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),
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.
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:
Roy Moore is rather primitive and hateful.— N Tree (@ToTheFuture13) October 26, 2017
Also, Ben Sasse is a traitorous, anti-white lefty who should leave GOP. https://t.co/TSU1UoT1ux
I think — or hope! — that even the most sane-yet-ardent Trump supporters wince at this racialist buffoonery. So we’ll ignore the “traitorous anti-white” nonsense. But this poltroon speaks for many more sane people when he insinuates that criticizing Trump is by definition leftwing.
Sasse likes to point out he is the third most conservative senator by voting record. I’m not sure how he reached that figure, but it seems plausible given that the American Conservative Union gave him a 100 percent conservative score in both 2015 and in 2016. Meanwhile, John Cornyn had a score of 71 in 2015and a79 in 2016.
But, remember, Sasse is the RINO squish traitor.
Ah, quoth the Bannonite mobs, but he’s thwarting Trump’s agenda! Conservatism is a dead creed. What matters now is the new nationalism and supporting our president’s pursuit of coveted wins. Nothing else matters.
Well, according to FiveThirtyEight, Sasse has voted with Trump 90.2 percent of the time. He supported the Graham-Cassidy health-care bill, admittedly with reservations. But if Sasse had his way, the president would have had more than one big win by now.
Likewise, Jeff Flake has voted with Trump 90 percent of the time and Mitch McConnell — that cloven-hoofed, demon-headed Mephistopheles of the Establishment — has voted for the Trump legislative agenda on 96.1 percent of his votes.
If Sasse had his way, the president would have had more than one big win by now.
Meanwhile, one could argue that no senator is more responsible for denying Donald Trump a “win” on health care than Rand Paul. At every turn, Paul made repealing and replacing Obamacare harder. Whichever route the White House and McConnell pursued, Paul insisted on going the other way, on the grounds that going any other direction would be a compromise of his principles.
And yet, the Trumpistas don’t excoriate Paul. Even Susan Collins, a true RINO if such a term has any meaning and such a creature exists in the Senate, has been largely been spared the wrath of Trump and his armies.
Now, when I talk about Trumpistas, I don’t actually mean most politicians or political activists. Politicians and activists have prudential considerations that are often at variance with simply telling inconvenient truths. (You could look it up.) This isn’t always damning. For instance, as Charlie Cooke notes on the latest episode of The Editors podcast, a pro-life politician or activist may not like what Trump says, but such people have their eyes on a larger cause. They have to decide what is the lesser evil: condemning boorishness or failing to advance the pro-life cause. Losing a seat to the Democrats is worse for the pro-life cause than appeasing the Trump White House — or at least a reasonable person could come to that conclusion. (And lest liberals get sanctimonious about this, the same logic works for the pro-choice cause — and has for decades.)
I think such considerations are legitimate even when I may disagree with them. When I listen to Hugh Hewitt decry Flake and Bob Corker for their “drama” — but not Trump (!) — I can almost hear him shouting: “Will you all shut up! We’ve got judges to get on the Court!”
This is what could be called the Blinder Caucus. It seems every time I hear Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell talk about life in the Trump presidency, they talk about the importance of putting on their blinders and focusing entirely on getting things done. The subtext is that they don’t like how Trump does things, but they’ve got work to do.
It seems to me that technique hasn’t worked too well. But we can argue about that another time.
I’m more interested in the psychological factors animating commentators and the rank-and-file Trumpublicans of the GOP.
They also talk about wanting to get things done and the importance of fulfilling the Trump “agenda.” But they reserve their purest passion and most sustained vitriol not for people who don’t vote with Trump, but for people who do vote with Trump but who also refuse to remain silent. The same holds for Trump himself.
Well, in the president’s case, the answer is obvious: his own Brobdingnagian yet astoundingly fragile ego. Because Trump cares so little about policy, he can forgive policy differences quite easily. What he can’t forgive is anyone even hinting that the emperor’s new clothes are, at best, invisible to the naked eye.
I’ll give Steve Bannon credit. He understood this from the get-go. He understood that criticizing Trump for the Access Hollywood tape was the kind of disloyalty Trump cares about. But criticizing a tax-reform proposal? He won’t care, at least not if it’s couched in compliments. The Breitbart folks are quick to point out that they criticized Trump when he seemed to be capitulating on DACA — “Amnesty Don” and all that. This was at Bannon’s direction of course. But Bannon & Co. never, ever criticize the man himself. When Trump is doing wrong, it’s because the “Globalists” or the “Establishment” are giving the king bad information and whispering treason in his ear.
The New Snowflake Caucus
It really is amazing. The people most likely to mock “snowflakes” and ask if you’ve been “triggered” have the most Pavlovian responses to criticism of Trump. They can’t seem to handle hearing anyone pointing out Trump’s personal, ideological, political, or managerial failings. To use their lingua franca, it is the stuff of “butthurt.”
I don’t think there’s a single reason for this. It’s more like an arsenal of psychological defense mechanisms. Off the top of my head:
There’s the kneejerk anger at having it pointed out that your hero is out of his depth and that all of your assurances of superhuman skill and winningness were so much naïve piffle. There’s the blind tribal fury of saying things that lend aid and comfort to liberals. And we can’t leave out the discomfort, particularly acute among those with a long record of claiming ideological purity, of having the extent of their capitulation exposed.
Which brings us to the enabling. Everyone understands Trump can’t help himself. The rest of us, therefore, should make allowances for that and not provoke him. “You should have known Dad would fly off the handle!” So Trump is held to one standard and everyone else to another. Ted Cruz is right that the Republicans have work to do. But who has taken his eye off the ball more than anyone else in Washington? Hint: It’s not Jeff Flake, it’s not Bob Corker, and it’s not Ben Sasse. It’s most emphatically not Mitch McConnell, who gave Trump his biggest win — Justice Gorsuch — and who is doing yeoman’s work to get conservatives on the lower courts.
It’s the guy who’d rather fight Gold Star families and rant about the NFL. It’s the guy who talks about revoking licenses for the press and talks about Confederate generals as “our heritage.” But just as there’s no reasoning with Dad when he gets into the Dewar’s, there’s no talking Trump out of his Twitter when he gets into one of his “moods.”
Just as there’s no reasoning with Dad when he gets into the Dewar’s, there’s no talking Trump out of his Twitter when he gets into one of his ‘moods.’
And, finally, there’s the fact that, like Trump, many of these people don’t care about policy either. As Michael Brendan Dougherty recently pointed out, the culture-war spats and nasty personal fights are to a very real extent Trump’s true agenda, or at least it’s what people who love the Trump Show love about the Trump Show.
Where does this end? I don’t know. But I do know that political parties and ideological movements are defined every bit as much by what they say as what they do. The rhetoric yields the reality. And I for one think it’s worth pushing back against the forces that think the best way to win over voters — and the president — is for goonish felons to talk, however coded, about what a big d**k the president has.
“[Former congressman Michael] Grimm admits he’s only met Trump a few times, and never in a meaningful way. As a congressman, he’d visited the president’s Trump Tower office as a formality more than anything else, just like every other New York politician. But his impression of Trump, he told me, was a lasting and positive one — so positive, in fact, that if the president were the kind of person who paid close attention to his press coverage, he might come across Grimm complimenting him effusively.
“I remember saying to myself, I never realized what a large man — I mean stature-wise, he’s a big man, with massive hands,” Grimm said, outstretching his own regular hands above the table. “I don’t have small hands, but when I shook hands with him, the first time I shook hands with him, I realized he was a big man.” He sensed my skepticism. “He is!” he said, defensively. “I thought they were pretty big. You don’t think so? I thought he had a big, strong grip. I’m dead serious.” He went on about how Trump is “a pretty big guy” and “not a small man even for his height” and how his hands were “more like a workman’s hands” than those of “a CEO.”
If this is the cause you want your party to surrender to, be my guest. I kind of thought conservatism and the Party of Lincoln stood for something more than one man’s fragile ego and the people determined to protect it. I prefer to fight. If you don’t like that, remember “But he fights!” can be a principle for everyone — for people without principles and also for those of us who have them.
Various & Sundry
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 . . .
And now, the spooky stuff.