turned the whole country into a nation of small-town gossips, prying and judging, clucking and tsk-tsking people they’ll never meet for not agreeing with them or because they’re not living the right way.

The Founders envisioned a sprawling nation where most conversations were local in large part because all media were local.

The Founders created Congress to represent the views and interests of local communities. Our representatives would sift through myriad conversations both literal and figurative (in the form of local newspapers, which were, as de Tocqueville observed, the backbone of “association,” i.e., community) searching for the most important and relevant conversations worthy of consideration on a national level. Congress was where the national conversation was supposed to take place. Now, the national conversation is a Hieronymus Bosch painting of a damn online comment section.

One last point: I am not arguing that we should do away with capitalism or that we should abandon the notion of a free society (though I do think it needs tweaking). I am arguing that our problems are both bottom-up and top-down. The worse one gets, the worse the other gets, because at the end of the day, de Maistre was at least half right: Every nation gets the government it deserves, but every government ultimately gets the people it deserves, too.

Various & Sundry

By the time this “news”cri de coeur comes out, the latest Remnant podcast will be out too. I talked to Bryan Caplan of George Mason University, who has a fascinating new book out: The Case against Education. I thought it was a great conversation, but something of a failure of a debate. Let me explain. There’s a running theme in Caplan’s work that bugs me. Oh, it’s all brilliant and infuriatingly supported by empirical research, damn him. But it still bugs me. He’s written three books: The Myth of the Rational Voter, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, and The Case against Education. In each of them, Caplan basically makes the case that reason and persuasion don’t count for much. Voters don’t vote for strictly rational reasons, parents can’t do that much to change who their kids will become, and schools aren’t very effective at teaching things. I’m being unfairly glib, and I encourage you to read the books and listen to the podcast. But that’s the gist — and I hate it.

As the above “news”letter suggests, I’ve spent the last few years mired in a book about the glories of liberal democratic capitalism and the genius of the Founding, among other things. As I’ve been writing here for years, I think civilization takes an enormous amount of work. Politics for me depends, in the grandest sense, on the power of words and ideas to shape the world we live in. And what bugs me about Caplan’s argument is that it boils down to “Don’t sweat that stuff, everything’s largely on autopilot.” He did a very good job defending that position, and I’m walking around kicking the furniture (“I know!” — The Couch) muttering things I should have said. I think it makes for a good podcast, but I want a rematch.

Speaking of metaphorical furniture, I have exciting news (if you hadn’t heard). Thanks to the enormous generosity of my friend Cliff Asness, I now have an endowed chair at the American Enterprise Institute. I now hold the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty. “What is ‘applied liberty’?” you ask. Well, as the above “news”letter might suggest, I see it as the intersection of our lofty ideals of liberty and the practical reality of how we live in the world. Anyway, it’s a huge honor, and I’m grateful for the opportunity. I’m a little worried that the association will reflect poorly on Cliff. But to paraphrase the scorpion’s rejoinder to the frog, he knew what I was before he did this.

Speaking of metaphorical furniture, I have exciting news .

In other news, I now have a personal website, creatively titled The immediate impetus for it was to help promote the book, so it will serve as a clearinghouse for information about the book tour, responses to reviews, etc. But it will also be the de facto website for the podcast and, well, not to get too technical, other stuff. Let me know what you think about it. I’ve already heard from lots of people that it needs more dog stuff. We’re working on it. Speaking of dog stuff . . . 

Canine Update: Not too much to report. There’s been remarkably little drama — or at least new drama (even The Fair Jessica’s attempt to feed Zoë a baby carrot aroused a dainty disdain rather than a dramatic protest, and her attempt to bite the [other] hand that feeds her was playful). Crow-hatred is now simply part of the daily routine. Zoë got to chase some deer this morning, so she’s happy. And Pippa did her usual spanieling.

Pippa remains remarkably promiscuous with her tennis balls (perhaps because she thinks she is blessed). The other morning, we were doing a neighborhood walk (Zoë on leash, Pippa scrambling around chasing her ball), and Pippa approached no fewer than seven people and offered them the honor of throwing her slobbery tennis ball for her. Three people took my advice and kicked it. One person actually picked it up and threw it. She’s very sweet that way. Pippa really thinks everyone wants to join in on the fun, which may explain her other odd habit of running up to the front doors of people’s homes and waiting for someone to emerge to say, “Hi!” (The good cat, meanwhile, is still having hard time figuring out what the big deal is about tennis balls.) Anyway, lots of scritches and adventures and happy homecomings. Next week, I might have a better update because we’re taking them to the Eastern Shore for the weekend.

Oh, that reminds me. I may not be able to write a G-File next week because I will be spending most of my time in a recording studio, doing the read of Suicide of the West for the audiobook. (You can preorder that now, too.)

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File

On Rob Porter

On lion poaching

The latest GLoP Culture podcast

On Bryan Caplan and Russ Roberts

My Federalist Radio Hour hit

My latest Special Report appearance

On American nationalism and Russia

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

How long will monuments last?

Are these bats immortal?

Al Capone’s milk enterprise

Did Abraham Lincoln make clandestine visits to slaves in the Civil War–era South?

Behold: the fatberg

Why are things funny?

The original “g-mail”

Pray this never happens to you in the bathroom

Family dog aids firefighters in rescue

(Different) dog barred from Kansas gubernatorial race

Yet another dog displays superior athleticism

Every Best Cinematography winner

Are these the world’s dumbest burglars?

The real history of Death Stars

A lamp powered by dog crap?

Politics as the Crow Flies

by Jonah Goldberg
The benefit of ideology is that it provides time-tested rules to rely upon during the inevitable chaos of everyday life.

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

Dear Reader (Including the people who need people),

Okay, bear with me. I think I’m going to write this whole thing as a single run-on sentence and then just add the punctuation later. I’ll just grab a fistful of commas, periods, and semicolons and blow them over the page like so much pixie dust or the last grains of coke on the album sleeve of Quadrophenia before Hunter Thompson started his workday. The gang at NRHQ can worry about putting them in the right place later.

As long-time readers know, from time to time I vent my spleen on the misuse of the phrase “begs the question.” Every day, someone on TV or radio gets it wrong. And it vexes me. I find it more distracting than when that guy who sat next to me when I took the SAT would absentmindedly tap his No. 2 pencil on his glass eye as he tried to work through the analogy section. I think it’s more annoying than the fact that Debbie Wasserman Schultz can’t rinse the conditioner out of her hair.

So for the umpteenth time, “begging the question” involves assuming a premise — usually the premise in dispute — is true. It does not mean to raise a question. Question Begging:

Love is all you need, because love is everything.

Everyone’s eating Tide pods, because eating Tide pods is the hot new craze.

Baal is all-powerful, because I sacrificed 50 goats to him asking for a snow day and then it snowed.

Anyway, this discursion raises the question of why I’m talking about begging the question.

The other night, my AEI colleague Ryan Streeter, who worked in the Bush administration, told me a story about his final interview for his highfalutin job in the domestic-policy shop. Harriet Miers asked him a series of blunt questions: “Have you ever hit your wife?” “Have you ever hit your kids?” “Have you ever been arrested?” “Have you or anyone in your family done anything that might later come back to embarrass the administration?” Etc.

This is normal in a lot of administrations. I heard that one of the reasons Sidney Blumenthal couldn’t land a real job in the Obama administration, despite Hillary Clinton’s importuning, was because he was asked, “Have you ever sworn fealty to Mephistopheles, Agrat bat Mahlat, Furfur the Great Earl of Hell, or any demonic or eldritch deity?” and he couldn’t answer honestly, so he had to return to the stygian sewers and work off-book for Hillary.

But, obviously, that’s just got to be another Beltway rumor since, as everyone knows, Sidney Blumenthal wouldn’t have problem lying to get what he wants.

Wife Beating: Theory & Practice

Anyway, I bring this up because among the greatest examples of question-begging in everyday use is the phrase “When did you stop beating your wife?”

This sort of rhetorical trick is a mainstay of political debates. They come up in every contentious confirmation hearing. They also show up in any number of policy debates. For instance, gun-control advocates assume that if Republicans oppose “gun free” workplace rules, it’s because they think gunplay at work is okay — and not because such laws don’t work on people keen on shooting up their office. It’s axiomatic: If someone won’t heed laws against murder, they probably won’t be deterred by a sign that says they could be fined if you bring your Smith & Wesson to work.

So why did I bring this up? Oh right, because I think we are in a remarkable moment. Many supporters of the Trump administration argue that one of its great benefits is that it eschews the abstractions of the ideologues in favor of concrete practicalities. “Spare me your lofty arguments about free trade, Ye Sophisters and Calculators!” “You can keep your ‘principles’; we’re getting things done!” And to be fair, there are times when this is a good argument — and a better one than I would have foreseen.

But if we’re going to talk about leaving the realm of Platonic ideals and talk about the need for concrete practicalities, I think we should at least take a moment and acknowledge that, for the first time in living memory, the phrase “When did you stop beating your wife?” has been plucked from the ether of rhetorical abstraction and rendered an utterly pragmatic query. For that is just one of the many questions John Kelly or Don McGahn should have asked Robert Porter.

And they probably did! They just took Porter’s denials at face value and didn’t bother to credit the accusers, the FBI background checks, or common sense. I mean, the thing about the “When did you stop beating your wife (or wives)?” question is that the person being asked will deny it — even if he actually beats his wives.

I have no doubt that Porter was good at his job. One hears reports about how he was a stabilizing presence in the White House and a reliable ally of the Gang of Grown-Ups in the West Wing. But it tells you something about the bunker mentality inside the White House that these allegations were simply too bad to check.

It’s an Eminence Front

A few paragraphs ago, around the time I referenced how one of the great defenses of the Trump administration is its practicality and rejection of abstract theory and ideology, I lit a cigar (Sobremesa Imperiales, if you must know). But that’s not important right now. As anyone who’s read me over the years knows, I am a passionate defender of ideology (my last book was an extended apologia for ideology and my next one is even more so). Part of my defense of ideology is that much of it isn’t abstract theory (though some is).

Saying “something is an abstraction” isn’t the same thing as calling it a fiction. Pure mathematics is an abstraction, but it ain’t fiction. Applied mathematics takes principles found in pure mathematics and applies them to real-world stuff, such as engineering. A perfect triangle exists only in the abstract. But what we learn from the Platonic ideal of the triangle has all sorts of real-world applications — and vice versa. My hunch is that humans figured out how to make fulcrums long before anyone dabbled in geometry.

One of the things I love about conservatism and classical liberalism is that they pan the river of time for the gold of principles amidst the soil of lived existence. These principles don’t always sparkle. Sometimes they are invisible to us, encased in mundane traditions and habits that we take as simple rules. Different thinkers (Burke, Chesterton, Hayek, Polyani, et al.) have different terms for different kinds of knowledge that cannot be simply conveyed with words, such as “tacit,” “hidden,” or “embedded” knowledge. “Washington, D.C., is the capital of the United States” is explicit knowledge. How to throw a curveball involves a lot of tacit knowledge; all the variables that go into the price of a loaf of bed is embedded knowledge; all of the arguments that go into why good manners are valuable is hidden knowledge. The point isn’t that we can’t know some of the factors — the way to hold the ball, the cost of wheat, how to defuse social conflict — that go into these things, it’s just that we can’t know all of them.

One of the things I love about conservatism and classical liberalism is that they pan the river of time for the gold of principles amidst the soil of lived existence.

As I write at length in Suicide of the West, it took hundreds of thousands of years of trial and error to come up with the ideas bound up in liberal democratic capitalism and modernity. We have no conception of all the trial and error that went into food preparation, monogamy, democracy, written languages, or human rights. We inherited those hard-earned lessons of the past. To be sure, there was a feedback loop with higher, more abstract, thinking. God is an abstraction, and so are concepts such as natural rights and the innate worth of the individual. But we refined both the abstractions and the practicality against each other like a blade and whetting stone. We justify practicalities by appealing to abstractions and vice versa all the time (and sometimes this involves a lot of question-begging, which can raise all sorts of uncomfortable questions).

And what did we do? We bound a bunch of these principles and lessons and made them into an ideology. For our political ideology, we didn’t include the stuff about food preparation (though if you look closely enough you can find some overlap, hence the political campaign-mounting to make Tide pods look less delicious) but in the realms of law, economics, governance, etc., the supposedly abstract ideology that underlies Western civilization — on most of the left and most of the right and everywhere in between — is the greatest achievement of practicality in all of human history.

If you don’t like the word “ideology,” fine. Call it a “worldview” or, if you want to get fancy, Weltanschauung, which just means the same thing in German. “I know conservatives who say yes to Weltanschauung and no to ideology,” Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn once observed, “but they seem incapable of distinguishing between them (not surprisingly, because there is no distinction).”

The benefit of ideology is that it provides time-tested rules to rely upon during the inevitable chaos of everyday life. It operates in much the same way morality does. Morality gives you rules of thumb that prevents you from making bad decisions. Children ask, “Why can’t I steal that pack of gum or cheat on my test if I can get away with it?” When we answer, we leave abstract concepts of good and evil or right and wrong out of it. We tell them that, if you do what’s right, it won’t matter whether you may or may not get caught.

In politics, the worry is very often not that the government will knowingly do wrong but that it will take the shortest path to doing what it thinks is right. This is what Michael Oakeshott called “politics as the crow flies.” Conservative ideology, rightly understood, is the political conscience that counsels against such expedience. “What is conservatism,” Lincoln asked, “if not adherence on the old and tried against the new and untried?”

Debt Soapbox, R.I.P.

I didn’t plan on taking the above detour, but I did so for a few reasons. First, when you set out to simply pound out a run-on-sentence “news”letter like the climax of Goodfellas, you never know where the keyboard will take you, particularly when you add sweet, sweet nicotine. Another reason is that I planned on writing an extended screed about the budget, and I hate writing about the budget. I guess my id was trying to steer me away from something I didn’t want to do. But, like going to the dentist or adorning your mantle with Wolfsbane and garlic to keep Sidney Blumenthal away, disliking something has no bearing on whether it’s important or necessary. So, as the Hooters hostess said to Bill Clinton, let’s get this over with as quickly as possible.

I have been very hard on Rand Paul over the last year or so, but in this instance, he was on the side of the angels. For the last decade, at least, conservatives have insisted that they were ideologically opposed to precisely the sort of turd burger we saw getting sizzled on the congressional grill this week. Regardless of Paul’s political calculations, his arguments were entirely right. If you passionately insisted that runaway deficit spending was an abomination under Barack Obama, there really is no way you can defend the same thing under Donald Trump. I argued for years that the tea parties were in no small way a delayed backlash against the profligate spending of George W. Bush as much as they were a backlash against Barack Obama. The psychological reasoning boiled down to: “We felt we had to put up with the crap under Bush because of the war or because he was our guy, but we’ll be damned if we’re gonna put up with it from this guy too.”

The Left saw nothing but hypocrisy and, often, racism. I always thought the hypocrisy charge had some merit. Bush’s big government “compassionate” conservatism, as I wrote many times, wasn’t a conservative alternative to Clintonism, it was a Republican version of it. As for claims of racism, I always thought those were wildly overblown by a ridiculously raced-obsessed and partisan media. That’s not to say there was zero truth to it anywhere, just that it was wildly exaggerated by the paranoid style of the American Left.

Not only does this budget blow up any pretense of ideological consistency, there isn’t even a coherent economic theory behind it.

But none of that matters now, because the Tea Party is done. MAGA nationalism has siphoned off most of it, and what remains is a scattered and spent force. I understand that Paul Ryan and others insist that we’ll move on to entitlement reform. And Ryan may give it the old college try. But it won’t work. For reasons laid out in our National Review editorial and by Yuval Levin, no serious entitlement reform can get through the Senate now, because Republicans gave away reconciliation until after the midterms. More broadly, the president doesn’t like entitlement reform, as he has made clear many times. His State of the Union address didn’t contain a word about it — but it did float a new paid-family-leave entitlement. The only mention of the word “deficit” was in the phrase “infrastructure deficit” — a term the GOP would have mocked relentlessly if it passed the lips of Barack Obama.

Not only does this budget blow up any pretense of ideological consistency, there isn’t even a coherent economic theory behind it. Borrowing and spending more when the economy is doing well violates not only Keynesianism but traditional conservatism. I understand the military needs more funding. I understand politics is the art of the possible, yada yada yada.

But none of that changes the fact that Republicans have taken a sledgehammer to their last soapbox. We’re not even all Keynesians now — we’re just crows flitting from one place to another.

Various & Sundry

One of the weird things about my line of work is all the blood magic that’s required. You’d think there would be more word magic. Another thing that’s weird is that sometimes you dash off something that you think is no great shakes, and it’s a hit. Other times, you come up with some weird idea that you really like, and it falls flat. You do this long enough, and you tend not to worry about that sort of thing too much. The only test is whether you like it and can stand by it. Two cases in point: Earlier this week, I pounded out in a few minutes a “review” of The Cloverfield Paradox, and people loved it. Kyle Smith, one of the most talented cultural critics in Christendom, called it the best movie review of 2018. I had to go back and make sure they didn’t put my byline on something by Ross Douthat. Meanwhile, my column today, which manages to use an extended analogy based on Father Guido Sarducci’s stand-up routine to critique the Vatican and the Chinese, basically landed without a ripple. Maybe I was overly pleased with cleverness under a very tight deadline, but I liked it.

The latest Remnant podcast is out, and the reception has lined up much more with my expectations, because I thought it was a hoot and a half (using the old imperial measurements). John Podhoretz came by and we nerded out on neoconservatism and the state of the conservative movement until — suddenly! — Gene Shalit sauntered by and reviewed The Poseidon Adventure. Then Vic Matus took his place, and we talked ’70s disaster movies, sitcoms, and the depiction of male-on-female cinematic assault among other things. Good times.

Canine Update: Everything remains joyous in doggie-land, even in the rain. They still hate crows though. And they’re still working with their buddies from the pack on their album cover and band names (possible solo cover here). The Dingo remains terribly needy and jealous of the Spaniel. I’ve noticed that even if they’re in different rooms, if I start giving Pippa scritches and pats, Zoë will show up and demand her piece of the action. I tested it this morning. Yesterday, after Pippa lost her tennis ball, we switched to sticks, and she was still so happy she showed off one of best butt-waggles ever. One piece of feedback I often get is that it looks like Zoë doesn’t get much exercise when we go on our adventures. This is not true. It’s just that much of her best cardio is hard to predict because it depends on her seeing deer, rabbits, or other wildlife and then taking off like Tesla from an airlock. It’s hard to have my iPhone ready in such instances. Still, sometimes she’ll play “Chase the Dingo” with me. Actually, she’ll always play that. It’s me who sometimes doesn’t feel up to it.

And here’s the other stuff:

Last week’s G-File

Should Trump invoke treason, even jokingly?

James Comey didn’t defeat Hillary Clinton.

Why the cult of Trump has taken hold.

The Cloverfield Paradox is bad.

General Jack Keane is not a fan of the military parade.

My Special Report appearance

Podcast worlds collide in the latest Remnant.

The Vatican yields to China.

And now, the weird stuff.

Remembering Bailey

Debby’s Friday links

The first radio jingle

How UFO reports change with the technology of the times

Cutest baby animals

What British children in the ’60s thought the future would be like

Things Philadelphians did

Attack of the crayfish clones

Octopus hides in coconut

The family pet . . . crocodile?

Spiders used to have tails

The sorrow and glory of Olympians

The gastronomic borders of the United States

A corgi rides off into the night

The tractor-driving dog

The Space between Us

by Jonah Goldberg
The point of the conservative movement was never simply to make the GOP more conservative — it was to move the center of gravity in American politics.

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 Buyer!),

By the time this “news”letter makes it to the light of day, The Memo will likely have been released. This creates several challenges.

First, it means writing more than I already have on the topic would be pointless since I have nothing more to say about it, pending new information.

Second, the news will overtake this “news”letter like a giant fast-moving thing that is well known for overtaking other things in a very funny and apt way.

Sorry, my metaphor generator is still warming up.

Third — and this is the most important part — I am reliably informed that the information contained in the memo is not only “worse than Watergate” but actually 10,000 percent bigger than what the British did to prompt the American colonists to wire their heads and their hearts together, cooking full-tilt boogie for freedom and justice.

This is therefore probably the last thing I’ll write before the revolution starts, and you may be reading this in a bunker or cave somewhere. Or, if you’re a member of the New New Model Army, you may not have time to read this because you’re too busy putting my head on a spike, having executed me for my lack of revolutionary zeal.

Still, I guess if I had one regret, it’s that we don’t pronounce the “e” in “memo” with an “ee” sound. If we did, we all could have luxuriated in Mike Huckabee’s “Finding Memo” jokes right until the end.

So, in short, I’m not going to write about any of that stuff.

Everything Is Relative

In space, no one can hear you scream. But that’s not important right now.

Another funny thing about space is that it’s really hard to have a fixed position. Sure, from our perspective, things like the sun appear stationary — but, in reality, everything is moving. For smaller stuff, such as humans or asteroids or mint-condition AMC Pacers mysteriously cast adrift far outside our solar system, all positions are relative to each other. Or something like that (I don’t need 5,000 emails from physics geeks explaining all this to me in minute detail, btw.)

Imagine, if you will: You have two astronauts free-floating in their space suits. Neither can see his ship or space station or any other “land”marks. One is more or less stationary, while the other is drifting away at an alarming rate. From the perspective of the moving astronaut, however, it might appear like it’s the other guy who’s moving.

I started noodling this image yesterday while working on my column, but never used it. I had set out to write about how far to the left the Democrats have moved on immigration. But like a divining rod being pulled to ground water, or a 16-year-old’s hands being guided on a Ouija board to spell, “We see you and we are legionn” (ghosts are terrible spellers), I ended up writing about how the ideological structure of our political system is being rearranged before our eyes.

Extremism for Thee, Not for Me

I won’t explain my original point about Democrats becoming extremists on immigration; I’ll just assert it to save time (and because it’s true). Here’s the thing, though: While some politically literate liberals might understand how rapidly the Democrats have moved leftward, I suspect that most run-of-the-mill activist Democrats don’t really see it. They see the Republican party as having moved farther and farther away from them. And the farther the Democrats drift, the more “extreme” they think the Republican position is.

You can see a similar dynamic on all sorts of issues. As I’ve written 912 times (an admittedly rough estimate), progressives — not conservatives — tend to be the aggressors in the culture war. Gay marriage is the best example. Twenty years ago, the standard conservative position on gay marriage was that gay marriage isn’t a thing. That was the same position conservatives (and nearly everyone else) had had for a couple thousand years. But liberals, and the culture, moved wildly to the left on the issue, and Republicans stood still. Yet, from the perspective of progressives and the media, it was the GOP that became more extreme simply because it didn’t want to get dragged along.

(I should note that some argue that the left–right formulation here leaves much to be desired, since you can make an argument that, in many respects, the move toward gay marriage was a rightward thing. The sexual-liberationist Left in the 1960s and 1970s wanted to destroy the institution of marriage, not rope gays into it by arguing that marriage is such a vital institution. Twenty-five years ago, the stereotypical gay character in popular culture was flouncy and flamboyant. Now he’s a harried dad trying to install a car seat. But you get the point.)

This model holds for feminism, civil rights, and lots of other things. It also works the other way around. Conservatives have moved the GOP rightward on law and economics since the 1960s, while liberals for the most part stayed locked-in to New Deal and Great Society thinking. Both sides called the other “extremists,” but it was the Right that did most of the moving, and eventually the Democratic party moved with it. Bill Clinton did indeed move his party to the right both rhetorically and on many issues, and the early Republican freak-out response to that had more to do with the rage that overtakes partisans when their opponents agree with them and, in the process, take away their favorite issues. But to explore that, we’d have to abandon our astronaut analogy and talk about the narcissism of small differences.

Tug of War

Years ago, Ramesh Ponnuru pointed out to me the downside of watching the opposition party lurch wildly to the left. In 2003, there was a lot of talk about how Howard Dean signaled the revival of McGovernism. People forget — though I bet Howard Dean doesn’t! — that for the better part of a year, everyone was sure that Dean would win the Democratic nomination running away. Lots of Republicans and conservatives relished the prospect, because not only was Dean a haughty and condescending human toothache with a nasty temper, his politics were seen as way too left wing. National Review even ran a cover begging the Democrats to nominate him:

Anyway, the problem with one party veering too far to the right (say, Goldwater in ’64) or the left (McGovern in ’72) is that when one party moves very far in one direction, so does the other party. That’s because in a two-party system, elections tend to be won by whichever party captures the center. If party A moves leftward, abandoning the center square, it leaves it open for party B to take it. Thus both parties move leftward and the political “center” moves with it. There are exceptions stemming from special circumstances, but as a rule of thumb, this dynamic has a lot of explanatory value.

What Conservatism Is For

This rule of thumb should be drilled into the brain pan of every sentient conservative. Under George W. Bush, conservatives got too invested in running interference for the GOP. Part of it stemmed from the perceived need to rally around a wartime president. Part of it stemmed from disgust with how Democrats treated a wartime president. But there were other reasons, too. Indeed, to some extent, this sort of thing always happens to some people who are invested in politics.

The point of the conservative movement, however, was never simply to make the GOP more conservative, it was to move the center of gravity in American politics in a conservative direction. One of the first steps in that project was to gain intellectual influence or control over one of the two parties. It wasn’t supposed to stop there — but everyone seems to have forgotten that. Frankly, if I could make the trade, I’d rather the GOP became liberal if in exchange we could have the universities and Hollywood become conservative. But that’s a subject for another day.

A lot of people make all sorts of clever remarks about how Buckleyite conservatism is insufficient to the times. They invoke that famous line from our mission statement about how National Review “stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”

The critics make it sound like yelling “Stop” was all Buckley and Co. were interested in. That was never the case, as his entire life story attests. The point about yelling Stop was that the country was drifting away from timeless principles and too few noticed or cared, and too many wanted the drift accelerated.

Buckley wanted to establish a platform — a landmark, if you will — that illuminated a fixed point in space, by which people could judge who was moving and in what direction. When you’re caught in the undertow, the thing you need most is something to grab on to. That was supposed to be National Review.

Now, as I’ve written countless times, National Review back then was wrong about some important things, including, most famously, civil rights (even if that story is more complicated than some claim).

But the larger point is that conservatism is supposed to be rooted in certain truths, even when the rest of society thinks those truths are lies. That is why conservatism is realism: It takes into account the permanence of sin, the crooked timber of humanity, and the inevitable contradictions and trade-offs that are inherent to living in this imperfect world.

Buckley wanted to establish a platform — a landmark, if you will — that illuminated a fixed point in space, by which people could judge who was moving and in what direction.

Truth isn’t something you vote on. You can vote to treat a falsehood as a truth, and everyone can act like it’s the truth, but that doesn’t mean it is. The only things that can topple a perceived truth are reason, science, or God, because the first two are the means of discovering what exists outside our own perceptions and God can do any darn thing He wants.

Being rooted doesn’t require opposing all change — how any movement dedicated to the free market could be accused of unyielding fixity has always been a mystery to me. Rooted things can grow and change, but they remain attached to the soil all the same.

Rootedness does, however, require skepticism about new ideas, untested by time.

Conservatives believe in progress, but we don’t poll the mob for what constitutes progress, nor do we reflexively defer to whatever definition of progress is fashionable these days, on the partisan left or the partisan right. Nor do we define or decide what is true, or conservative, by the pronouncements of a party or a politician.

Longtime readers will recognize this passage from C. S. Lewis as one of my favorites:

Progress means getting nearer to the place 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.

I’d change it only slightly. The truly progressive man, the one who cares about his fellow men and women, doesn’t merely turn around and live out his life in isolation, as part of the remnant. He yells “Stop!” and makes an argument for why everyone else should turn around with him. He might even have to scream to get their attention. That’s okay, though. Because while no one can hear you scream in space, down here on earth, they can.

Various & Sundry

Well, now the memo is out. I had to file late because I’ve been distracted by my miserably sick daughter who has a very, very bad case of the flu. This is especially crummy because she had some other crud she was just getting over. And on top of that, she had mono for five weeks at the beginning of the school year. So, this just stinks. Oh, right — the memo.

I’ll probably post something about it over the weekend or later today. But, so far, I think the responses by Jim Geraghty and Dan McLaughlin are pretty persuasive. I still have to read the thing myself and hear what Andy McCarthy has to say about it. But my initial take is that — if true and corroborated — this is a significant scandal, but not exactly the worse-than-Watergate-Armageddon thing it was hyped as. I should say, however, that if Republicans had done this, a lot of the people shouting “Dud!” would be shouting “Worse than Watergate!” which is why I hate so much of politics right now.

The latest Remnant podcast is out, and it’s definitely one of my favorites (though I probably should have spared listeners my rant at the opening). Megan McArdle was brilliant and delightful. Oh, and there’s much dog-talk and philosophical argy-bargy. Please give it a listen. And, not to be too shameless, but if you haven’t noticed, I tend to retweet positive or interesting tweets about The Remnant. So, there’s that.

Thanks very much to those of you who’ve told me they’ve pre-ordered the book. I won’t rehash all the ways this matters so much, but if you wanted to represent how much it matters, let’s say this Twinkie (I’m holding up a normal Twinkie) represents the normal amount of things mattering. According to the latest data, demonstrating how much this matters would require a Twinkie 35 feet long, weighing approximately 600 pounds.

Canine Update: The doggos couldn’t be happier. The Fair Jessica is home, and they like it. The weather is brisk. The tennis balls are fresh, the squirrels are overconfident, and the weekday jaunts with the pack are always thrilling. Oh, and they’ve gotten used to the new car. They are getting along great, a disagreement about the memo notwithstanding. (Pippa, being something of a monarchist, doesn’t have much of a problem with elites abusing their power. Zoë is a Jacksonian at heart.)

I have had to leave them alone more than I’d like this week, but that just means coming home to nice greetings and more bonding at night. The one vexing thing is that Zoë and Pippa both hate crows so, so, so much, and the crows know it. All it takes is a single squawk in the backyard, and they go berserk. They will bark up at the trees with a rage that is very strange. They don’t care about any other neighborhood birds (though they will chase waterfowl because it’s an excuse to get wet, and it’s fun).

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File

I wrote in praise of Bill Kristol interviewing John Podhoretz on pop culture.

What the heck is going on with the Memo?

My Glenn Beck program appearance from earlier this week

The Tea Party is over.

What the heck is going on with the Mueller probe?

“Chain migration” is not a racist term.

My NPR reaction to the State of the Union address.

Liberals don’t hate nationalism and populism when they’re in service of leftism.

My appearance on Chicago’s Morning Answer

I went on the Michael Graham in the Morning podcast to talk about the Memo.

Will the memo live up to the hype?

Are we undergoing a political transformation?

Groundhog Day: A movie for all time

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Baboons escape Paris zoo

The mysterious ghost lights of Marfa, Texas

Soviet cannibal gulag island

The most evil video game of all time

Maryland likes jousting

The coldest city in the world

The world’s most remote brewery

The Nebraska town with a population of one

Orange thief caught

Orca whales vs. great white sharks

Maybe the orcas will win once they perfect human speech

New York in the ’50s and ’60s

Forty-five minutes of the sound of bacon cooking

Pony works up courage to jump

Musical instruments made of ice

Did the ancient Greeks sail to Canada?

Intensity of religious belief measured by geographic analogue

German shepherd cares

Paris, according to

Rationalization: The Enemy of Integrity

by Jonah Goldberg
Jerry Falwell Jr.'s politics are simply a right-wing version of the original progressives' habit of tailoring their arguments to wherever the field was open.

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 feel unduly entitled to a fresh Dear Reader gag every week),

Because I am a human — no, really — I have a tendency to rationalize all sorts of bad decisions and habits.

“I couldn’t let the chicken wings go to waste.”

“Lite beer doesn’t count.”

I think, to one extent or another, everyone does this kind of thing. The trick is to keep it within healthy parameters. If you find yourself heading into Bad Idea Jeans territory — “Normally, I wear protection, but then I thought, ‘When am I going to make it back to Haiti?’” — it’s always best to take step back.

Usually, even when your decision tree goes awry, these kinds of rationalizations only penalize you. But, of course, rationalizations can hurt others, too. The road to adultery is mostly paved with rationalizations of one kind or another. Most bad parenting, likewise, is grounded in rationalizations of sloth, selfishness, and even cruelty. I sometimes tell myself it’s okay for my kid to watch more TV than she should because I watched a lot of TV and I turned out okay (“Debatable” — the Couch) or because I think she needs to be (pop) culturally fluent, when the truth is that I’m just too lazy or busy. Surely many abusive parents tell themselves self-serving lies about how whatever they’re doing is good for their kids.

While noodling this “news”letter, I googled around for essays on rationalization. I had the vague recollection that Friedrich Hayek had written something specific on the topic — and he probably did — but I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I did, however, find an enormous amount on the topic on websites dedicated to counseling and ethics, including some interesting lists of common rationalizations. I particularly liked this, from something called the Josephson Institute:

Rationalizations are the most potent enemy to integrity. They work like an anesthetic to our consciences allowing us to avoid the pain of guilt when we don’t live up to our values. We want to think well of ourselves so much that we develop strategies to convince ourselves that we are better than we actually are.

The Church of Wales

And that brings me to this:

Don’t worry, this isn’t some rant about selling out to Trump. Say that you voted for him or support him now because of his positions on taxes and regulation, you cared about judicial appointments more than anything, or you thought America would be “over” if Hillary Clinton won: Those aren’t necessarily rationalizations, they’re simply reasons — and they can be defended or debated on the merits.

As I wrote last week, I can understand why rank-and-file Evangelical Christians voted for Trump and celebrate his presidency despite his manifest transgressions against their theological, moral, or ethical principles. Citizens, devoutly religious or otherwise, are not required to vote their faith — or lack of it. Nor do they have to be binary about it. They can weigh competing factors and considerations as they see fit. I’m against monism in all things. Saying Christians must vote according to one specific criterion is just a theological version of the crude Marxist notion that people should only vote their economic or class interests, as defined by the Left.

But none of that applies to what Falwell and some of his fellow religious leaders have been doing.

I’ll leave it to David French to cover the broader theological problems with Falwell’s shtick. That’s not really my lane. But my objection to Falwell’s Ode to Caesar is more political — and psychological — than theological anyway. It is entirely true that Jesus never lectured Caesar on military, economic, or immigration policy, though it’s not like he kept his general views on how to approach some public questions a divine mystery either.

Even less mysterious: Jerry Falwell’s previous views on how religion, specifically Christianity, should influence public life. His dad, after all, was the founder of the “Moral Majority,” for a time the primary vehicle for introducing religion into American politics. Here’s Jr. explaining his endorsement of Mike Huckabee in 2007:

I am well aware that, if my endorsement is meaningful and helpful to Huckabee, it is because my father devoted so much of his life and ministry to cultural reform. Dad truly believed that Christians should be involved in the political process and should make their voices heard. . . . 

I think that Gov. Huckabee is one of us. I know that a lot of the other candidates try to talk like Evangelicals, but he’s actually one of us. He believes like we do on all the issues, which energizes me as a voter. . . . 

Believing that there are moral absolutes in this world is critical to the survival of this great republic — and not only believing in but doing something about it,” Huckabee said during his Liberty [University] address.”

A decade later, Falwell is a most faithful servant of a man who isn’t “one of us.” And Jimmy Crack Corn, Falwell just doesn’t care.

Again, I’ll leave it to David to parse the barmy theological arguments Falwell deploys to bend Christianity to Trumpism. Though I should say that even calling it “Trumpism is a misnomer. Falwell hasn’t signed on with an ideological cause; he’s essentially entered into a personal services contract with one man, regardless of the -ism.

But as a psychological matter, it is just stunning to me that a man who entered the political fray to defend “moral absolutes” is now embracing the rankest moral relativism, arguing on CNN that all sins are the same and we can’t judge because “we’re all sinners.”

In that tweet above, Falwell establishes a standard that — if taken seriously — gelds the stallion his father dedicated his life to. I think Augustine’s doctrine of the City of God and the City of Man is among the cornerstones of Western civilization, so I have no problem with serious arguments about separating the secular from the religious. I don’t agree with all of them, e.g., I think Jefferson’s “high wall” stuff has been taken to idiotic extremes — which is why I have defended and supported most of the arguments of religious conservatives for decades. But here’s Falwell with his gelding knife slashing away. Caesar can do whatever he wants!

Show of hands: Who thinks Falwell would even dream of making this argument about abortion or gay marriage under a Clinton presidency? And if your answer is, “Wait a second, those are grave sins” or some such, I refer you back to Mr. Falwell, who says all sins are more or less the same.

My point isn’t that Falwell doesn’t have a point; there are all sorts of serious theological arguments and traditions to support the idea that Christians should worry more about saving souls than scoring political wins. But Christianity also seeks a world in which people, or at the very least the faithful, strive to be “Christ-like.” And, it is the job of Christian leaders to uphold and defend the principles and teachings that enable people to do so — not to hand out mulligans when it is politically expedient.

Part of my mistake was thinking that Falwell, the president of Liberty University, was a pastor or some other kind of clergy. He’s not. Professor Wikipedia tells me he’s a functionary and a lawyer. And he’s decided that Donald Trump is his client, and so he’ll grab whatever rhetorical weapon is nearest to hand to defend him, even if he ends up castrating his own cause in the process. Rationalization is indeed the most potent enemy of integrity.

Right-wing Progressivism

One of my personal peeves is how too many restaurants use goat cheese (a.k.a. Satan’s foot fungus). But that’s not important right now. One of my intellectual peeves is the idea that 20th-century progressivism was primarily about a coherent set of principles. As I’ve written countless times, progressivism was primarily about power.

The original progressives tailored their arguments to wherever the field was open. When expanding the franchise would empower progressives, they were for it. When they held the executive branch, they argued all power should be vested there. When they held the legislative, ditto. The courts, ditto. Oliver Wendell Holmes is famous for advancing the doctrine of “judicial restraint,” but I’ve always believed he took this position in large part because he understood that progressives had the whip hand in Congress and the White House. When advancing progressive ends required judicial activism — as in Buck v. Bell — Holmes was more than happy to legislate from the bench, on the lofty constitutional principle that “three generations of imbeciles is enough.” Judicial restraint was just a way of clearing the field for his team to move the ball downfield.

Judicial restraint was just a way of clearing the field for his team to move the ball downfield.

It seems to me that the religious politics of people like Falwell is simply a right-wing version of this approach — but instead of it being adorned with political and philosophical jargon, it’s full of religious bumper stickers. It’s just another variety of what was once called “priestcraft” by diverse thinkers such as James Harrington, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Thomas Paine. It’s the practice of using one’s religious authority to gain personal or political power.

Rationalizing Eugenics

Since we are on the subject of progressives and rationalization, let me switch to a different subject.

I’ve been seeing a lot of stuff about how aborting fetuses with Down syndrome constitutes a return to progressivism’s eugenic roots. On the question of whether such efforts constitute eugenics, I don’t really see how it can be denied: The desire to “improve” the genetic stock of the race or the nation is basically the plain meaning of eugenics. And I get why pro-lifers cry “eugenics!” It’s partly simply an aversion to, well, eugenics. But they also do it as a way to attack abortion generally. Eugenics is a potent scare word after all.

I’m just not sure it’s a return to eugenics. I think it’s a rationalization, the enemy of integrity.

There are any number of public policies that have outlived their original rationale. But because interests become invested in the policy, they become determined to craft new arguments to keep them in place. The original arguments for affirmative action were all about correcting for the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. That’s gone by the wayside for the most part, replaced and expanded by arguments for “diversity” for its own sake.

More apt, American minimum-wage laws had a large eugenic component to them at the outset. The whole idea, according to progressive economists at the beginning of the 20th century, was that if you made it mandatory to pay a white man’s wage, employers wouldn’t hire workers from the “lesser” races. As E. A. Ross famously put it, “The coolie [i.e., Chinese laborers], though he cannot outdo the American, can underlive him.” From Thomas Leonard’s authoritative Illiberal Reformers:

The Coolie-standard indictment initially targeted the Chinese, but reformers readily applied it to other races and peoples. John R. Commons and John B. Andrews informed readers of their Principles of Labor Legislation that Chinese, Japanese, and Hindu immigrants willingly “accept wages which to a white man would mean starvation.”

The Davis-Bacon Act was initially passed in no small part to keep poor blacks and immigrants from stealing “white” jobs. But that doesn’t mean the modern AFL-CIO is motivated by racism when it spends millions to defend it.

There’s nothing inherent to the identity politics of the Left that requires its ghastly bigotry against people with Down syndrome. The bulk of the Left despises every argument about IQ differences among populations in part because leftists claim it denies the humanity of certain groups. Feminists leap to fainting couches when you float the idea that there are significant statistical differences between the sexes. On the most basic level, the argument for diversity as its own reward should celebrate people with Downs because they make a meaningful contribution to the rich diversity of humanity. The few people with Downs I’ve gotten to know even a little have been among the most joyful and courteous people I’ve ever met.

But here’s the problem. Some people don’t want to have kids with Down syndrome. And, I will admit, I think this is entirely understandable. But that’s not the relevant issue. Abortion advocates also believe that there should be no limitation on abortion rights for any reason — which is why we are joined by North Korea and China as one of only seven countries in the world that allows abortion past 20 weeks.

And that is the motivating passion here: maintaining a maximalist abortion regime. If, somehow, abortion and Downs never intersected, it would be easy to see people with Downs being celebrated as part of the rich rainbow of humanity. But they do intersect, and turning them into disposable humans — or what the Germans called “life unworthy of life” (Lebensunwertes Leben) is apparently a small price to pay in defense of abortion. I’m not saying there aren’t strains of eugenics in modern progressivism, I’m saying that the devotion to abortion can cause some people to rationalize almost anything.

Various & Sundry

This week’s Remnant podcast is out. We went guestless in order to respond to various and sundry questions from various and sundry listeners. We covered the waterfront, from that time Cosmo the Wonderdog peed on the floor of Christopher Hitchens’s apartment to the politics of Star Trek to, well, other various and sundry things. (By the way, if you like The Remnant, you increase your odds of getting a retweet from me if you say so on Twitter. Just FYI.)

My column today (linked below) offers a defense of free trade deeply inspired by my forthcoming book, The Suicide of the West. Which reminds me, readers should know that as we approach publication date (April 24), I will be discussing the book and its various themes quite a bit here and on The Remnant and — hopefully — on the road across the country. The best way to follow the conversation is to read — and, yes, buy! — the damn thing. I put an enormous amount of effort into it and part of the rationale (not rationalization) for this (ahem, free) “news”letter, not to mention the podcast, is to help me get the thing out there. If you think this “news”letter is worth, say, 25 cents a week, buying the book pays for a year and a half of G-Files.

Canine Update: This should really be called human update, because the beasts are driving me crazy. They miss the Fair Jessica terribly, and so they are incredibly needy these days. Of course, the only recourse is to exhaust them as much as possible. The problem is that the more you exercise them, the more exercise they need. Meanwhile, David French, envious of my doggos’ popularity, has attempted to join dog Twitter. He claims, ridiculously, that his shockingly froofy hypoallergenic doodle-dogs are better than the Dingo and the Spaniel, which everyone with eyes to see knows is ridiculous. Of course, they’re good dogs, but come on. I will say they are much more appealing than John Podhoretz’s pet, but that’s a pretty low bar.

Other pertinent links:

T. A. Frank has written a widely discussed and at times remarkably generous and comprehensive essay for the Washington Post called “Welcome to the Golden Age of Conservative Magazines.” Rich Lowry appears prominently, as does the King of Pet-Rock Twitter, John Podhoretz, and that Steve Hayes guy. I have a bit of a cameo as well. Maybe we’ll talk about it more next week.

Last week’s G-File

My thoughts on I, Tonya

Passing the talking stick on the latest Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast

Trump should trade the wall for more meaningful reforms.

On the FBI stuff, let’s wait and see.

The latest Remnant podcast

Trump’s tariffs are bad

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Thursday links

Debby’s Friday links

The boy who stayed awake for eleven days

What’s the deal with those alien alloys in the New York Times story?

If you find aliens, who you gonna call?

A new recipe for hunting alien life

Why is blue so rare in nature?

Cooking ancient recipes

Venomous centipedes eat animals up to 15 times their size

Spider wasp handily defeats Huntsman spider

Sushi addict pulls five-foot tapeworm from his body


What happened to animals with tail weapons?

Dog plays in seafoam

Concrete mixed with fungi can repair itself

The cat of the Hagia Sophia

The police blotter at the end of history

Man smashes through icy river to rescue dog

Man sentenced for smuggling king cobras in potato-chip cans

The Prozac of the Middle Ages

Everything you never knew about the making of Conan the Barbarian

How captured Israeli commandos translated The Hobbit into Hebrew

Alabama reporter may have found the wreck of the last American slave ship

Shutdown Showdown

by Jonah Goldberg
One of the most important ‘democratic norms’ is the idea that the political opposition is the opposition — not an existential enemy.

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 geniuses at Tide who have come out with so many new and exciting flavors of laundry pods. I hear they even help wash clothes),

The other day on the Twitters, Danielle Sepulveres asked:

I proceeded to list a lot of mine, but they were still only a small fraction of the ones I use in everyday conversation. It’s a funny topic for me because in high school one of the longest-running jokes among me and my reprobate friends was how odd we must seem to people who weren’t saturated in ’70s and ’80s pop culture. We’d speak in a kind of Blade Runner patois of TV- and movie-quote fragments. To an eavesdropping outsider, it must’ve sounded like a bizarre word cloud.

Mar wompa . . . underwear that’s fun to wear . . . now who’s being naïve . . . If we were in Italy, you’d get the top bunk . . . they took the bar! The whole f***ing bar . . . You mean a spoon, Homie? . . . she always says, don’t play ball in the house . . . Where? Here Diagonally! Pretty sneaky sis.

And so on. I bring this up in part because I’m just easing into this “news”letter (and I think I’m going to kick it old school and do this blog-style), and in part because ever since I learned that Donald Trump insisted that Stormy Daniels watch Shark Week with him, I’ve been saying, “Live every week like it’s shark week.”

Admittedly, that’s a line from 30 Rock, which came out long after I graduated high school, but I still say it all the time. Now, I’ll never think of it the same way again. Apparently, Donald Trump hates sharks and won’t give money to any charities that help them. He told Ms. Daniels that he wants all the sharks to die, which is a little dark — but also oddly fitting, given that it was a dark-and-Stormy kind of night.

Shutdown Agonistes

I’m writing this as Washington prepares for a government shutdown, and the great game of Who Will Get the Blame is afoot. For those who closely study such things, maybe you need to reevaluate your career choices this will be a fascinating natural experiment.

Brit Hume is right that, historically, the public always blames Republicans for government shutdowns, and it’s not unreasonable to assume that it’ll happen again. What makes this time interesting, however, is that the pieces on the board have never been arranged this way: The GOP controls all three branches of government, and it’s the Democrats who are flirting with Ted Cruzism. Chuck Schumer is insisting that his preferred policy — legalizing the “Dreamers” — be included in a government-funding deal. Democrats are right when they insist that the polls are on their side on the issue. But polls were kinda on Ted Cruz’s side as well, at least when it came to the unpopularity of Obamacare. It was the shutting-down of the government over the Obamacare that they didn’t support. Maybe the public will make the same distinction here.

That said, there are also other variables at work. As Brother Geraghty notes, because the GOP controls the executive branch, there will probably be less “shutdown theater.” Or at least that’s what the administration is signaling right now.

Killing the Women and Children First

It has always infuriated me the way Democrats tried to make shutdowns as painful as possible. It was a shoot-the-hostages strategy, in which they took the handful of things that average Americans like, use, or depend on from the federal government and closed them down first in order to goose public anger. Someone once said it was like shutdowns turned the federal government into a strange insect that has all its vital and vulnerable organs outside its exoskeleton.

Still, I don’t know that this aversion to shutdown theater will last. After all, if the #SchumerShutdown messaging actually gains traction, it could be very tempting to run up the score, as it were. After all, President Trump once thought letting Obamacare come apart at the seams would be good politics.

Which brings us to the shark-hater. As I tried to explain on Special Report last night, I think that on the merits the Democrats will be to blame for a shutdown. But if you’re the sort of normal American who gets a lot of his news from the mainstream media or in drips and drabs from Facebook, I’m not sure the wonky details will overpower the general impression that the president likes chaos and creates it. Trump’s zig-zagging and theatrics over the last couple weeks — the FISA tweets, bill of love, s***hole, “I’ll sign anything you bring me,” the CHIP tweets — have been a gift to Democrats eager to claim a shutdown is all par for the course in a Trump presidency. And the fact that the GOP controls the whole government will make it easier to claim that a “normal” president would be able to avoid a shutdown.

That’s certainly how the polling looks right now.

Now, don’t get me wrong: The Democrats are making such asses of themselves that Stormy Daniels might be tempted to hit them with a copy of Forbes. Diane Feinstein’s position is that a shutdown will kill people — but she might vote for it anyway. Since so much of conservative media these days is basically consumed by hypocrisy-scolding of liberals, I’m sure there are places you can go to find reams of quotes from Democrats about how evil and cruel shutdowns are, how they kill people, and how Ted Cruz was a monster for doing pretty much what Chuck Schumer wants to do now.

So, again, if the Democrats vote to shut down the government, they’ll deserve the blame. The problem is that deserve’s got nothing to do with it.

To Hell with You People, Again

Since we’re on the subject of hypocrisy, I’d like to focus on something else.

Seven years ago, I penned a little rant in the Corner that went crazy viral about how liberal journalists and Democratic politicians exempted themselves from their own Olympian sanctimony about violent rhetoric. In the wake of the Gabby Giffords shooting, Democrats were sure, despite a complete lack of evidence, that a deranged madman was motivated by right-wing rhetoric to murder people. It was simply a lie, but it didn’t matter. It was a “wake up” call to improve the “tone” of American politics.

Donald Trump gets a lot of — deserved — criticism for his language and tone. But the double standard for Democrats is really amazing, particularly given how they were at the forefront of claiming that “extreme rhetoric” kills and that “words hurt.” Nancy Pelosi, who called tea-party Republicans “traitors” who wanted to “end life as we know it,” has been on a roll of late, claiming that the GOP tax bill would lead to Armageddon, doing to America what President Trump wants to do to the sharks.

Remember, it was less than a year ago that a Bernie Sanders–supporting lefty shot up the Republican congressional baseball team’s practice because he actually believed the sort of crap that regularly comes out of Pelosi’s mouth. And a guy was recently arrested for threating to murder FCC commissioner Ajit Pai’s whole family over net neutrality.

It was less than a year ago that a Bernie Sanders–supporting lefty shot up the Republican congressional baseball team’s practice.

I keep writing jeremiads about how much I despise it when conservatives argue that liberal hypocrisy is a warrant to be as bad as they are. But, my God, the hypocrisy of liberals who routinely say things that, if taken remotely literally (or even just seriously!), could invite violence by crazy people — at least according to the standards they want to establish for conservatives — is infuriating. And the eye-rolling from supposedly objective journalists when you point out this double standard is maddening.

Norms for Thee, Not for Me

But forget violence. There’s an enormous amount of talk about the erosion of democratic norms these days, and I subscribe to much of it. (Heck, I have a book coming out called “The Suicide of the West.”) But what is more dangerous to democratic norms: a president who all but his most besotted worshippers recognize as an irresponsible loudmouth or the quiet-spoken alleged institutionalists who routinely claim that virtually anything Republicans want to do will lay waste to humanity, kill poor people, usher in a paranoid feminist’s dystopia, or “rape and pillage” American citizens? If your answer is that Donald Trump is still more of a threat, fine. I wouldn’t expect otherwise from liberals. But maybe you should at least contemplate that this relentless wolf-crying is one of the reasons you got Donald Trump in the first place.

When conservatives say, “They said X about Reagan, too” they often want to insinuate that therefore Trump is no different than Reagan. That claim strikes me as nonsense. But it’s nonetheless true — they did say the same terrible things about Reagan (and the Bushes and McCain and Romney and Nixon and Goldwater).

Heck, they even said it about the sainted Calvin Coolidge. FDR proclaimed in his 1944 State of the Union Address that if Republicans succeeded in returning to the “normalcy” of the 1920s — you know, when the economy boomed and the Republicans dismantled Wilson’s propaganda ministries, ended war socialism, and released political prisoners from jail — then it would be “certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home.”

One of the most important “democratic norms” revolves around the idea that the political opposition is just that: the opposition — not an existential enemy. Conservatives have violated this norm a great deal of late. All that “Flight 93 election” garbage left me cold. But the idea that conservatives are solely and singularly to blame for eroding trust and polarizing our politics is hot, greasy garbage.

You can’t claim, in sober, reasonable tones, that Republicans are pulling a No. 6, like Harvey Korman’s marauders in Blazing Saddles, out “a-ridin’ into town, a-whompin’ and a-whumpin’ every livin’ thing that moves within an inch of its life,” and then be shocked by the coarsening of the political culture or your loss of credibility.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: If you follow me on Twitter — and why wouldn’t you? — you probably already know that Thursday was the fourth anniversary of our adoption of Zoë. You can find a string of puppy pictures in honor of the #Dingoversary here. It is also, therefore, pretty much the fourth anniversary of the Canine Update feature. So here is a recap for those who don’t know the history.

After a respectful period of mourning for Cosmo the Wonderdog, the Goldbergs decided that we wanted to get a new dog, ideally a puppy because my daughter had never had one. While we knew we could never replace the Greatest Dog Who Ever Lived, my wife in particular wanted to get a manageable dog. Cosmo could sit on the front steps of our house for hours and we knew he wouldn’t get in trouble: When we lived in Adams Morgan, we could walk him without a leash on a busy street and knew that he would wait at the intersection for permission to cross. To that end, The Fair Jessica wanted to get a German shepherd, or at least shepherd-mix, because, like their original human masters, they’re good at following orders. That’s what the adoption website said Zoë was — a German shepherd. They were wrong. She’s a Carolina dog, found abandoned near Spartanburg, S.C., in winter (hence her original name “Shiver” — her brother was “Sickle”). Carolina dogs, a.k.a. the American Dingo, are different from normal dogs. You can read all about them here and here.

Anyway, she was very subdued when we got her, and we figured she was just scared. It turned out she had Parvo and nearly died. Readers wanted to hear about how she was doing in intensive care, so I started the Zoë Updates (which later became the Canine Update when we adopted sweet, silly Pippa). It was not an auspicious start. It later became clear — from the snout holes and poop-burying in the backyard — that Zoë was different. And the rest was history. She would jump out of car windows. She could catch chipmunks, squirrels, mice, groundhogs, and rabbits. In the early days, if we tried to get the smaller creatures out of her mouth, Zoë would simply raise her head and gulp them down whole. She’d also get into scraps with other dogs, including the Interloper, Pippa. They are now partners. Needless to say, she’s not the dog we wanted. But she’s the dog we love. And I’m grateful — if a bit stunned — that so many of you still like to hear about her adventures, including her crossing of the Bosporus.

I’m grateful — if a bit stunned — that so many of you still like to hear about her adventures.

Anyway, she went to the vet this morning because we think she might be a little sick. Her nose is pretty runny, and — going back to her Parvo days — she’s defensively more hostile to other dogs when she doesn’t feel well. Lately, she’s been acting like she has a chip on her shoulder. The vet couldn’t find anything, but we’re keeping an eye on her. Oh, and Pippa is still having a grand time. So much so that even Gracie, the good cat, is trying to figure out what the big deal about tennis balls is (please, no fat-shaming).

The latest Remnant podcast is with Kristen Soltis Anderson. We discuss polling, politics, and these damn kids today. We’ve gotten tremendous positive feedback for the episodes with Charles Murray and Michael Rubin, too. Which reminds me: One of the reasons I try not to do too much punditry on the podcast is that I don’t want to. Another reason is that there are already so many great podcasts based on the news of the day or week. (For all the crap I give them, The Editors and the Commentary podcast are must-listens for that kind of stuff.) I wanted to do stuff that is more conversational but that also has a longer shelf-life, a bit like my favorite podcast, Econtalk, but with more erotica and weirdness. So if you’re inclined to listen and haven’t yet, there’s no reason not to go back and listen to the episodes with Matt Continetti on conservative intellectual history, Arthur Brooks on the sources of happiness, or with Andrew Ferguson on, well, lots of stuff. Or almost any of the others. It’s still a work in progress, and I’m still trying to figure out how to make it more G-Filey. But the feedback has been great. If you can subscribe, or even just give it a try, I’d be grateful. And even if you’re not inclined to show me kindness, remember that The Remnant’s success annoys John Podhoretz and the guys from The Weekly Substandard. And I’ll take subscriptions out of spite any day.

Oh, and because I forgot to mention it on this week’s episode, if you’re in or around Palm Beach, Fla., on February 6, National Review Institute is hosting the first of what will be a series of events around the country on the legacy of William F. Buckley, to mark the tenth anniversary of his passing. You can find all the details here. It promises to be a great event.

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File

About that Trump meeting

Is diversity really our strength?

Conservatives should condemn Trump’s alleged porn-star hookup.

The latest Remnant, with pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson

Why aren’t conservatives condemning Trump’s alleged porn-star affair?

My latest appearance on Fox News’s Special Report

Does the California model really work?

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

French bulldog convinces Labrador to come inside

The secret paths to Ireland’s forbidden Catholic Mass

1968, in photos

What dogs see when they watch TV

Firefighter catches child thrown from blazing building

How soon will you get frostbite?

You lie more when speaking a second language

The pasta that only three women can make

The end of the world and porn-viewing habits

A pug train

Most dog owners would rather hang out with their pet than people

Fixing Mt. Everest’s poop problem

Charting the extent of San Francisco’s poop problem

Dutch vegan denied Swiss passport for being “annoying”

The history of the first viral video

An approaching storm, fog in the forest, ice in the Hudson, and more in The Atlantic’s photos of the week

Can you beat this ancient Roman board game?

2017’s best drone photography

The latest FBI cyber agent

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.


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.


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.


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 “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?


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: 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.


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

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