Against One-Thingism

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

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

Dear Readers (and all the ships at sea),

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

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

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

I’m Not Your Strawman, Buttercup

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

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

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

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

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

Just Say No to One-Thingism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Eggs, Different Baskets

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

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

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

You Asked for This

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

And now for some prideful begging.

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

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

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

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

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

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

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File

Time’s troll of the year

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

The RNC’s conscience-free backing of Roy Moore

The latest Remnant podcast

What happens if Roy Moore wins?

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

And now, the weird stuff

Debby’s Thursday links

Patient corgis

When movies shot real bullets at actors

And arrows!

Possum breaks into liquor store, gets drunk

Dogs feel our anger

What if we destroyed the moon?

Seventeen-foot Burmese python found in Florida Everglades

Stunts with Thomas the Tank Engine

The logic of area codes

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

Was Lenin a mushroom?

Do animals cry?

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

Dog causes chaos at Cats performance

The Chinese navy vs. jellyfish

The yeti is . . . 

Ancient cave art has oldest depiction of leashed dogs

Flickr’s top photos of the year

Don’t Choose the Lesser of Two Evils

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cruz Control

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

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

Ass-Grabbery Versus Ephebophilic Assault

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

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

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

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

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

When the Lesser of Two Evils = Evil

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Way Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

And now, some other stuff

The most recent new G-File

Justice League disappoints

Sexual misconduct and double standards

Matt Lauer, Fox News, and sexual harassment

What did Project Veritas prove about the Washington Post?

Al Franken is bad.

Trump has not changed.

The New York Times Citizens United hypocrisy

My latest appearance on Special Report

And now, the weird stuff

Debby’s Thursday links

Retired Marine keeps his promise

Giant fireball in Finland lights up the night sky

Dog that served in Afghanistan gets highest honor

How to terraform Mars?

The last of the iron lungs

A cigar-shaped asteroid?

Meatballs spill in Sweden

Harvard’s hair collection

Dog vs. tennis ball

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

Man kills snake on a train

Wild turkeys besiege California neighborhood

The best emergency food for your doomsday bunker

When will the Earth try to kill us again?

Dog saves woman from attempted robbery

Why do birds rub ants on themselves?

Behold: a white crocodile

The enduring mystery of the Max Headroom TV hack

Dog reunited with owner

How to liquefy sand

Dog loves owl

New York City rats display genetic variation

That ’90s Show

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

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

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

What a marvelously stupid time to be alive.

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

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

But first, there’s this:

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

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

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

“How?” you ask.

“Don’t be so naïve,” they respond.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please.

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

That ’90s Show

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

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

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

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

Get Me a Rewrite!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Condemning the Wrong Hypocrisy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

Last week’s G-File

Hillary and Uranium One

Roy Moore and sexual conspiracies

The latest Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast

Hillary and Uranium One, continued

My latest appearance on Special Report

The latest Remnant podcast, with bonus Bigfoot erotica

Russia’s national interest is not our national interest.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Remorseful thieves return stolen puppy to little girl

The U.S. government’s zombie apocalypse plan

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

The chicken that lived headless for two years

Why fish don’t swim upside-down

Surfer escapes shark encounter by punching it in the nose

A lakebed containing half the elements known to mankind

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

Real dog jealous of toy dog

The man with auto-brewery syndrome

Detroit police officers fight each other in undercover operation gone wrong

How dogs teach us to stop worrying and be happy

Christian Bale’s weight transformations over the years

The dog that can’t catch

Weird things picked up on weather radar

A corgi race

Antarctica in photos

Why Nazis loved decaf

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

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

Navy admits to drawing phallic graffiti in the sky

(Stanley Kubrick would be proud)

Less Is Moore

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

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

Dear Reader (Including those of you indulging in the psilanthropist heresy),

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

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

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

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

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

But wait!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Realer ’Murican Than Y’All

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

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

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

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

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

Less is Moore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Selective Liberalism of ‘Liberalism’

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

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

Last week’s G-File

My capital “C” Conversation with Bill Kristol

Why America is divided on guns.

Why Roy Moore isn’t worth saving.

Republicans can’t afford to chase away their own.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

The location of the Microsoft Windows XP wallpaper

(Clickhole: Windows 95 maze screensaver house for sale)

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

The fungus that takes over ants’ bodies

Using the Bible to date the oldest known eclipse

Scientists create new skin for sick patient

The size of things in the universe

The secret life of live mascots

Dog reunites with owner

2017 Wildlife Comedy Photo Award finalists

The dinosaur-killing asteroid was perfectly positioned for maximum damage

The true history of the Orient Express

Kelly’s Heroes

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

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

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

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

“Gone? Like not there?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or at least I used to.

Kelly’s Heroes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serwer makes a very important observation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kelly’s Mistake

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

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

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

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

Allahu Akbar! This Is a Dumb Controversy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

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

Last week’s G-File.

The Paul Manafort indictment

Tax ‘loopholes’ aren’t loopholes.

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

The latest Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast

The opioid crisis and drug legalization

Politicizing mass-casualty incidents

The latest Remnant podcast, featuring Andy Ferguson and alcohol

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

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

My latest Special Report appearance

Both of our parties are dysfunctional.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday Links

How this dog conquered its fears

Living art

What’s the worst taste in the world?

Sleep better with a sense of purpose?

Dog rescued from abandoned Colorado mineshaft

Boy playing with umbrella hit by lightning during a storm

Unrelated: Men get struck by lightning more than women

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

In search of Russia’s lost gold

A planet where it snows sunscreen’s active ingredient

Octopuses mysteriously crawl out of the ocean en masse

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

Blockbuster Video has become an Alaskan tourist attraction

What were medieval monsters anyway?

Do humans love dogs more than other people?

Blind runner to compete unaided in New York Marathon

The last atomic tests, in pictures

The New Snowflake Caucus

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

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

Dear Reader (Particularly the most morally upstanding sex robots among you),

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Unbearable Lightness of the Trump Agenda

Last week was quite a humdinger.

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

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

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

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

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

Not surprisingly, I agree with this.

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

Again, The Standard:

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

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

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

Trumpists in Name Only?

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

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

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

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

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

But, remember, Sasse is the RINO squish traitor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

The New Snowflake Caucus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File

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

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

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

The Clintons and the Russian dossier

And now, the spooky stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Father Amorth, the Vatican Exorcist

Oakland’s spooky Halloween marionette show

The spookiest ghost stories of all 50 states

The creepiest urban legend in every state

Creating the sounds of Halloween

The strange world of haunted TVs

Capturing Lincoln’s ghost on camera

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

Monsters out for young blood

Skull pizzas

In China, ghosts demand cash

The skull tower of Nis

The world’s weirdest museums

A haunted house with actual psychiatric patients

How urban legends spread

The origin of nightmares

The hunt for the brain-eating amoebas of Yellowstone

The cursed sites of the Internet (not including Twitter)

What Americans fear

Candid haunted-house reaction pictures

Some of the creepiest articles on Wikipedia

The mysterious valley of the headless corpses

The criminal history of bed-sheet ghosts

Better sleep can improve your fear resilience

Bush and Kelly: Truth Tellers

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

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

Dear Reader,

Yesterday, two important men said some important things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bush’s Lesson for Liberals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kelly’s Tutorial for Trump

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

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

The more controversial remarks came later. Kelly said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blame For Everyone

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

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

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

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

My AEI video on the so-called Blade Runner curse

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

Conrad Black and “Never Trump”

Steve Bannon is overrated.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Are smartphones killing us?

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

On the ocean, hic adhuc sunt dracones

Puppies can manipulate their owners

Texas man arrested for $1.2 million fajita theft

How Stoics dealt with anger

The enigma of the Mona Lisa smile

Texas beer ninja

1977 in pictures

The courage of bomb dogs

Where priests buy their clothes

Kangaroo brawl

The first recorded pizza delivery

This worm hasn’t had sex in 18 million years

Is your fish depressed?

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

Hero dog protects goats in wildfire

UPS drivers and the dogs they meet

Does alcohol improve foreign-language skills?

What would happen if you jumped into lava?

Where losers’ political-campaign merchandise goes to die

How deep humans have drilled into the Earth

(Beware of going too deep.)

Pretending to be Batman helps kids stay on task

The man who traveled back in time to save the Internet

Binders Full of Asininity

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

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

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

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

Allow me to quote . . . myself:

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

Hold that thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The monster!

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

Blinded by the Might

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Perils of Hypocrisy Witch Hunts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File

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

Harvey Weinstein and hypocrisy

Laser volcano lancing, now more than ever

The third episode of The Remnant, my new podcast

The GOP is hogtied by a divided Senate.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Why do people fear Friday the 13th?

When volcanoes created a temporary atmosphere on the moon

The legends are true

How wolves changed Yellowstone

Dog works out

Dog saves owner’s life in Puerto Rico

Dog teamwork

Shy shelter dog gets adopted

Puppies rescued from Puerto Rico soon available for adoption

Family dog finds missing toddler

Recolorized Civil War photos

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

The making of the swordfight in The Princess Bride

When Arnold Schwarzenegger tricked Sylvester Stallone into taking a movie role

Parasite turns marsh-dwelling shrimp into orange zombie

Red Dawn at the New York Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

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

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

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

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File

The Las Vegas shooting and politicization

Tevi Troy for HHS secretary

The Republican base is beyond Trump’s control.

My interview with Hugh Hewitt about Tevi Troy

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

The NRA doesn’t buy its support.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday Links

The abandoned Soviet germ-warfare island

We’re probably not living in a computer simulation

Jeremy Bentham’s head exhumed

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

If aliens exist, we’ll know by 2035

A 30-foot, 900-pound snake

(But can it turn into James Earl Jones?)

Painting art with flight paths

Did something come before the Big Bang?

Are space, time, and gravity all just illusions?

Do you want to own a toilet museum?

Saint Nick’s tomb found?

The Battle of Athens (Georgia)

The history of the X-Ray

London’s creepiest cemetery

Roy Moore: Gladiator

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

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

Dear Reader (and everyone else I have failed),

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

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

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

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

Buy Gold And Pass The Gunpowder!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Politics as Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Price of Failure

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

Don’t forget the NRI Dinner is coming up!

Or the Commentary Roast of Yours Truly.

I will be speaking at American University on October 4.

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

ICYMI . . . 

The latest Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast.

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

My latest appearance on Special Report.

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

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

Dogs really do love you.

Does America still believe in the right to be wrong?

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

Roy Moore’s passionate incoherence

Corporations are not omnipotent.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Guys: Be careful . . . lifting

Nuclear Armageddon savior has died

Why back to school season feels like the New Year

Quadcopter kaleidoscope

Iceland’s phallological museum

Iceland’s sorcery and witchcraft museum

The skills to pay the bills

Renaissance paintings and hallucinogens

Behold: pumpkin-spice pizza

Behold: Fireball-whiskey bagels

Behold: the dadbod fanny pack

A history of the Star Trek double-arm punch

Binge-watching TV is killing us

What if the dinosaurs hadn’t died out?

Ocean creatures with humanlike teeth

The pissing figure in art

Why we love end of the world prophecies

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

Cow raised to be a dog

Award-winning underwater photos

Trump’s Triangulation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shock of The New

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now the other stuff.

Last week’s G-File.

Feminists find “homosocialism” in man caves.

My Monday NPR hit

Rachel Maddow’s Woodrow Wilson dishonesty

Is Hillary Clinton Cersei Lannister?

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

Watch people make fun of me at the Commentary Roast.

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

And then I wrote a column about it.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

The Voynich Manuscript . . . still unsolved

Behold: The Fatberg of London

How Americans are winning the battle over the English language

African wild dogs vote by sneezing

The best protected treasure vaults

Southwest Airlines flies puppies and kittens away from hurricane

Animals in unexpected places

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

Arkansas woman uses state money to buy a dog a tuxedo

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

Chainsaw nun is the hero we need

Why we can’t stop hurricanes

Drunk bro successfully swims across Hoover Dam

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

Cassini probe ends its Saturn mission

Trump’s Dance with Dems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connecting Random Dots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Walsh captures the spirit nicely:

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

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

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

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

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

Maddow’s Nonsense

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

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

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

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

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

She then says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other news . . . 

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

Last week’s G-File

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

My latest appearance on Special Report

My take on Trump and DACA

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

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

Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Thursday links

The Voynich Manuscript, solved

Robbers hold up party . . . of police officers

What is an octopus?

Is marijuana bad for sperm health?

Beware the Bryozoan blob

Dog worshiped as deity

Mario is no longer a plumber

Where did dragons come from?

Where can you find them?

The longest place name

Freddie Mercury, stamp collector

Peter the Great, beard hater

Prize-winning photos of birds

Police dog enjoys a treat

Convenience-store worker mans his post

But could he have stopped this seagull?

A history of napkins

A dialect coach assesses actors’ impersonations of real people

The Idiot Boys of Antifa and the Alt-Right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trying Too Hard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

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

Here’s some other stuff I wrote recently:

Last week’s G-File.

Getting the record straight on Antifa violence.

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

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

How do you solve a problem like North Korea?

And now, the weird stuff.

One of the great corrections

Debby’s Tuesday links

Debby’s Friday links

A parasite-infested mummy

The greatest rabbits in film history

How women got dressed in 18th-century England

Peeing statues

What would aliens look like?

Every song of the summer since 1958

Historic tree in Houston weathers Harvey, everything else

“Sea dragon” fossil found

How a blind traveler felt his way around the world

A cube made of every collectible element on Earth

Scared, abandoned dog rescued, becomes happy

Beware the floating fire-ant colonies of Texas

Hawk and snake cause Montana fire

Speed limits worldwide

A monarch caterpillar enters its cocoon

Behold: a transparent squid

Scientists working on shark repellent

(Batman did it first.)

Dog runs up wall

Flock of birds cancels baseball game in Japan

Nine Hurricane Harvey survivor dogs

The Revenge of El Jabato

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

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

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

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

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

So, let’s start this again.                                       

Greetings from New Numantia!

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

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

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

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

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

Old Numantia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Confederate Exception

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

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

You Lost, and That’s Okay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

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

Last week’s G-File

On Charlottesville, Trump, and anti-Americanism

It’s only going to get weirder from here.

Why does the West hate itself so much?

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

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

Beatles monuments in unexpected places

Two-headed turtle found in Florida

These smart pups can sniff out terrorists hiding in plain sight

When you miss the frisbee . . . 

Small child scores soccer goal

Formerly deaf people hear for the first time

What’s actually below New York City?

Scientists can take over animals’ brains now . . . 

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

Related: Me on why the Holodeck is stupid

Why are people from Indiana called Hoosiers?

The dog venerated by medieval Catholics as a saint

Dog loves her new bed

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

An umbilical-cord-shaped iPhone charger

The ‘Last Straw’?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dead Presidency Walking?

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

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

Reversible Entropy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Maximums Become Minimums

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

Last week’s G-File.

The latest Ricochet GLoP podcast.

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

The alt-right and antifa are both terrible.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

NASA finally comes around to my volcano-lancing proposal?

Arachnophobes should not click this link

Or this one

This one . . . maybe

The world’s first underwater post office

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

Andrew Ferguson on the Summer of Love

Trimming the world’s biggest yew hedge

Rio’s Olympic facilities are already dumps

Dog can balance anything on its nose

We finally know why flamingos stand on one leg

Pit bulls love a balloon

Squirrel ruins 21,000 gallons of milk

Goldfish survive winter by auto-generating alcohol

The genius of “Good Vibrations”

A cure for baldness?

How to predict an eclipse without a computer

Don’t watch the eclipse without eclipse glasses!

Dog gets ready for a walk

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

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

The 40-year history of Elvis sightings

What are these bugs trying to tell us?

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

Nork Agonistes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nork Agonistes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Radical, Man

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

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

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

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

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

Good Radicalism and Bad

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

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

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

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

The New Radicals on the Right

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

Here’s what set me off:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various & Sundry

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

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

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

Last week’s Q&A G-File.

My continuing quibbles with Game of Thrones.

Our two-party system is stuck.

What to do about North Korea.

Abortion, slavery, and Schrödinger’s cat.

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

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Shipwrecked Doritos

Why do mosquitoes bite some people more than others?

Maps of music fandoms

Exclusive San Francisco street bought by San Jose residents

Flying to McDonald’s on a paramotor

Chinese city demolishes 36 buildings in 20 seconds

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

What is your opposite job?

Unmeltable ice cream?

Dog really doesn’t want to leave a park

Bear hijacks car

Corgi pup meets tennis ball for the first time

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

Florida family discovers six-foot boa constrictor living in attic

World War II, depicted in detailed video map form

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

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