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.

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

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

Allow me to quote . . . myself:

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

Hold that thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The monster!

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

Blinded by the Might

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Perils of Hypocrisy Witch Hunts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File

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

Harvey Weinstein and hypocrisy

Laser volcano lancing, now more than ever

The third episode of The Remnant, my new podcast

The GOP is hogtied by a divided Senate.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Why do people fear Friday the 13th?

When volcanoes created a temporary atmosphere on the moon

The legends are true

How wolves changed Yellowstone

Dog works out

Dog saves owner’s life in Puerto Rico

Dog teamwork

Shy shelter dog gets adopted

Puppies rescued from Puerto Rico soon available for adoption

Family dog finds missing toddler

Recolorized Civil War photos

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

The making of the swordfight in The Princess Bride

When Arnold Schwarzenegger tricked Sylvester Stallone into taking a movie role

Parasite turns marsh-dwelling shrimp into orange zombie

Red Dawn at the New York Times

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

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

Dear Reader (including those of you who can imagine a great Dear Reader gag here),

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

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

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

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

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File

The Las Vegas shooting and politicization

Tevi Troy for HHS secretary

The Republican base is beyond Trump’s control.

My interview with Hugh Hewitt about Tevi Troy

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

The NRA doesn’t buy its support.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday Links

The abandoned Soviet germ-warfare island

We’re probably not living in a computer simulation

Jeremy Bentham’s head exhumed

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

If aliens exist, we’ll know by 2035

A 30-foot, 900-pound snake

(But can it turn into James Earl Jones?)

Painting art with flight paths

Did something come before the Big Bang?

Are space, time, and gravity all just illusions?

Do you want to own a toilet museum?

Saint Nick’s tomb found?

The Battle of Athens (Georgia)

The history of the X-Ray

London’s creepiest cemetery

Roy Moore: Gladiator

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

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

Dear Reader (and everyone else I have failed),

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

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

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

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

Buy Gold And Pass The Gunpowder!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Politics as Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Price of Failure

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

Don’t forget the NRI Dinner is coming up!

Or the Commentary Roast of Yours Truly.

I will be speaking at American University on October 4.

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

ICYMI . . . 

The latest Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast.

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

My latest appearance on Special Report.

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

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

Dogs really do love you.

Does America still believe in the right to be wrong?

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

Roy Moore’s passionate incoherence

Corporations are not omnipotent.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Guys: Be careful . . . lifting

Nuclear Armageddon savior has died

Why back to school season feels like the New Year

Quadcopter kaleidoscope

Iceland’s phallological museum

Iceland’s sorcery and witchcraft museum

The skills to pay the bills

Renaissance paintings and hallucinogens

Behold: pumpkin-spice pizza

Behold: Fireball-whiskey bagels

Behold: the dadbod fanny pack

A history of the Star Trek double-arm punch

Binge-watching TV is killing us

What if the dinosaurs hadn’t died out?

Ocean creatures with humanlike teeth

The pissing figure in art

Why we love end of the world prophecies

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

Cow raised to be a dog

Award-winning underwater photos

Trump’s Triangulation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shock of The New

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now the other stuff.

Last week’s G-File.

Feminists find “homosocialism” in man caves.

My Monday NPR hit

Rachel Maddow’s Woodrow Wilson dishonesty

Is Hillary Clinton Cersei Lannister?

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

Watch people make fun of me at the Commentary Roast.

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

And then I wrote a column about it.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

The Voynich Manuscript . . . still unsolved

Behold: The Fatberg of London

How Americans are winning the battle over the English language

African wild dogs vote by sneezing

The best protected treasure vaults

Southwest Airlines flies puppies and kittens away from hurricane

Animals in unexpected places

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

Arkansas woman uses state money to buy a dog a tuxedo

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

Chainsaw nun is the hero we need

Why we can’t stop hurricanes

Drunk bro successfully swims across Hoover Dam

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

Cassini probe ends its Saturn mission

Trump’s Dance with Dems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connecting Random Dots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Walsh captures the spirit nicely:

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

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

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

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

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

Maddow’s Nonsense

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

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

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

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

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

She then says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other news . . . 

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

Last week’s G-File

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

My latest appearance on Special Report

My take on Trump and DACA

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

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

Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Thursday links

The Voynich Manuscript, solved

Robbers hold up party . . . of police officers

What is an octopus?

Is marijuana bad for sperm health?

Beware the Bryozoan blob

Dog worshiped as deity

Mario is no longer a plumber

Where did dragons come from?

Where can you find them?

The longest place name

Freddie Mercury, stamp collector

Peter the Great, beard hater

Prize-winning photos of birds

Police dog enjoys a treat

Convenience-store worker mans his post

But could he have stopped this seagull?

A history of napkins

A dialect coach assesses actors’ impersonations of real people

The Idiot Boys of Antifa and the Alt-Right

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

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

Dear Reader (and particularly those among you who will be experiencing kalsarikännit over the holiday weekend),

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trying Too Hard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

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

Here’s some other stuff I wrote recently:

Last week’s G-File.

Getting the record straight on Antifa violence.

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

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

How do you solve a problem like North Korea?

And now, the weird stuff.

One of the great corrections

Debby’s Tuesday links

Debby’s Friday links

A parasite-infested mummy

The greatest rabbits in film history

How women got dressed in 18th-century England

Peeing statues

What would aliens look like?

Every song of the summer since 1958

Historic tree in Houston weathers Harvey, everything else

“Sea dragon” fossil found

How a blind traveler felt his way around the world

A cube made of every collectible element on Earth

Scared, abandoned dog rescued, becomes happy

Beware the floating fire-ant colonies of Texas

Hawk and snake cause Montana fire

Speed limits worldwide

A monarch caterpillar enters its cocoon

Behold: a transparent squid

Scientists working on shark repellent

(Batman did it first.)

Dog runs up wall

Flock of birds cancels baseball game in Japan

Nine Hurricane Harvey survivor dogs

The Revenge of El Jabato

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

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

Dear Reader (including exalted knights of the sword of covfefe),

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

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

So, let’s start this again.                                       

Greetings from New Numantia!

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

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

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

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

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

Old Numantia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Confederate Exception

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

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

You Lost, and That’s Okay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

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

Last week’s G-File

On Charlottesville, Trump, and anti-Americanism

It’s only going to get weirder from here.

Why does the West hate itself so much?

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

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

Beatles monuments in unexpected places

Two-headed turtle found in Florida

These smart pups can sniff out terrorists hiding in plain sight

When you miss the frisbee . . . 

Small child scores soccer goal

Formerly deaf people hear for the first time

What’s actually below New York City?

Scientists can take over animals’ brains now . . . 

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

Related: Me on why the Holodeck is stupid

Why are people from Indiana called Hoosiers?

The dog venerated by medieval Catholics as a saint

Dog loves her new bed

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

An umbilical-cord-shaped iPhone charger

The ‘Last Straw’?

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

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

Dear Reader (Including Steve Bannon, who now has more time on his hands),

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dead Presidency Walking?

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

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

Reversible Entropy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Maximums Become Minimums

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

Last week’s G-File.

The latest Ricochet GLoP podcast.

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

The alt-right and antifa are both terrible.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

NASA finally comes around to my volcano-lancing proposal?

Arachnophobes should not click this link

Or this one

This one . . . maybe

The world’s first underwater post office

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

Andrew Ferguson on the Summer of Love

Trimming the world’s biggest yew hedge

Rio’s Olympic facilities are already dumps

Dog can balance anything on its nose

We finally know why flamingos stand on one leg

Pit bulls love a balloon

Squirrel ruins 21,000 gallons of milk

Goldfish survive winter by auto-generating alcohol

The genius of “Good Vibrations”

A cure for baldness?

How to predict an eclipse without a computer

Don’t watch the eclipse without eclipse glasses!

Dog gets ready for a walk

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

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

The 40-year history of Elvis sightings

What are these bugs trying to tell us?

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

Nork Agonistes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nork Agonistes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Radical, Man

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

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

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

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

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

Good Radicalism and Bad

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

This is why traditional American conservatives cannot be radicals so long as they stay true to the mission of protecting and defending the principles of the American Founding. Clinton Rossiter famously said that “conservatism is the worship of dead revolutions.” That’s wrong, at least in the American context. The revolution isn’t dead. Conservatism here, in America, is the effort to keep the principles of the revolution alive.

That doesn’t make us reactionaries for the simple reason that returning to those revolutionary principles is progress. I’m reminded of one of my favorite passages by C. S. Lewis:

We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. There is nothing progressive about being pig-headed and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it’s pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We’re on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.

The New Radicals on the Right

This brings me to my point: Conservatives are not immune to the radical temptation, because conservatives are humans. But once you give in to that temptation, you are no longer a conservative. The same applies to liberals. A good “vital center” liberal ceases to be liberal the moment he sides with the radicals to his left. If Arthur Schlesinger decided it was better to work with the Communists than to fight them, he would have ceased being a liberal. So, it goes with various members of the alt-right. Once you deride champions of the Constitution as “paper worshippers,” “vellum supremacists,” and “parchment fetishists” and talk freely about the need to partition the soon-to-be-former United States into ethnic Bantustans, you’re not a conservative because you’ve lost any sense of gratitude for your country. You’re a radical.

Here’s what set me off:

Now, you’d be forgiven for missing the full incandescent stupidity of this. It took me a while to get it too. Maybe if I had stuck a fork in my frontal lobe, I would have groked it instantly.

Anyway, let me explain. An editor for Breitbart (God, I wish they’d change the name to Bannon.com), saw this Vogue cover photo showing Jennifer Lawrence in front of the Statue of Liberty and immediately assumed it was an attack on MAGAism.

How insane is it that a movement that claims to be the champion of Real America® and vows to restore American greatness now considers an image of the Statue of Liberty to be an assault on its values?

As Aristotle famously said, “WTF?” Is Mt. Rushmore an illegitimate American icon too now because it doesn’t have Donald Trump on it?

Philosophically, I have no major problems with the White House’s immigration proposal. I do have enormous problems with any movement that claims to be conservative that thinks that the Statue of Liberty is a symbol that only belongs to the Left. Where does that “thinking” end?

I do have enormous problems with any movement that claims to be conservative that thinks that the Statue of Liberty is a symbol that only belongs to the Left.

That I even have to explain such a thing is too depressing to dwell on. So, instead, let’s focus on the idiocy. Forget the impossibility of winning over the Left, liberals, or even moderates to your cause when you insist you need a trigger warning before being exposed to the Statue of Liberty. How many conservatives do you think want to be part of that movement? Conservatism in America isn’t the same thing as patriotism, but conservatism without patriotism simply isn’t conservatism. Unless radicals seize the government and impose their will on the majority — as Bolsheviks and Nazis succeeded in doing — radicalism always loses in a democracy because radicalism’s obsession with purity and revolution will always turn off more people than it attracts.

So, by all means, set up your shadow culture. I can’t wait for the ad campaigns for Sean Hannity’s new, ultra-musky cologne “Counter Punch.” Who wouldn’t want to see big, glossy photo spreads of Tomi Lahren wearing nothing but a panda-bear fur coat and a camouflage bikini unveiling her new Fall line? “110 percent American for 110 percent Americans!” (Fine print: Designed in America, assembled in China.)

Even the term “shadow cultural industry” makes the point. I’ve been arguing for 20 years that conservatives need to give up on the idea that we should set up a “parallel culture” for the simple reason that it’s our frick’n culture too. Ceding the commanding heights of our society — Hollywood, universities, journalism, etc. — to the Left is exactly what the Left wants us to do. But at least that argument was about tactics, not ideology. Now the new nationalists are taking this argument to its natural conclusion. And in the process, they’re shedding anything that can rightly be called conservative.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: The beasts are in fine form. The weather has been good in D.C., Orb be praised, so we’ve been getting in a lot of workouts. The Dingo continues be needier for affection, I think partly because she thinks the Spaniel gets too much attention in the form of tennis-ball work. In fact, Pippa is getting a bit too confident that Zoë has abandoned any desire to kill her. But it does make me feel bad sometimes because it’s hard to play with Zoë outside. I mean I can’t dress up in a giant squirrel outfit and have her chase me, not least because she’d catch me.

Zoë’s definition of “work” is very primitive: Hunt, kill, and protect (turn up the volume). Pippa’s is pretty much confined to fetching, at least until I take her bird hunting, her true vocation. She’s sort of like the geographer in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. She signed on to flush quail, which she was good at when she lived in Alaska and went on trips to North Dakota with my father-in-law. But just as the geographer ended up working as a French translator (for a guy who actually spoke English), now her job to is retrieve tennis balls.

Personal Update: I leave Monday for an extended trip out West. I have a speech in Jackson Hole on Tuesday and then the Goldbergs are driving out Oregon way to catch the eclipse. If vampires don’t seize the opportunity and kill us, my wife will fly back home, and my daughter and I will do an extended Daddy-Daughter adventure in Southern California. We haven’t worked out the details yet. I don’t know whether I will be G-Filing or not.

Last week’s Q&A G-File.

My continuing quibbles with Game of Thrones.

Our two-party system is stuck.

What to do about North Korea.

Abortion, slavery, and Schrödinger’s cat.

The Google controversy isn’t about diversity, but conformity.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Shipwrecked Doritos

Why do mosquitoes bite some people more than others?

Maps of music fandoms

Exclusive San Francisco street bought by San Jose residents

Flying to McDonald’s on a paramotor

Chinese city demolishes 36 buildings in 20 seconds

Accused burglar doesn’t flush toilet, leaves DNA for police

What is your opposite job?

Unmeltable ice cream?

Dog really doesn’t want to leave a park

Bear hijacks car

Corgi pup meets tennis ball for the first time

Harlem Globetrotter makes shot from 210 feet above hoop in a helicopter

Florida family discovers six-foot boa constrictor living in attic

World War II, depicted in detailed video map form

Man dressed as a Bigfoot-like creature for other reasons mistaken for actual Bigfoot by Bigfoot investigation team

Question Time

by Jonah Goldberg
Answering questions about the new book, The Couch, and podcasting in the nude.

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 ones who will forgive me for what follows),

As Bill Clinton told the intern when he pulled a blindfolded chicken out of a sack, today we’re going to try something different.

I think everyone — and by “everyone,” I mean mostly me — could use a break from the usual fare around here. We’re six months into the Trump presidency and I figured it’s time to take stock, as Al Sharpton probably told the mob before it torched Freddy’s Fashion Mart.

Besides, in the last year or so, we’ve attracted a lot of new readers — and lost a few old ones — and so I thought I’d fill in some blanks for folks. I’m not going to FAQ with you necessarily, because I think some of the most frequently asked questions don’t lend themselves to particularly edifying answers. And, I think a great many of them tend to be rhetorical. For example, “Why don’t you eat sh*t and die?” is one of those questions that sort of answers itself.

So, instead, we’ll go with something like a Socratic dialogue, with you Dear Readers as my Thrasymachus.

Q: Why do you begin every “news”letter with “Dear Reader”? And while we’re on the topic, why do you always put “news” in quotation marks? And who is this Couch that you’re often talking to?
M: That’s more than one question, but I see where you’re going. I begin with the Dear Reader thing because the G-File is supposed to be a letter. When the suits asked me to revive the G-File a few years ago as an e-mail newsletter, I threw scalding coffee in Lowry’s face and said, “How dare you sir!? I am not a purveyor of ‘news.’” I keep the Dear Reader gag (the often pointedly unfunny joke in the parentheses) in there because every time I leave it out, the Dear Readers give me a hard time about it. Personally, I can’t stand the thing anymore, but I am a slave to tradition.

Q: But it’s not really an e-mail newsletter anymore. It’s a stupid e-mail with a link to just another article on the web.
M: I know, that’s really annoying.

Q: Why did the suits do that?
M: Why do they half of what they do? I’m still trying to figure out why Charles Cooke’s office is just a miniature version of Stonehenge with a single stone stool in the middle. Anyway, as I understand it, it has something to do with vertical integration.

Q: Wait, Charlie Cooke is a suit?
M: Well he runs NRO now, and he’s constantly hocking me about my TPS reports. He’s not British Shaggy anymore.

Q: How do you think NRO is doing?
M: Better than it ever did when I was “running” things. Traffic is through the roof. We don’t rely on blood sacrifice as much. I guess the only problem is the Corner isn’t what it once was.

Q: Why is that?
M: Well, when we started it, my idea was to have it be a kind of window on the broader conservative conversation, demonstrating that there’s a lot of diversity of thought on the right. And for a while, it was awesome (Fun fact: Andrew Breitbart loved it and modeled the original Huffington Post on it). But that type of conversation has kind of moved to Twitter and podcasts now. Also, the conversational group-blog model requires a lot of time and effort to work. And most of us are hard-pressed to spend all day hanging out in the Corner like we used to. Still, when I finally have the book off my hands, I plan on hanging out there a lot more often, if for no other reason than to get Lowry to stop driving by my house and shooting out my porch light with a BB gun.

Q: So, about this book, what’s it about?
M: Ask me that again and I’ll drive a ballpoint pen through your forehead.

Q: C’mon.
M: Okay, well, it’s sort of a prequel to Liberal Fascism in the sense that I look at where ideological movements come from and why I think Western civilization is in real trouble. I’ve changed my mind about a lot of things over the last couple years. I still stand by LF, but I think intellectual history isn’t just a game of playing connect the dots. Philosophy, ideology, etc. are downstream of human nature, and human nature doesn’t change, which is why the same ideas keep popping up over and over again. We keep reinventing the same ideas with new labels again and again. Sometimes, they get called “right-wing”; sometimes, they get called “left-wing.” But statism is statism, whatever label you stick on it. Collectivism is tribalism whether you call it socialism or nationalism, fascism or Communism. The only really — really — new thing of the last 10,000 years is the miracle of liberal democratic capitalism, and I think we’re losing our commitment to it. I guess you could say I’ve become more Nockian and Schumpeterian. But everyone will be hearing plenty more about that soon enough.

Q: Does that mean you’ll be turning this “news”letter into a shameless vehicle for book promotion?
M: No. I’ll feel some shame.

Q: Will you keep doing the G-File if readers don’t buy the book?
M: I wouldn’t put it in such stark terms. Those are your words, not mine.

Q: Is this a good example of paralipsis or apophasis?
M: I, for one, would never say anything like that.

Q: What do you think of the White House’s new immigration proposal?
M: I haven’t studied it.

Q: Is that a dodge?
M: Sort of. I will say that the reaction has been ridiculous. The idea that it’s racist to control your borders or copy Canada is bonkers. It’s also funny. Liberals love to insist that Europe or Canada or Scandinavia does things in a more enlightened way. But say, “Okay, let’s have Canada’s immigration policy or France’s national-security policies or Switzerland’s health-insurance system” and the same people freak out. So much of the “They do things better over there” stuff is really just a rationalization for people to say, “You should do what I want” or “America is backward because it doesn’t do what I want it to do.”

Q: So, who is “the Couch?”
(“Don’t answer that!” — The Couch)

Q: Is it awkward that your wife works for the Trump administration?
M: Not really, she works for Nikki Haley (whom I admire a great deal and from what I can tell has done a great job). I was worried that I would cause problems for her. But the Fair Jessica told me from the get-go that I shouldn’t self-censor, for which I am very grateful.

Q: Are you going to do a podcast?
M: It looks like it.

Q: How’re you going to do it?
M: Mostly in the nude, which is going to make getting in-studio guests awkward. Oh, you mean what format am I going to use? I’m open to suggestions. But the one thing I don’t want to do is straightforward interviews. It’s not my strength, and if this really lame G-File is any indication, I think most readers would agree.

Q: Why do you hurt me, Jonah? I’ve always been loyal to you.
M: Shut up or I will go back to killing you with alcohol.

Q: Why do you always write about your dogs?
M: Well, if you mean the “Canine Update,” that started because Zoë almost died from parvo when she was a puppy and readers kept asking about her. Then, when she got better and we realized she wasn’t a German Shepherd mix but a Carolina dog, people liked the stories about the Dingo. Now, I keep hearing from people who say they only read the G-File for the doggie updates. I’ll often ask my wife if she read the G-File and she’ll say, “Well, I read the part about the dogs.” More generally, I do it because A) I really like dogs, particularly my dogs. I love my wife and daughter but I get out of bed every day because of my dogs. Of course, I mean that literally, not figuratively: They wake me up every damn morning. B) People like dogs because dogs are good. And C) I think dogs are a great reminder that a lot of the most joyful and meaningful things in life are outside politics or even work and money. My dogs don’t care what my position on Donald Trump is. They don’t care what kind of car I drive — so long as it goes to the park and the windows roll down. Dogs are good.

I’ll often ask my wife if she read the G-File and she’ll say, ‘Well, I read the part about the dogs.’

Q: Why do you always make jokes about Bill Clinton’s sexcapades? Aren’t there less-dated butts for your jokes?
M: Yes, but those jokes have a long tradition of existence in this “news”letter.

Q: Will you ever write a novel?
M: I hope so. I never planned on being a pundit. I wanted to write comic books and sci-fi. I kind of stumbled into this life. I have several ideas, but I need time and/or f-you money.

Q: Would it be political?
M: What? God no. I mean, there’d be politics in it. There’s politics in lots of great fiction because politics is about human nature, and that’s what fiction is about. But I’d rather sit next to Sally Kohn on every flight I ever take from now on than write some “Washington novel.” I don’t think Washington is all that interesting of a place.

Q: What do you mean fiction is about human nature?
M: I’m glad you asked. I think there’s a profound conservatism to all great fiction. If I had to define the essence of leftism in a single phrase, it’d be “the perfectibility of man.” This is the idea that stretches back past Rousseau and probably the Gnostics to Plato’s Republic. Before public policy or any ideological agenda, conservatism recognizes the bedrock fact that man is flawed. He can be good, but only by being civilized. That’s why science fiction is so conservative. It can be set in some far-flung galaxy or some technological wonderland. But what makes it accessible to us is that humans — or even aliens — are still driven by timeless motivations. Human nature is the rock in the river of time. Acknowledging the fact that human nature has no history is the first principle of realism, and realism is conservative. The facts of life, Margaret Thatcher said, are conservative. And I think that’s what she meant. The American Revolution was incredibly radical, but it was conservative in the sense that the Founders — unlike the Jacobins or the Bolsheviks — took human nature into account.

Q: Um, okay. So why do you live in D.C. if you don’t like it that much?
M: It’s where my work is and it’s where I laid down roots.

Q: Do you think New York is a better city?
M: Yes and no. I think New York is a more real city, even though it’s become much less interesting in the last decade or so. But I also think New York vs. D.C. debates are dumb. As I always say, it’s like the great Cornell-Harvard rivalry that everyone at Cornell knows about and no one at Harvard has heard of.

Q: Okay, speed round. What’s your favorite movie?
M: I dunno. It changes with my mood. But I think The Godfather is always watchable.

Q: What’s your favorite novel?
M: For, years, I might have said either Dune or The Joke by Milan Kundera. But I haven’t revisited either for years.

Q: What about non-fiction?
M: Hmm. That’s even tougher. Maybe Prejudices by Robert Nisbet. It was sort of the inspiration for The Tyranny of Clichés. In retrospect, I wish I had used that title, given how bad the one we used was.

Q: Yeah, that really was awful. Great, underappreciated book. Terrible title. Anyway, what’s your favorite TV show?
M: Currently? Probably Game of Thrones. I don’t care if that’s too conventional. I think the new fad of hating on Game of Thrones is just hip contrarianism.

Q: How about ever?
M: I guess Breaking Bad — though, when I’m watching The Wire or The Sopranos, my opinion sometimes changes. But I like a lot of TV. I think the first season of 30 Rock was brilliant.

Q: Why did you phone-in this G-File?
M: Because Lowry said I have to file no matter what or he won’t give me my weekly antidote to the poison he gave me. Also, I’m kind of burnt out. I just sent the revised manuscript of my book to the editor and I feel like a balloon that flew around the room for six months and now lies spent on the floor. That’s why I didn’t file a syndicated column yesterday.

Q: Will this ever end?
M: That’s what the intern said.

Various & Sundry

ICYMI . . . 

My lingering questions about Game of Thrones.

The latest Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast.

The rising tide of vulgarity.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

CIA spy camera revealed . . . 50 years later, in the Maine woods

The Gulag Archipelago, mapped

The mad cheese scientists fighting to save the dairy industry

Would you drink a preserved toe cocktail?

Every “That’s what she said!” in The Office

A Marine’s loving sendoff for the cancer-stricken dog who saved his life

Pitbull gives birth, puts all of her puppies in her owner’s lap

Movies famous directors never made

Strippers, insane asylums, assassinations, and termites — the story of Huey Long’s replica White House

What would have happened if the South did win the Civil War?

A new explanation for ball lightning?

What makes John Bonham such a good drummer?

Greece’s disappearing whistled language

Eye imagery in 2001: A Space Odyssey

Gene Simmons calf born in Texas

The ghostly radio station that no one claims to run

The most painful things a human can endure

The kid who didn’t die at Riverfront Stadium

Why onions make you cry

Hero or villain? How one spider floated thousands of miles and colonized a new continent

The crow who taught herself how to fly

The Mooch: White House Communications Mis-director

by Jonah Goldberg
There are two main reasons the unfolding Anthony Scaramucci clown show should arouse concern.

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

Dear Reader (especially Sean Spicer, who must be the happiest man in the world right now),

I think it was President Eisenhower’s press secretary, James Hagerty, who told White House chief of staff Sherman Adams, “I’m going to gouge out your eyeballs with my car keys and skull f*** you.”

No, no, that didn’t happen. Nor did the vastly cruder scene from the Millard Fillmore administration that I was going to go with instead. It involved the postmaster general, a goat, a White House steward, three farmer’s daughters, and an oak barrel full of axle grease.

I bring this up to illustrate that crude language does not offend me, in the appropriate context. If I’m playing poker, hanging out in my cigar shop (as I am right now), or sitting in a van pulling my ski mask over my face before a heist, I can let the expletives fly. But curse around my kid, or kids in general, and I get #$%^& pissed. And while this has never quite been a family “news”letter, as the hooker said to Elliot Spitzer when he released a kangaroo in a cowboy hat from the hotel closet, there are some lines I will not cross, even here.

My second point is that all of the people freaking about newly installed White House communications director Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci’s language are freaking out about the wrong things. Of course, it was crude and all that. But Tom Bevan is right: Former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel’s “colorful language” was part of his charm, at least according to the White House press corps. Lots of people, including a few presidents, used language that would make Paulie Walnuts wince. I used to work for a former LBJ speechwriter. He used to tell me stories about some of the things Johnson said — and did — with regard to his, well, namesake.

In other words, the cursing is not the issue, it’s the context. I recall some conservatives defending Donald Trump’s tweets at Mika Brzezinski on the grounds that Andrew Jackson had a filthy mouth too. Okay, but he kept the blue talk out of his official statements.

The cursing is not the issue, it’s the context.

The reason why the Scaramucci brouhaha is so dismaying isn’t the less-than-shocking revelation that a guy who refers to himself in the third person as “The Mooch” curses. Nor is it the suggestion that Steve Bannon is one of only a handful of men to master the art of autofellatio (there’s a Wikipedia entry on this topic that I will refrain from linking to, for the children). That bit of rhetorical excess seems the single best illustration to date of the imperative in the Age of Trump to take some statements seriously, but not literally.

Communications Misdirector

No, there are two main reasons the unfolding Scaramucci clown show should arouse concern. The first is that he has no idea what he’s doing and he might just be nuts. This is the White House communications director. But he apparently doesn’t know how off-the-record interviews work. Now, for roughly 99 percent of the American public, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. But, again, he is the White House communications director. I am not ashamed of my ignorance about how to do all manner of things, from how to remove a gallbladder to how to fly a plane. But I expect these skills from surgeons and pilots.

The Mooch also doesn’t seem to grok that a public financial-disclosure form is . . . public. Nor does he know that it’s wrong for him to reach out to his FBI “buddies” in an effort to sic them on fellow members of the White House staff.

Oh, and most communications professionals know that it’s probably a bad idea to explain away your stream-of-consciousness character assassinations with the fact that you didn’t appreciate the fact that journalists are scum:

It is certainly true — and even advisable — to have a healthy distrust of journalists. But just as surgeons know that a scalpel — as opposed to, say, a spatula or a snapping turtle — is used to remove a gallbladder, communications professionals know that you don’t say this kind of thing out loud if you want to have good relationships with the press.

I Meant to Do That

Now it is possible that Scaramucci does know all these things and he is simply playing Hamlet to shake things up, expose his enemies, and grab attention. That is the go-to explanation for so many of the things the president does as well. Whenever Donald Trump does something inexplicable by Earth-logic, the immediate response in some quarters is “Brilliant!” And sometimes, this crazy-like-a-fox explanation has some plausibility. Trump is quite gifted in changing the narrative. But sometimes he makes the narrative worse, not better.

Likewise, it seems to me that there’s some merit to this theory of Scaramucci’s behavior. Either way, this is a good example of making the narrative worse. And, again, he’s the communications director.

Tailgunner Mooch

But even that malpractice doesn’t get to the heart of it. Making the narrative worse is bad, but it’s the content of that narrative and the manner by which he is crafting it that is so grotesque. Scaramucci made no effort to confirm the truth of his accusation against Reince Priebus. He simply accused him of committing a felony. That’s outrageous. And so are his repeated efforts to conflate truly egregious and criminal leaks of classified information with utterly typical and legal leaks about White House intrigue. The leak that enraged The Mooch was about him having dinner with Sean Hannity, former Fox News co-president Bill Shine, and President Trump. In his paranoid fever, Scaramucci assumed it was Reince Priebus who went to the press — and maybe it was. But that is not an illegal leak. And it’s certainly not a disclosure of state secrets.

Indeed, the narrative Scaramucci seems Hell-bent on crafting is that all White House leaks are treasonous. “What I want to do is I want to f***ing kill all the leakers,” Scaramucci told The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza.

Undermining the president, according to Scaramucci, is unpatriotic. And the traitors aren’t just the leakers, but the reporters who report them. “You’re an American citizen,” he told Lizza. “This is a major catastrophe for the American country. So, I’m asking you as an American patriot to give me a sense of who leaked it.”

Think about this for a moment. Scaramucci suggests that he was betrayed by Lizza because he believed this conversation would be off the record or on background. That means he thought he was leaking to the press about the internal dynamics of the White House. Ergo, Scaramucci is a leaker (something we knew already, by the way). There’s nothing inherently wrong with leaking. This White House — like all White Houses — does it on purpose all the time, the president himself perhaps most of all.

So, the problem isn’t leaking per se, it’s disloyalty to the president. There’s also nothing wrong with a White House trying to punish disloyalty. That’s part of politics.

But Scaramucci defines political loyalty to the president as a patriotic duty, not just for the White House staff but for journalists too. And in his mind, patriotism justifies smearing political rivals and making baseless accusations of criminality.

There used to be a word for this sort of behavior: McCarthyism.

Scaramucci defines political loyalty to the president as a patriotic duty, not just for the White House staff but for journalists too.

Now, as a lifelong anti-Communist — never mind a National Review guy — I am happy to concede that McCarthy was on the right side of the argument. But he undermined the cause by the demagogic and dishonest way he tried to win the argument. He made up evidence, wildly exaggerated, and accused anyone who disagreed with him or his tactics of being traitors. The Left wanted to make any concern about Communist infiltration of the government into a disreputable “witch hunt.” McCarthy helped them make that claim more easily. But the truth is that, despite whatever witch-hunt atmosphere there may have been, there were actual witches to be worried about.

Consider the difference between these two contexts. During the Cold War, the Soviets were determined to overthrow the United States of America, at least in theory. In practice, they were definitely determined to undermine American interests at home and abroad. Treating people who were sympathetic to the Soviet cause — never mind actively engaged in helping them — as less than patriotic is to my mind entirely justified.

But here we have a man who thinks McCarthyite tactics are justified to support Donald Trump. Scaramucci says he’s doing this to advance the “president’s agenda” to make America great again. But it seems more obvious that his first priority is to curry favor with the boss and solidify his own power.

Also, let me just say that loyalty to a person isn’t how we define patriotism in this country. Patriotism is about adherence to ideas and principles. Rich Lowry would be the first to insist it’s also defined as loyalty to historic concepts of nationhood. That’s fine. But it’s not defined by loyalty to man. Not here.

And that brings me to the second reason why this is all so disturbing. Trump apparently approves of what Scaramucci is doing and how he’s doing it.

The Health-Care Debacle

I’m not going to offer a big post-mortem on the kakistocratic cock-up that unfolded yesterday, largely because I did a pre-mortem on Monday and it holds up pretty well. The only thing I’d add is that winning is not a sufficient motivation to win in legislative politics. In sports, winning is its own reward, and all the interests of the players are aligned to that singular goal. Campaigns are more like sports in this regard. Winning the election is the game. But, even here, electoral politics are different than sports in that the team on the field has to convince the people in the stands and watching the game on TV to root for them. Football teams may like a cheering crowd, but the cheers alone don’t put points on the board. Legislative politics is even more different. All Mitch McConnell wanted was a win — defined as checking a box and moving on — and so he focused on process, even as he jettisoned critical points of policy like so much extra cargo in a sinking ship.

All the White House wanted was a win for Trump and so it took no interest in the substance of the legislation. Trump even talked up losing votes like they were a football score (“The vote would have been pretty close to,” Trump said ten days ago, “if you look at it, 48 to 4. That’s a pretty impressive vote by any standard”).

The same goes for large swathes of conservative electronic media, which covered the Republican health-care push like a playoff where the goal was to give either the GOP or Trump a victory rather than as a legislative process that requires selling a program to the viewers at home.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: I really, really don’t want to jinx anything, but I’m starting to think that Zoë is finally mellowing in middle age. Oh, she’s still known to squirrels as Zoë Bringer of Death and as The Tan Menace to deer. Rabbit moms still tell their babies to finish their carrots or the Dingo might get them. But after many long years of fighting with her to get in the car when called and trying to keep her out of scraps with other dogs, she’s starting to act like, well, a dog and not a half-feral swamp beast.

Even a year ago, if you let her out of the car without her leash, she would likely run up the street to make sure there were no varmint cells in our neighbors back yards. If she chased a deer, I could call for her for 20 minutes before she would emerge from the bush. She still won’t tolerate back-talk from yip dogs and the like, but every day I worry a little less about having to pry some poodle out of her mouth. On the flip side, she’s become much needier for coddling and affection from her humans and much more jealous of the cats and Pippa. Thou shalt pet me first, last, and always is becoming her daily command. We’re trying to disabuse her of that a bit.

The Spaniel needs love (and tennis balls), too. But this is a much better problem to have than having her run into traffic or getting shot for her dingo-ness. And still she maintains her capacity to entertain.

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File.

What’s the matter with Democrats?

Trump’s anger at Sessions is misguided.

The Trump administration’s problems start with Trump.

A president can’t pardon himself.

Trump will probably fire Sessions.

Don’t be shocked to find presidents using federal money to coerce.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

The 25 cutest dogs on Capitol Hill

Miniature dioramas with everyday objects

The coastline paradox

Wingsuiter crashes through sign in midair at 120 mph

The central mosque in Cologne, Germany

The strange similarity of neuron and galaxy networks (Simpsons did it)

The history of lorem ipsum

How do professional athletes go the bathroom during games?

Michael Phelps loses race to (CGI) Great White Shark

Truck full of eels overturns in Oregon

Why didn’t Hitler go for the kill at Dunkirk?

Why humans, chimpanzees, and rats enjoy being tickled

The first named person in history was an accountant

Dog rides mechanical bull

Ben Franklin’s proposal to alter the smell of flatulence

Rainbow goes full circle

Scientific journals publish bogus paper about midichlorians

Would a supervolcano wipe us out?

Giant deep-sea worms may live to be 1,000 years old

The upside of rotting carcasses

Trump, Party of One

by Jonah Goldberg
Admitting that Mr. Only I Can Fix It had no idea what he was talking about is for many Republicans too bitter a pill to swallow.

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

Dear Reader (especially Sean Spicer),

There is a riddle before us. Back in that simpler time, i.e., the GOP primaries, many people assured me that conservatives could trust Donald Trump because Senator Jeff Sessions trusted him. With varying degrees of rage, snark, and dudgeon (which I think is the official law firm of Hogwarts), these people would say to me: “Do you think Jeff Sessions isn’t a real conservative?”

On at least one occasion, I recall a finger being poked in my chest to fortify the point in ways reason could not.

My response isn’t really relevant (but it was something along the lines of “Sure, but even conservatives make mistakes”). What I find fascinating, however, is how the transitive property now runs the other way. A year ago, I was supposed to trust Trump because Sessions trusted Trump. Now, I’m supposed to distrust Sessions because Trump distrusts Sessions. Okay, then.

The Mind of the EverTrumper

I am not a big fan of psychologizing. But since I am subjected every day to a barrage of claims based upon what people think my thinking is, I feel compelled to turn the tables and offer a bit of mind-reading of my own.

This Jeff Sessions conundrum is all part of a larger trend unfolding right before our eyes. I wrote about it a bit on the Corner earlier this week. The Grand Old Party, at least for some, is now a New Party of One. When conservatives criticize Trump, the common response is “support your party!” or “RINO!” But when the interests of the party and the personality diverge, the same people tend to lambaste the party on the “principle” that Trump demands the greater loyalty.

I’ve been using the phrase “Cult of Personality” a lot because that’s what this dynamic often seems like. But, the more I think about it, a Cult of Personality is a far grander thing than what we have here. That concept enlists phrases like “divinization” and “secular religion,” and we could spend years talking about Marx and Weber and what they had to say, never mind all that Stalin stuff. People forget that the actual title of Khrushchev’s “secret speech” exposing Stalin was actually “On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences.” Moreover, contrary to what some of Trump’s biggest critics on the left and his biggest fans on the swampier right may think, Trump is no Stalin.

While it’s certainly true that there are people sufficiently enthralled with Trump to open themselves up to the charge of being cultists, I don’t think the blind worship of “Cult 45” explains as much as it once did. I mean, sure, if you’re still convinced that everything Trump has done has been brilliant and farsighted, if you can read the president’s New York Times interview and push back from the table with the deep satisfaction that once again the master has out-thought his foes, if you still think his “I alone can fix it!” vow was anything other than the kind of bluster that traditionally leaves you with cider in your ear, then you might as well lead your herd of 50 bulls down to Trump Tower and sacrifice them to your Latter Day Baal.

But let’s be honest, the chances that Donald Trump will be a great president — never mind capital-G Great in the historical sense — are now only slightly better than my chances of getting a Super Bowl ring. I say “slightly better” because he is president after all, and historical greatness shares some things in common with the real-estate business and show business: Location and simply showing up matter a lot.

Who knows what events might bring? Perhaps we will be visited by orange-hued hostile aliens who speak the language of condo salesmen?

Rationalization Be My Guide

Anyway, I think there’s a different dynamic at work, at least for some people. I wrote about it in a column last March, after Trump gave a good speech before a joint session of Congress.

For those Republicans who are not sold on Trump the man and are nervous about all the distractions and unforced political errors of his first weeks in office, the address was a massive relief. Finally, one heard from nearly all quarters of the skeptical-but-hopeful right, he’s getting his act together.

It’s a bit like when a loved one has a drinking problem or some other pathology. When they get their act together, even for a day or two, parents and siblings take heart and say, “This is the first day of the rest of his life.” Or “Now things are going to be different.”

It’s an understandable response. But both the head-in-the-sand denial from the left and the “We’re cooking with gas now!” cheerleading from the right encourage people to ignore the substance.

That I could have written the exact same thing in the wake of the president’s speeches in Warsaw or Riyadh simply underscores that this has become something of a permanent dynamic of the Trump presidency.

But note: The father who doesn’t want to see his son’s faults or the wife who can’t bring herself to see that her husband’s abusiveness isn’t a bug but a feature aren’t worshipful. They’re guilt-ridden and in denial. And in the process, they rationalize vices into virtues.

Rationalization, explains professor Wikipedia,

encourages irrational or unacceptable behavior, motives, or feelings and often involves ad hoc hypothesizing. This process ranges from fully conscious (e.g. to present an external defense against ridicule from others) to mostly unconscious (e.g. to create a block against internal feelings of guilt or shame). People rationalize for various reasons — sometimes when we think we know ourselves better than we do.

Put on your hip boots and wade into the swampier recesses of Twitter, Facebook, online comment sections, or Sean Hannity’s oeuvre and you’ll see riots of rationalization. Trump’s lying is celebrated. His petty vindictiveness is redefined as leadership. Cheating is strength.

Ben Shapiro argues that Trump has liberated some people who deep down have felt this way all along:

All of which suggests that Trump isn’t the engine, he’s the hood ornament for a certain movement that now feels liberated from traditional rules of decent behavior. Trump allows us to indulge our id and feel righteous while doing it. We grew up believing that decent behavior made you a decent person — but then we realized that breaking the rules not only makes victory easier, it’s more fun than having to struggle with the moral qualms of using moral means to achieve moral ends. So we’ve constructed a backwards logic to absolve ourselves of moral responsibility. The first premise: The other side, which wants bad things, cheats and lies and acts in egregious ways.

I’m sure that’s true for some. But I think for many more the dynamic works the other way around. Otherwise — or formerly — decent people find it so unthinkable to admit that Trump is in over his head and not a good person that they simply engage in the fallacy of ad hoc hypothesizing. Again Dr. Wikipedia:

In science and philosophy, an ad hoc hypothesis is a hypothesis added to a theory in order to save it from being falsified. Often, ad hoc hypothesizing is employed to compensate for anomalies not anticipated by the theory in its unmodified form.

This trait is hardly unique to Trump. When it’s unseasonably cold in summer, when it rains too much or too little in California, never mind when satellite data refuse to cooperate, global-warming alarmists race to bend the facts to the theory by modifying the theory. When George W. Bush would butcher syntax like it was a wayward traveler in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie, his defenders — who once worshipped the Gipper’s skill as The Great Communicator — would leap to explain he was “speaking American.” And don’t even get me started with the rationalizations that sustained the Obama presidency.

A year ago, Donald Trump was the only man who could beat the dishonest Left and the unfair media at their own game.

A year ago, Donald Trump was the only man who could beat the dishonest Left and the unfair media at their own game because he was a media-master and genius dealmaker. He could appeal to Democrats and independents because his vaunted “flexibility” wasn’t locked into True Conservatism or Conservatism, Inc. Now his failures to make deals, his inability to break out of a base-only strategy that is only embraced by the very conservatives he scorned, and his Kelvin-range approval among independents and Democrats all invite a cascade of new hypotheses to place blame everywhere but on the man who, according to the original theory, was supposed to be the one leader capable of overcoming all that. Much of the writing at the blog American Greatness seems to be dedicated to the crafting of new hypotheses to keep the myth of the original theory alive.

Even now, you can hear the wheels turning to explain that with poor Sean Spicer now securely under the bus, the true Trump will emerge.

You F’d Up, You Trusted Him

It’s always hard to admit you were wrong about something in which you invested a lot of energy and emotion. And for some people, admitting that Mr. Only I Can Fix It really had no idea what he was talking about most of the time is too bitter a pill to swallow. It’s even harder when you were warned at the time that you were being conned. As Kevin Williamson wrote in May of 2016:

Americans and Republicans, remember: You asked for this. Given the choice between a dozen solid conservatives and one Clinton-supporting con artist and game-show host, you chose the con artist. You chose him freely. Nobody made you do it.

Of course, there are conventional political reasons why many people don’t want to admit the error of their ways. Pragmatically, what good would it do? You only have one president at a time. “Of course he’s a hot mess. But he is getting some important things done,” goes this argument, “and if Republicans and conservatives support him, he can get so many more important things done.” This is the argument I hear most from readers, congressmen, denizens of the Fox News green room, and fellow conservative journalists. And it has some merit, particularly when liberals screech that agreeing with Trump on conservative policies is a kind of appeasement.

For instance, James Fallows heaps scorn on Senator Ben Sasse because “he leads all senators in his thoughtful, scholarly ‘concern’ about the norms Donald Trump is breaking — and then lines up and votes with Trump 95 percent of the time.” As Ramesh demonstrates with his typically Vulcan economy of language, this is absurd. Ramesh writes:

Take that 95 percent figure mentioned by Fallows. Was Senator Lindsey Graham really supposed to vote to keep regulations he considered unwise on the books because he opposes Vladimir Putin? Was Senator John McCain really supposed to vote against confirming Alex Acosta as Labor secretary because the president tweets like a maladjusted 12-year-old?

Fallows’s position is a mirror image of the Trump cultists. For the member of Cult 45, Trump is a demigod and whatever he says must be right. For the anti-Trump cultist, Trump is a demon, and whatever Trump does or says must be evil and wrong. Both positions are delusional. This points to why I have such admiration for National Review and other traditional conservative outlets which have managed to keep their heads. For instance, David French and Andy McCarthy have offered full-throated praise of Trump when they thought he deserved it and they have offered full-throated criticism when they felt it warranted. That this approach is denounced by the Manichean extremists on both sides tells you how deep the fever of tribalism has become.

Trump, Party of One

I have few illusions about my ability to talk anyone out of their delusions, particularly liberals. But it is part of my job description to try, particularly with conservatives. To say I have failed — largely true — is not an argument against making the effort.

If you’re a cultist, the only thing that will snap you out of it is Trump himself. At some point, he will do something that will cause the worshippers — or at least most of them — to recognize he was a false god all along. It will be like that scene in The Man Who Would be King, when the girl bites Sean Connery on the cheek. When he bleeds, the faithful realize he is but a mortal.

But in the meantime, horrible damage is being done, because the rationalizations and tribalism are being institutionalized. Clicks-from-cultists media outlets strive to justify and rationalize every failure as a success and every setback as part of the master plan. If you don’t see it, you’re part of the establishment, a globalist, or an elitist. The RNC is reportedly refusing to support Republican candidates who criticized Donald Trump in the wake of the Access Hollywood video. “[The president] is unhappy with anyone who neglected him in his hour of need,” an anonymous RNC insider explained.

Horrible damage is being done, because the rationalizations and tribalism are being institutionalized.

This is sickening madness. If this is true, then the logical inference is that the GOP as a party believes that there was nothing wrong with the president’s conduct, even though he was a Democrat at the time. Or, perhaps, that there is nothing so wrong with what he said — and what he claimed he did — that it can justify breaking faith in the Leader.

That is moral rot on an institutional scale and the people aiding and abetting it should be ashamed of themselves. The party needs to support the president, to be sure. But it must support other things — decency, principles, truth — even more. When it ceases to do that, it ceases to be the Grand Old Party and becomes a Venal New Party.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: I’m leaving shortly for a flight. I’m heading off to Maine for visiting day at my daughter’s sleep-away camp. So, I need to keep this brief. They’re good dogs, dear readers. We had to take them both to the vet this week for shots and check-ups. They both came through with flying colors.

Zoë’s diet has already paid off so much that we can give her the occasional ice-cream treat. (We had to cut off Pippa’s ice cream too because Zoë would turn into a tornado of teeth and resentment otherwise.) It is so ridiculously hot outside that it’s easy to tire them out. But it’s so wonderfully air-conditioned inside my house that the doggos recover too quickly. The Spaniel is constantly trying to initiate the fetch protocol. And the Dingo is relentless in her desire to eat the Spaniel. Meanwhile, the Great Game of dominating the Ottoman Empire continues unabated.

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File.

Do Republicans urging partisan loyalty to Trump support the party or do they support Trump?

What are Rand Paul’s real motives on repealing Obamacare?

The whole health-care fight is a contest of competing lies.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Thursday links

Dog rescues drowning baby deer

When a computer ran for school president

“Anti-pervert” flame throwers now for sale in China

Dog tries to imitate little girl’s cartwheel

U.S. Navy now has a drone-killing laser

A T-Rex couldn’t have run without breaking its legs

Dog surprised by human friend hidden in box

America hates the Yankees

When hippies tried to take over Disneyland

The moment a dry riverbed refills

Justin Bieber banned from China in order to purify the nation

The Trinity of Tedium

The ongoing Soviet red-fox breeding program

How quilting got ripped apart by American politics

AI converts live video to different artistic styles

The troubled history of the “Coexist” bumper sticker

AI generates Harry Potter fanfiction

Time-lapse of an Amish barn raising

The Benefit of the Doubt Is Gone

by Jonah Goldberg
Invoking the Clintonian precedent as a moral justification for Team Trump’s actions is ludicrous.

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 high-quality persons everywhere),

Well, I jinxed it.

On Tuesday morning, I posted this mini-screed about how nobody knows anything about the Russia-collusion story, so the best course of action is to just wait for the facts to come in.

“Trust Nothing, Defend Nothing” was my advice.

(I wanted to turn this into a Latin slogan, but when I typed “Trust Nothing, Defend Nothing” into Google’s Latin translation thingamabob I got “Nihil confido, nihil pupillo defendite viduam.” This looked fishy to me so I translated that back into English and got: “I trust there is nothing, there is nothing, for the fatherless, plead for the widow.” This seems either like World War II code for “We’re invading Belgium on Wednesday” or the sign-language subtitles from Charlie Rose’s interview of Paco, the chain-smoking existentialist gorilla).

Anyway, where was I? Right: “Trust Nothing, Defend Nothing.”

This was bipartisan advice. On the one hand, the media get lots of stuff wrong and get way ahead of the facts. So, we should give Donald Trump some benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, the Trump White House lies like a randy sailor with eight hours of shore leave and not enough money for a professional “date.”

But the lying really isn’t the problem. Sometimes the Trump team tells the truth. Sometimes it buries the kernels of truth in the larger nougat of B.S. The problem is that Trump and his people can’t stay on message, whether it’s true or false. President Trump just doesn’t care if he makes his surrogates, including members of his cabinet and family, look like chumps. Allow myself to repeat myself:

If there is one thing we’ve learned from this president, it’s that going too far out on a limb brings out the saw. Poor Steve Mnuchin. He went out on Sunday and heaped praise on this joint US-Russia Cyber Fox Force Five idea that the president blurted out on Twitter. Within a few hours, Trump left Mnuchin out to dry. It happens again and again.

And again, and again, and again.

Shortly after I said, “wait and see because we don’t know anything yet,” we suddenly got some new information. Donald Trump Jr. released his e-mail chain about a meeting with a Russian lawyer. In this exchange, Rob Goldstone, who looks like he could land a great role in a Guy Ritchie remake of Boogie Nights, says:

The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.

This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump — helped along by Aras and Emin.

I know everyone knows this stuff already. But I really want to make a few interrelated points.

Coerced Transparency

First, according to Team Trump, this was a bold and laudable act of “transparency.”

Um. No. This transparency “argument” is like a dye-marker to see who is intellectually serious and who is part of the great Trump Aqueduct, carrying water for the president wherever and whenever he needs it. Junior released his e-mail chain minutes before the New York Times could publish it. This is like “bravely” admitting to your wife that you cheated on her seconds before she opens the blackmailer’s envelope containing the 8×10 glossies of you at the Motel 6 with a troupe of dwarf “acrobats” using you like a pommel horse.

Heading off the Times was smarter than the alternative, just as telling your wife about your time with the cast of Le Petite Cirque du Soleil before the blackmailers get to her is better than the alternative. But after spending the better part of a year denying any contact whatsoever with the Russians and lying so baldly about this meeting, it takes a Costco pallet full of chutzpah to claim the mantle of transparency.

This, of course, is all the more true now that it’s being reported that Junior wasn’t being transparent while he was bragging about his transparency. This morning, news came out that some sketchy former Soviet counter-intelligence officer was also in the room. (What are the odds he recorded the conversation, by the way? I’d say they’re pretty high.)

The Room Where It Happened

Second, this underscores a point I’ve been shouting at the TV all week: Why the Hell are people taking the word of anyone in that meeting as proof of anything? Before this morning’s revelation, even members of the Trump-hostile press repeated that “nothing came of the meeting” or that “no information was given.” On the Trump Aqueduct, this was translated into the whole story being a “nothingburger.”

Where did the proof of this come from? From the people in the room! Jiminy Cricket, that’s stupid.

Who in that room do you think is above lying about what transpired there?

It may be true that nothing came of the meeting. Heck, I think it probably is true (more on that in a moment). Junior seems plausible when he says as much. But every single person who was in that room has a very strong incentive to say nothing nefarious happened in the room. Well, when the Soprano crew is jointing a corpse in the backroom of Satriale’s, everyone there has a vested interest in sticking to the story that they were just playing cards.

Who in that room do you think is above lying about what transpired there? Paul Manafort? Forget his deep Russian connections. The guy was a lobbyist for Mobutu Seske Seko. When he worked for the Pakistani intelligence service, he pretended to be a CNN reporter for a propaganda documentary he was making for them. The only way you could say “that man’s word is oak” is if Jell-O came out with a new oak-flavored pudding. (“Now with real bark!”)

Jared? The guy who initially “forgot” that meeting happened at all?

Don Jr.? We already know he’s capable of lying about the meeting because he’s already lied about the meeting.

Oh, maybe you’re taking the word of the sketchy Russian lawyer. That’s a great idea. It’s also kind of hilarious. Many of the people pushing back on this story are doing so by questioning Natalia Veselnitskaya’s credibility. But we should take her word that nothing happened? Cults of personality are a helluva drug.

<Cue Record Scratch>

[While I was editing the galley of this “news”letter, the Associated Press reported that the sketchy former Soviet counter-intelligence guy, Rinat Akhmetshin, who was in the room claims that Veselnitskaya did indeed hand over a file of incriminating info. I guess this is just a smudge on the window of Junior’s transparency.]

Admission as Exoneration

Which brings me to point No. 3. It doesn’t frick’n matter if — note the “if” — nothing came of the meeting. Junior can’t claim he, Manafort, and Kushner never sought to collude with the Russian government when he admits that he, Manafort, and Kushner eagerly took a meeting for the express purpose of colluding with Russia. This is like one of those episodes of Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator” where some sleazebag is catfished into having a “date” with a 13-year-old girl only to show up and find Chris Hansen waiting in the kitchen with a transcript of their conversations. At least those scumbags had the “integrity” to lie and say it was all a misunderstanding and that they were just there because they really like hanging out and watching MTV and eating ice cream. “We had a lot in common! I thought we could be friends!”

I don’t recall any of them saying, “Hey, I didn’t do anything wrong because I didn’t actually get a chance to rape her.”

If you break into a bank, you can’t claim you did nothing wrong if the safe turns out to be empty any more than a terrorist can plead innocence if his bomb didn’t go off.

The Corruption of Whataboutism

Which brings me back to my first point of the week. Why on God’s good Earth would you defend any of this? Since I’ve been having this ridiculous argument all week, let me skip ahead. Yes, “Crooked Hillary,” Ted Kennedy, and a host of other liberals did bad things. Whether those bad things were analogous to this is highly debatable. But let’s just concede the point for argument’s sake. Let’s also accept the president’s grotesquely cynical and false claim that pretty much anyone in politics would have done the same thing and taken the meeting. (I for one am perfectly happy to concede that Sidney Blumenthal would happily have done equally sleazy things for his Queen-master. But I have every confidence that if some shady Russian cutouts approached, say, James Baker with a similar scheme to “incriminate” Michael Dukakis, he would become a helicopter of fists.)

Why on God’s good Earth would you defend any of this?

But here’s the thing: Who gives a dirty rat’s ass? If you spent years — like I did, by the way — insisting that the Clintons were a corrupt affront to political decency, invoking their venal actions as a moral justification for Team Trump’s actions is the rhetorical equivalent of a remake of Waterworld set entirely in the main vat of a sewage-treatment plant, i.e., the intellectual Mother of Sh*t Shows. This is a point Ben Shapiro made well earlier this week (and which I’ve been writing about for two years now). If you want to make the case that Democrats or the media are hypocrites, whataboutism is perfectly valid (and quite fun). But if you want to say that it’s fine for Trump to do things you considered legally and morally outrageous when Hillary Clinton did them, you should either concede that you believe two wrongs make a right or you should apologize for being angry about what Clinton did. And you should be prepared to have no right to complain when the next Democrat gets into power and does the same thing.

What Next?

All of this said, I don’t think we are anywhere near impeachment. The cries of “treason” are ridiculous. But I for one no longer believe that the collusion thing is mostly hype. We already know that Trump openly implored the Russians to dig up Clinton’s e-mails. We now know that Junior, Kushner, and then–campaign manager Manafort had no problem meeting with a person they believed to be an emissary of the Russian government. Moreover, not only am I unconvinced nothing damning happened in that room, I think there’s merit to Chris Hayes’s analysis that there was an important phone call before the meeting.

I also think there are many shoes to drop with regard to Cambridge Analytica and the Mercers.

Erick Erickson may be right that this meeting was a setup. Trump’s more-credible defenders certainly may be right that this is all the result of ineptitude and amateurishness. These guys are like a mix between Ron Jeremy and a yoga master in their ability to step on their own johnsons.

But my wait-and-see approach was grounded in the fact that other than Trump’s public obsession with the Russia story — including his firing of James Comey — there was no concrete evidence that the Trump campaign had any dealings with the Russians. That benefit of the doubt is gone.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: Despite all the promises that the swamp would be drained, D.C. is swampier than ever. Of course, I mean that meteorologically. D.C. is a miserable place right now. It’s like a giant overheated St. Bernard has sauntered to the nation’s capital and is panting on it. The air is akin to what it would be like if the University of Alabama football team finished a double practice in the hot sun and then put their wet socks and jock straps in a pizza oven.

The dogs do not like it and neither do I. That’s why we’ve been going out earlier than usual, when the air is only as sticky as the joystick on a Ms. Pacman machine at Chuck E. Cheese’s. But just as firemen still must do their heroic duty regardless of the weather, the Dingo is still determined to punish the rabbits for their maddening hoppiness. The Spaniel remains undaunted in her dedication to her beloved tennis balls. Although she did have a very scary run-in with a turtle of undetermined Ninjaness.

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File: a defense of Western Civilization — and Donald Trump (sort of)!

Re: Donald Trump Jr. and Russiagate, let’s wait and see.

The state shouldn’t decide Charlie Gard’s fate.

The latest Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast, with a special focus on New York movies.

Climate-change hysteria hurts its cause.

I was on NPR’s Morning Edition on Friday.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

The stones that move but whose movement no one has ever seen

Electrical fire or the gates to another dimension?

A brief history of people running across America

Kenyan runner outruns bears in Maine

Toby Maguire’s Spider-Man screen test

What could go wrong? Scientists recreate extinct virus

Arachnophobes should not click this link

Is this summer your best bet to see a solar eclipse?

Saucy Aussie checks a single beer as luggage when airline doesn’t let it on the plane

Former NASA engineer creates world’s largest super soaker

Before Las Vegas, there was Newport, Kentucky

Behold: the firenado

World War II posters warning against venereal disease

McDonald’s to drench French fries in cheese and bacon

Skull forms in smoke rising from Mount Vesuvius?

Couple tries lift from Dirty Dancing, knock each other out

In Defense of Western Civ

by Jonah Goldberg
What makes the West unique is not that we had slavery, but that we put an end to it because it was not compatible with our values.

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 all men of the West),

So just to get it out of the way: Who has two thumbs and loves Western Civilization? This guy (I am pointing my thumbs me-ward, which makes typing hard).

Just to be clear, I don’t mean “so-called Western Civilization” but you know, Western Civilization.

I mean the thing both liberals and conservatives alike have celebrated for hundreds of years since words like “liberal” and “conservative” had any relevance to politics.

Of course, this is not to say everyone agreed on what Western Civilization is, was, or should be.

But when I read this from my old friend Peter Beinart, I have to scratch my head.

In his speech in Poland on Thursday, Donald Trump referred 10 times to “the West” and five times to “our civilization.” His white nationalist supporters will understand exactly what he means. It’s important that other Americans do, too. . . . 

The West is a racial and religious term. To be considered Western, a country must be largely Christian (preferably Protestant or Catholic) and largely white.

Now, this is a more defensible statement than some of my friends on the right seem to think. I say “defensible” because it’s largely true, but only a partial and mincing truth. Peter is right to note that the West has largely been defined by Christianity, but who can deny that? Though let’s not forget that Christianity itself was born in what used to be called the Orient (ditto Judaism).

This fact is a nice way of noting that even in the earliest days when Western Civilization was not particularly civilized, it was borrowing from other cultures. That’s a huge part of what makes Western Civilization so special. Sure, it’s got its history of bigotries, atrocities, and other sins — quick, tell me which civilization or society doesn’t? — but a central part of the West’s modus operandi has been to sift through what is best in other cultures and our own and appropriate it or modify it. The West, historically, has been more interested in other cultures and civilizations than any other. Celebrating our long history of open-minded curiosity and tolerance is not closed-minded bigotry, no matter how hard you try.

What makes Peter’s statement indefensible is the context. Peter pretty clearly wants to suggest that, because the West, historically, has described a mostly white, mostly Protestant or Catholic civilization, defending it must be an example of bigotry. Must it? Were Will and Ariel Durant spelunkers in the history of white privilege and nativism? Was Isaiah Berlin a trafficker in little more than prettified white-supremacist dogma?

The West also means something more than merely the culture of white Christians, and if someone other than Donald Trump had given that speech, I think Peter would have an easier time acknowledging it. After all, he is a great fan of Reinhold Niebuhr, who said, “We take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization.” I doubt Peter would dare to call this a white-nationalist dog whistle.

Inclusion for All Cultures but Our Own

We’ve reached a pathetic and dangerous point in our culture where anyone who celebrates our traditional culture, our country, and, now, our civilization must be doing so for base and evil reasons (see Rod Dreher for more on this). Today, all other cultures must be celebrated while every ill is blamed on us. This is, to borrow a phrase from social science, garbage thinking. Slavery is a human universal, appearing in every culture around the world. What makes the West unique is not that we had slavery, but that we put an end to it because it was not compatible with our values. The same goes for nearly every charge in the indictment against the West, from racism and misogyny to imperialism and war.

As I’ve written before, the reason Gandhi practiced non-violence against the British Empire is not quite because he abhorred bloodshed, but because he knew pacifism would work against the British. Hitler, who saw himself as a rebel against Western values as evolved from the slave religion of Christianity, never got many lectures about non-violence from his friend Gandhi.

We fall short of our ideals, but everyone always does (that’s why they’re called “ideals”). But in head-to-head match-ups, we do better than the rest of the pack.

West Bashing Is Western

What’s ironic is that Peter’s desk-pounding outrage about Trump’s talk of the West is oh-so Western. The West’s tolerance for anti-Western philosophies is a fairly unique feature of the West itself. We love to beat ourselves up.

Before the Enlightenment, the job of saying the West is corrupt and evil largely fell to gnostic heretics and the like — because everything was seen through the prism of religion. Since the Enlightenment, that passion has migrated to more secular humanist creeds. There’s always been a Rousseauian streak in the West that says, “it’s all crap, burn it down.”

The West’s tolerance for anti-Western philosophies is a fairly unique feature of the West itself. We love to beat ourselves up.

But, again, until pretty recently, that tendency wasn’t against “the West” so much as it was against the Enlightenment or democracy or capitalism. Western radicals argued that the West had taken a wrong turn, not that the East was better. There was still this idea that the West was where the action was. Rousseau’s favorite society, after the Geneva of his youth, was ancient Sparta, which is still, you know, part of the West. (Me, I’ll take Athens any day.) But even so, this was an argument within the West about what path the West should follow or where its true roots lay. Some of the Romantics admired Mohammed, but only because he was a man of Will and a useful stand-in for their assaults on the Catholic Church, not because they actually believed in Islam or anything. The Jacobins wanted to start over at Year Zero, but they had no problem believing that history was starting over in the West, in Paris to be exact. Karl Marx, as Western a figure as you can find, believed that the first pages in the next chapter of human history would first turn in England.

The Anti-Western Cul-de-sac

What sincerely shocks me about Peter’s outburst is that he has to know what an incredibly bad idea it is for the liberal-Left to go down this road. The list of reasons why the new hatred of Western Civilization is such a bad idea for liberals is too long to recount here but I’ll offer two fairly practical ones. The whole reason liberalism is in trouble today is that it has lost the ability to speak confidently in patriotic and loving terms about America, unless it is in the context of selling some government program or pressing some nakedly political advantage (I’m thinking mostly about immigration maximalism and identity politics). Cutting Medicaid may be wrong, but it’s not unpatriotic. Peter himself recently argued that Democrats need to refocus on the importance of assimilation if they want to be trusted on the issue of immigration. Well, assimilation to what? If American culture is worth assimilating into, so is Western Culture, because the two cannot be separated.

Right now, there’s a hilarious effort afoot to defend the anti-Semitic Saudi sock-puppet Linda Sarsour. She recently called for jihad against Donald Trump and insisted that American Muslims must never, ever assimilate into American culture. So, we have the glorious beclowning spectacle of liberals falling over themselves to defend the subtle nuances of the word “jihad” while at the same telling us that Western Civilization is a dog’s breakfast of backwardness and bigotry. Good luck with that.

Don’t you people realize that you’re like Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman? You’ve got nowhere else to go.

Second, don’t you people realize that you’re like Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman? You’ve got nowhere else to go. Peter is right that there are non-Western democracies out there. Sure, Japan has Japanese characteristics and India has Indian characteristics. But what makes them democracies is their embrace of Western values. And there is no place in the world physically or conceptually outside the West where these liberals would actually want to live. Insisting that Western Civilization is a corrupt and irredeemable concept is the intellectual and political equivalent of sh*tting where you eat. It leaves you no language that resonates with anyone outside an American Studies department at Fresno State.

On the Other Hand

But I will tell you what I did not like about Trump’s speech (though I should say on the whole I liked it and agreed with most of it). In Trump’s telling, the threat to Western Civilization must be met with his favorite qualities: Strength! Will! Etc.!

The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?

Or, here’s his pithier summary:

As a matter of the text, I agree with this. But for Trump, Western Civilization is a kind of nationalism, not a worldview or philosophy. I think Peter is wrong to claim the text is indefensible, but he has a point about the man reading it. Does anyone really believe that Trump is, in his heart, a champion of tolerance, open-mindedness, democratic norms, family values, Judeo-Christian precepts, and natural rights? Or does he like this kind of talk because it’s a politically savvy way to transcend America First nationalism in favor Western pan-nationalism?

The key to keeping Western Civilization alive isn’t fending off the barbarians at our gates, though that’s important. They key is keeping it alive in our hearts. Civilizations die by suicide. As Lincoln put it:

From whence shall we expect the approach of danger? Shall some trans-Atlantic military giant step the earth and crush us at a blow? Never. All the armies of Europe and Asia . . . could not by force take a drink from the Ohio River or make a track on the Blue Ridge in the trial of a thousand years. No, if destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men, we will live forever or die by suicide.

Fending off suicide isn’t a matter of martial will, but of simple gratitude. The Left has convinced itself that there is nothing to be grateful for about Western Civilization. That’s idiotic. And they need to be persuaded otherwise, not pummeled into thinking Western Civilization is just a dog whistle for MAGA.

Love, Love, Love

I give Rich Lowry a lot of crap. Back in the old days, I could have said that literally. I used to stop by the New York office of National Review, carrying a 40-pound bag of cow manure, so freshly packed that its pungency would assault the nostrils and sting the eye. I’d let it slide off my shoulder onto the boss’s desk with a thud like Elvis off a toilet. I’d pin a photocopy of my paycheck to the sack, which, scribbled underneath, said: “There’s more bullsh*t here than here.”

But as I matured, and my compensation became less of an affront to the conscience and settled into merely a daily weight on my self-esteem, the crap I gave him grew more figurative. I’d still present him with a copy of my paycheck, but I’d attach it to, say, the latest Tom Friedman column.

I’d write the same note, of course.

Anyway, I bring this up because for all the crap I give Rich, he should be congratulated for his good-natured willingness to take it, and even encourage it. One of the great things about NR is that it overflows with very opinionated people who often disagree with each other. We’re allowed to say so.

With that out of the way, here’s the context. Earlier this week I unloaded on Rich and the cast of The Editors podcast (“Maybe one day you’ll rate high enough at NR to get invited on?” — The Couch). They recorded a fantastic Fourth of July episode. Everything was really great and interesting until the 50-minute mark, when I thought it kind of went off the rails. Rich, who is on a mission to restore the good name of nationalism, asked whether the podcasters would still love America if it had different ideals. And they all said yes.

And I kind of lost it. I called them all out like I was Omar calling out Marlo in The Wire.

If this stuff doesn’t interest you, don’t read any farther. If it does interest you, I’m going to assume you’re up to speed on the debate so far.

And, I’m going to apologize to everyone but Rich.

As Rich notes, the “Would you still love America?” question was supposed to garner a one-word response from the other podcasters. So, it’s a bit unfair for me to hold such a poorly conceived question against those forced to answer it. I particularly owe an apology to Charlie, with whom I seem to be in violent agreement.

I will say a couple things in my defense. It’s now clear a lot of people heard the podcast the same way I did, so it may not be, as Charlie claims, that I mischaracterized his views so much as he failed to make himself sufficiently clear. Second, the reason I called them out really has less to do with what they said than what they didn’t say.

The reason I called them out really has less to do with what they said than what they didn’t say.

Their silence as Rich dropped his little pro-nationalism propaganda bombs vexed me. Rich said that there are no bad people, only bad governments. Every country has norms, ideals, etc., and we’re no different. I guess I just expected more pushback. That was unfair to them because I was essentially putting words in their mouths (also, who knows what threatening gestures Rich made silently during the recording). My shot at Michael was also unfair. I think he makes a very good point about what he calls America’s Whiggish tendencies (I’m not sure I agree with the label, but I think he’s right about the phenomenon).

As for Rich, his response in the Corner is fine by me, I suppose. But it leaves out the context of his larger project to elevate nationalism into an important organizing principle. I’m already running crazy long here and I don’t want to just repeat what I said before in my first salvo against this project. I’ve written countless times that nationalism is good in small doses and poisonous in large doses, save during times of war when it is channeled outward for legitimate reasons. But I cannot help but read — and hear — Rich as arguing for discarding or demoting American patriotism as the most useful vehicle for a political agenda in favor of American nationalism. In his rejoinder, he writes that he raised the point that all countries have ideals “in the context of a discussion of whether America is a nation or an idea.”

My point was that [if] America is an idea, so are other countries, and (implicitly) that this is an absurd way to think about nations. As it happens, Jonah concedes we are a nation and not an idea, but not all conservatives are as common-sensical on what should be an easy question.

This is wrong. We agree that the “idea vs. nation” thing is an absurd formulation because it makes the question either/or when it’s obviously both/and. Every country has ideals and every country is . . . a country. So, yes, this is a silly way to frame the argument.

But it is not absurd to say that America is an idea. The Founders certainly thought it was. So did Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. They appealed to the idea encased in the Declaration, not to the nation. Appeals to nationalism can be appeals to ideas, but they usually are not. They are simply another form of populism, which says we’re right because we’re us. Appeals to ideas, particularly those that marry themselves to what is best about a nation, help a nation act in accordance with its best self.

I was going to say that Rich puts the cart before the horse on the issue of patriotism vs. nationalism. But that’s not quite right. Nationalism does come first, for it is the horse pulling the cart of patriotism. But you know what, anyone can get some beast of burden to pull a cart. What’s precious is what lays in the cart, and those are our American ideals.

At the end of the podcast, Rich touted Calvin Coolidge’s “Speech on the 150th Anniversary of the Fourth of July.” And rightly so. On the topic of the Declaration, it is second only to the “Gettysburg Address” in the annals of glorious American rhetoric. In the paragraph preceding the one Rich cites, Coolidge says:

In its main features the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but of spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man — these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in the religious convictions. They belong to the unseen world. Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish. We cannot continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause.

We are too prone to overlook another conclusion. Governments do not make ideals, but ideals make governments [emphasis added].

On this, and so much else, I’m with Coolidge.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: So, the missus came home on the Fourth and the beasts were quite happy to see her (as was I). Things had gotten a little weird with me and the doggos. Since I was mostly working from home, and because they missed the Fair Jessica so much, their pack mentality went into overdrive. They followed me everywhere. Zoë became obsessed with sitting next to me whenever possible and keeping the good cat from getting anywhere near me.

Things are a bit more normal now, particularly since Kirsten, our daytime dogwalker, can take them out with their real pack of buddies. Kirsten reports two highlights. On Wednesday, Zoë and her buddy Barley were in a stream roughhousing when they encountered a duck. Naturally, they chased it, for about an eighth of a mile. When they came back, Kirsten & Co. heard little chirps. It turned out the duck had been a mommy duck. But before Zoë could become a children’s-book monster (it’s not clear that she would have), the mamma came back and became a whirling dervish of duckness, completely freaking out the dogs long enough for Kirsten to put them on leashes.

The squirrel was less lucky than the duck.

Then, yesterday, Barley and Zoë were once again playing king of the mountain, when Zoë spotted a squirrel on a tree. The squirrel was less lucky than the duck. When I tweeted this out yesterday, a whole bunch of people got mad at me for being a party to the slaughter of a squirrel. I’d generally prefer it if the Dingo didn’t kill critters, but I am at a loss as to how people can begrudge a dingo for being dingo-y or how some want to claim that squirrels are like miniature tree pandas. Anyway, the funny thing to me is that just the night before, Zoë once again tried to embrace the Spaniel’s pacifism and learn how to appreciate tennis balls. She sort of reminded me of the sharks from Finding Nemo (Fish are friends, not food!). She played with the ball for a while, but she clearly wanted it to act more like prey. She’d bite it, then wait for it to squeal or “run” away. Then she’d pounce on it. The experiment didn’t last long. I think for the time being, the lesson is: Squirrels, watch out.

I’ll be on Special Report tonight.

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File

Trump and the media have a codependent relationship.

Jon Meachem is wrong about Woodrow Wilson.

When would you stop loving America?

How political ignorance affects our political debates.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Independence Day links

Why did Yankee Doodle call a feather macaroni?

Carnivorous Romanian ducks

Is there a mathematical formula for . . . 

KFC sandwich launched into space

Mountain of skulls unearthed in Mexico

Behold: a scorpion-venom-milking robot

How Americans order their steak

Russian motorist arrested for barking like a dog

Bird enjoys Q-tip massage

The secret language of lightning bugs

How to make a sandwich you can still eat after a year

Why is George R. R. Martin obsessed with soup?

What happens if you get bitten by a radioactive spider?

POV footage of a flying eagle

Seventy years ago, a “weather balloon” crashed in Roswell

The public shaming of England’s first umbrella user

Fight over Star Wars vs. Star Trek led to assault

Put Down the Phone, Mr. President

by Jonah Goldberg
Trump’s tweets distract from his agenda, cause chaos among his staff, and harden attitudes among Democrats and winnable voters.

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 (Let’s just do this thing),

To paraphrase the great man himself, we’re going to live every week like it’s Energy Week.

As I tried to explain on NPR this morning, I think you can look at this week — officially “Energy Week” according to the crackerjack folks working in the White House Communications shop (who I kind of imagine live in a constant state of captive fear of Trump’s Twitter feed, like Craster’s wives).

It began very well for the president (and I said so on Special Report). The Supreme Court backed him up — decisively — on the travel ban. Neil Gorsuch revealed himself to be the conservative star he was sold as. The president had a very good meeting with the prime minister of India. Monday was arguably the best day of Donald Trump’s presidency since his address to Congress.

There were other successes this week too — for the GOP and, by extension, for Trump. The House passed some good stuff. There were actually some solid energy policies unveiled as part of Energy Week. I’m not saying it was the greatest legislative triumph since the Code of Hammurabi was unveiled, but all in all it wasn’t too shabby.

Does it feel like that now?

Mo Mo summed it up well:

Hypocrisy, They Cried

Look, I think Trump’s defenders make some perfectly valid points. Laura Ingraham, for example, rightly notes that all of the people freaking out about Trump’s misogyny were all too happy to drag Bill Clinton’s victims through the mud.

Introducing that hypocrisy alone into the equation brings down the JSS (Justified Sanctimony Scale) at least a whole letter grade — for the Democrats, the mainstream media, and liberals generally.

As for Joe, Mika, and the gang, it’s entirely true that they’ve been mud-wrestling with Trump like he was Dewey Oxburger at the strip club, and now they’re aggrieved by the back-splatter.

The Golem Strikes Back

Far worse, from my perspective, is that they helped get Trump the nomination. I know Joe Scarborough hates this argument and he can point to all sorts of criticisms he made during the primaries. But the simple fact remains that in the early days of the primary season, Morning Joe was one of Trump’s greatest media assets, normalizing his candidacy and the outrageously outsized coverage it got (as I wrote often in early 2016). They came to their senses eventually, and some Trump defenders would argue, with some merit, that they’ve overcompensated in the other direction.

I like Scarborough and I think Trump’s attack on him and (especially) Brzezinski is indefensible coming from a sitting president. But there is a certain air of the frog complaining about the scorpion’s sting in all this. For instance, this morning, Joe and Mika insisted that the Donald Trump we see today isn’t the man they used to know. Maybe. But rarely does a day go by that Joe and Mika don’t also say that a man in his seventies “doesn’t change” his ways. Well, Trump only just turned 71. Did he change a lot in his sixties?

I’ve talked to dozens of people who tell me that in person Trump is charming. So what? So is Al Sharpton.

This reminds me of all the people who say, “If you only knew the Hillary Clinton I know . . . ” As I’ve written before, this is a clever Washington technique for signaling that you get face time with the principal. But it’s also an example of how people can be fooled by a little charm and attention. I’ve talked to dozens of people who tell me that in person Trump is charming. So what? So is Al Sharpton. Some of the most charming people I’ve ever met have been scam artists. Charm and integrity aren’t highly correlated as far as I can tell.

None of this changes the fact that Trump’s tweet is indefensible, particularly once you deny any authority to the schoolyard logic used to justify so much of Trump’s behavior. Every single time Trump does one of these things, the same juvenile horsesh*t gets trotted out: He’s a counter-puncher! He hits back twice as hard! They started it!

And sometimes that’s true. But the answer is the same: So frick’n what? At best, those are explanations. But they don’t even get close to being excuses.

Put Down the Phone, Mr. President

It seems to me Trump’s biggest fans need to come to grips with two really difficult, but obvious, truths.

The first is that the president should walk away from Twitter. A new Fox poll says that 71 percent of Americans think the tweeting hurts his agenda. I’m amazed that number is so low. If you think his tweeting is brilliant and strategic, you’re arguing that it’s all part of his plan to annoy seven out of ten Americans with his tweets.

Now, to be fair, I think the more accurate analysis would be to say that the tweeting hurts more than it helps. Not every one of Trump’s tweets is the political equivalent of taking a sock full of quarters and smashing himself in the crotch, only some are. If he just tweeted within relatively sane and presidential parameters, it would be an asset for him. Feel free to discount my advice, and just listen to Victor Davis Hanson, Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson, or virtually every Republican member of Congress who understand that Trump’s tweets distract from his agenda, cause chaos among his staff, make it harder for Republicans to embrace him, and harden attitudes among Democrats and winnable voters.

Not every one of Trump’s tweets is the political equivalent of taking a sock full of quarters and smashing himself in the crotch, only some are.

If your response is “It got him elected!” simply take note that most tools lose their utility once they’ve accomplished their task. You need a hammer to build a birdhouse. If you keep hammering after it’s completed, you destroy your birdhouse. Surgeons use a scalpel to operate. If they keep using it too long, they go to jail.

And, if your response is “He needs to go over the heads of the liberal media!” bear in mind that a) the liberal media loves his tweets and b) he’s the president of the United States and has no end of ways to get his message out.

The Tweets Are Just a Symptom

The second thing is the more bitter pill. The president of the United States really just isn’t a very good person. There is no definition of good character that he can meet. You certainly can’t say he’s a man of good character when it comes to sexual behavior. His adulterous past is well-documented. You can’t say he models decency in the way he talks. He’s not honest (you can look it up). He brags about whining his way to winning. He boasts of double-crossing business partners. If you want to say he’s charitable, you should read up on how he used his “charities” as leverage or for publicity stunts. I think we can all agree he’s not humble or self-sacrificing. When asked what sacrifices he’s made, in the context of his spat with the Khan family, he couldn’t name anything save for the fact that he worked very hard to get rich and that he employs people (presumably because it profits him to do so). I don’t know how anyone could absolve him of the charge of vanity or greed. He’s certainly not pious by any conventional definition.

Some argue that he’s loyal, and there’s some evidence of that. But the loyalty he shows is instrumental and self-serving. In The Art of the Deal, there’s a fairly moving passage about Roy Cohn, Trump’s mentor, and loyalty. “The thing that’s most important to me is loyalty,” Trump says. “You can’t hire loyalty. I’ve had people over the years who I swore were loyal to me, and it turned out that they weren’t. Then I’ve had people that I didn’t have the same confidence in and turned out to be extremely loyal. So you never really know.”

He added: “The thing I really look for though, over the longer term, is loyalty.” Trump then said this about Cohn:

He was a truly loyal guy — it was a matter of honor with him — and because he was also very smart, he was a great guy to have on your side. You could count on him to go to bat for you, even if he privately disagreed with your view, and even if defending you wasn’t necessarily the best thing for him. He was never two-faced.

Just compare that with all the hundreds of “respectable” guys who make careers boasting about their uncompromising integrity and have absolutely no loyalty. They think about what’s best for them and don’t think twice about stabbing a friend in the back if the friend becomes a problem. . . . 

Roy was the sort of guy who’d be there at your hospital bed, long after everyone else had bailed out, literally standing by you to the death.

But when Cohn got HIV, Trump severed his ties with Cohn. “Donald found out about it and just dropped him like a hot potato,” Susan Bell, Cohn’s longtime secretary, said. “It was like night and day.”

I could go on. But you get the point. I am truly open to the argument that there’s some morally and intellectually serious definition of good character that Trump meets. I’ve just never heard it. And that’s why the tweets are ultimately just a symptom.

Conservatives for most of my life argued that character matters. That went by the wayside for many people in 2016.

The question now is what conservatives should do about it. I agree with Ramesh and Charlie entirely. Conservatives should condemn the bad behavior. But we shouldn’t fall into the liberal trap of saying that because Trump isn’t a gentleman, we should therefore abandon a conservative agenda. Being ungentlemanly is not an impeachable offense. At the same time, however, we should not follow the path of his worst enablers who insist that his bad behavior is admirable or that the bad behavior of others is a justification for his. That’s Alinsky-envying bunk. “Let the lie come into the world,” Solzhenitsyn said, “let it even triumph. But not through me.”

Reagan, My Reagan

The other night, I participated in a panel on Henry Olsen’s new book, The Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue-Collar Conservatism  (it will be on C-SPAN’s Book TV at some point),. Henry is a brilliant psephologist and, now, a heterodox historian. He basically makes two arguments. Reagan was a “New Deal Republican” who was much more comfortable with an interventionist government than people think today or realized even during his lifetime. As Rich notes today, he makes a very strong and eye-opening case in this regard. More on that in a moment. Henry’s second argument is that the GOP needs to let go of the myth of Reagan the “Reaganite.” By Reaganite, he means the caricature of a libertarian obsessed with cutting taxes to the point where we can just pay for a minimalist state.

I’m very sympathetic to his second argument, and have been writing similar things for a while.

I have two significant objections. The first is with his historical analysis. Again, Henry makes some excellent points on how Reagan was less of a Goldwaterite than Goldwater was. But the idea that Ronald Reagan — who insisted, with some merit, that the New Deal was informed by fascism (and who often took other potshots at it) — was in reality a New Deal Republican just doesn’t convince me. Some of this is definitional, of course. The New Deal was many things and there were many different kinds of “New Deal Republicans.” But even more broadly, the idea that the “Real Reagan” — who lovingly read Hayek and Hazlitt — was a socially conservative social democrat just doesn’t make sense to me. You’d think Bill Buckley or his fans at Cato would have noticed this before Henry’s discovery.

And that brings me to my second objection. Henry wants to argue that what made the Real Reagan successful is what the GOP should follow today. I don’t agree with every policy proposal he has in mind, but, as political advice, he makes a very strong argument. Indeed, he was one of the few prognosticators to understand Trump’s appeal and chances for victory from very early on. But, it seems to me, Henry is making the same mistake of the “Reaganites” only in reverse. Just as the people he calls the High Priests of Reaganism insist that we must follow the exact footsteps of Ronaldus Magnus — Rush Limbaugh’s term — Henry says pretty much the exact same thing. It’s like arguments over What Would Jesus Do? Both agree he (or He) is the key to salvation, they’re just arguing over whose interpretation is more accurate. I don’t think this argument is necessary. Henry’s certainly right that Reagan won over working-class voters and that the GOP could learn a lot from him. But one doesn’t have to buy that Reagan was much more liberal than most historians and contemporaries believe to make that argument.

The truth is Reagan was a fantastic politician and that comes through in Henry’s engaging book. Reagan may or may not have been as libertarian as Goldwater, but that’s not the crucial distinction. He was simply a much, much better politician than Goldwater.

Which brings me to one last point, which might tie all of this together. I told this story on the panel, and I wrote about it at greater length in this 16-year-old G-File, so I’ll give you the short version here. When I was a larval wonk at AEI some 25 years ago, Josh Muravchik gave a talk on neoconservatism. The room was full of Reagan-administration alumni. I asked Josh for a definition of neoconservatism and his reply was uncharacteristically unpersuasive. But in the process of answering, he asserted that Reagan was fundamentally a foreign-policy president, elected to win the Cold War. He simply brought social conservatives and economic conservatives along for the ride as part of his coalition.

Reagan’s genius lay in being able to make everyone feel as if they had ownership in his presidency and his cause.

My friend, the late Michael Novak, one of the great Catholic intellectuals and social conservatives of the 20th century, objected. No, no, he said. Reagan was a social conservative who brought the hawks and the economics guys along for the ride. This was too much for Irwin Stelzer, a brilliant economist and Reagan official. He insisted that Reagan’s was fundamentally a free-market, pro-growth candidacy and presidency and that he brought in the foreign-policy and cultural conservatives with him. It turned into quite an intellectual melee and, much like when Jerry Seinfeld cleared out the restaurant by bringing up abortion, I’m proud to say I started it.

The point here is that Reagan was a brilliant politician with some core convictions about all of these schools of thought. His genius lay in being able to make everyone feel as if they had ownership in his presidency and his cause. I am convinced Reagan was an ideological conservative, but what made him a successful president had more to do with those traits and abilities. It also had to do with his character. He made people proud to fight in his ranks and eager to defend him on the merits.

And so, while I think we spend too much time trying to reincarnate Reagan the ideologue, we really need to reincarnate Reagan the politician.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: Well, it was an eventful week with the beasts, as you would know if you’d been following my Twitter feed. The Fair Jessica was in Alaska much of last week (and “Aunt Kirsten” the Dogwalker was on vacation), which meant that not only did I eat most of my meals over the sink, but I was also on solo dog duty for days on end. A good time was had by all, even though I lost count of how many times I had the give the beasties a bath. Yesterday, Kirsten returned, and to celebrate, Zoë rolled in a fresh pile of green goose poop.

But I’m going to spare you the rest for three reasons: 1) I’m running very late, 2) The Fair Jessica must head back to Alaska this weekend for more family obligations, so those interested in canine exploits can check out my Twitter feed over the weekend, and 3) I wanted to give you an ursine update my wife relayed to me.

My niece, Cali, works at a resort outside of Fairbanks. She manages the horses and sled dogs. At the end of the day she was walking in the parking lot when she heard a commotion. A very large black bear was trying to get inside an RV occupied by some terrified tourists. The bear, no doubt an avid reader of the Far Side, mistook the rented RV to for an igloo. (“Crunchy on the outside, and chewy center.”) As he was unwrapping his present, my niece calmly walked up, pulled out her sidearm, and sent the beast on its way, to the great relief of the tourists. Normally, it is a big deal to shoot a bear out of season or without a license, but these were obviously special circumstances. And here’s a fun fact I learned: In Alaska, if you kill a black bear, you are required by law to salvage the meat. To which, I say, “Yuck.” Meanwhile, Grizzlies, much like the food at the Fort Lauderdale Airport Chili’s, are inedible.

The new e-mail format. As loyal readers of this “news”letter may have noticed, we have changed the format of the G-File. You now click on a link in the e-mail to see the whole thing. Very few of you seem to like it, and I can’t say I am a fan. But the suits think it is necessary. We are in the midst of a continuing conversation about it and I hope we can find some compromise. In the meantime, as the intern said to Bill Clinton, please don’t hold it against me.

ICYMI . . . 

Last Week’s G-File

Why Argue That ‘Collusion with Russia’ Isn’t a Crime?

My appearance on Special Report discussing the Supreme Court’s travel-ban ruling

GLoP Culture podcast #76: “Fake GLoP (a particularly enjoyable one, I think)

How the Logic of Tribalism Is Driving the Health-Care Debate

A panel on Reagan’s legacy, in which I participated

The Left Espouses Dangerously Stupid Health-Care Rhetoric

Reagan on Abortion

Nancy MacLean’s Ideologically Motivated Shortcuts

The AP Fact-Checks Senator Roberts over Porcupine Lovemaking

GE’s Attempt to Champion Progressivism Is Creepy and Condescending

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday Links

It might soon be legal to challenge someone to a duel in Canada

The persistence of Prog Rock

Basset hound morning stretch

What it’s like to live with Multiple-Personality Disorder

Giant snail feasts on earthworm

The Brautigan Library

Why is the speed of light so slow?

AI transforms photographs as if they had been printed by different artists

How humans are shaping our own evolution

The universe visualized in one gif

This worm grew a second head after a trip to space

Pizza acrobatics is the sport you have been waiting for

A supercomputer has created the largest virtual universe ever made

Can you stop a sneeze?

How to avoid ticks

Dog crashes orchestra concert

What it looks like to travel at the speed of light

NASA denies that it’s running a child-slave colony on Mars

Politics Enters the Fast Lane

by Jonah Goldberg
The most remarkable thing about the whole Ossoff–Handel brouhaha is how short its half-life was.

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

Dear Reader (especially those of you feeling unsatisfied by the lack of a Dear Reader gag),

As the Dingo let loose in the petting zoo said, “Where to begin?”

I’ve had a very rough week. Rough like sharkskin. Rough like the stubble on Michael Moore’s once dasypygal buttocks after the Brazilian wax wears off.

(I wonder how many readers I lost with that image alone?)

Where was I? Oh right, rough like the morning after the Georgia special election at the DNC. How would you like to be the guy or gal or non-gender-conforming person who talked all that money out of George Clooney or Barbra Streisand who now has to field phone calls from people peppering their diatribes with “But I read in Salon!” and ” . . . but Rachel Maddow said . . . !”

I have no hot takes about all that. Or if my takes were hot, they’ve now cooled to that of flan left out overnight.

Everything Fades

Indeed, the most remarkable thing about the whole Ossoff–Handel brouhaha is how fast its half-life is. Yesterday, I started two of my favorite podcasts (other than GLoP of course). Both The Editors — put out by National Review (now containing up to 75 percent real editor) — and the gang over at Commentary began their conversations talking about the Georgia race, and it already felt old to me.

It feels like so much of the news these days is like that. What would once have been huge events — terror attacks on American soil, outrageous/bizarre/unfathomable statements from the president or Johnny Depp or Elizabeth Warren, announcements by the Russians that they might shoot down our planes, etc. — vanish like a Polaroid picture un-developing before our eyes. If Ossoff didn’t have a name that lent itself to puns (“I’m laughing my Ossoff,” “Shearing Michael Moore’s Ossoff,” etc.) most of us would already be forgetting the guy’s name.

I’m sure there are all sorts of big-think or pundity explanations for why this is so. Twitter accelerates the news. The president is like a squirrel rancher with an infinite supply of varmints to distract the dogs circling his presidency. The Orb has issued a charm of forgetting. It’s almost like our collective attention span has been crippled to the point that we can barely finish a sent . . . 

Nancying Around

Oh, there is one point I want to make about Nancy Pelosi, other than the fact that she always looks like she just left a Ludovico treatment session and her eyes haven’t readjusted. Last night on Special Report, I’m not sure I made a point the way I intended (I’d check the video, but my Internet connection in the BWI parking garage is less than ideal and I got a late start, and I’m lazy). What I was trying to say is that Nancy Pelosi’s brand outside of solidly liberal districts is worse than the GOP’s. The reason I think I said it wrong, is that the lovely and talented A. B. Stoddard corrected me by pointing out that Democrats do better on the generic ballot than Republicans do. That’s certainly true.

But Nancy Pelosi is not generic. She’s literally a San Francisco Democrat and a known quantity. When you say “Democrat” to people, they might think of Pelosi, but they also might think of John F. Kennedy, or Bill Clinton, or “not Donald Trump,” or “not the GOP.” But when you say, “Nancy Pelosi,” even many independents react like the guys at Delta House when Flounder’s picture appeared on the screen. They think of the smug, condescending, social-engineering side of the Democratic party. That’s why Handel could so effectively use Pelosi against Ossoff. A vote for him was a vote to get Pelosi one step closer to running the House of Representatives.

If the Democrats were smart, they’d give her a gold watch and some eye drops and get rid of her. I doubt her replacement would be any better, given the ideological homogenization of the Democratic party that occurred under Obama and Pelosi, but simply having a fresh face would give the Democrats breathing room. They could elect an unknown to her left, and he or she would still help the party because it would take a while to figure out what was B.S. and what wasn’t.

If the Democrats were smart, they’d give Pelosi a gold watch and some eye drops and get rid of her.

Two weeks ago, I wrote in this “news”letter about how politics is becoming “lifestyle-ized.” Everyone talks about how everyday life is becoming politicized, but the reverse is true, too. Politics is becoming a lifestyle choice, a fashion, in ways it never has before. And last week, I wrote that people are starting to follow politics like it’s entertainment. The two ideas complement each other. So much TV these days, from streaming-video shows to cooking-competition shows to DIY programming, is about lifestyle. Politics is too.

But the hitch is that once you start watching politics like it’s entertainment, you constantly crave novelty, freshness, new laughs, and drama. That’s part of the genius of the Trump presidency. As a philosophical or ideological affair, it’s a train wreck. But as entertainment, it’s really quite brilliant. According to the old playbook(s), Trump’s tweeting and all the rest looks like Sideshow Bob or Barnyard Dawg walking into a sea of garden rakes. But as TV entertainment, it’s gold.

The Perils of Over-Thinking

This creates problems for Trump supporters and critics alike. For instance, if you saw my gobsmacked expression on Special Report last night as my friend Mollie Hemingway was making the case — as well as it could be made — that Trump’s “tapes” tweet was actually strategically brilliant, it wasn’t induced because I think it’s such a compelling argument. Rather, I think it’s a very strange one (even though, as of this morning’s Fox & Friends interview, it is now official party dogma). The idea that Trump had gamed-out all of the possible scenarios when he tweeted that thing about maybe having tapes of his conversation with Comey is, frankly, unfathomable to me.

It’s a plausible argument only if you look at that one tweet in isolation and do a reverse analysis of the events that unfolded afterwards. It’s kind of like the Whig interpretation of history in miniature.

Everything we know about how Trump tweets, and talks, and acts, tells us that he lives in the moment. He even brags about it. His one concession to the future is his insatiable need to keep his options open, not in policy terms but in a personal one. I don’t want to waste everyone’s time by documenting the rich history of Donald Trump’s Twitter account, never mind his countless aphasic asides in interviews, but it seems obvious to me that whatever good the “tape” tweet did for Donald Trump, it was blind luck.

Everything we know about how Trump tweets, and talks, and acts, tells us that he lives in the moment.

Conversely, just as Trump supporters should probably give up trying to connect the tweeted dots in order to paint a picture of some grand strategist, so should Trump’s critics on the left and, to some extent, on the right. Bannon may be a Cylon with a nefarious plan for world domination. Trump certainly doesn’t have one. For good or ill, the man is not a composer of multi-part symphonies, he’s improvisational jazz all the way down. Some love the tune. Some hate it. But no one should mistake it for something else.

Wonder Woman

So, for three weeks I’ve been avoiding reviews, Twitter storms, and podcasts that might spoil Wonder Woman for me. Of course, it was impossible to hide completely from the spillover. And I should say the hype nearly ruined it for me. Nearly.

At times, I sat in the theater wondering if I was at the right movie. It was a perfectly fine superhero flick. But it was hardly any grand statement on anything. It fit the usual tropes of superhero movies (with great power comes great responsibility, man is flawed but worth saving, Look! Explosions! Etc.) It executed better than most examples of the genre. But even as an example of a woman-led action flick, it isn’t nearly as good or important as Sigourney Weaver in Aliens.

Nonetheless, I have notes!

First of all, to state the obvious: Gal Gadot is really very nice to look at, more so than your typical woman hot enough to shave Superman’s beard. She has a thing that makes you stare at her beyond normal sex appeal.

What I find hilarious is the idea that she shouldn’t be hot at all. Ms. magazine ran an unintentionally hilarious article asking, “When Will Wonder Woman Be a Fat, Femme Woman of Color?” (For those of you who don’t know, “femme” is a flavor of lesbian). Slate offered a variant of the same complaint.

Wonder Woman won’t be a fat, lesbian woman of color for many of the same reasons Dom Deluise’s Captain Chaos never became a major franchise.

The Ms. magazine writer celebrates that Wonder Woman is no longer a crusader for American “imperialism” but she concedes that this is “likely more about wanting to capture global audiences than politics.” She’s obviously right. One of the worst things about the globalization of Hollywood is the corrosive effect it has on American patriotism. Superman is a super-powered Diogenes now, a citizen of the world not a champion of “truth, justice, and the American way.” When you’re trying to sell movies in Asia and Europe, one of the first things the prop department collects is your giant foam “USA Is No. 1!” hand-thingamabob. Even Captain America is little more than Jason Bourne in tights. I made this point in what I believe was my first article for National Review on Dead Tree two decades ago.

But if Americana doesn’t play as well in foreign markets, you know what does? Explosions. And violence. And sex. It’s a well-established fact that people all around the world prefer to look at beautiful people. Sure, standards of beauty vary — for women and men. But they don’t vary that much. (I don’t recall a lot of horse-faced paunchy men in The Avengers and Jonah Hill will never be cast as Superman). Also, even going by the most generous estimates of how many homosexual people there are in the world, you’re not going to get around the fact that most people aren’t gay (you can look it up). So, if you’re trying to appeal to the broadest market possible for what is nothing more than a summer popcorn flick, casting a stocky lesbian in overalls as Wonder Woman is probably not the way to go.

A superhero who fights against tyranny and for American-style democracy is apparently gross.

But here’s the funny part. If Hollywood listened to the writers of Ms. magazine and went all-in on an Andrea Dworkinized Wonder Woman and distributed it globally, you know what the right term for that would be? Imperialism! Specifically, cultural imperialism.

A superhero who fights against tyranny and for American-style democracy is apparently gross. Who are we to impose our values on the minions of the Kaiser, or for that matter, Hitler? Thank Gaia, Wonder Woman doesn’t do that anymore! (Even though a fair reading of the movie is that she kinda does). But wouldn’t it be awesome if Hollywood went all-in on spreading the pet notions of the Bryn Mawr women’s-studies department!

Other random observations: For all the talk about how empowering Wonder Woman is, it’s worth noting that in one sense she’s not a woman. Oh, I don’t mean anatomically, thank God. But a lot of people failed to notice that she’s not really a human. There’s a lot of dialogue about “men” in the universal sense of “mankind” which includes both sexes. The Amazonians were created to protect humans, but they aren’t humans themselves. And Wonder Woman isn’t even an Amazonian but a god or demigod (it remains unclear which). She is no more a normal woman than Thor is a normal man. She may mirror norms of gender and sex, but she’s better than an actual human woman.

And on this point, let me say on behalf of my outraged daughter, the movie is a hate crime against traditional Greek mythology. Zeus didn’t create humans, Prometheus did. Zeus, if memory serves, was quite chilly on the subject of humankind.

Last, and crucially, what the Hell was an armadillo doing in Themyscira?

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: So, my wife is in Alaska for grim family business, my daughter left this morning for camp, and I am alone with my canine Amazonians. Not only does this mean that I will have to renew my membership in the International Association of People Who Eat Over The Kitchen Sink — which is fine by me — but our trusted daytime dogwalker is on vacation, which means I have to perambulate the beasts at least three times a day (it’s usually more) right as D.C. transforms into a swampy miasma reminiscent of an obese shut-in’s sweat-pant fog.

Yesterday, amidst a chaotic day of camp prep, column writing, and Gymkata practice, I had to take the Dingo to the vet. She has a bad rash in her nethers, and while I’m sure this comes as a surprise to no one, discussing canine feminine hygiene with two lady vets and a female technician comes as naturally to me as discussing health-care policy comes to Republicans. The trip to the vet was stressful in other ways. Zoë detests the vet more than most dogs, which is saying something. She has a fight-or-flight protocol that is also beyond that of any dog I’ve had. So, when flight was not an option, she made it clear to every beast in the waiting room that entering what she calls her “zone of death” is a very bad idea. She’s going to be fine, thanks in part to ministrations that will probably cost me a hand, but the vet says that Zoë does have to lose some weight (she’s 72 pounds now!).

The problem here is that she, unlike sweet Pippa, has the means to remedy hunger by living off the land as it were. If you see hundreds of squirrels carrying luggage out of Northwest Washington, it’s because news that the Dingo will be perpetually hungry and on the lookout for between-meal snacks has gotten out. Meanwhile, the crows are arming-up.

ICYMI . . . 

In my column today, I attempt to put a positive spin on things.

Last Week’s G-File

A Father’s Day Remembrance

Calling Shenanigans on Jake Tapper’s Superman-Haircut Theory

If speech can inspire good actions, it can inspire bad actions, too (BTW, this column was inspired by last week’s episode of The Editors.)

My contribution to the Commentary Symposium on the Threat to Free Speech

One-and-a-Half-Cheers for the New York Times

A Reality Check about What Handel’s Win Means

Free Speech Isn’t Always a Tool of Virtue

My appearance on Special Report discussing the GOP health care bill

Are Things Getting Better?

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

The golden age of airplane food

What the underside of an iceberg looks like

Man commits crime to get away from wife

Maine woman drowns raccoon attacker

Why dogs tilt their heads

“Fearless Girl” was supposed to be bronze cow

Tabs or spaces: the verdict

Inside the coffin homes of Hong Kong

Renaissance paintings of food people

The Hardest Logic Puzzle Ever

D.C. Bonsai that survived Hiroshima

Kung Fu mantis vs. jumping spider

What Europe would look like if every secessionist movement had their way

Dog photobombs street view of entire South Korean island

Humanity’s changing origin story

Wind turbine blown over

The Reality-TV Presidency

by Jonah Goldberg
We have been erasing the lines between celebrity culture and political culture for decades.

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

Dear Reader (especially those of you with a fetish for interspecies romance),

I used to love crossovers.

A “crossover” is what you call it when a character or characters from one story shows up in another. Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein was a personal favorite of mine as a kid. By the time I stopped collecting comic books, however, crossovers had gotten a bit ridiculous. They’d cut across the Marvel Universe like a four-year-old on a runaway John Deere, going straight through the hedges. A story would start in an X-Men title, get picked up in a Spider-Man title, then go careening into a limited series of Wolverine, before finally concluding in some new comic they were trying to promote such as Forensic Accountant Lad.

Movies and TV shows use crossovers to expand the pie of viewers. If you’re an ardent fan of one show, you’re likely to watch another show if your favorite characters show up in it. Hence such classics as Steve Urkel from Family Matters showing up on Full House or all those He-Man: Masters of the Universe crossovers with She-Ra: Princess of Power, not to mention that fantastic made-for-TV movie Hannah Montana Meets Brian Lamb.

Anyway, I got to thinking about crossovers, because I wanted to pick up where my Friday column left off. And I’ll do that, but now that I have crossovers in my head, I can’t let that go.

As with Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein, I always liked the big crossovers, when two seemingly incongruous universes converge. No one cares when the universe of CSI: Miami merges with the universe of CSI: New York. That’s less of a “when worlds collide” mash-up than a plausible two-hour flight. No, I’m talking about stuff like Archie Meets the Punisher or Archie vs. Predator (yes, real things) or Wonder Pets vs. the Avengers.

But I’m losing my love for crossovers these days because it feels like we’re living in one. I’m not particularly meme-spirited, but during the election when things got so impossibly weird and I felt like I was in a Bodysnatchers remake, I got kind of caught up in this whole “Earth-2” idea — where politics kept going as it’s supposed to, according to traditional Earth-logic. John Podhoretz and I have been dabbling with the idea that maybe Y2K happened after all, but in a way that was initially invisible to us. As Alice says in that as of yet unwritten crossover with Star Trek, “We’re all through the wormhole now.”

Reality World

Well, the Donald Trump presidency is the mother of all crossovers. The primetime reality-TV universe has merged with the cable-news universe — and both sides are playing the part. This is a hugely important point, and one I think my fellow Trump-skeptics should keep in mind. Take, for instance, that cabinet meeting where everybody reportedly sucked up to the president. As Andy Ferguson notes, that’s not really what happened. Reince Priebus did the full Renfield, and so did Mike Pence, but most of the others played it fairly straight.

Don’t get me wrong: Donald Trump’s need for praise is a real thing, so much so he has to invent it or pluck it from random Twitter-feed suck ups. (Remember when he told the AP that “some people said” his address to Congress “was the single best speech ever made in that chamber”?) So, yeah, Trump acts like a reality-show character, but much of the political press is covering him like they’re reality-show producers.

I kept wanting the anchor to break away to a confession-cam interview with Mike Pence.

As I’ve talked about a bunch, the mainstream media MacGuffinized Barack Obama’s presidency, making him the hero in every storyline. With Trump, they’re covering the White House like an episode of Big Brother or MTV’s Real World. By encouraging officials to gossip and snipe about each other and the boss, they too are playing the game. Much of MSNBC’s and CNN’s coverage feels like it should be called “Desperate Housewives of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”

So, when you look at how that cabinet meeting was covered, it felt less Stalinesque and more like a creepy spinoff of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette or some sure-to-come non-gendered version (working title, “I Could Be into That”). I kept wanting the anchor to break away to a confession-cam interview with Mike Pence. If he doesn’t give me a rose but gives one to Reince, I will be like, “Oh no he didn’t!”

Meanwhile, Trump’s tweeting seems less like what it is — the panicked outbursts of narcissist with a persecution complex — and more like a premise of The Apprentice in which contestants have to deal with the boss’s rhetorical monkey wrenches. Back in the West Wing, the producers (who just finished congratulating themselves for coming up with the crossover idea of having Apprentice alumnus Dennis Rodman give Kim Jong-un a copy of The Art of the Deal) are trying to craft the best possible tweets to get Sean Spicer to pop a vein in his neck.

How We Got Here

This entire spectacle is the culmination of trends long in the making. We have been erasing the lines between celebrity culture and political culture for decades. The Democratic party long ago became a vanity project for Hollywood activists who wanted to be taken more seriously. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both exploited this relationship for their short-term political advantage, but, in the process, they also blurred and ultimately obliterated important distinctions. Movie stars — and even Muppets — testified with increasingly regularity before Congress.

The Oscars and other award shows became showcases for liberal moral preening and vacuity. Mainstream journalism got into the act. The rise of TV shout-shows and cable news generally created celebrity journalists who were only too happy to appear in films, playing themselves. In the 1990s, insipid magazines such as the short-lived George treated Washington as “Hollywood for ugly people,” as Paul Begala once put it. The White House Correspondents’ Dinner, until Trump was elected, was fast on its way to becoming just another TV show during awards season, complete with twirls on the red carpet to shouts of “who are you wearing?” The Daily Show under Jon Stewart — the most literal incarnation of “fake news” possible — won a Peabody for its “journalism” during the Bush presidency.

Binge Watching Politics

Many of my angriest Always Trump critics constantly insist that I lost all my credibility because I believed Trump couldn’t or wouldn’t win the 2016 election. This is dumb on several levels. First of all, lots of pro-Trump boosters didn’t think he could win either. Indeed, many on the Trump campaign were convinced on Election Day that he would lose. Second, there’s no transitive property here. Being wrong about one thing, doesn’t automatically mean you’re wrong about everything. If it did, Donald Trump himself would be in deep trouble, unless, that is, you actually believe he’s always right about everything. Last, it’s just factually untrue. In May of 2016, I wrote about how Trump could win — and my reasoning was not only sound, it’s very relevant to this “news”letter. I argued that, just as many liberals had made Barack Obama the hero of a story in 2008 (and throughout his presidency), many Americans had done the same thing with Trump.

I think something similar has been at the root of Trump’s success. I can’t bring myself to call him a hero, but many people see him that way. Even his critics concede that he’s entertaining. I see him as being a bit like Rodney Dangerfield, constantly complaining he doesn’t get enough respect.

Regardless, Trump bulldozed his way through the primaries in part because the nomination was his MacGuffin and people wanted to see the movie play out. Many voters, and nearly the entire press corps, got caught up in the story of Trump — much the same way the press became obsessed with the “mythic” story of Obama in 2008. People just wanted to see what happened next . . . 

This could be terrible for Clinton. She began her campaign thinking she could stage a remake of The Obama Story the way they’re remaking Ghostbusters: same plot, only this time with women. It doesn’t work that way. Fair or not, the story of Hillary Clinton: First Woman President isn’t as exciting as Barack Obama: First Black President. And, more to the point, The Hillary Story is far less entertaining than The Trump Story. Clinton is boring. She’s as fun as changing shelf paper on a Saturday afternoon. Meanwhile, who wouldn’t want to see a sequel to “Back to School” in which the Rodney Dangerfield character becomes president?

As I said during the primaries, I don’t think Democrats understand the consequences of Trump’s precedent. The GOP has a very thin bench of celebrities. Scott Baio, Ted Nugent, Nick Searcy, et al. have their charms, but they’re not Oprah, George Clooney, or Tom Hanks in terms of their cultural reach and power. If it’s true that in the Year 2000 we slipped through some dimensional portal where life became a reality show, the story is going to get a lot weirder long after the Trump Show goes into syndication.

Wars, Metaphorical and Real

As I said, I didn’t plan to write about any of this. What I wanted to do was pick up a point from my Friday column. I concluded the column on the Alexandria shooting thus:

For decades we’ve invested in the federal government ever-greater powers while at the same time raising the expectations for what government can do even higher. The rhetoric of the last three presidents has been wildly outlandish about what can be accomplished if we just elect the right political savior. George W. Bush insisted that “when somebody hurts, government has to move.” Barack Obama promised the total transformation of America in palpably messianic terms. Donald Trump vowed that electing him would solve all of our problems and usher in an era of never-ending greatness and winning.

When you believe — as James Hodgkinson clearly did — that all of our problems can be solved by flicking a few switches in the Oval Office, it’s a short trip to believing that those who stand in the way are willfully evil enemies bent on barring the way to salvation. That belief won’t turn everyone into a murderer, but it shouldn’t be that shocking that it would turn someone into one.

In last week’s “news”letter, I addressed my back and forth with Dennis Prager. Dennis insists that we are in a real civil war, not a metaphorical one (and as Kevin discusses today, he’s hardly alone). When I objected to Dennis’s use of the term, he defended it as literally true in a column headlined “Yes, America is in a Civil War.” But he’s trying to have it both ways. He says “No, no — it’s really a civil war,” but then defends that claim by insisting it’s a metaphorical war:

Indeed, Jonah Goldberg in National Review said as much. He denied that we are in the midst of a civil war on two grounds: One is that it is not violent, and the other is that we are fighting a “culture war,” not a civil war.

Whenever I write about the subject, I almost always note that this Second Civil War is not violent. I never thought that the word “war” must always include violence.

The word is frequently used in nonviolent contexts: the war against cancer, the war between the sexes, the war against tobacco, the Cold War, and myriad other nonviolent wars.

The war on cancer was metaphorical. The war between the sexes is metaphorical. The term “civil war” is a literal one. And in an actual war, killing is not only acceptable, it’s mandatory. Look, I get that language is flexible and I’ve no doubt used the term “war” in diversely interpretable ways. But if we call today’s hyper-polarized and tribal political and cultural conflict a “civil war,” then we have no words left for an actual civil war. More to the point, this week’s shooting demonstrates the difference.

Inherent to the idea of debate and disagreement is that ‘combatants’ aren’t enemies but opponents.

Moreover, I hate metaphorical wars and it’s odd that Dennis cites my book as evidence for his side. I can’t count how many times I’ve railed against the concept of the “moral equivalent of war.” Wars, metaphorical and literal, work on the logic that all other considerations are secondary to total victory. It assumes that we must all drop our own individual pursuits and do whatever is necessary to defeat our enemies. And while I want to “win” political battles as much as anybody, following the logic of war isn’t how you do it.

Democracy isn’t about war or even unity, it’s about debate and disagreement. Inherent to the idea of debate and disagreement is that “combatants” aren’t enemies but opponents — and the way you win is not through killing or even metaphorically “destroying” your opponents, but by persuading them or the voters that you’re right. Every day, I’m called a traitor by those who believe that we are in a civil war, because in a civil war, disagreement or even inadequate enthusiasm is deemed to be seditious undermining of the war effort. I am entirely certain that Dennis and the vast majority of people who have bought into this civil-war thing reject violence. But the arguments they make have few or no limiting principles against violence. As Kevin pointed out earlier this week, contrary to conventional wisdom, the serious Left is in fact worse in this regard than the serious Right. But I am at a loss as to why we should try to catch up.

Various & Sundry

Alas, there’s no canine update this week, as I am finishing my (working) vacation to the Outer Banks. Because of the enduring bigotry against dogkind, we were not allowed to bring our beasts to the house we’re renting. Reports from home are that the beasts miss us terribly but are having a fine time searching the Internet for dog toys.

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File

The latest Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast

If Democrats take back the House, they will try to impeach Trump.

Megyn Kelly’s gift to Alex Jones

Political violence and the growth of government

Jack Fowler’s National Review Webathon appeal for Father’s Day.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Debby’s Wednesday links

The problem with “no problem”

How many friends would you need to celebrate someone’s birthday every day of the year?

Scientists to attempt to bring back the dead

Twelve possible reasons we haven’t found aliens

A collection of movie title drops

The most interesting man in the world is actually pretty interesting

Puppies vs. stairs

Lawsuits against God

Dogs wait patiently to be called by name

Why women live longer than men

Australian dog cut from police training gets new job

Why don’t perpetual motion machines work?

AI good for the world . . . says robot

The cat who authored a physics paper

The wonderful world of . . . spaceball

(The?) Orb sighted near Boston

Canada is genetically engineering cows to be less gassy

Comey, Master of Memos

by Jonah Goldberg
Who could have predicted that Lord Varys of the Beltway would have contingency plans and loyalists out there?

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

Dear Reader (I hope you can find a way to read this “news”letter),

One of the super-trendy talking points these days is to say that conservatives who are critical of Donald Trump suffer from “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” It’s original as it is clever.

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly think you can make the case that some members of the self-styled left-wing “resistance” are indeed out of their gourds.

Longtime readers might remember one of my favorite quotes from Thoreau: “Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.” Similarly, if you find yourself wearing a rubber hat that looks like female genitalia, or if you star in a video in which you proudly display the bloody, decapitated head of the president and then claim that you’re the victim because people took offense, or even if you look in the mirror and to your horror discover that you’re Keith Olbermann, you may have something that could be called “Trump Derangement Syndrome.”

Nor do I think that every critic on the right is a voice of pure reason and restraint. I think Jennifer Rubin and Evan McMullin often get so far over their skis they look like flying T-squares.

And then, of course, there is Louise Mensch. The most reasonable theory for her antics of late is that she is so offended by Russian-backed fake news, she’s decided to fight fire with fire. Another is that she misread an article about micro-dosing of LSD to read “macro.”

But I can report definitively that’s not what’s going on. The other day, I was in the Willard Hotel’s lobby men’s room, under the pretext of making my routine weekly delivery of urinal cakes. I was really there, however, to check in with the bathroom attendant who is actually an operative for USPIS, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service — America’s oldest domestic clandestine security agency.

(I don’t want to get bogged down here, but no one appreciates the full extent of their reach. Ben Franklin not only created USPIS while America was still a colony, the famous inventor used the Postal Inspection Service as a cover to develop a host of special surveillance technologies — not to mention numerous lethal weapons to be deployed in the war against the embryonic Republic of Corbynistan. Not for nothing do we talk about “going postal”: These satchel-carrying assassins delivered death long before they clogged your doorframe with Crate & Barrel catalogs. True fact: Congress made stealing the mail punishable by death in 1792.)

Anyway, my men’s-room contact — with whom I made no Larry Craig–style contact, if you know what I mean — tells me that the Juvenile Maritime Courts have issued new articles of impeachment against Trump and sent them to the Greater Municipal Sewage Authority in Gary, Ind., for safekeeping. USPIS would have kept it secret but they’re furious that the JMCs used FedEx to deliver the articles of impeachment. And by a special Act of Congress — not that Congress, the real one that operates out of an abandoned Circuit City in Cleveland — Mensch will be named chief inquisitor at Trump’s trial.

TDS for Thee, But Not for Me

Anyway, where was I? Oh right, Trump Derangement Syndrome. In short the problem isn’t that something like it exists, but rather that once you buy into it, TDS becomes all-explanatory. It’s a bit like the old Communist idea of “false consciousness” or the various theories of “white privilege” or “toxic masculinity.” You see, the Marxists used to say that anyone who couldn’t be persuaded to their cause was suffering from capitalism-induced false consciousness.

Some Trump boosters have the same approach to pretty much any inconvenient fact or development. For instance, this writer insists that I suffer from Trump Derangement Syndrome because I had the temerity to suggest not only that Donald Trump’s use of “covfefe” was a typo but that Sean Spicer’s defense of it might be trolling. As you well know, Occam’s Razor dictates that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. And, like a stiletto-wielding assassin of USPIS, David Danford cuts through my deranged musings to conclude that Trump was really using a loose transliteration of the Arabic word for “stand up yourself.”

As this example might suggest, relying on Trump Derangement Syndrome to beat back your opponents can lead to a severe case of PTDS — Pro-Trump Derangement Syndrome. And I think we’ve seen quite a lot of it in the last 24 hours.

Comey, Master of Memos

Look, I am perfectly happy to concede that James Comey is no Boy Scout. I’ve long said he’s much too interested in protecting his reputation as a Boy Scout to actually be one. If Washington were King’s Landing, Comey is closer to Varys, Master of Whisperers, than to Ned Stark. But do recall that Ned Stark wore his honor on his sleeve and it got him killed. Varys has honor and considers himself a patriot, but he’s also a survivor: “The storms come and go, the waves crash overhead, the big fish eat the little fish, and I keep on paddling.”

I’m more sympathetic to Comey than most, but I also think he should have been fired. My objection to Trump’s firing him was always grounded in the clumsy, self-destructive nature of it. If the president had simply done it the right way and afforded Comey some minimal dignity and respect, Trump wouldn’t be in the mess he’s in today. So, if we’re going to extend the Game of Thrones analogies, Trump is most like King Joffrey. No, he’s not a murderous sadist. He is, however, a man who has an insecure adolescent’s craving for respect and loyalty but who is utterly incapable of returning it to others. He also lets his psychological insecurities lead him astray, sometimes hourly.

I’m more sympathetic to Comey than most, but I also think he should have been fired.

If Trump hadn’t tweeted about the possibility of there being “tapes” of his conversation — which was almost surely a baseless and self-injuring bluff — Comey claims he wouldn’t have planted the details of his conversation with Trump in the press.

Of course, maybe that’s not true. I am totally open to the idea that this was an act of political revenge as this lawyer argues over at The Weekly Standard. But, two points need to be made about that.

First, if you take your partisan zeal or psychological defensiveness out of it, is it really so crazy to think Comey might want revenge? Comey was assured he was secure in his job — at least in his own telling (under oath) — but then he was summarily fired while he was on the other side of the country giving a speech, where he learned about it on TV and from the audience. He then had his name dragged through the mud. Who could have predicted that Lord Varys of the Beltway would have contingency plans and loyalists out there?

Second, even if you think that Comey’s payback is dishonorable, no good, and very bad, that doesn’t have any bearing on the question of whether or not his story is, you know, true.

The anti-Comey brigades on the right want to have it every which way. “He’s a liar,” Trump, his lawyer, and the PTDSers say. Well, as I note in my Friday column, if Comey is willing to lie, why didn’t he come up with a far more damaging story? He could have said Trump offered him cash to have Ted Cruz’s father arrested for murdering JFK. He could have said Trump told him the Ghostbusters remake was the best film he’d ever seen.

People are making a huge deal of the fact that Comey admitted to doing Loretta Lynch’s bidding by calling the Clinton investigation a “matter.” On that point, they think Comey is telling the truth.

Similarly, Democrats and Republicans alike denounce him for not more forcefully standing up to the president when Trump said he “hoped” Comey could cut Michael Flynn some slack. If he’s such a liar, why not say, “I looked the president in the eye and told him, ‘Sir, I took an oath and I will not bend to your outrageous demands!’”?

Of course, one reason Comey couldn’t say that is that he was locked into his version of events, because he wrote it all down and described it to colleagues immediately after the meeting with Trump. But that, alas, is an argument for believing Comey told the truth.

The PTDSers want to pocket every statement that exonerates the president as utterly dispositive while claiming that every indicting statement is a lie. That’s not how it works.

Starrs in Their Eyes

Here’s the thing. We have this old saying: “The truth hurts.” Call a skinny person who doesn’t have an eating disorder “fat” and there’s not much sting. Call a fat person fat and it hurts. Again, let’s stipulate for the sake of argument that Comey is a vengeful Deep State operator of cynical cunning. That version of Comey would understand best of all that the route to getting his vengeance would be by telling the truth.

All of this has me reeling from déjà vu. Bill Clinton was a president of remarkably low character with a mutant superpower for dishonesty so profound it would have Cerebro smoking like a AMC Pacer with sugar in its gas tank. By actions of his own making, he invited a special prosecutor (several, actually) to investigate him. The response from the assembled forces of liberalism was to attack Ken Starr in the most reprehensible ways. Clinton, too, benefitted from a cult of personality, and in such cults, the personality is held to a different standard from everyone else. Comey is now getting the Ken Starr treatment from Trumpworld, but the logic is the same: The fault lies in the Starrs, not themselves — or himself.

Conservatism Adrift

Maybe I’m so dyspeptic because I have the ooze of too many Twitter trolls all over me. But I am just amazed how remotely objective people can still take offense — offense! not mere disagreement — at the claim that Donald Trump is a liar. Honestly, I think “claim” is too weak of a word. It’s simply a verifiable fact.

And this gets to the corrupting power of both Trump’s personality cult and the obsessive need among some conservatives to justify their support for Trump by attacking skeptical conservatives as somehow deranged or nefariously motivated.

My friend Dennis Prager wrote an essay a while back lamenting about how “Never Trumpers” still refuse to become cheerleaders for Trump. He offered a number of theories as to why — We’re “utopians”! We’re seeking approval of the liberal cocktail-party set! We’re self-righteous! Etc. I responded to that column already, as did many others quite ably.

Dennis responded to his critics this week. I have little stomach to get into a major squabble with Dennis because a) I’ve lost enough friends in all this, b) I still very much like and respect the guy, and c) because there’s not room here to do justice to all of my criticisms, some of which have been covered by others.

But there is one point I do want to address, because it relates to this Comey business. Dennis writes:

“But what about Trump’s character?” nearly all my critics ask. Or, as John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine, tweeted, “For Dennis Prager, who spent 40 years advocating for a moral frame for American politics, to argue as he argued today is, may I say, ironic.”

First, I have indeed dedicated much of my life to advocating for morality — for ethical monotheism as the only way to achieve a moral world; for raising moral children (as opposed to concentrating, for example, on raising “brilliant” children); and for the uniquely great Judeo-Christian moral synthesis developed by the Founding Fathers of America.

But I have never advocated for electing moral politicians. Of course, I prefer people of good character in political office . . . 

Put aside the fact that I don’t think this is quite right, or at least not the whole story. For instance, in 2011, Dennis argued that Trump’s crude language alone rendered him “unfit to be a presidential candidate, let alone president.” He asked, “If we cannot count on Republicans and conservatives to maintain standards of public decency and civility, to whom shall we look?” I think Trump’s language hasn’t changed nearly as much as Dennis’s criteria for presidents.

But, again, I don’t want to make this about Dennis. For the last 24 hours, I have been besieged by people insisting that Comey is a deceitful man of low honor. I don’t think Comey is that, but if he is, he is only by the rarefied standards of a career public servant who operates within conventional boundaries of morality and decency. But whatever. My point is: If you excuse all the things Donald Trump has done and said — and bragged about! — you have surrendered the ability to use notions of honor, decency, and honesty as weapons against his critics.

Whataboutism is fine if you want to point out double standards. But the trick is to hold onto your standards while you do it. It is otherworldly to celebrate how Donald Trump doesn’t play by the rules while at the same denouncing anyone who doesn’t play by the rules in response. As I’ve written before, when the president of the United States ignores “democratic norms,” it is naïve to expect that everyone else will abide by them. And it is grotesquely hypocritical to defend Trump’s disdain for the rules while demonizing others for far lesser transgressions.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: The beasts have been more of burden this week than usual. Pippa seems to have picked up a bad habit from Zoë — she now has the need to roll in foulness. We can’t figure out why. One theory is that it might prevent Zoë from chewing on her too much. Still, Pippa is one happy dog.

Speaking of Zoë, we had quite an incident the other day. I was out of town and my wife took the morning walk. She went to one of the parks where I usually let Zoë chase rabbits, which she can’t catch because of the thick bushes and underbrush that hide their bunkers. But the Fair Jessica didn’t know that one of the adjoining houses had backyard chickens in a coop. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, but as we later learned a fox — another creature Zoë loves to chase — had gotten into the coop and scattered the chickens. One made it over the fence and into the park. Zoë saw it and did what her union contract requires her to do.

My wife was horrified and dismayed (she was also shocked to see a chicken in the first place). She went to the house to apologize and offer compensation, but they were remarkably cool about the whole thing. Apparently, the mortality rate of backyard chickens is high. Still we both felt terrible about it. And so, it seems, did Zoë. She lacked any of her usual triumphalism, perhaps sensing that she had acted too quickly and was just as surprised as anyone — save the poor chicken — that she caught the creature. I know many readers are much more down to earth about such things. But I’m not a hunter, and I never like it when Zoë or the cats actually catch anything. Still, we can now add chicken to the list of prey on Zoë’s résumé.

My wife was horrified and dismayed (she was also shocked to see a chicken in the first place).

Sorry for the tardiness for today’s “news”letter (and the dyspepsia) but I had to take a big chunk out of my morning to take my mandatory sensitivity training at Fox News. I am not making this up. To their credit, Fox is taking the recent troubles very seriously, requiring every employee and contributor to take the course. I get it. But while I can see why Fox sees it as a fruitful and necessary use of my time, as someone who doesn’t actually harass people, I can’t say the same thing. One good thing I learned is that abuse of interns isn’t covered so long as the abuse isn’t targeted at a protected status — age, gender, race, etc. Therefore, so long as I don’t single out interns based upon any of those characteristics, I can still hunt them for sport.

ICYMI…

I was on Friday’s Special Report.

Last week’s G-File.

My ABC News This Week appearance.

The depressing sameness of London attack reactions.

My America’s Newsroom exhortation to congressional Republicans to pass more legislation.

Bathtubs are not more dangerous than terrorists.

My quick take on Comey’s testimony.

How Trump made the Comey situation worse for himself.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

A brief history of children sent through the mail

Scientists create molecular black hole

Sidney Blumenthal? Is that you?

Play someone a song on the world’s smallest violin

Lightning in slow motion

7-11 vs. 6-12

Pitbull stops home invaders

Scientists hear ancient black holes collide

Scientists can wiggle mouse whiskers with electricity

A brief history of the gif

Japanese pigeon shoes

At age 111, America’s oldest veteran is still smoking cigars, drinking whiskey, and loving life

Tarantula crawls out of its own skeleton

World’s largest privately-owned Star Wars collection has been robbed

Mummified dinosaur found

Florida man shoots McDonald’s manager over food order

Dad’s gotta Dad

The ‘Lifestylization’ of Politics

by Jonah Goldberg
Disagreements become insults when politics becomes a statement about who you are.

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 Covfefe,

I will admit upfront that I have a pretty good gig, writing-wise. No one really tells me what to write, particularly in this “news”letter. I have no lane, as it were. I can go anywhere I want — Alger Hiss was guilty! I like eating cold chicken over the sink! Cows, when cooked properly, are delicious! Hail Orb! Etc!

Still, even as a generalist, there are some topics that aren’t a natural fit for me. I rarely write about sports. I can’t remember the last time I weighed-in on relations between Peru and Singapore or why I might spare One Direction’s lives if I were czar. I don’t review video games, miniature-horse rodeos, or Canadian pornography. But I will confess that, if I wanted to, I could. And, if someone out there wants to pay me to share my musings I will be happy to discuss terms.

I bring this up for the simple reason that I want to head off a specific asinine rejoinder that is so prevalent in this remarkably stupid moment: “If it’s okay for you to do it, why can’t I?”

My short response to this is: “Because this is my job.”

This is a long way around to get to what should have been my lede: Stay in your lanes, people.

The other day, the guy behind one of my favorite Twitter feeds, @Dog_rates, announced that he would donate half of the proceeds from a jokey anti-Trump hat to Planned Parenthood. I was among the first to criticize him. I didn’t dispute his right to do what he had in mind, but I said it was a terrible business decision for the rather obvious reason that Planned Parenthood is polarizing.

There’s a reason why lots of businesses don’t want to be seen as political — i.e., because they want to maximize the number of their customers. If you start hawking “liberal” widgets, you are closing yourself off to conservative widget buyers, and vice versa. Of course, some business models involve finding market niches, but ideally you want to sell to everyone. A dog-themed Twitter account is already something of a niche, but since only monsters don’t like dogs, it’s a pretty broad niche. Picking sides on one of the most divisive issues of our time — abortion — may be a principled thing to do, but purely on business terms it was a bad idea, as anyone who’s watched Seinfeld could have told him.

Now, I’m not going to rehash all of it here (Ian Tuttle has two good posts on the situation here and here). But I will say that I would have made the exact same argument if @Dog_Rates had promised to donate money to pro-life groups, a point my left-wing critics seem to have a very difficult time processing.

Anyway, it looks like I was right that Matt Nelson, the operator of the account, hadn’t thought the whole thing through when he came up with the idea, and he tried to backpedal as best he could, which then in turn pissed off the pro–Planned Parenthood crowd. As best I can tell, he’s even taken down his semi-apologetic statement. That’s what happens when you blunder into a no-win situation.

Now consider this tweet rant from the ACLU:

I have no doubt the ACLU sincerely believes all of this. But you know what? Climate change isn’t in the American Civil Liberties Union’s portfolio. The ACLU is supposed to be concerned with — wait for it — civil liberties. I think it has been drifting off that beat for a long time. But this tweet is truly remarkable and remarkably dumb. The ACLU depends a great deal on its reputation as a non-partisan defender of constitutional rights. It puts that reputation at risk when it starts soapboxing about climate change. What does it gain from this as an institution? The people who already agree with these tweets don’t need to be persuaded, and the people who don’t will not be persuaded by them. But they will — or might be — further convinced that the ACLU is just another partisan political outfit. Credibility is a difficult resource to accumulate and an easy one to squander.

Maybe the ACLU is too far gone to be a good example of what I’m talking about. But the problem is everywhere. From news anchors and reporters all but giving up any claims to neutrality on the issues of the day, to judges who must virtue signal their distaste for Trump, to actors who think that they are full-time pundits who play make-believe on the stage and screen as a side hobby.

Almost every morning I see this GE ad.

I’ve seen nary a critical word about it, even though it is nothing more than corporate political propaganda. But since it’s propaganda all the right people support, they don’t even pause to think about how they would respond if it pushed a political message they don’t like. It’s like my old rants about NBC’s “Green Week.” Imagine if ABC came out with a “pro-life” week in which they incorporated positive messages about fighting for the unborn in their news broadcasts and sitcoms. The same people cheering @Dog_Rates would be burning cars in the streets.

Peanut Butter Cup America

It’s a familiar conservative lament to say this is all part of the politicization of everything. And I think that’s true. But you can flip it on its head, too. Everything is becoming lifestylized (I hereby decree that’s a word). It’s like that ancient debate between Plato and Socrates: Did Socrates get his chocolate in Plato’s peanut butter or did Plato get peanut butter in Socrates’ chocolate? (“That sounds dirty” — The Couch.)

Scads have been written, mostly by conservatives and libertarians, about the problem of politics bleeding into the nooks and crannies of traditionally apolitical life. And I agree with much of it. But far less has been written about how lifestyle is creeping into politics. With the decline of traditional religion and other mediating institutions, the primary source of identity for ever larger numbers of people is partisan affiliation. Indeed, partisan affiliation — for the first time ever — is often more predictive of behavior and attitudes than race, ethnicity, religion, and gender. That’s bananas.

But it’s also utterly predictable. When politics becomes a secular religion, a source of meaning, or simply a “lifestyle,” politics will be less about arguments and tradeoffs and more about wearing “ideas” on your sleeve. I agree with Jonathan Last when he writes that the current hysteria over the Paris pullout is virtue signaling about virtue signaling. But what else can you expect when people start wearing their partisan affiliation the way people once wore a crucifix or Star of David?

Disagreements become insults when politics becomes a statement about who you are. And, as I keep saying, that explains why so many now define free speech as assault and assault as free speech.

Rights and Science

What do the passionate cries of “science denier” and calls for prosecuting Kathy Griffin have in common? They conflate amoral processes with moral stances.

This is difficult to explain, so give me a minute. Neil deGrasse Tyson notwithstanding, science is not moral. It is not a source of values. Scientists can do extremely evil things or extremely noble things. Science is a method and a tool. But the freedom to “do science” is a wonderful thing because a society with healthy guardrails can harness science to wonderful ends. Think of fire. Fire has no morality. It can be used to burn down a home and it can be used to cook a meal. Our legal, cultural, and moral guardrails make these distinctions constantly. We don’t let mad scientists use humans for experiments without their permission, even though I could make a perfectly rational argument that if we gave scientists a free hand, we could get more medical breakthroughs more quickly. What are a few eggs if we get a better omelet? Etc.

If you read left-wing Twitter, this is a source of remarkable confusion for many people. Every day, I see a tweet from someone saying that you must “believe in science” when it comes to climate change and another tweet from someone else saying that science is a tool of oppression and racism. How can science be righteously authoritative on environmental policy but cruel and bigoted when it comes to the science of embryology or sexuality?

Something similar holds for our rights. We have all manner of rights to do wrongs. For instance, as Kat Timpf and Charlie Cooke have been insisting, what Griffin did with that beheaded effigy of Donald Trump was stupid and repugnant. But at the same time, she had every right to do it, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Charlie is right. But there is a tension. Just as Griffin has every right to do what she did, she was also wrong to do it. This is a distinction people get profoundly confused about on both the left and the right.

For instance, when it was reported that General Michael Flynn (Ret.) would invoke his Fifth Amendment rights, many of his defenders shrieked that we shouldn’t count that against him in any way. As a legal matter, that’s correct. But there’s nothing wrong with making judgments about it either. It looks bad, even if Flynn is within in his rights.

If you’re going to get on your high horse about how it’s unfair to leap to conclusions when someone pleads the Fifth, then I can only assume you condemned this:

What’s interesting to me is the way that people talk about rights as if they have moral content to them. “How dare you judge me for exercising my rights!”

There is an infinite menu of things I can do with my rights that would be immoral or unethical, just as there is an infinite menu of things scientists can do with science that would be immoral, unethical, and illegal.

Americans have the right to say horrible things on Twitter in response to a terrorist attack on a bunch of young girls. They have the right to associate with Klansmen. They have the right to worship Satan. They have the right to do all manner of gross, tacky, weird, and unspeakable things with their own property and in their own homes. Indeed, they have the right to sit around all day wearing Indy 500 Rompers and eating lettuce jam while watching Donnie Darko. But in these and in so many other things, I have the right to make judgments and to criticize based on those judgments. Whether my judgments are fair and my criticisms are sound has no bearing on whether I have the right to them.

Why should the Fifth Amendment be any different? The Fifth Amendment is the right that ensures a fair process. That’s all. It’s not a source of meaning or moral direction outside that process.

Whether my judgments are fair and my criticisms are sound has no bearing on whether I have the right to them.

Morality only enters the picture when you look at the system as a whole. The trees can be bad, but the forest is good. As I wrote in this much better “news”letter, the essence of conservatism can be defined as “comfort with contradiction.” People have the right to do wrong and people have the right to condemn, shame, and boycott people who do wrong. Saying you had the right to do x is a universally valid defense in only one venue: a court of law. Outside the dock, there are higher standards — or there should be.

The problem with the lifestylization of politics — most acutely on college campuses — is that people want to clear away the contradictions. They want a unity of goodness where all good things go together and bad things are given no quarter. This has chiefly been a problem on the left, but it has become increasingly bipartisan. Why? Because right-wing populism is a lifestyle too:

Everywhere you look, people are mistaking inconvenient facts for insults. Every single day, people are taking offense at disagreement and confusing rights (and presidential prerogatives) and science for moral authority. It’s a hothouse where the air is thick with hypocrisy because arguments are downstream of feelings — and where facts are so much flair to don or discard depending on what lifestyle you want to adopt and what virtues you want to signal. In short, it’s a very stupid time.

Various & Sundry

As Michael Knight said to Kitt, I want to change gears a little. Kevin Williamson has a very nice plea for your support today. In his own inimitable way, he corroborates the point I made above:

National Review took a principled and — even at the time — unpopular stand against the man who would go on to become the Republican presidential nominee and, incredibly enough, president. I was not the most restrained voice on the issue. I am sure that this resulted in some canceled subscriptions and withheld donations, but I never heard much about any of that. I get a lot of feedback on my work from the editors here — “Do you think this is really fair to the other side’s argument? Are you sure about the numbers here? Do you really need a 121-word lead?” — but it’s never: “Don’t write that because it will annoy x donor or y advertiser.”

If you are wondering what your donations and support go to, that’s it: maintaining a conservative institution that lets a lot of different writers with a lot of different opinions write what they think without worrying about anything other than producing the best work they can. It’s a big part of what allows National Review to operate as an opinion journal in which — this is remarkable, if you think about it — there is no party line. If there’s a live political dispute that Ramesh Ponnuru, Rich Lowry, Andrew C. McCarthy, Reihan Salam, Jay Nordlinger, Mike Potemra, Rick Brookhiser, Kat Timpf, Veronique de Rugy, Ian Tuttle, Alexandra DeSanctis, and I all agree about . . . I can’t think what it is.

Now, if you’re like me, you may be wondering why he left me off that list. Maybe Kevin knows something I don’t know? But putting that aside, he’s making an important point. National Review has writers who exult in Donald Trump and it has writers who don’t. I don’t think we have any writers who take a position of blanket opposition to him. There are no members of the “resistance” here. But there are plenty of people who understand that conservatism is more than a lifestyle, better than pure team partisanship. In short, we believe in making arguments, standing athwart GroupThink. And the fact that so many friends and readers have trouble with this is a testament, at least in some small part, to the extent of the lifestylization of American politics. If you feel that way, you’re probably not reading this anyway.

But if you appreciate it, if you think America needs more institutions that think arguments and facts matter — even when they are insulting to people on the left or the right — then we would be extremely grateful if you could show your appreciation. If you can’t, we understand. Life is complicated, which is sort of the whole point.

Canine Update: Things have been a bit complicated on the dog front this week. Pippa developed a bad limp earlier in the week, but seems to be on the mend. It’s a sign of how traumatized my wife and I were by the Late Great Cosmo The Wonderdog’s medical troubles that we greet every limp as a potential crisis. Cosmo was beautiful, tough, and smart, but he was also built like an East German car. Before he died, Cosmo was about two surgeries shy of being fully bionic. We don’t know how the Spaniel hurt herself, but we fear it might be that Zoë and Pippa might play too rough when the humans are gone. My wife’s new job has necessitated a lot more alone time, and there’s evidence to believe that Zoë takes out her boredom on Pippa much like Ramsay Bolton did on Reek. We hope that’s not the case. But I’m sorely tempted to get a nanny cam to get to the bottom of it. Meanwhile, it means that when we’re home, Zoë is far needier.

In other news, Zoë is fascinated by turtles and covfefe. In feline news, when the Fair Jessica and I were in New York over Memorial Day, our dogwalker/sitter/aunt reported that around 11:00 o’clock at night, Zoë went bonkers and started barking out an open window. Kirsten looked outside and saw that Gracie, the Good Cat, was staring down a fox in the middle of the street. Between Zoë’s barking and Gracie’s willful glare, the fox turned tail (literally!) and ran away. It could have ended very badly. But now Zoë and Pippa look upon Gracie as a kind of folk hero.

Head’s Up: I’ll be on ABC’s This Week on Sunday.

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File.

My short (mostly negative) review of Alien: Covenant.

My response to Dennis Prager’s take on Trump’s right-leaning critics.

Why government-provided health care doesn’t necessarily lead to better health.

L’affaire covfefe.

My Special Report appearance from Wednesday night.

Why can’t Hillary accept blame for her 2016 loss?

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Two mating camels cause a traffic jam in Dubai

Little girl rescues runaway dog with love

When deja vu is strong enough that you don’t know what’s real

A garden of poison plants

When Nazis tried to bring extinct animals back to life

Behold: a new species of carnivorous sponge

Great White shark launches itself into Australian fisherman’s boat

Science: Your meanest friend just wants the best for you

School in France testing facial recognition tech to keep students paying attention

Love-hormone injections turn gray seals into best friends

What does the edge of the universe look like?

The strange and surprising second life of Harambe

Five hundred years after the Protestant Reformation began . . . a robot priest

The most misspelled words in every state

Mathematical proof that your life is interesting

Newborn walks minutes after being born

Anything Goes in Our New Bro Age

by Jonah Goldberg
‘Hold my beer while I abandon my principles . . .’

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 (Including those of you who have not yet embraced the Orb and the total consciousness that comes with it),

Greetings from the Magic Pan at Ronald Reagan National Airport. When I say “Magic Pan,” I do not mean one of the lesser deities in the Celestial Kingdom of the Orb (That’s not even the right translation for that deity, which would be closer to “Thaumaturgical Skillet of Woe and Uncomfortable Urination of Lava”) — I’m at the “Magic Pan Crepe Station” at the airport. I can report that the crepes meet nearly all of the minimal requirements to make them fit for human consumption.

I’m not at the airport just because I like to pay as much as possible for small bags of beef jerky. I’m shipping up to Boston, or wherever Radcliffe College is, for something called Radcliffe Day, where I’ll be on a panel saying panel-y things.

So, I should warn you Up Front, if that’s your real name, or even if you’re not a member of the Front family, that today’s “news”letter is going to be a little different. As Bill Clinton likes to say when over international waters, “it’s going to get a little weird.”

That’s because I’ve been writing this thing piecemeal over the last 24 hours while doing 37.3 other things and not getting much sleep (I’m on the plane now, btw). Also, because I keep licking that Australian toad. Also, because I am now in the thrall of the Orb. No, it’s not my golden calf — which always gets weird looks when I wear shorts. (“Hey, why is the lower half of one of your legs gold color?”) It’s because I can’t stop making jokes about how the Orb is my master now. I think Orb worship is a perfect meme-fad-faith for our craptacular new age. For instance, you know that old thing about how God backwards is “Dog”?

Well, hie thee to the Ye Olde Photoshoppery and make me one of these: “The Orb Couldn’t Physically Be with Us, So He Gave Us Bros to Remind Us What a Stupid Time It Is to Be Alive. And Notice Orb Spelled Backwards Is Bro Because LOL Nothing Matters and SMOD Let Us Down.”

Anything Goes

Here’s an example: The assault on Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs in Montana was just about the perfect episode for the Bro Age. It could be in the Orbian Bible as the Book of Bro.

According to the Old God of the Jewish and Christian Faith, what GOP candidate Greg Gianforte did the night before the special election was inexcusable. Okay, technically, the Judaism 1.0 of my forebears with all the Smiting and Wrath, might have made some allowances for it. But as a matter of traditional ethics and morality, what he did was, again, inexcusable. But in the Bro Age, when one of your Bros does something wrong and oh-so-Broey — particularly if there’s proof that it happened so you can’t blame it on anonymous sources — the first thing you must do is defend your Bro’s actions. After Gianforte’s body slam, Twitter was full of people, even those of the blue checkmark variety, talking about how the Jacobs guy deserved it. I even caught Rob O’Neill on Fox saying that Jacobs was a “snowflake” and that the assault was “kinda funny” and that this was just “Montana Justice.”

Obviously, I have enormous respect for O’Neill’s accomplishments (he was the guy who plugged Osama bin Laden, which earns him a lifetime coupon for free drinks as far as I’m concerned), but this is repugnant and stupid and insulting to Montanans. If O’Neill were still in uniform and had done what Gianforte did, his career would have been destroyed and he’d likely be in a stockade. Oh, and it was Gianforte who literally freaked out in a fight-or-flight panic when asked a question about a frick’n CBO score! But Ben Jacobs is the snowflake?

Moreover, if a Democratic politician attacked, say, Jesse Watters (who routinely asks far more provocative questions than Jacobs did) never mind a serious reporter like James Rosen, the conservative media complex would be lit red with sirens and we’d all be covering our ears from the din of the “Aroogah! Aroogah! Battle Stations! Battle Stations!” blasting from the loudspeakers.

So, congrats! You held a seat in Montana (which you were going to win anyway).

But no, for an entire day, countless people defended the assault because they didn’t like Jacobs, or they wanted to win an open House seat, or they wanted to play yet another round of whatabboutism, or help Donald Trump in some way or — in the case of the alt-right — because any attack on a Jew is defined as a good start.

So, let me ask the people who spent the day defending Gianforte: How do you feel now that he won? Is it all you hoped it would be? Oh, and how did you feel when he apologized? Did you regret all that Montana justice and he-had-it-coming talk? I mean, you probably didn’t really believe that stuff anyway. You just let people believe you did because the cause was so important. Or maybe you’re mad that Gianforte apologized after spending all that time arguing he did nothing wrong? Probably not — because one of the Orb’s first commandments is “Thou Shalt Not Care about Anyone’s Hypocrisy but the Enemy’s.”

So, congrats! You held a seat in Montana (which you were going to win anyway). I guess you can take some credit for somehow helping Trump avoid a marginally bad one-day story (though the “Trump encourages atmosphere of violence” story is worse). What did you have to give up? Just any claim to the moral high ground and any credibility when it comes to condemning political violence down the line.

That’s okay, because in the Bro Age, all of the creativity is in how to leap over, skate around, or dive under objective standards of right and wrong. “Hold my beer while I abandon my principles . . . (Orb willing).”

Memory Lane

So, now I’m in the car from Boston’s Logan Airport out to Radcliffe (no I’m not driving). Radcliffe, as you may know, is a former all-women’s college and I have a warm spot in my heart for such institutions because I attended one. I went to Goucher College — my freshman year was the first fully co-ed class. There were 30-odd men (and I do mean odd men) and over a thousand women.

The reasons I went to an all-women’s college have less to do with the late-night Cinemax scenarios most men leap to when I mention these stats (“Dear Penthouse, I never thought I’d be writing a letter like this . . . ) and more to do with the fact that I was rejected from every other college I applied to.

This used to be a mid-sized chip on my shoulder. I’m the first to admit that I was your classic underachiever at my (fairly ridiculous) high school (Fellow alums: Vin Diesel, Paris Hilton, and, I just learned, Walter Lippmann!). I did just enough to avoid getting kicked out for one reason or another (“I swear, that goat isn’t mine!”). Sure, I got my share of good grades when the subject or the teacher interested me, but in the great battle for my attention comic books, TV, sci-fi, video games, girls, and, eventually, beer were like Seal Team Six fighting the support staff of the House Subcommittee on Low-Flow Toilets in a gladiatorial battle to the death for the amusement of the Orb’s Triskelion in-laws (“10,000 Quatloos that the one with the asthma inhaler cries before death!”).

One of my yearbook quotes was from Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good”: They say I’m lazy, but it takes all my time.

Now, Homo underachievus has many subspecies and phyla. Not everyone sets out to do the bare minimum for the same reasons or the same way. Yes, I cannot deny that I was a member of the great and glorious cult of Sloth (Standard Chant: “Hail Sloth, Hail Sloth, Hai . . . Oh look, Knight Rider is on!”). But laziness is just one of the requirements of the truly accomplished underachiever.

Fear is another one, specifically fear of trying your best and coming up short. This is the dilemma of being told that you have great potential. I always tested fairly well. I always liked to write. I always liked to read. I was a good talker.

When I was no older than six or seven, he told me he liked to carry bombs on planes.

And I had very smart parents who talked knowledgably about politics and current events. My dad in particular was a walking university, as far as I was concerned. And one of his only hobbies was going on long walks with his boys and talking about history and philosophy and, of course, why Communism is Very Bad.

(My dad’s humor was so dry, cacti would whither on its landscape during the “rainy season.” For example, when I was no older than six or seven, he told me he liked to carry bombs on planes. He explained that since the odds of one bomb being on a plane were very high, the odds of two bombs being on the same plane were so astronomically high as to make it impossible for a bad person to bring one on the plane. Whether you think it’s funny or not — I do — it’s the kind of thing that gets a little kid thinking. He had a kind of Socratic gift that way. He liked to tell me that if humans ever got to Mars, it was far more likely we’d find a functioning pocket watch there than alien life, since pocket watches are far less complicated than living organisms. He was wrong on the science, which he knew, but again it was a good way to get a seven-year-old to think outside the box. And it amused him greatly to say weird stuff like that to me and my brother, perhaps because he couldn’t say it to anyone else.)

The Underachiever in Chief

Anyway, where was I? Oh right, underachievers. So, I had a reputation for being smart — not a genius, but certainly much smarter than my school “work” suggested. The problem with such reputations is that the only thing that can destroy them is actually trying your hardest and coming up short.

So you create excuses. You write your English assignments on the bus ride to school (a skillset that has come in handy for this “news”letter more than once). If you do poorly, well, what did you expect? You didn’t really try. If you do well, “Hey just imagine how much better it would have been if I gave it my best!”

I bring all this up for a few reasons, starting with the fact that nostalgia is as good a muse as any. Also Radcliffe sent me down this odd mental trail and this “news”letter has always been a kind of Ouija Board: Start chasing letters and see what comes out.

But also because I’ve long thought that my underachieving youth gave me a particular insight into Donald Trump.

Bear with me. Of course, it’s insane to call President Trump an underachiever, and I don’t mean to suggest otherwise. But in the primaries, whenever Trump talked about winning states he “didn’t even try” to win, or when he said he could learn whatever he needed to learn once he was in the White House; or when he bragged about winging it in debates, it was a kind of Nightingale’s song of the underachiever, triggering memories and mental habits I’ve struggled to put away (save in this “news”letter).

Donald Trump works hard, or so I’m constantly told. But there are many kinds of “working hard.” Staying busy and active is a kind of hard work, and by all accounts Donald Trump does that. But he also seems to have taken the habits of the underachiever — relying on your wits in the moment, counting on the fact that you’re better on the fly than the well-prepared are if you can manage to knock them off balance or in some other way Kobiashyi Maru the crap out of the situation. In every profile of Trump, much is made of his need to dominate the room or the conversation to his advantage. Even his handshakes are about dominance.

You can see how this skill would be an asset in sales and real estate — and in Republican primaries. Winning the soundbite, dominating the stage, grabbing all the attention: This, it turns out, is gold.

But you can also see why such skills would or could steer you wrong in situations where there is no substitute for doing your homework.

Chesterton’s Invisi-Fence

Now that I’m in a van outside the Cambridge Marriot waiting to be joined by E. J. Dionne, Al Hunt, and Judy Woodruff so we can drive to breakfast (no, I’m not making that up), let me switch gears . . . 

Actually, now that I am sitting outside Logan Airport five hours later, let me switch gears.

I’ve been writing about Chesterton’s fence for years. For those of you who don’t remember because they lost most of their memory after waking up in that dumpster handcuffed to a horse’s severed leg (or for some other reason), here’s the relevant passage:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.

I reference Chesterton’s fence all the time, usually in the context of progressives who are imbued with the fierce arrogance of now. They have special contempt for tradition, custom, etc.

And that is basically the context Chesterton had in mind. But I think there’s a lesson here for Trump as well. Trump’s glandular approach to every situation is a kind of lizard-brain version of progressivism. Tell Trump he can’t do or say something and he almost instinctively does it or says it. It’s like there’s a homunculus in there screaming, “You’re not the boss of me!” 24/7. His fans love this blunderbuss approach. And whenever you criticize it, the immediate response is some version of “It got him elected!”

And it’s true: Trump has been an improviser in the grand tradition of underachievers his whole life. His entire, spectacular, run to the White House was like a running spontaneous jazz performance. And he hasn’t stopped improvising. The problem is that the White House and Washington in general are a vast maze of what might be called Chesterton’s Invisi-Fences. Unlike the original Chesterton fence, these fences cannot be seen, but they exist all the same. Some of them, of course, should probably be gotten rid of — but, again, you have to know why they’re there before you try.

Trump simply didn’t know, or at least he didn’t fully understand, that you’re not supposed to fire the FBI director to thwart an investigation into your activities or the activities of your campaign. And, even if he did know that, Trump didn’t know that you’re not supposed to admit it.

The Invisi-Fences are like the security lasers in some ridiculous heist movie.

I have no problem with the president firing Jim Comey. I have no objection, in principle, to Trump declassifying information. I loved his counterprograming to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. But the way Trump does these things and so many others is counterproductive precisely because he doesn’t know how to do them to his advantage — and that’s because he doesn’t know where the lines are. The Invisi-Fences are like the security lasers in some ridiculous heist movie. Every time Trump crosses one, he gets cut and bleeds a little more political capital, in part because his missteps undercut his image as a mastermind who thinks six steps ahead.

Liberals are still convinced Trump is some kind of autocrat-in-waiting. And he may well be in his heart. But the would-be autocrats who actually become real-life autocrats only achieve success because they are popular and know how to manipulate the system from within — and because they did their homework. That’s not Trump. Yes, he’s violating democratic and political norms, but he’s not doing it according to some master plan like an Erdogan or a Putin, he’s doing it more like a weird hybrid of Mr. Magoo and Chauncey Gardiner.

It may not sound like it, but this is actually a powerful defense of Trump against his harshest critics. I listened to Chris Matthews last night and he was giddy to the point of orgasmic about the Jared Kushner story. He so desperately wants the Trump-Russia stuff to be like Watergate, where the dots get connected to reveal some grand intricate pattern of well-conceived skullduggery and treason.

But the Trump presidency is in reality turning out to be much more like the story arc of Battlestar Galactica. It began with a lot of talk about how the Cylons had some grand plan to achieve interstellar domination. But as the seasons ticked by and the plot became more convoluted, it turned out the writers never had a plan and they were winging it all along.

Various & Sundry

It may not sound like it, but I actually had quite a fun time at Radcliffe Day, and I’d like to thank my generous hosts, even if they thought it was hilarious that my presence there probably did enormous damage to my conservative street cred.

Canine Update: Alas, I don’t have much to report. The Dingo keeps on Dingoing. Though both of the hounds have a newfound willingness to show their softer, nature-loving side as well. I’m meeting my wife and daughter at my mom’s house tonight and we’re spending the weekend in New York. We’ve left the beasts with the dogs’ favorite person in the world: Kirsten their dogwalker/aunt/pack leader. She keeps talking about a having a pajama party with the doggos. I can’t decide whether I hope she’s kidding or serious.

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File.

My NPR hit on Trump’s Middle East trip.

What is a ‘wop’?

Trump was welcomed in the Middle East because Obama failed there.

The latest Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast, featuring orb worship.

Why Trump is right to call terrorists “losers.”

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Movies condensed into single frames using time-lapse photography

Will someone please adopt this utter bastard of a cat?

Listening to Blade Runner

Once on death’s door, pit bull now joins K9 unit

Alcoholic donuts

A German beer pipeline

Proof of a parallel universe?

Randomly specific museums

What it’s like to be struck by lightning

Your move, creep

Dog crashes Russian newscast

Art made with bacteria

Man island > Man cave

Red Hot Chili Peppers played with a red-hot chili pepper

Stand aside Orb: Behold, cyclops goat

Snakes now hunt in packs . . .