Anything Goes in Our New Bro Age

Can Trump Be Contained?

by Jonah Goldberg
Can Mike Pence, the Trump princelings, and congressional leadership grasp that their own self-interest depends entirely on getting Trump to behave?

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 readers who hold deer dear — see below),

I’m pretty burned out on politics. But my NR contract states very clearly that I must “put words together that leave the impression you said something about politics stuff.” I wouldn’t want to violate that. So, I’ll start with that stuff.

I think the appointment of former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate the Russia–Trump connections is a gift for the Trump administration in the short and medium term. And, if there’s nothing to find, the long term as well.

Yes, yes, all the hand-wringing cautionary tales about how special counsels once in power get seduced by blood magic, eat the hearts of young children, invade Poland, and make Steve Gutenberg a star are true, if by that you mean they sometimes get a bit out of control (hey, I’m talking seriously, not literally — it’s all the rage). And that certainly might happen here, even given Mueller’s sterling reputation. Maybe the blood magic will get to him the way it did to Lawrence Walsh and Patrick Fitzgerald. He might even stumble on something juicy and get enticed, like Homer Simpson finding a box on the street. “Wire hangers? Expired medicine? Old newspapers?! Okay, Homer, stay calm and quietly get this stuff inside your house!

But I think Hugh Hewitt is right about Mueller being a grown-up and an exemplary public servant, though I understand that some people are concerned that Mueller is too chummy with Comey for comfort.

But these are all long-term problems. And so is the concern that Donald Trump may actually be guilty of collusion in some meaningful, criminal sense. So far, however, that concern has no hard evidence to back it up, and, if such evidence exists, it will take a good long time for Mueller & Co. to find it, confirm it, and present it to the public.

Meanwhile, for the next weeks and months, Democrats have nowhere to go. I understand that Maxine Waters wants to get moving on impeachment right away, but Maxine Waters is an embarrassing buffoon and has been for my entire adult lifetime. She was probably a buffoon in my adolescence, too, I just didn’t know who she was until my early twenties, when Kerosene Maxine started referring to the LA Riots as the “LA Rebellion” and accused the CIA of running drugs in South Central.

The point is that the Republicans can now say, “We need to let the Mueller investigation take its course” whenever the subject of Russia comes up. Even the congressional investigations have to throttle back now because, as Lindsay Graham noted yesterday, it’s going to be very hard to subpoena anyone who might be the subject of a criminal investigation. The mere process of “de-conflicting” the congressional and Mueller investigations could take months.

That means Donald Trump has a reprieve, politically. He can talk about his agenda. He can talk about infrastructure and job creation and all of the stuff he claims is his central focus.

Donald Trump has a reprieve, politically. He can talk about his agenda.

Now, of course that begs the question. (It also raises a question, which means something different from “begs the question,” even if a billion people don’t know that: To beg the question is to assume a conclusion that has not yet been proven. In Latin, the fallacy is called petitio principii or “assuming the initial point.”)

The conclusion being assumed here is that Donald Trump is capable of sticking to a disciplined message and agenda. To say the evidence for this is lacking is an understatement on par with saying that there’s anecdotal evidence dogs lick their nether regions.

This gets to a point I tried to make last night on Special Report (scroll to around 9:05 for the video). My friend Mollie Hemingway is absolutely right when she says there are double standards at work here. The Obama administration got away with things — inappropriately sharing intelligence, influencing investigations, attacking the media — without a fraction of the gnashing of teeth and rending of cloth we’ve seen from the mainstream media, and without inviting a special counsel.

But the essential reason we got a special counsel and a media feeding frenzy is that Trump seems determined to do everything he can to invite chaos and hysteria to his administration.

The idea that the media or some shadowy cabal of “Never Trumpers” forced the president to fire James Comey in a comically incompetent manner is ludicrous. No one was holding Ivanka Trump hostage in a Motel 6 when Donald Trump confessed to Lester Holt that his administration’s explanation for why Comey was fired was a lie or forced Trump to admit that he fired Comey for his handling of the Russia investigation. (Though I like the image of David French clicking off the TV after the Holt interview, untying Ivanka, and telling her: “You’re free to go now, but if he stops tweeting stupid stuff, remember, we know where to find you.”)

I keep hearing that the media frenzy is solely the product of a conspiracy theory about Russian meddling run amok. What about the conspiracy theory that all of Trump’s problems are of other people’s making?

Puttin’ on the Ritz

I made this basic point at great length in my “news”letter last week — the most widely read G-File of 2017, I believe, which gets me an extra can of Spam from the suits. It now seems to be conventional wisdom across much of the Right. Even Matthew Continetti, who has been among the best at trying to find the Christmas pony amidst the manure piles, seems to be convinced that Trump is his own worst enemy.

Now, as someone who’s been writing for two years that Trump was lying when he said he could be presidential — to himself and to everyone else — I’m tempted to ask, “What took you so long?”

But that’s a fruitless question. The question now is, “Can Trump be contained?” Can Mike Pence, the Trump princelings, congressional leadership, and the rest of the imperial court grasp that their own self-interest depends entirely on getting Young Frankenstein’s monster to sing “Puttin’ on the Ritz”?

If Trump could simply hold a tune — about jobs, tax reform, etc. — for a few months, his poll numbers would creep up, some good policy might get enacted, and, crucially for Trump, he would earn some political capital that might take the bite out of whatever Mueller finds, if he finds anything at all. Alternatively, keeping his fan base loyal but alienating everyone else is a recipe for staying in the mid 30s for the rest of his term and taking down the GOP majority in the House.

Needless to say, I’m skeptical Trump’s team can get him into the tux and teach him to tap dance. But what other choice do they have but to try?

Math, Horrible Math

Via Reason’s Robby Soave, I learned this morning about the effort to bring social-justice principles into grade schools (Campus Reform has the full write-up, and I missed Kat Timpf’s article about this for some reason). Well, that’s an old story, you might say. And you’d be right. But this effort is focused on math.

Teach for America and something called “Edx” want teachers to attack math as the vile product of the Pale Penis People of Western Civilization:

In Western mathematics, our ways of knowing include formalized reasoning or proof, decontextualization, and algorithmic thinking, leaving little room for those having non-Western mathematical skills and thinking processes.

Also:

Mathematical ethics recognizes that, for centuries, mathematics has been used as a dehumanizing tool. Does one’s IQ fall on the lower half of the bell curve? Mathematics tells us that individual is intellectually lacking. Mathematics formulae also differentiate between the classification of a war or a genocide and have been used to trick indigenous peoples out of land and property.

Where on Earth does one begin? I’ve spent the last couple years working on a book that dives deep into the Romantic rejection of the Enlightenment. It was Rousseau who first, or at least most famously, leveled the indictment against the tyranny of science in his First Discourse. But these ideas were already in the water and they spread like contagion. For instance, Ernst Troeltsch, a German theologian and philosopher, proclaimed:

Romanticism too is a revolution . . . a revolution, above all, against the whole of the mathematico-mechanical spirit of science in western Europe, against a conception of Natural Law which sought to blend utility with morality, against the bare abstraction of a universal and equal Humanity.

All of this prattle about “algorithmic thinking” is just Romanticism with a fresh coat of paint. Now, I don’t want to get too deep in these weeds, since the book won’t be out until early next year, and you’ll hear plenty about it later.

Nor do I want to dismiss Romanticism as, well, romantic nonsense. I’m actually sympathetic to some of it. But here’s the thing: Romanticism — or if you prefer post-modernism, relativism, etc. — has no place in math itself. To say that the poetry of the self has a place in the world of math is like saying that the boiling point of water depends on your feelings.

Take that bit about the bell curve of IQ. It’s an unpleasant fact that half of all people are of below average IQ. It’s also true that half of all people are below average height, weight, and everything else. And the other half are above average. You know why? Because that’s what “average” means.

“Mathematics” doesn’t tell us that “that individual is intellectually lacking.” It just tells us that, by one measure of aptitude or intelligence, people who score on the lower end scored on the lower end. Any other interpretation comes from outside the realm of math. There are accomplished people of low IQ and there are high-IQ losers sitting in beanbag chairs in their parents’ basements. There are evil smart people and righteous dumb people, too. Your soul cannot be measured mathematically.

The bit about how math distinguishes between genocide and war is equally preposterous. Let us first stipulate that there is a difference between “genocide” and “war” and that knowing the difference has some utility. I’m open to different perspectives on where the line is drawn or how the definitions are reached. I for one consider it an enduring crime that the Soviets successfully defined away their own mass murder so that it didn’t fit the definition of genocide.

There are evil smart people and righteous dumb people, too. Your soul cannot be measured mathematically.

But surely marching millions into gas chambers is not the same thing as war. It’s true that one tool — among many — for making this distinction is called “math.” The model we came up with for distinguishing between war and genocide involves this mysterious craft called “counting.” But it also involves other things such as motives, means, and other aspects of what serious people call historical context. These criteria do not come from math, they come from politics, morality, and reason. All math does is count the dead. It takes human intelligence to place the dead in context. The Spanish Flu killed millions. It wasn’t genocide. You could look it up.

Blaming math for what people do with it should disqualify you from teaching math.

It’s also immoral, self-indulgent, and dangerous nonsense. We use math to make vaccines and model how to get them to indigenous peoples. We use math to feed the hungry. Teaching children that Western math is pernicious is the very essence of perniciousness. It is also incandescently stupid. Do Chinese computers use Confucian math?

This is Orwellianism in plain sight. In 1984, Winston Smith wonders whether the State will say “2 + 2 = 5.”

“You are a slow learner, Winston.”

“How can I help it? How can I help but see what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.”

“Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”

The hypocrisy here is really quite breathtaking. How much pabulum have we been force-fed about the moral imperative of teaching STEM classes so that we can be “competitive” in what Barack Obama called the “education arms race” with China and India? How much head-popping hysteria have we had to put up with about the evils of teaching “creationism”?

Yet here we have a federally funded organization teaching poor and underprivileged children to look upon “formalized reasoning” and “algorithmic thinking” as tools of oppression.

China and India must be laughing their asses off. “Yeah, please go with that!”

Various & Sundry

When I started National Review Online, live chickens bobbed across the bullpen, following Jack Fowler as he dribbled bits and pieces from foot-long hoagies that he never seemed to finish. Technologically, we were the equivalent of one of those “real” cardboard submarines you could order from the back of comic books. We used duct tape for everything. That was the only way we could keep the pneumatic tubes from leaking compressed air all over the place. Poor Ramesh, who spent most of his time making origami animals out of the subscription blow cards, would sometimes catch the jet stream and let his little swans fly around the room.

Obviously, I’m nostalgic for those days. But I’m also glad that we’ve come a long way. Charlie Cooke, the current Web editor — a much more august and daunting job than when I had it — walks around the office in a lab coat barking out orders to the safety-goggle-wearing interns who handle the laser arrays. But such technology is much more expensive, which is why we sometimes have to skimp on the safety gear. The cries from the larval William F. Buckleys ring out, “My eyes! The goggles! They do nothing!

Charlie usually responds, “Put it in a memo.”

“But I can’t see!”

“Dictate it to another intern, then.”

Of course, I’m kidding. Charlie doesn’t talk to the interns.

But what I’m not kidding about is that this is an expensive operation and National Review has always relied on the generosity and support of our readers. That support is more important than ever because of the transformations being wrought by the Web. Content wants to be free, but content isn’t free on the supply side.

This marks the beginning of the National Review Spring Webathon. We are trying to rebuild NRO from the ground up so that it will work seamlessly not just on your computer but on all of your devices (Translation: We know that NRO can be maddeningly difficult to read on phones and tablets. We’re particularly sorry that we occasionally give people seizures or induce cases of gigantism in some readers.)

We are trying to rebuild NRO from the ground up so that it will work seamlessly not just on your computer but on all of your devices.

We are also trying to fend off a lawsuit from the director of Heat and the creator of Miami Vice . . . What’s that? Oh, sorry. It’s the other Michael Mann.

Anyway, he’s suing us — out of a desire to silence us. That effort costs money, too.

I understand that some folks are not happy with us these days and other folks value us more than ever. We appreciate this in all the meanings of the word. But we hope that everyone can appreciate that what we do, we do for love and commitment to a cause. That cause is larger than any one period or any one politician. If you agree with that and can help, please do. If you just get entertainment from getting furious at us, we hope you can help as well. If you can’t or won’t help, we understand and we’ll make do, fighting what we believe to be the good fight. Just don’t blame us for the gigantism the next time you open up NRO on your iPhone.

Canine Update: First off, my apologies to the subscribers to this “news”letter. When you subscribe, you get it on Fridays, well before the unwashed get it on Saturday mornings. Ideally, there would be extra bonus material in the e-mail so as to encourage more people to sign up. But one thing that shouldn’t happen is for you to get less than the decayed roués with dubious means of subsistence and of dubious origin who wait until Saturday (I kid, I kid, you’re all Dear Readers to me). But that’s what happened last week. The “news”letter form of the G-File was without a Canine Update. And I know only too well that many of you read that first — and sometimes solely — every week (including, often, my own lovely wife). So, if you missed it last week, you can find it here.

As for this week’s Canine Update, there’s not too much to report. The beasts are less than thrilled with the return of D.C.’s humidity (“like 1980s Al Sharpton’s sweat-pants fog”), which is odd given that Zoë is a South Carolina swamp dog. The heat may explain why Zoë has started sitting in her trademark style again in the car and while she’s more insistent on pampering in the air conditioning. The heat has also caused Pippa to seek out creeks, puddles, mud, condensation, and any other source of water, no matter how vile or filthy. Sneakers, my sister-in-law’s new puppy, is compensating for his outrageous cuteness with equally outrageous behavior, proving once again that cuteness is an evolutionary survival mechanism. Would you put up with an oleaginous lizard that ate your shoes and soiled your carpets?

On a different note, I’ve gotten a surprising amount of grief over this video of Zoë yelling at a deer we stumbled upon on a D.C. street. I understand that there are some deer fetishists — particularly in D.C. — who think that these disease-carrying hooved rats are as close as we will ever get to unicorns in our bleary, workaday lives. I also understand why they think it’s wrong for me to “let” my dog chase them in a park or wooded area. But I am a bit baffled by some of the outrage I’ve received from people about how my leashed dog barked at a deer that was on a street corner.

“How could you let your dog startle that deer!” a few people have shrieked at me. Uh, the deer startled us. Moreover, given the fact that coyotes have returned to D.C. and that Zoë looks a good deal like one, I think teaching them to flee from such creatures might be good for them (maybe not for me, given the deer attack from last year). But in this case, Zoë was completely in the right. All she was saying was “Stupid Deer! This isn’t your neighborhood! Also, you are supposed to go away when I shout at you!” And poor sweet Pippa was simply yelling, “Go away now, so I can chase tennis ball again. Tennis ball good! Good!” (a point she seems to have convinced my wife’s cat of).

ICYMI . . .

The discussion about math above reminded me of this 15-year-old G-File which I think is worth revisiting every now and then.

Last week’s G-File.

Why Germans don’t laugh.

What to make of Trump sharing info to Russians in the White House.

An open letter to Vice President Mike Pence.

My Fox News open letter to Pence.

My Special Report appearance from Thursday.

My Friday morning interview with Hugh Hewitt.

My obituary for Roger Ailes.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

What would happen if you stuck your body inside a particle accelerator?

Beware: Deer now eat human remains

Are these birds too sexy to survive?

The most popular “kid” in this school is a dog

The surprising benefits of talking to yourself

What if aliens don’t care about Earth?

Poetry under Stalin

Thirty-nine places that will warp your perspective of time

Alien franchise kill count

Dogs can “talk” to humans

READ MORE:
The Guardrails of American Democracy Can’t Contain Trump
Burning Down His House: President Trump’s Self-Inflicted Wounds
Editorial: Trump Brought the Special-Counsel Investigation on Himself

The Comey Debacle

by Jonah Goldberg
Rather than rationalizing and enabling the president’s behavior, conservatives need to convince Trump that he’s his own worst enemy.

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

Dear Reader (including anyone hiding in the bushes),

Good times, huh?

Let’s start . . . here:

Now, I don’t think this is actually true, but I’ve been told for months now that I have to get better at taking some things seriously without taking them literally. And I think Ann has a point.

So, I’m going to ask my pro-Trump and passionately anti-anti-Trump friends to just take a step back and ask yourselves: “What does Donald Trump’s manufactured, self-inflicted, and pathological need for drama get us?”

If you’re about to answer “Neil Gorsuch,” the everlasting gobstopper of Trump rationalizations, please hold off one second. If you’re about to answer “judges,” please take a moment as well.

Because the correct answer, in policy terms, is . . . nothing. Actually, less than nothing because all this drama makes getting things done harder.

In the best possible light, all the insanity from the president of the United States is St. Elmo’s Fire, a lightshow to entertain us. It’s a Mexican soap opera without the redeeming sex and cleavage. It’s a reality-TV show without the cat fights, stiletto heels, and thrown glasses of wine.

Ask anybody — off the record, of course — on Capitol Hill about whether all this drama helps them get bills passed or judges confirmed. They will laugh at the question.

This is irrespective of any specific policy agenda. If you want a wall that can be seen from space along the southern border, if you want a Muslim ban, if you want to get rid of Obamacare, spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure, or any other core goal of the original MAGA agenda, none of this helps. None of it. Trump was never destined for Mt. Rushmore, but every insane tweet is a step further away from it.

I can only imagine poor Reince Priebus freaking out like Jerry Maguire shouting at Cuba Gooding Jr. in the locker room — “Help me . . . help you . . . help me! . . . help you!” — while an air-drying-naked Donald Trump giggles at the spectacle.

The Campaign Is Over

I’ve written a lot about how people can’t let go of the campaign mindset. The best example of this is how I hear every day that whatever Trump may be doing wrong, it’s still “better than Hillary.” Of course, that’s got a lot of truth to it when it comes to things such as judicial appointments and the fact that we don’t have to put up with the Clintons’ “there’s no eating in the library” officiousness. But now that Trump is president, it’s utterly irrelevant, save to those who need to reassure themselves daily.

But there’s another form of the campaign mentality that is keeping people from thinking clearly now. Say what you will about Trump’s thyroidal tweeting and aphasic outbursts, it worked for him.

Trump’s approach was so unfathomably strange, so otherworldly in the realm of Earth logic, that his biggest fans had to believe it was all part of some grand strategy. This is a natural human response. When something or someone is so incomprehensibly strange and yet successful, we often assume there’s a genius at work that is just beyond our ability to grasp. Bernie Madoff bilked billions from people who just couldn’t bring themselves to argue with success.

I’ve always thought that some modern artists are also con artists. They create something so strange, so aesthetically alien, that insecure rich people assume it must be a work of a genius, so they’re willing to spend vast sums to convince other people that a) they can afford to indulge in it, and b) they’re members of the cognoscenti, too. The greatest example of this is probably Piero Manzoni’s Merda d’artista. In 1961, Manzoni literally crapped in a can — 90 tins to be exact. He printed out labels for the cans that read:

Artist’s Shit
Contents 30 gr net
Freshly preserved
Produced and tinned
in May 1961

In a touch that no novelist would dare attempt, Manzoni’s father, who actually owned a cannery, told his son: “Your work is sh**.”

It was a pas de deux of taking something both literally and seriously.

Last August, Manzoni’s canned feces sold at auction for 275,000 euros.

The Art of the Can

Much has been written about how Donald Trump became a billionaire by being, if not an outright con artist, then certainly a kind of performance artist. He sold an image, a lifestyle, a brand. “I play to people’s fantasies,” Trump “wrote” in The Art of the Deal. “I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.”

And, again, it worked for him. I don’t think Trump is as rich as he claims, but so what? He’s rich enough and he’s famous and, now, he’s president.

But what so many people can’t — or won’t — contemplate is that what worked for Trump in business, self-promotion, and even the presidential election may not transfer to the presidency itself.

This is a staggeringly obvious insight that many people are contorting themselves not to see. Sometimes skills don’t transfer. Piero Manzoni was arguably the most successful canner of feces in human history. I am happy to acknowledge that. But if I were wheeled on a gurney into an operating room, I would not take much solace from that fact if he were my heart surgeon.

Don’t worry Mr. Goldberg, I made a fortune spackling sh** into a can. You’ll be fine. Nurse, hand me that sharp thing.

Michael Jordan was a kind of artistic genius at basketball. Do I really have to belabor the point that those skills don’t necessarily translate into being a successful president?

I am shocked, daily, by the number of people who cannot let go of the idea — the article of faith, really — that Donald Trump has his opponents right where he wants them. The logical upshot of this is that he somehow meant to have historically craptacular poll numbers. I mean if he can execute his will and play ten moves ahead of the rest of us, then this must be part of his plan, right?

The rush to defend the myth of Trump is causing conservatives to abandon their principles, standards, and credibility.

On Thursday, I noted in the Corner that Donald Trump tried to convince the editors of The Economist (!) that he coined the phrase “prime the pump” to describe Keynesian economic stimulus. This is just bizarre. It’s even more bizarre when you consider that Trump claims that he invented the phrase just a few days ago — especially since he’s been using the term himself for more than a year. I asked readers what could possibly explain this objectively ridiculous statement and, sure as shinola, a common answer was, “It’s all part of his plan!” By saying something absurd, Trump is getting people to talk about how he’s going to prime the pump! Get it? Genius!

This is a very small example of a very large problem. The rush to defend the myth of Trump is causing conservatives to abandon their principles, standards, and credibility at a breathtaking pace. Forget the issue of who coined the phrase “prime the pump.” Everyone seems to have overlooked the fact that we have a Republican president defending a school of economics that conservatives have been trying to beat back for more than a century (free-market economists were anti-Keynesian before Keynes was born).

Now, I know Trump was talking about tax cuts here, and there’s a Keynesian argument for tax cuts that conservatives sometimes flirt with. But Trump also uses “prime the pump” for his infrastructure-spending ideas. More to the point, he just doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And yet that doesn’t stop him from calling in St. Elmo’s Fire to keep people from noticing.

The Comey Debacle

But forget about conservative dogma and doctrine. Trump made clear long ago that he doesn’t care about that stuff, and he won anyway. So, just look at basic politics. I have no problem with the argument that James Comey deserved to be fired. I’m more sympathetic to him than some of my colleagues, but that’s irrelevant. In principle, a president can fire an FBI director for any reason he wants (or for no reason at all). And there were certainly defensible reasons for Comey to go.

But come on, people. The way Comey was fired was simply malpractice on a scale on par with Barack Obama’s decision to contract out the Obamacare website to the Amish community’s finest programmers. There was no reason to rush it. There was no reason to humiliate Comey while he was in Los Angeles visiting an FBI field office. There was no reason — as in “rationality” — to any of it. No reasonable person could believe that the same guy who invited chants of “Lock her up!” and defended Comey’s “guts” for reopening the Hillary Clinton investigation in October wanted to fire Comey for his unfairness to Hillary Clinton. And yet, the president humiliated the vice president and the White House communications team by letting them go out and peddle precisely that nonsense.

Trump now defends the gelding of his vice president on the grounds that he’s just too busy to keep his most loyal surrogates from beclowning themselves: “As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!….”

No one’s looking for perfect accuracy. But if the White House had waited a day, they could have avoided objective lies.

The response from the drivers of the permanent wagon circle, however, is to talk about how the media coverage of Comey’s firing is all overblown. There have been inaccuracies and hyperbole, to be sure. But serious people understand — even if they won’t say so on camera — that Trump has been throwing gasoline on a firestorm for no other reason than that’s what Trump does. I keep hearing from conservatives that the media is driven by a deranged conspiracy theory about the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia. Maybe it is. But I never hear the second shoe drop: Trump seems Hell-bent on convincing people that he’s obsessed with the Russia story and does almost everything he can to keep it alive. Trump’s confession to NBC’s Lester Holt that he fired Comey because of the Russia story, his ridiculous tweets, his letter claiming that Comey told him three times that he wasn’t being investigated: These are not things you do if you want the media, the Democrats, Congress, or the FBI to drop the subject.

A friend e-mailed me yesterday that the Comey firestorm is only a big deal inside the Beltway. Maybe, maybe not. But people forget that it’s inside the Beltway where laws get made.

The smart — never mind honorable — response from conservatives to all this should be the Jerry Maguire response. Rather than rationalizing and enabling this behavior, conservatives should be doing everything they can to convince Trump that he’s his own worst enemy. Mike Pence would do himself, his party, and his country a favor by telling Donald Trump, “If you humiliate me like that again, I will resign and run against you in 2020.” It may not work. But it’s a far better approach than bending over and shouting, “Thank you, sir! May I have another!?

My Baby Sent Me a Letter

My absolute favorite tidbit this week came with the news that President Trump has sent Lindsey Graham a “certified letter” to clear up the whole Russia business. From Trump’s interview with Lester Holt:

I have a certified letter, just so you understand. Uh, I’m not just saying that. I’ve given the letter, I’ve given the letter to Senator Lindsey Graham, he has the letter, and I think frankly, uh, it’s, I assume he’s gonna give the letter out but it says I am not involved in Russia.

Maybe this is a stretch, but to my ear this sounds like a classic example of the sort of flim-flammery common to condo salesmen. A certified letter just sounds so much more serious! “I’m sending you a certified letter saying you owe me the rest of the down payment! You hear me? It’s certified. So, you better pay up or get yourself a lawyer!”

If you go to the Post Office’s website, you’ll learn that a Certified Letter is actually a trademark of the United States Postal Service:

Certified Mail®

Prove you sent it. See when it was delivered or that a delivery attempt was made, and get the signature of the person who accepts the mailing when combined with Return Receipt.

In other words, a certified letter isn’t quite nothing, but it is the wispy vapor of nothing. If Lindsey Graham signs for the letter, that doesn’t oblige him to believe whatever is in the envelope.

I have to wonder if Trump saw Miracle on 34th Street one too many times. In the movie, Kris Kringle’s lawyer uses the fact that the Post Office delivered a bunch of kids’ Santa letters to his client to prove — prove! — that he is the one and only Santa Claus.

The trial court goes along with it because the judge is looking for any excuse to avoid telling a politically suicidal truth (he doesn’t want to have to declare, at Christmastime no less, that there is no Santa Claus).

We’re in a similar situation here. I don’t know if Trump colluded with the Russians, but my hunch is that if there’s any there there, it will end with Manafort, Stone, and Page. Similarly, I suspect Trump’s business ties to Russia are more than he claims, but that they are probably tangential to the campaign. That’s all beside the point, however. Trump is using an old bullsh***er’s technique to make it sound as if his letter is authoritative. And I’m sure some people believe it. “Did you hear that Marge, he’s sending a certified letter to Lindsey Graham. It must be true.”

But in reality, all Trump is doing is using the letter’s Certified® status like a tin can of his bullsh**. And, as we already know, there’s a market for that kind of thing.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: Some of you may recall that my sister-in-law’s dog, Buckley, passed away recently. He was about as good an example of pure doggy goodness as I have ever known; he was also the late Great Cosmo the Wonderdog’s best friend. He can never be replaced, but he has a promising successor: Sneakers! Much like Buckley and Cosmo, Sneakers is a rich ethnic cocktail of unknown pedigree. He showed up at the rescue in a cardboard box with a bunch of other puppies, many of which look like they may have had a different father (or maybe even a different mother, who knows?). He’s only eight-weeks old now, so he can’t meet other dogs yet. Also, we are thinking through how we introduce Zoë to Sneakers (Pippa gets along with everyone). The introduction of Zoë and Pippa was incredibly stressful for all concerned. It’s vital that they get along, which means we’ll certainly do it on neutral ground and perhaps without the “parents” around at all. Meanwhile, he’s just damn cute.

In other news, the culture clash between Zoë and Pippa has reasserted itself as the bunny population has exploded. As you’ll recall, Zoë is a Carolina swamp dog who takes after Daryl from The Walking Dead. Pippa is a purebred silly-billy of the dippy daughter from Downtown Abbey variety. Zoë thinks her job is to catch and kill All Things Hoppy (not to mention anything else of even vaguely rodent quality, including crows, which she considers to be outrageous affronts to the Laws of Nature). Pippa thinks her job is to flush quarry for me to shoot at. So, whenever the Dingo sees a rabbit, she crouches like a Ranger sneaking up on a German pillbox. Meanwhile, Pippa, in her Odie-like innocence, thinks her job is to get the prey moving into my gun sights. It’s driving Zoë nuts. Every time Zoë starts creeping up on a bunny/squirrel/crow, Pippa drops her tennis ball and races to mess everything up.

ICYMI . . .

The most recent G-File (from two weeks ago).

My response to the New York Times’ love letter to Communism.

My hit on Chicago AM 560 The Answer.

My appearance on Fox News’s Special Report with Bret Baier.

My doff of the cap to Bret Stephens’s trolling the Left on climate change.

My pushback on Jimmy Kimmel’s empathy-based policymaking.

The latest GLoP Culture podcast.

How Trump and his opponents collaborate to violate democratic norms.

Why does Trump claim he coined the phrase “prime the pump”?

Why is the Trump White House so leaky?

And now the weird stuff.

Debby’s Wednesday links

Sheep sink Russian spy ship

A machine that can create every horror-movie music cue

Virginia catnapper returns cats with shaved bellies

April’s best space images

Subject yourself to the pun-ishment of the World Pun Championships

Man forced to surrender Star Trek license plate

How are rocks moving unaided in the desert?

Man’s wallet returned after 13 years

Man flushes his friend’s ashes down ballpark toilets across the land (it’s what he wanted)

Basset hound moos, farts, gets confused

Vet sings to nervous dog before surgery

Crows like to sit atop other birds

Weasel rides woodpecker

Bloodhound puppy sworn in as a police officer

The 17th-century moon mission that never was

What would happen if you drank water from New York’s Gowanus Canal?

100 behind-the-scenes photos from the production of 2001: A Space Odyssey

Star Wars and sound design

Japan struggling to meet its ninja quota

Two shelter dogs rescued from euthanasia

Man designs human-sized mouse trap for some reason

Der Einhundert Tage

by Jonah Goldberg
The ‘100 Days’ marker is an arbitrary and somewhat ridiculous device — and it’s loaded with an unhealthy cult of action.

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

Dear Reader (Particularly all of you who went on a “news”letter strike since the last “news”letter),

Today is the 99th day of Der Einhundert Tage. Release the 99 luftballons!

Of course, if you’re reading this on Saturday, then today is Der Einhundert Tage! (Add one luftballon).

“What is Der Einhundert Tage?” you ask.

It’s “100 Days” in German. There’s no reason not to say it in English, save for the fact that it just sounds so much more ominous and impressive in der Sprache der Deutschen. Given how so many on the left think we’re back in 1930s Germany, I figured I’d throw them a bone. Also, I figure anything I can do to make this 100 Days thing even slightly more interesting is worth doing. Well, within reason. I’m not going to sacrifice 100 bulls in front of the White House.

In other words, I agree with Donald Trump that the 100 Days marker is an arbitrary and somewhat ridiculous device, even if he ill-advisedly invested too much in the gimmick. And it’s always been a gimmick. Even FDR’s First 100 Days — which started this nonsense — has been embellished by members of the New Deal cargo cult. Most of the legislation he passed was off the shelf from Congress and had been debated for years. FDR even opposed the FDIC when it was first brought up.

It is worth recalling that FDR’s head of the National Recovery Administration wanted a truly impressive first 90 days. Hugh “Iron Pants” Johnson (I always wondered if he went by “Iron Pants” to keep people from saying his name too fast) distributed a somewhat tongue-in-cheek memo at the Democratic National Convention in 1932 proposing that all members of Congress and the Supreme Court be put on an island for 90 days so that the administration could have a really free hand getting things done.

I mention this because a) I think it’s interesting, b) it’s always worth making a hyuuugjohnson joke when the opportunity arises (so to speak), and c) because I think it highlights an important point. The yearning for “action” implicit in the First 100 Days thing is not an altogether healthy one in a democracy. It’s not necessarily sinister, either.

There’s nothing wrong with a newly elected president trying to translate his mandate into legislation or otherwise spending his political capital when it’s at its highest. Nevertheless, there is an unpleasant cult of action implicit in the First 100 Days that I’ve never liked. After all, that was why FDR proposed it in the first place. He wanted to tell everyone to back off and let him have a free hand in his “bold, persistent experimentation.” That’s not really how our system is supposed to work. Presidents shouldn’t be able to say, “Hold my beer while I fundamentally transform America on my own.”

Die ersten hundert Tage von Präsident Trump

With all that said, what do I think of Trump’s First 100 Days? Well, since we’re on an FDR kick, I’m reminded of what one-time FDR consigliere Raymond Moley said in response to the notion that there was a coherent unified plan to the New Deal.

To look upon these programs as the result of a unified plan, was to believe that the accumulation of stuffed snakes, baseball pictures, school flags, old tennis shoes, carpenter’s tools, geometry books, and chemistry sets in a boy’s bedroom could have been put there by an interior decorator.

This has been, as Michael Warren chronicles over at The Standard, an ad hoc presidency from the outset. And like a Clinton Eastwood movie or a three-course meal of steak, tofurkey, and snails, you could say it’s been characterized by the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

What’s interesting to me is that I don’t think Trump truly realized it was going to be like this until pretty late in the game. He said in a Reuters interview just Thursday that he was surprised by how hard the job was. “I thought it would be easier,” the president said.

Now, on the one hand, all president say they’re surprised by how much harder the job is than they expected. So, fine. But Trump also says that he thought his old job would be harder than being the president of the United States. And I believe him. There are a lot of stories around Washington that jibe with this. Trump wanted to be something of a ceremonial figure, a bit like a British monarch in the 19th century, who gives some direction to the prime minister, but otherwise serves as an emblem of national greatness. It turns out that there’s more to the job than going around giving MAGA speeches and riffing on the media.

And, to Trump’s credit, it appears that he is starting to understand that and act on what should have been obvious from the get-go.

I’ve written a lot of late about how we now know Trump has no coherent ideological program. “Trumpism” is a psychological orientation, not a political philosophy. It’s actually far more similar to FDRism than a lot of people realize.

For instance, as Amity Shlaes reminds us, Franklin Roosevelt personally set the price of gold every morning: “One day [Treasury Secretary Henry] Morgenthau asked FDR why the president had chosen to drive up the price of gold by 21 cents. The president cavalierly said he’d done that because 21 was seven times three, and three was a lucky number.”

I’ve been mildly surprised by a few things about Trump’s performance so far — and most of them were pleasant surprises.

Now, FDR did have a philosophy but not a very deep one. As Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said, Roosevelt had a “second-class intellect but a first-rate temperament.”

I’ll leave it to others to score Trump’s intellect, but as for his temperament, if it was a ticket on the Titanic, I suspect it would be down below decks dancing on the tables with the Irish.

That said, I’ve been mildly surprised by a few things about Trump’s performance so far — and most of them were pleasant surprises. Most of his appointments have been good and a few have been great. I think there’s a lot of hype to his executive orders, but there aren’t many I don’t support.

In short, he’s doing better than I thought he would. But this is a remarkably low bar. It’s not quite like saying that Greta is the “sexiest East German weightlifter alive” or “this is the most exciting show on C-SPAN” but it’s not that far off. Still, I hope there are many more pleasant surprises in the days to come. We only have one president at a time, and so there’s really no choice but to hope he continues to learn on the job and that his team of Sherpas can help him with the climb.

All about the Base

What vexes me about the First 100 Days, however, isn’t what it has revealed about Trump, but what it reveals about his biggest fans. This time last year, it was easy to find people who parroted — sincerely — Trump’s claim that fixing everything would be “easy.” They loved to hear him say that everyone in Washington was dumb and that he had the “best brain.” He was a super-manager, a battle-hardened Sardaukar from the ranks of the übermenschen of the business world.

Any time he did or said something ridiculous, Trump’s defenders would either defend it on the non-existent merits or explain that his critics didn’t see the genius behind his strategy. Or they would mock the notion that anyone would take what he says “literally” when all enlightened people merely take him “seriously.”

Trump would rely on his instincts like a Chinatown chicken playing tic-tac-toe, and people would call him a “chess master.” For he wasn’t any old chicken, he was the Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga of American politics (“The all-powerful rooster who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake”).

The signature image of the Trump presidency so far is a goalpost on wheels.

But now Trump’s biggest boosters — and much of his base according to polls — insists that they never thought it would be easy, that Trump is doing great, even though he hasn’t been remotely able to accomplish the things he wanted to in his First 100 Days, and even Trump admits that this is all so much harder than even he thought it would be. As an unnamed White House staffer told Politico, “I kind of pooh-poohed the experience stuff when I first got here. But this sh** is hard.”

But no one cares, because the signature image of the Trump presidency so far is a goalpost on wheels. Being all-in for Trump means never having to say you’re sorry.

Then there are the folks who are mostly-in for Trump. Every day I hear people say on Twitter, “Yeah, he’s flawed but at least he’s not Hillary.” But what kind of standard is that? I’m glad Hillary’s not president. Truly. But if your yardstick for a Republican president — not candidate, but president — is now “He’s better than Hillary,” then you’ve filed down the yardstick to a couple inches. “Better than Hillary” strikes me as the minimum requirement for a conservative president, not an omnibus justification for anything he does.

The Trump Transformation?

Every time the president does something controversial, pro-Trump (and anti-anti-Trump) pundits rush to a TV studio to explain that he’s staying true to his base. Sometimes that’s true, but often it’s nonsense. The base has become quite malleable in how it defines what counts as “success.” Indeed, they’re the ones usually pushing the goalpost. Moreover, the president isn’t just the president-of-his-base, he’s the president of the whole country. I always rankled when people defended George W. Bush’s malapropisms and odd syntax as something to celebrate. Wasn’t one of Ronald Reagan’s greatest attributes his status as “the Great Communicator”?

As Richard Neustadt argued a half century ago, the chief power of the president is persuasion. Lasting conservative victories can come through legislation, to be sure. But even greater ones come from changing public attitudes so that voters want to see those victories endure. FDR’s New Deal was a very mixed bag, at best. But the main reason so much of it remains intact, alas, is that he fundamentally changed American attitudes toward government.

Barack Obama famously wanted to be a liberal Reagan or FDR, fundamentally transforming political orientations in this country. The ultimate verdict on that isn’t in yet, but right now it looks like Obama failed fairly spectacularly. It’s early yet, but how is Trump doing in this regard? Who outside his “base” has been convinced of the rightness of conservative policies? Consider that support for Obamacare, free trade, and immigration are at all-time highs.

I keep waiting for Trump supporters to respond to his flip-flops (Syria, China’s currency manipulation, NATO, or his claim Thursday that he’s now a “globalist and a nationalist”) like Steve Martin in The Jerk:

He doesn’t realize he’s dealing with sophisticated people, here. Marie, now just stay calm. Stay calm. Don’t look down, don’t look down! Look up! Just keep your eyes up and keep them that way, okay! Waiter, there are snails on her plate. Now get them out of here before she sees them! Look away, just look away, keep your eyes that way! You would think that in a fancy restaurant at these prices you could keep the snails off the food! There are so many snails there you can’t even see the food! Now take those away and bring us those melted-cheese-sandwich appetizers you talked me out of!

Instead, we get so much of this kind of thing:

Various & Sundry

Today is a pretty awful day, which may explain my dyspeptic tone above. First of all, I have to go to the funeral for Kate O’Beirne. I attended her wake on Thursday and that was hard enough. Kate’s death has hit a lot of people, me included, very, very hard. That was on display at her wake. The receiving line at 3:30 had to be 40 people deep and I think it stayed that way long into the evening. Kate was simply a remarkable woman. It’s ironic that she was the first person I ever heard say “sui generis” out loud. And that’s what she was. I’ve already written an all-too brief eulogy for her, as have so many of her friends, admirers, and colleagues. We could all have gone on for much longer. Rest in Peace.

It’s also an awful day because today is the deadline for my IRS audit. Yes, I’m being audited. My tax guy is all-too giddy about it because this is so rare and such a great learning experience for him. I keep telling him that I don’t feel so lucky. And no, Donald Trump isn’t to blame. The notice came in during Obama’s last week in office. And no, Obama isn’t to blame either. I for one would never besmirch the honesty, decency, and integrity of the patriotic public servants of the Internal Revenue Service — at least not while my audit is still pending! Still, it sucks.

Canine Update: So, Zoë is getting a little chunky and we’re trying to put her on a bit of a diet. It’s not going very well. Droit du Dingo holds that she is entitled to eat the Spaniel’s food whenever she feels like it. Also, a hungry dingo is a dingo much more interested in finding squirrels, rabbits, gnus, possums, unaccompanied children, and the like. Like a Yale graduate student, she is on a hunger strike that ends the moment she gets hungry.

Speaking of hungry, rarely does a day go by without someone (or my imaginary sentient Couch) telling me, “You know what National Review should do? It should do a bad-ass profile of The Rock.” Well, can you smell what David French is cookin’? I haven’t read it yet, but I hear that David’s cover story is pretty awesome.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File.

Kate O’Beirne, RIP.

What the free-speech debate misses.

Free speech didn’t begin at Berkeley, but it may end there.

The Washington Post’s misleading statistics on young Republicans.

The latest Ricochet GLoP podcast, on free speech

The French elections and the limits of our political vocabulary.

One of the odder cable-news hits I’ve done in a while.

Discussing the sanctuary-city ruling on Special Report.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Man bites dog

Earth seen from Saturn

Georgia firefighter catches baby

Why are so many popular cartoon characters yellow?

Beware: The brain can distinguish between real and fake laughter

In introduction to doggo culture

How pilots eject from fighter jets

Monkey steals vodka

Tom Hardy catches thief

C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien were not fans of Walt Disney

Wild boards kill three ISIS militants

Fight Club and the importance of sound design

Squirrel takes GoPro into tree

Fat beaver trapped in fence

Unreleased Sgt. Pepper’s outtake unearthed

New homeowners discover John Lennon’s original sketch of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’s album cover

The fastest perfect bowling game?

Bill O’Reilly’s Nostalgia Factor

by Jonah Goldberg
Before there was Trump, there was O’Reilly’s populism infused with a New York sensibility.

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

Dear Reader (I said “reader.” This will not be the venue for Caitlyn Jenner’s nude debut.),

Bill O’Reilly is leaving Fox, and I can’t say I’ll miss him.

I don’t mean that to sound too harsh (not that he much cared about sounding too harsh). The truth is I almost never watched his show, unless it was on someplace where I didn’t have control of the remote.

That’s not quite the slight it may seem to be either. My job often makes me feel like Lucy at the Chocolate Factory. The last thing she wanted to do after a Sisyphean day of eating chocolate off the conveyor belt was tuck into a big box of chocolates at home.

I watch the news at 6 p.m., and then unless there’s some compelling work-related reason, I’m done with that stuff until morning. (True story: The first time I appeared on Special Report I told Bret Baier that I was worried I might have an episode since the show was my body’s Pavlovian cue to have a cocktail.) I’d rather watch the same episode of Game of Thrones over and over than spend an hour watching a new episode of The O’Reilly Factor. But that goes for Rachel Maddow and certainly that Lawrence O’Donnell guy and the rest of them just as much, if not more so.

(I love hearing ads for Maddow’s show on satellite radio in which she promises to “report the news without fear or favor” — which is sort of like the hosts of America’s Next Top Model saying they only care about inner beauty.)

Of course, I’d occasionally stumble on O’Reilly’s show and rubberneck at the spectacle. But I didn’t enjoy it. I was never on the show much. I don’t enjoy being a meat prop for hosts to make the points they want to make, and I guess it showed the few times I was on. O’Reilly was the master of making his long and often well-crafted statements in the form of a question. “Now, I think . . .” “This is the way I see it . . .” “This is where I come down on this . . .” often preceded a jeremiad that concluded with, “Do you agree?” The answer was merely punctuation for the next “question.”

Some people got better treatment — Dennis Miller, the other Goldberg — but for the most part guests were there either to serve as a Greek chorus or as ritual human sacrifice for his smartest-guy-at-the-bar routine.

And it worked. Well. People can scoff and roll their eyes, but O’Reilly’s talent is impossible to dispute on objective grounds. There are lots of acts I don’t like but I can respect for the skill behind them. I don’t like hip-hop, or opera for that matter, but I can still see the difference between people who are really good at it and people who aren’t.  As with the man in Don Quixote who could inflate a dog through its butt, one doesn’t have to like the show to appreciate the expertise. 

I guess what I always resented was the way O’Reilly — and some of his cheaper knock-offs — claimed an authority to speak for me.

Alinsky to the Left of Me, Alinsky to the Right of Me

Ian Tuttle and David French both wrote excellent pieces for NRO yesterday, and I agree with both of them for the most part. David’s point that celebrity conservatism is swamping intellectual conservatism is particularly well-taken.

David writes:

The cost has been a loss of integrity and, crucially, a loss of emphasis on ideas and, more important, ideals. There exists in some quarters an assumption that if you’re truly going to “fight,” then you have to be ready to get your hands dirty. You can’t be squeamish about details like truth or civility or decency. When searching for ideological gladiators, we emphasize their knifework, not their character or integrity.

I agree with David that this is partly a feature of the culture generally these days. “Watch [Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, etc.] DESTROY” this or that Republican is just one facet of the riot of confirmation bias and tribalism that defines our times. And conservatives play the same game. My friend Tucker Carlson has had a meteoric run of late in part because he is so good at bringing fresh lambs to the slaughter every night, first at 7 p.m., then 9:00 p.m., and now in O’Reilly’s spot. I fully expect Tucker’s ratings to be just as spectacular as O’Reilly’s were, if not at first then in short order.

And we should not pretend this is as new as it may seem. The novelty is in the degree, not the phenomenon. Even the sainted William F. Buckley derived no small part of his appeal from the fact that he could always one-up any condescending liberal egghead. That was a big part of his legacy. At a time when the media wanted desperately to paint conservatives as paranoid, anti-intellectual bigots in the George Wallace mode, Buckley’s sesquipedalian erudition served as a kind of reassurance.

But Buckley brought something else to the table: civility, self-deprecation, and a playful wit that could be intellectually devastating without being humiliating. Even when he explained that Robert F. Kennedy was ducking his invitations to appear on Firing Line — “Why does baloney reject the grinder?” — liberals had to chuckle in admiration.

It’s that touch which has largely gone missing of late. Intellectually, Buckley was a passionate believer that liberalism was the Enemy. But liberals themselves were merely the opposition (Gore Vidal notwithstanding).

Where did that come from? Again, much of it is a product of the times, stemming from new technology, economics, and other deep-rooted causes. But I want to focus on one. Over the last decade, conservatives have developed a severe case of Alinsky envy.

It is one of the oldest insights into human nature that envy corrupts the soul. (Aquinas defined envy as sadness for the good of others.) But Alinsky envy is corrupting in a different way. For years now conservatism has convinced itself that the Left wins by, in effect, cheating. They lie. They only care about power. They demonize and slander their opponents. I’m not going to sit here and claim that there’s zero merit to that argument. There’s a lot of merit, even if it’s often an exaggeration.

My objection is the conclusion conservatives draw from it: We’ve got to take the gloves off and play by the same rules! Alinsky’s rules! As David Kahane (eye roll) puts it: “Become what you behold.”

A whole cottage industry on the right has thrived around this argument, and on the whole, it’s grotesque. You cannot argue that your enemy is evil and uses evil means and at the same time argue, “We should do it too!”

It’s particularly hypocritical given that Alinsky envy blossomed alongside obsessions with conservative purity. It is a circle that will not square: Our ideology has a monopoly on virtue, but in order for virtue to triumph we must act like people we claim are virtueless. The effort to make this argument work is inherently corrupting because it inexorably replaces ends with means. “Winning” gets redefined before our eyes into anything that fuels our ecstatic schadenfreude over the suffering of our opponents. Whenever Trump did something indefensible the “defense” “But he fights!” would pour forth.

And that brings me to Ian’s piece. I have some subtle disagreements with it. I think Ian paints too bright a line between younger conservatives supposedly alienated by Trump and older Fox News demographic conservatives. I wish it were true. But the throngs of young people who go to big-tent revivals headlined by Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos — not to mention more serious-minded but nonetheless Alinsky-ensorcelled types like Dinesh D’Souza, David Horowitz, and others — don’t reassure me.

The Long Island Captivity

I think there’s an element to the story that Ian — and pretty much everyone else — has missed in how Donald Trump won over so many people at Fox News and beyond.

A little backstory. I grew up in New York City in the 1970s and 1980s. Oswald Spengler couldn’t do justice to the dismay that was bound up in the city’s decline. Lots of people left the city for the suburbs, particularly places like Long Island, long an enclave for working-class and more affluent suburbanites who make their living in, or off of, the city but for understandable reasons don’t want to raise kids there. Whether you stayed in the city or got out, there was a sense that liberalism, broadly defined, was destroying the city. Then along came a white knight from the outer boroughs and Nassau County in Long Island.

Rudy Giuliani transformed New York, literally saving the city. But he wasn’t really that conservative. He was pro-choice, pro-gay rights, and pro-immigration. That didn’t stop his enemies from calling him a fascist and extremist. Remember, these were the days when you were considered a right-winger if you thought porn theaters were a blight and that drug-addled homeless slubberdegullions terrifying old ladies and small children were merely exercising their civil rights. Giuliani was a bit authoritarian, but he needed to be to fight the Democratic machine, the media, and the remora-like lawyers, racial-hucksters, and bureaucrats that were running the city into the ground.

Giuliani’s politics were a nostalgia-laden homage to the memory of a Big-Apple-that-was and a kind of conservative common sense. His greatest ally in the press was the urban-populist New York Post, which always could be counted on to take the side of the little guy and the tots (innocent children) against Mordor’s army of pervs, reprobates, pimps, fat cats, and corrupts pols. Giuliani’s promise was, in effect, to Make New York Great Again. And, again, he largely succeeded. Just as important, he humiliated his enemies in the process.

Bill O’Reilly grew up in Long Island before the city started to decline, but he is incontestably a product of the nostalgia-besotted working-class worldview that Giuliani tapped into. He doesn’t call himself a conservative, but a “traditionalist.” And his vision of tradition isn’t Burkean, Oakshottian, or Hayekian. He doesn’t harken to Russell Kirk’s Mecosta, but to Levittown. And to an extent that’s fine. America could use a bit more 1950s Levittown morality. Sean Hannity, born in New York City but raised in Long Island, is another who largely fits that mold. More broadly, as I’ve written dozens of times, Fox News was always more populist than conservative, but its populism is often infused with a New York sensibility.

This was always the core of Donald Trump’s act, even when he was a proud Democrat. A bridge-and-tunnel billionaire, he always had a chip on his shoulder about New York elites. It wasn’t quite the same Irish-Catholic chip that O’Reilly had, but the similarities are more interesting than the differences. O’Reilly’s intellectual insecurity drives him to churn out gimmicky histories, written by someone else. Trump’s spills out in boasts about his grades and his superior brain. They both insist they’re the smartest man in the room and that people who disagree with their meniscus-thin judgments are not just wrong, but bad or stupid.

Trump’s nostalgic appeal to Make America Great Again using common sense to defeat the pinhead elites combined with his implied promise to humiliate his enemies with his strength and will was simply a variant of O’Reillyism. Indeed, Bill O’Reilly was the John the Baptist of Trumpism long before Donald Trump appeared on the political scene.

I should say that I wish Donald Trump were a Rudy Giuliani, and I hold out the barest glimmer of hope that he could turn into one. But my suspicion is that he is a creature who mimicked the aesthetics and style of a Giuliani without anything like his discipline or expertise. And that in itself is a sign of the toxic corruption of celebrity conservatism that David French describes. Too many people think being a conservative is all about the public posture, the performance in front of the camera and not the performance on the job.

I have no idea if O’Reilly will find his way back on TV, but if I had to bet I’d bet big that he will. TV is a drug for some people. For some it’s about the money and doing good work, to be sure. But for others they come to believe that they will cease to exist if people don’t recognize them at airports. (Greta Van Susteren, for instance, is a multimillionaire, but I have every confidence that she thinks she’d dry up and blow away if she weren’t on TV.) Lord knows O’Reilly doesn’t need the money, but that’s not the itch people like him need to scratch.    

Various & Sundry  

I started writing this in the Main Street Diner in Grove City, Pa. I am finishing it in the parking lot of a Fairfield Inn in Slippery Rock. I know it sounds weird that I should be hurling epistolary and eristic brick-bats at Donald Trump’s politically fissiparous rodomontade through the machicolations of the Internet. But I was invited to share my hortatory stylings at Grove City College last night (I had a great time even though the fake news media will never tell you how huge the crowd was). I required sustenance, hence the Main Street Diner. I’m in the parking lot at the Fairfield Inn because I am smoking a cigar with the top down on my car and I need someplace to park in the shade. I know I shouldn’t smoke in the morning but sometimes I suffer from a lack of cacoëthes scribendi and this is the only way to extravasate my creative juices.

But what explains this apparent exercise in sesquipedalian epeolatry? The other day I was baited into a Twitter affray, or social media argle-bargle, by a dasypygal rantallian who made the following claim:

So I thought it a propitious opportunity to share my effulgent logophilia, even if I risk being accused of the sin of batrachomyomachy by taking so much time to respond to an anencephalous troll. I don’t want to be seen as absquatulating before I demonstrated my point, subjecting me to a severe case of Torschlusspanik. But as the kids say, I think I’ve thrown enough shade in a splendiferously umbriferous manner.

Canine Update: The beasts are still adjusting to the fact that the Fair Jessica is working outside the house for the first time in almost a decade. They become much needier and more excited when I come home. But they’ve also learned to amuse themselves more when they are not dreaming of more exciting adventures. Pippa has developed a new theory. She seems to think that if she holds perfectly still we won’t notice her in places she’s not supposed to be. I wish I had more stories to share, but I can’t think of any, so instead: Puppy pictures!

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File.

Trump’s pivot to easy wins.

Death penalty opponents are being dishonest.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Naked mole rats can survive in oxygen-free environments
Scientists name a shrimp with (literally) killer sound after Pink Floyd

Breaking down 6 popular fictional languages

Are redshirts really the likeliest to die in Star Trek?

How to escape from a car in water

California’s super bloom is visible from space

On the China-North Korea border

Herd of cattle watches lone beaver

Doberman saves 17-month-old’s life

Dog skateboards

When the CIA’s cafeteria had a food fight

Mary Poppins as a horror movie

The Shining as a heartwarming family film

Behold: the museum of failure

The Post-Trumpism Presidency Begins

by Jonah Goldberg
The last best hope for a successful Trump presidency is for conservatives in Congress to define what counts as a win in the realm of the possible and then nudge, coax, flatter, or trick Trump in that direction.

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

Dear Reader (and the re-accommodated everywhere),

Because National Review is a God-fearing publication, the offices are closed for Good Friday. (As a friendly outsider to the Christian faith, I have to say: I always thought that was a strange name for a date commemorating such a grim event.)

That means I’m writing this yesterday. So . . . greetings, people of the future! I envy you, what with your flying cars, jetpacks — who gets the right of way at the cross“walks” by the way? — and genetically modified dogs that poop smokable hemp.

The problem with writing this in the past, however, is that I usually use the ridiculous time constraints imposed by starting the G-File Friday morning as a steroidal impetus to get past writer’s block. It’s sort of like when you’re cornered by a CHUD or one of those break-dancing gangs from the 1980s, there’s no time to think too much (“And it shows!” — The Couch).

Fortunately, I’m still under some time constraints so maybe this will work.

The Post-Trumpism Presidency Begins

Since I literally just finished my column for today, also written in the past, I suppose I should start with what’s on my mind.

In the wake of Trump’s dizzying array of reversals on various policy stances, I wrote about how the phrase “Let Reagan be Reagan” has essentially the opposite meaning of “Let Trump be Trump.” I conclude (Spoiler alert):

When conservatives said “Let Reagan be Reagan,” they were referring to a core philosophy that Reagan had developed over decades of study and political combat. When people said “Let Trump be Trump,” they meant let Trump’s id run free. The former was about staying true to an ideology, the latter about giving free rein to a glandular style that refused to be locked into a doctrine or even notions of consistency.

That’s why saying “Let Trump be Trump” is almost literally the opposite of saying “Let Reagan be Reagan.”

I was inspired by a conversation I had with Ramesh about this excellent column, which deals with the same topic.

“In 2016,” Ramesh begins, “we found out that conservative elites didn’t speak for Republican voters.” The think-tank crowd wanted entitlement reform and likes free trade. The rank and file, not so much.

Trump’s elite supporters in talk radio, TV news, and elsewhere convinced themselves that just because the “people” rejected one coherent ideological program that meant they embraced another coherent ideological program called “Trumpism,” “America First,” or “nationalism.” Ramesh writes:

Intellectuals, whether they are for or against Trump, want to construct an “ism into which they can fit his politics: an “ism” that includes opposition to free trade, mass immigration, foreign interventions that aren’t necessitated by attacks on us, and entitlement reform. But Trumpism doesn’t exist. The president has tendencies and impulses, some of which conflict with one another, rather than a political philosophy.

But here’s the key point — “the people” don’t have a coherent “ism” either. This is especially true on foreign policy. Again, Ramesh:

An adviser to President George W. Bush once remarked to me that a lot of people thought Republicans backed Bush because of the Iraq war, when in reality Republicans backed the Iraq war because of Bush. In the absence of detailed and deep convictions on a foreign-policy issue, voters will side with the politicians whose side they usually take.

Trump’s strike on Syria was breathtakingly hypocritical. It was also the right thing to do (I think). But the relevant point is that it was popular.

Suddenly, true believers in a Trumpism-that-doesn’t-exist are in a similar predicament many of us were in during the election. They’re condemning Trump for breaking their (hastily minted) orthodoxy of True Trumpism. More vexing, they’re discovering that Trump’s popularity isn’t all that connected to his program. This is partly because of his cult of personality and partly because a lot of people are simply invested in his presidencyfor a slew of patriotic, partisan, and personal reasons.

The Oxygen-Sucking Stupidity of Trump Derangement Syndrome

I should also say that the persistence of liberal Trump Derangement Syndrome is a big part of the defend-Trump-no-matter-what dynamic. Because the mainstream media and the Democrats are so unhinged in their criticisms of Trump, they give no room for thoughtful criticism. Lots of normal Trump voters are frustrated with his presidency so far. But the partisan inanity of Trump’s left-wing critics makes it difficult not to run to his defense.

Take, for example, Sean Spicer’s “Not even Hitler” gaffe. I made fun of the guy, because the statement was so painfully dumb. (I like to imagine a homunculus Spicer in the control room in his head completely freaking out as he loses control of Spicer’s speech center. “I’ve got no brakes! I got no brakes!!”) But liberals had to take it straight to eleven, by calling Spicer a Holocaust denier and an anti-Semite. C’mon. Some even claimed the statement was a deliberate attempt to signal . . . something.

This reminds me of one of my biggest gripes about Bush Derangement Syndrome. His critics would simultaneously argue that Bush was a blithering idiot, but also an evil mastermind who orchestrated all manner of devilishly clever conspiracies. Pick one. You can’t say Sean Spicer is a buffoon, but that he’s also a brilliantly cynical dog-whistler who went in to the pressroom with a plan to throw rhetorical bones to the alt-right.

The Dilemma

Anyway, where was I? Oh, right, I’m not saying Trump could have gotten away with nominating a liberal to the Supreme Court or that if he came out overnight as a pro-choicer that the base would have gone with him. But Trump fulfilled his core mandate the day he was sworn-in: He promised not to be Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. He could have hung a “Mission Accomplished” banner over the inaugural balcony.

The conservative ideologues and intellectuals on both sides of the Trump question face the very same dilemma. Trump is no more bound to the fantasy of True Trumpism than he is to Goldwaterite conservatism. He’s a free agent who literally brags about the fact that he’s comfortable making it up as he goes.

In the first G-File after the election, I predicted: “If Trump is going to be a successful president — and I hope he is one — he will have to start disappointing his biggest fans.” In the case of Coulter & Co. I was right. But for a lot of his rank-and-file supporters, it’s more complicated. They’re invested in Trump first and Trumpism second, if at all. Or, they simply define Trumpism as whatever makes Trump look like a winner. The danger, as I’ve been writing for two years now, is that Trump could end up redefining conservatism, not necessarily as some version of Buchanan-Bannon nationalism (though that was always a concern), but as “whatever Trump does.”

The first empirical data is already coming in. Rank-and-file Republicans tend to think that conservatism is correlated to support for Trump. But the anecdotal data has been all over the place for years now. For instance, when it was announced Wednesday that Bret Stephens was leaving the Wall Street Journal for the New York Times, Twitter lit up with people saying, in effect, “good riddance, you liberal.” Of course, this assessment wasn’t based on anything other than the fact that Stephens — a fairly solid conservative — is one of the most ardent critics of Donald Trump.

Trump isn’t an ideological or philosophical conservative. He has no ideology or philosophy, rightly understood. This was obvious from the beginning and, contra Mike Allen, some of us saw it from day one. That doesn’t mean he can’t be a good president or have a politically successful presidency. But it will be difficult for an array of reasons both psychological and political. There’s lots of talk in Washington about how to fix the White House staff in order to properly constrain, channel, or direct Trump to victory. Good luck with that. I have zero confidence that Trump will reliably and consistently trade opportunities for political success — “wins” — for conservative victories over time. I also never bought that he was a particularly good manager. His presidency so far gives me no reason to rethink that.

I do have hope though.

And that hope rests, as I said last week, on conservatives restricting his range of possible political options solely to conservative policies. The last best hope for a successful Trump presidency rests not in Trump’s alleged brilliance and gift for “winning” and “deals” but in conservatives in Congress defining what counts as a win in the realm of the possible and then nudging, coaxing, flattering, or tricking him in that direction.

Various & Sundry

I know what you’re thinking: Stop with the shameless sucking up to the president. Okay, maybe not you. But that’s the upshot of Rick Perlstein’s typically snide and dishonest essay in The New York Times Magazine. Perlstein deliberately distorted my view to frame his entire argument. He insinuates that, once Trump was elected, I embraced Trump and Trumpism, jettisoning my commitment to Buckleyite conservatism. Worse, my supposed surrender is the only example he offers for this conservative capitulation. I’m pretty furious about it. I couldn’t care less about being criticized, but I take great exception to being lied about, particularly by a partisan like Perlstein hiding behind some imagined intellectual authority. I’d go on, but I ranted about it here. And, to their true credit, I convinced the New York Times to add a correction to the piece. I just found out and I’m still a little stunned.

In a more amusing mainstream media vs. Goldberg moment, the Ombudsman at NPR is apparently concerned by the fact that I have been on NPR a whopping five times in 70 days. Worse, though, is that it seems listeners are very dismayed by this lavish exposure. The Ombudsman writes, “I appreciate Goldberg’s commentary and rarely find it following predictable talking points.” And, apparently, that’s the problem. Since I don’t spout typical talking points, listeners are left to wonder whether they can trust me or if I’m a conservative. You see, “Goldberg is not always identified by his political views, leaving listeners to guess.” The horror! Never mind that I am always identified as a National Review senior editor, it seems that having to listen to the actual substance of my comments — a whole five times — without being tipped off in advance (“Warning: He may sound reasonable, but he’s a conservative!”) is too much to ask. For the record, I like doing the NPR hits and I am appreciative of them. I kind of feel like a house goy. So, for the benefit of the audience I’ll try to drop a few more hints if they ever have me back.

Canine Update: Yesterday morning, I was taking the beasts for a sortie in the park. When we came around the bend, there was a deer standing in the middle of the path. Zoë and Pippa froze. And there was a long enough stare-down moment for me to actually take out my phone and videotape it.

I was worried the deer was close enough for Zoë to actually catch it, which wouldn’t be good for anybody. But before I could get to Zoë and put a leash on her, she took off. I yelled “go!” at the deer — not the Dingo — for the record. Anyway, the deer took off and Zoë didn’t catch it. But the deer kept reappearing. I realized what she was doing. Deer protect their young by hiding them (baby deer literally have no scent). She was trying to lure the Dingo away, to save us all from the horrible cliché of hearing a deer yell “the dingo ate my baby!” I put Zoë on a leash until we were clear of the area. She has yet to fully forgive me.

You see, Zoë is a big believer in obeying the forms. I got a great text from our indispensable dogwalker Kirsten the other day. She walks Zoë and Pippa with a bunch of other dogs that Zoë emphatically considers to be her pack. “Zoë is so dang funny, she has impeccable dog manners,” Kristen texted. “Like if someone is sniffing a bone or something, you wait patiently until the dog in front is finished before you sniff it. Or if I have treats in her pocket, woe be unto the doggy that tries to sneak one. She really takes it all very seriously and I get such a kick out of it. Never known a dog like her. The only time she lashes out is if someone Dares to act out of order.”

ICYMIBYAFEAWIBTFC (In Case You Missed It Because You Ate Fifty Eggs And Were Incapacitated By The Food Coma)

What do Trump’s Syria airstrikes really mean?

Rob Long, John Podhoretz, and I mock United, Sean Spicer, Sonny Bunch, and more in the latest Ricochet GLoP podcast.

Sorry, Hillary, but Democrats aren’t the party of science.

If you’re looking for Easter links and weekly William F. Buckley wisdom on faith, culture, and civil society, subscribe to Kathryn Jean Lopez’s free newsletter.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Thursday links

Urban wildlife

Did Medieval villagers zombie-proof corpses?

Would you have wanted to be the king’s toilet attendant?

A caloric guide to cannibalism

Listening to the sea

Workers accidentally discover Rome’s oldest aqueduct

Dog dislikes sour candy

The beauty of Cincinnati’s old library

What would movie monsters actually sound like?

Why is the Pentagon a pentagon?

Shelley Duvall’s real-life horrors filming The Shining

Dog escapes animal hospital by opening doors

Japanese cherry blossoms

NSFW: Scientists capture beautiful, explosive collision of young stars

Squirrel eats tiny ice-cream cones

Trump Enforces Obama’s Red Line

by Jonah Goldberg
The strike on Syria is the single best proof that Trump has no overriding commitment to any ideological position — and I say that as someone who supports the strike.

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 caretaker of Camp David, who must feel like the Maytag repairman watching the goings-on at Mar-a-Lago),

Well, this’ll be interesting.

After Thursday night’s attack on Syria, the conventional wisdom congealed faster than the chalupa sauce in Michael Moore’s chest hair.

Sorry, this isn’t really a topic for strident juvenilia, but I know that’s one of the things that puts digital asses in the virtual seats.

Let me start over.

I think Thursday night’s attacks are both less and more important than the rapidly forming conventional wisdom holds. This is a convoluted way of saying I see it a bit differently from some folks. And since I’m on a tight schedule, let me do it bullet-point style:

I think the foreign-policy consequences of the strike are likely to be less consequential than the domestic ones. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has already said, quite emphatically, that the strikes don’t suggest any change in our overall strategy:

“I would not in any way attempt to extrapolate that to a change in our policy or posture relative to our military activities in Syria today. There has been no change in that status,” [Tillerson] added. “I think it does demonstrate that President Trump is willing to act when governments and actors cross the line and cross the line on violating commitments they’ve made and cross the line in the most heinous of ways.”

As we put it in our National Review editorial Friday morning:

If it is a one-off, this strike is the very definition of a symbolic pinprick. It was launched with highly precise weapons against the airfield from which the Syrian chemical attack emanated. According to reports, we apprised Russian personnel at the base beforehand, meaning the Syrians effectively had advance warning as well.

In other words, if this is all that we have in store for Bashar al-Assad, President Trump’s dismayed anti-interventionists don’t have that much to worry about and interventionists have less to celebrate than think (more about them in a moment). Assad can go on killing women and children — he will simply have to use less efficient and more conventional weapons to do it. What a massive moral victory for the West!

Look, I get why — morally, strategically, and legally — chemical weapons are different than conventional ones. But if my entire family and village were wiped out with bullets and bombs rather than chemical weapons, I wouldn’t draw much solace from any of these distinctions.

Laura Ingraham is right too:

Now I favor the strikes (though I have questions about their legality and I think Daniel Pipes makes some excellent points against the strike, here). But there is literally nothing to justify it in the past speeches, campaign promises, and tweets (!) of Donald Trump, going back four years.

Donald Trump didn’t oppose the Iraq War from the beginning, but he likes to claim he did. Regardless, let’s recall that Saddam Hussein killed orders of magnitude more people — including babies — with chemical weapons, and yet Trump never considered this even a partial justification for getting rid of Saddam or the war. But forget Iraq, which, admittedly, was a different thing on a number of fronts. Assad’s attack on Ghouta in 2013 killed more people than this week’s gas attack, and we had pictures of dead children then, too.

But Trump opposed enforcing Obama’s red line back then, nevertheless. The difference, as Trump admirably admitted from the Rose Garden, is that he’s president now and that changes your perspective on things. It’s always easy to throw brick-bats when you have no responsibility (one of the guiding tenets of this “news”letter by the way). Now he’s looking at the prospect of being the president who, in effect, sanctioned the use of chemical weapons, a violation of international law. As he put it in his statement Thursday night:

It is in this vital national-security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.

There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and ignored the urging of the U.N. Security Council.

That is a sound argument. But it was just as sound in 2013. Trump’s real motivation seems to be the fact that babies were “choked out” and that he saw it on TV. And it is this apparent fact that should give everyone — supporters and critics alike — the most cause for concern. Ann Coulter wrote a whole book called In Trump We Trust, which, in its own cartoonish way, was a brilliant title in that it conveyed the unshakable, almost religious faith many of his most ardent supporters had in his will and his strength and his commitment to bucking the “establishment.”

Now:

Donald Trump is a charismatic political figure. I don’t mean that in the conventional sense that he’s “charming.” I mean it in the sociological and political-science sense. Max Weber delineated three kinds of authority — legal, traditional, and charismatic. Charismatic authority rests “on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism, or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him.” Charismatic leaders get people to write books called In Trump We Trust.

But the problem with charismatic leaders is that they are often a kind of Rorschach test. People project onto them what they want to see. I’ve lost count of how many conversations I’ve had with hardcore Trump fans who’ve described wildly different Donald Trumps — not simply different from the man I see, but different from each other. As a matter of logic, not all of these assessments can be right.

But logic also dictates that all of them can be wrong. Earlier this week I wrote a column about how the core problem with Trump’s presidency so far isn’t his lack of an agenda or his tweeting or any of that. It’s Trump’s own character. Many angry readers came at me saying that I was just refusing to get over my Never Trumpism (they’re wrong about that by the way). Others suggested I was just a sucker for the mainstream media’s “fake news.” I’m not a political reporter, but I do talk to a lot of people in and around the Trump administration. And the simple fact is that the chaos in the Trump White House is an outgrowth of the president’s personality. He’s mercurial. He cares more about status, saving face, respect, “winning,” etc. than he does about any public policy. That’s not to say he doesn’t care about public policy at all. I think he’s sincere in his views about immigration, trade, excessive regulation, etc. But they take a back seat to Trump’s desire to maintain his charismatic status (which is why we’ve seen so many stories about how he gets mad at staffers who get good press — a really bizarre attitude for a manager when you think about it).

As Rich put it the other day, writing about the (first) push for Trumpcare:

Trump, for his part, has lacked the knowledge, focus or interest to translate his populism into legislative form. He deferred to others on legislative priorities and strategies at the outset of his administration, and his abiding passion in the health-care debate was, by all accounts, simply getting to a signing ceremony.

The strike on Syria is the single best proof that Trump has no overriding commitment to any ideological position. And I say this, again, as someone who supports the strike. Ramesh likes to say that we sometimes make too big a deal of it when politicians flip-flop. Conservatives should want politicians to flip or flop (not sure of the usage here) if it means they abandon their wrong positions and agree with us. So, sure, I’m happy to celebrate his change of heart. I’m also delighted to watch the Cernovich crowd freak out. But there’s a larger lesson here. If Trump can abandon his position on this — all because of some horrific pictures on TV — what position is safe?

This is why I am actually encouraged by the response from the Coulter crowd. Until now, the standard response to Trump’s indefensible or indecipherable statements and outbursts was to say, “He knows more than us.” Or “This is what got him elected.” Or “He’s playing three-dimensional chess!” Or, simply, “I trust him.” As I put it in a column in February:

When a political leader replaces fixed principles and clear ideological platforms with his own instincts and judgment, he gives his supporters no substantive arguments to rely on. Eventually, the argument to just say, “Have faith” in our leader, he knows best, is the only safe harbor.

And that’s not what conservatism is about — nor, for that matter, democracy.

The fact that some in the Trump-can-do-no-wrong crowd are setting their collective hair on fire over the Syria strikes is a sign of ideological health (even if, again, I disagree with the substance of their complaint).

What continues to stun me is how shocked they are that this wasn’t in the cards all along.

Right now, there’s a lot of talk about how both Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus may be on the way out at the White House. In general, I’d shed no tears at Bannon’s defenestration, but it’s worth noting that Bannon and Priebus now form an unlikely coalition against Jared Kushner, a lifelong liberal Democrat. By all accounts Kushner is a smart and serious guy. He also has the ace up his sleeve of being married to the president’s (also liberal) daughter. I have grave disagreements with Bannon, but in this fight I think I’m on his side:

One senior Trump aide said that Bannon was also frustrated with Kushner “continuing to bring in [Obamacare architect] Zeke Emanuel to discuss health care options,” for instance. The aide said Emanuel has had three White House meetings, including one with Trump.

But the idea that the chaos in the White House is a function of bad staff is grossly unfair, even to Bannon. The chaos isn’t a bug in the Trump program — it is the program. It’s how he likes to run things. He could bring in a whole new roster of people, the result will likely be the same.

I’ll close with this. Some defenders have argued that Trump is merely a pragmatist. Don’t worry, I won’t rehash all my anti-pragmatism stuff. But I will say that this defense often makes a profound moral, political, and ideological error. Pragmatism (conventionally defined) about means is generally fine, within limits of course. But pragmatism about ends isn’t pragmatism at all, it’s Nietzschean nihilism. If your goals are made slaves to your desire to seem like a winner, then the question of what you “win” at becomes entirely negotiable. Conceptually, this is the difference between a knight and a mercenary. A knight fights for certain lofty ideals; a mercenary fights to win and reap the rewards. Politically, this is the lesson of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s governorship. He decided that he’d rather be a successful liberal governor than a failed conservative one.

If I were Coulter, Ingraham, or Sean Hannity I’d make a lot more money fighting the “establishment” than I do allegedly defending it, but that’s not important right now. If I were them, I’d be terrified by the reaction to the strike. Trump is getting good press. He’s being hailed as a strong and decisive leader. He’s got heart. John McCain and Marco Rubio are praising him, as are a host of foreign leaders. This would scare me for two reasons. First, if I were a committed America Firster like Coulter and Ingraham, I’d see this for what it is: incredibly positive reinforcement for a politician who responds to flattery more than most. But, second, I’d recognize that the lesson Trump might learn from this is that your poll numbers and press clippings get better when you throw your biggest fans under the bus and listen to the establishment, Jared Kushner, or Lord knows who else.

Various & Sundry

This really doesn’t belong in the V&S section, but I didn’t want to let it go by. It’s rather amazing that Donald Trump’s greatest accomplishment and the most significant conservative victory in a long time is secondary news this week. Neil Gorsuch will be the next justice on the Supreme Court. Trump deserves congratulation and so do the people who, despite their misgivings, voted for Trump solely on this issue. If that’s all you cared about — and I don’t mean that in a pejorative way at all — you’ve been vindicated. Now, all conservatives — and I mean all — should be resolutely clear that Trump should either stick to his list of potential nominees or, at the very least, promise not to stray leftward from it. The job of conservatives, as ever, is to make it in the political interest of Republicans to do conservative things.

Canine Update: I am going to forgo the usual reportings of my own canine companions this week because I have a different canine update. Longtime readers of mine will remember my old wing-hound, the late great Cosmo the Wonderdog. A few might remember that Cosmo’s best friend and partner in all manner of adventures was my sister-in-law’s (and brother-in-law’s) dog Buckley. Buckley, or “Buckles” as we often called him, was one of the sweetest beasts I’ve ever known. He died this week at the age of 13. Cosmo and Buckley loved each other even more than their humans loved them. When they’d see each other in the neighborhood, they’d run to each other like war buddies delighted to learn the other one had survived the enemy offensive too.

Physically, Buckles could have kicked Cosmo’s tail region six ways from Sunday, but he was quite literally America’s most harmless dog — unless you were a deer or a squirrel. For Cosmo had trained him in the sublime art of critter chasing from his earliest days. They were, for a time, master and apprentice:

Cosmo tried to school Buckley in his own Mencken-like misanthropy, distrusting humans from outside the pack. But it never took. Whenever strangers came to visit, and once Buckles had confirmed that the humans weren’t squirrels in human disguises (trust but verify!), he would put his head in their laps and flash them his baby browns. Coz just muttered his disapproval.

In Buckles’s old age, he got a little more lumpy and a little more grumpy, at least toward other dogs. He had little use for Zoë, whose wild puppiness elicited grave concern, as seen here. And I couldn’t blame him.

Anyway, he will be dearly missed. The world is always better with dogs and it’s always a little worse when they go. After Buckles passed, Carrie and Amit and the kids said a little prayer for him. Unprompted, my nephew Owen, who never knew Cosmo, added at the end, “He’s in Heaven now, playing with his good friend Coz.”

Rest in Peace, big guy.

ICYMI . . .

Why does F. H. Buckley want Trump to promote single-payer health care?

Trump’s character is his presidency’s biggest enemy.

What does it mean that Steve Bannon left the National Security Council?

My radio hit on Chicago’s Morning Answer.

Syria and the difficulties of realism.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Thursday and Friday links

Man who believes himself to be the reincarnation of King Arthur holds pagan rituals at Stonehenge (foolishly forgetting that Arthur is healing from his wounds at Avalon and will someday return)

New weight-loss therapy involves self-immolation

Why do cartoons only have four fingers?

Why do cartoons wear gloves?

2017 Sony World Photography award winners

Sharknado is upon us

The birth of Comic Sans

Was the T-Rex a sensitive lover?

Tokyo at rush hour, in pictures

Nazi Jurassic Park

Tropical fish with opioids in their fangs

The quest for McDonald’s pizza

When the world went crazy over Y2K

Dog saves wedding party from suicide bomber

The fascinating history of the potato cannon

Throw Away the New Playbook

by Jonah Goldberg
If he’s going to succeed, Trump needs to start acting like a normal president who deals with the reality of politics.

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

Dear Reader (particularly any of you women who want to have dinner with me alone, but can’t),

Turn that frown upside down!

Some of you may have noticed that I’ve been in a bit of a funk of late, what with all of the gloominess, snark, and unexplained blood spatters and splatters on my glasses, clothes, car, etc.

Just last week, in this space, while mentioning my dour mood, I asked, “Hey, what’s the emoji for metaphysical dyspepsia and spirit-grinding weltschmerz?”

A bunch of people sent in suggestions, but none really hit the mark. So, the Universe decided to create one for me.

To summarize briefly, last week I was in NYC trying to salvage a little bit of Spring Break for my kid in the wake of all our plans blowing up on account of needing to go to Alaska for my mother-in-law’s funeral. While in the city, I met with the lovely (and understanding and patient and awesome) editor of the book I’m still working on. She needed to know when the final chapters were coming. I said in the next week or so. “I have about 25,000–30,000 words on my computer,” I told her. “I just need to organize it and write a couple thousand more.”

And this is when the Universe saw an opening.

I drive home on Saturday. On Sunday morning, I wake up with a renewed sense of commitment and purpose. I’m also chipper because we’re going to officially celebrate my birthday since we couldn’t earlier in the week. Cake!

I perambulate the beasts. Make some coffee.

I pour myself a big cup. I grab my relatively new MacBook Pro. And . . . 

Well. Flashback. Last year I was on Turner Classic Movies talking about politics and film. It was a lot of fun.

They gave me some swag, including a great TCM coffee mug. A few weeks ago, the handle broke off (the investigation into who was responsible for that has broken down into partisan squabbles, though my daughter’s request for immunity in exchange for testimony is suspicious). My wife and daughter “repaired” it and put it back.

Okay, back to the moment: I grab my cup of coffee and . . . the entirety of reality and everything in it slowed down to one-eighth speed as all of the coffee spilled directly into the keyboard of my computer.

To paraphrase William Goldman, “Since the invention of shouting ‘Nooooo!’ there have only been five ‘Nooooos!’ that were rated the most passionate, the most pure. This one left them all behind.”

Darth Vader? Michael Scott? This delightful woman?

Pikers.

Now, in fairness, my pronunciation of “No” was unconventional in that it began with an “F” and ended with a parade of glottal “K”s.

I’ll spare you most of the other details, save one: You know the “Door Close” buttons on elevators? Or the pedestrian “Walk” buttons in New York? Your fool-proof system for playing roulette? Rabbits’ feet? Democracy?

These are all things that give you a false sense of control. The elevator button doesn’t actually make the doors close any faster (though they do in the U.K., where man is still the master of his fate!). Since the 1980s, the “Walk” buttons have been like Rainier Wolfcastle’s goggles; they do nothing. Rabbits’ feet aren’t lucky. Everyone knows you have to rub a leprechaun’s head for luck, which is why I keep asking Robert Reich to come to Vegas with me. As for democracy, I kid, I kid.

You know what else gives the illusion of control? Apple’s iCloud. There’s a folder on my laptop called “document-iCloud” that I “saved” to. The hitch? It’s sorta like the fake railroad tunnel Wile E. Coyote drew on cliff faces. It works for Road Runners like five-year-old G-Files and shopping lists. But book chapters about the current state of Western Civilization? They bounce off it like grapes off a basset hound’s forehead.

Now, I know everything you want to tell me already about other services, external back-ups, not gluing coffee-cup handles back on, even how I need a haircut. I know because I’ve discovered that nothing brings out the Monday-morning quarterbacking on Twitter like pouring coffee into a laptop. “You should be more careful” is the least useful advice one can give after the fact. It’s only marginally more helpful than the kind of help one gets from the guy who makes sure the leather straps aren’t too tight on the electric chair.

It reminds me of one of my favorite stories about my dad. I once accidentally rubbed hot sauce in my eye. My dad found me at the sink furiously washing it out of my eye. He asked what happened. I told him.

He replied, in his perfect deadpan, “Damn, I wish I had told you not to rub hot sauce in your eye.”

Anyway, I think the perfect real-world emoji for metaphysical dyspepsia and spirit-grinding weltschmer is pouring coffee into your computer.

And my main takeaway is that negativity invites negativity, so I’m going to be whistling Dixie out of my nethers like I got a free trip to Wally World from here on out.

Here We Go Again

Meanwhile, as I await the results of an extremely expensive effort to salvage the data off my hard drive, I suppose I should also try to salvage this anecdote as well.

Longtime readers of this “news”letter should probably stop reading it out loud because that slows down reading comprehension.

But they also may have noticed that my favorite quote from Edmund Burke — besides “the people at iCloud should be fed to wolves” — is “Example is the school of mankind, and he will learn at no other.”

What he meant by this is that sometimes you can’t be told something, you have to see it or experience it for yourself. I could write a dozen different columns on this quote (actually, I think I have). This insight dovetails with my conviction that reality is conservative. Wisdom is the accumulation of insights into how the world actually works — as opposed to how we would like it to work.

Venezuela was the richest country in South America a decade ago. Then it followed policies based on how some people wanted the world to work. Now it’s the poorest country in South America and people are fighting over bread and toilet paper. If Venezuela makes it through this mess, a lot of people will likely have learned some things from example that they’d probably never have learned from a textbook.

The other night, I was on Special Report and I made the point that even if Donald Trump was 100 percent right in claiming he was wiretapped by President Obama (he wasn’t), it would still be foolish to say what he did in those tweets. Put aside that Trump based his accusation on some flimsy news articles he had read. Let’s imagine he had a credible source with real evidence to back up the claim. The correct response would be to call in the heads of the NSA, CIA, DOJ, and FBI and get to the bottom of it. Then, after you’ve completed a behind-the-scenes investigation, press charges against those responsible.

Trump went a different way, and a month of his first 100 days has been eaten up by the furor. I added that, politically, this whole thing was a huge waste and distraction, including the response by my friend Devin Nunes. He, as the House Intelligence Committee chairman, may indeed have some important revelations to make. But the whole thing could have been handled better.

I say with all humility: I was 100 percent right.

The response, however, from Trump’s amen corner was the usual outrage and ridiculous claims: “Trump was vindicated! He’s playing four-dimensional chess! Shut up! Etc.”

Politics all the Way Down

The two common responses that I think are worth addressing here are (I’m paraphrasing): “Who cares about politics!? We’re sick of politics!” and “You want him to be ‘presidential’ and stop tweeting. But the old playbook no longer applies!”

Put aside the remarkably odd complaint that a political analyst on a political panel on a TV show that covers politics might actually discuss politics.

Here’s the important point. Politics is like the weather; it doesn’t care what you think about it. It simply is. And at least in this sense, I was right when I said that democracy gives the illusion of control.

In 2006, I wrote in the Corner about the Left’s belief, as expressed by Simon Rosenberg, that we were entering an era of “new politics.” Conservatism was over. A new era of modern, expert-driven political management was upon us. To his credit, Rosenberg didn’t say that politics was over, just that this was some new era where the old playbook didn’t apply. But it’s sort of the same thing. The idea that politics will go away if we elect the right person is a form of utopianism that plagues the Left — and, alas, the Right.

Barack Obama entered office thinking the exact same thing (So did LBJ. So did JFK. So did FDR. So did Woodrow Wilson). As I’ve written 8 trillion times, Obama really believed that he was a post-ideological president who only cared about “what works.” This progressive understanding of pragmatism is a kind of exquisite confirmation bias. We’re not ideological, we just want to do the smartest, best thing (which just happens to line up with our undisclosed and unacknowledged ideological biases).

The problem? Politics doesn’t vanish just because you want it to. Wilson was convinced that the wisdom of the Treaty of Versailles was akin to scientific fact. It wasn’t, but let’s say that it was. His view didn’t erase the political necessity of selling it to Congress.

During the election, lots of people told me that a businessman would cut through all the politics by running the government like a business. Jared Kushner is apparently heading up the latest version of this incredibly hackneyed and ancient idea. The simple problem is that government isn’t a business (never mind that Donald Trump is not a typical businessman). The incentive structure of politics is entirely different than the incentive structure for a businessman. A CEO can walk into a meeting and explain to his employees that if they don’t hit their widget sales quota, no one will get their bonus. Politics doesn’t work like that.

Moreover, people who say “Who cares about politics” or “Politics are irrelevant” are like people who go sailing in a hurricane on the assumption that weather shouldn’t matter.

Throw Away the New Playbook

It’s fine to insist that Trump has discarded the old playbook. In many respects, he has. But throwing away the old playbook isn’t synonymous with coming up with a better one. Management and marketing consultants love buzzphrases like “throw away the old playbook,” but that doesn’t mean that every time a company follows that advice it works. It really depends on whether the new playbook is any good. Warren Buffet got rich off companies that stick to old and reliable playbooks and that follow the Burkean advice to learn from example. Yes, great entrepreneurs leap into the unknown and do new things. But lots of people leap into the unknown and land on their faces. The geniuses behind the scotch-tape store threw away the playbook.

So yeah, okay, Trump threw away the playbook. It got him elected. Kudos. How’s it been working for him lately? His approval ratings have cratered. He failed to get the Obamacare repeal-and-replace across the finish line. He’s alienated the House Freedom Caucus. His biggest defenders are melting down like Harry Mudd’s androids after being told to compute the liar’s fallacy.

FDR threw away the old playbook, too. But it worked for him (if not necessarily for the country).

Look, I didn’t think Trump was a good choice for the Republican nomination, and I worried mightily that he would do grave damage to conservatism. But I’m not interested in saying “I told you so” right now. There’s enormous work to be done and it’s still possible for Trump to succeed.

If you don’t think politics matters, keep in mind that the incentives for GOP congressmen to cooperate with Trump drops in tandem with his approval ratings. Similarly, the people who dismiss the “mainstream media” as illegitimate tend to miss the point that lots of voters don’t share their view. By all means argue that those people are wrong. But at least acknowledge that those people vote too. And that matters. Everyone who cheers Sean Hannity’s limitless defenses of everything Trump does seem not to care that they are not a majority.

The people who think that the way to help conservatism is to support everything Trump says and does simply have it wrong. If he tweets “2+2=5,” you don’t help him (or the cause or the country) by saying “He’s right!” or “This is a brilliant ploy to deconstruct the ‘alt-left’ mathematical establishment!” The best thing you can do is say “Trump is wrong and he should spend his time doing what he was elected to do.”

Trump might not listen — no really, it’s possible — but criticism (reasonable criticism, of the sort we do at National Review) at least holds out the possibility that he’ll stop tweeting indefensible things and focus on what he needs to do to have a successful presidency. But if pundits race to a TV studio to say “Trump is right! He’s always right!” (particularly when they don’t actually believe it, which is often the case), he will be encouraged to keep doing what he’s doing — because, like Obama, he tends to listen most closely to his biggest cheerleaders. Trump’s one truly great success so far was the nomination of Neil Gorsuch. Why was that a success? Because he outsourced the task to Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society and Mitch McConnell — two guys who relied on a tried-and-true playbook.

The simple fact is that new playbooks, like new ideas, are as a statistical matter more likely to be wrong than right (there are literally an infinite number of “ideas”; there is a very finite number of good, practical ideas). The essence of conservatism is to respect practices, customs, norms, and values that have survived the brutal acid of trial and error. “What is conservatism?” Lincoln asked. “Is it not the adherence to the old and tried against the new and untried?”

Sometimes, the old and tried outlive their utility and new methods take their place. But that usually only happens when enough evidence mounts that a new method is superior, and it takes time and patience to figure that out. Acolytes of Trump’s cult of personality don’t want to hear it, but the worst thing they can do is keep shouting “Let Trump be Trump!” If he’s going to succeed, Trump needs to start acting like a normal president who deals with the reality of politics.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: As I think I’ve mentioned before, the big news — at least according to Zoë — in our neighborhood is that there has been an explosion in the rabbit population. I think this is attributable to two things: a mild winter and the fact that rabbits reproduce like rabbits. They have now established a beachhead on our block. This is a huge problem because there is quite literally nothing Zoë wants to do more than chase, catch, and kill rabbits. And unlike Elmer Fudd, she is very good at it. When it comes to varmint-vengeance, Zoë adheres to Wolverine’s motto: “I’m the best there is at what I do. But what I do best isn’t very nice.”

Anyway, I have to take Zoë on leash walks in the neighborhood because, unlike the late, great Cosmo or even Pippa, she can’t be trusted not to: chase critters into traffic, dig holes in peoples’ yards in search of critters, avoid fights with other dogs, or come when called at all times. Also, the last thing I need is to pay the therapy bills of our neighbor’s kids (or my own) as they watch Zoë shake to death Mr. Fluffy. Zoë can listen, but when her blood is up, she’s like Wolverine in a berserker rage. It’s a bit different in the park, which she doesn’t consider her territory. So leash walks it is. But now because the foul, oh-so-hoppy scent of bunnies is everywhere, leash walks take an eternity. She has developed a basset-like obsession with olfactory investigation. Pippa doesn’t care so long as I keep kicking or throwing the tennis ball for her. But Zoë gets mightily pissed when Pippa gets to (harmlessly) chase a critter.

Highlights:

Can Trump get Democrats to support his initiatives?

Is the failure of Republican healthcare reform all Paul Ryan’s fault?

As mentioned, I was on Special Report on Wednesday.

Liberals react angrily to Mike Pence’s good marriage.

The new GLoP podcast is out, with special guest host and all-around monster Sonny Bunch. We discuss my complaints last week about Close Encounters of the Third Kind (even though John Podhoretz didn’t even realize it was inspired by this “news”letter.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Thursday links

And Debby’s Friday links

An instrument you can play with your mind

Fetch . . . on ice

Where to hide if a nuclear bomb goes off in your area

Woman says she crashed because she saw a sasquatch

*deep breath* Horrifying moment villagers cut open a giant python and discover their missing friend inside who had been swallowed whole after being crushed to death

Spiders could theoretically eat every human on Earth in one year

Alleged burglar pantsed by spiked fence while trying to flee, found hanging upside down

Not to be confused with this man who tried to have sex with a fence

The stray dogs of India

A library of smells

Smithsonian photo-contest finalists

Would you live in a skyscraper hanging from a rotating asteroid?

J. R. R. Tolkien reading The Lord of the Rings

Dog loves baby

Man bites dog (!)

The anger of Jack Nicholson

Silence in film

Library book returned . . . 35 years later

READ MORE:

Close Encounters with a ‘Living Constitution’

by Jonah Goldberg
The doctrine of the Living Constitution is a perfect example of how behind every double standard is an unconfessed single standard.

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 (Not including anyone who includes auto-play videos on your websites. You should have a small, hungry animal sewn into your abdomen),

I’m writing this — or at least this sentence — from the Red Flame Diner in New York City. They’re going to have to work a little harder to get that Michelin star, but the Arizona Omelet (onions, cheese, jalapenos) wasn’t half bad.

Now that’s the kind of thrilling scene-setting you’ve come to expect from this “news”letter. You’re welcome.

I’m tempted to just leave it there and call it a day given that my mood is not what you would call “good.” (Hey, what’s the emoji for metaphysical dyspepsia and spirit-grinding weltschmerz?)

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that after I ordered the Arizona Omelet, the waitress brought me a bowl of oatmeal.

I might say, “I didn’t order this.”

Waitress: “Yes you did. That’s the Arizona Omelet.”

“This is oatmeal,” I’d say. “The menu says that the Arizona Omelet has cheese and onions and jalapenos in it. It also says it’s an omelet.”

Waitress: “Well, we here at the Red Flame believe that the menu is a living, breathing document that changes with the times. Oatmeal is healthier than an omelet, and we feel that people should eat more of it. So, we only serve oatmeal, but we call it by different names.”

Now, I could have taken up a lot more of your time by making my point more gradually, describing round after round of just slightly wrong orders. That’s more like how the doctrine of the “Living Constitution” works in real life. A judge makes a small leap of interpretation that seems reasonable — say, replacing onions with shallots, which after all, are a kind of onion. Then the next judge makes another incremental hop in interpretation. And then another. And another. Until eventually the waitress brings me the head of Alfredo Garcia (not the one from the movie but Alfredo “Freddie” Garcia, the short-order cook who before his untimely death worked at the Red Flame Diner) who was infamous for his onion breath.

But the point is the same. It’s like a game of telephone.

There are some issues where I think liberals have a sincerely held, rational, and legitimate point of view that I simply disagree with. But the doctrine of the Living Constitution is not one of them. Oh, I am sure it is sometimes one or two of these things — sincere and rational or legitimate and sincere — but, ultimately, it’s never all three.

As Bill Clinton said to the intern after sitting on the couch and patting his lap, do you see what I’m getting at?

Consider Dianne Feinstein’s performance during the Gorsuch hearings in the Senate. “I firmly believe that our American Constitution is a living document, intended to evolve as our country evolves,” Feinstein said. “So, I am concerned when I hear that Judge Gorsuch is an ‘originalist’ and ‘strict constructionist.’”

Yeah, okay. But at the same time, Feinstein prattled on about how Roe v. Wade is a “super-precedent,” which I assume is a version of what Senator Arlen Specter (D., R. & I., Republic of Jackassistan) called a “super-duper precedent” — which actually sounds more intelligent when sung by Young Frankenstein.

After noting a bunch of court cases that reaffirmed Roe, Feinstein went on to make an additional point: “Importantly, the dozens of cases affirming Roe are not only about precedent, they are also about a woman’s fundamental and constitutional rights.”

I’m a bit fuzzy about what she sees as the distinction between fundamental and constitutional rights, but that doesn’t matter. Clearly her bedrock belief is that the process of constitutional evolution stopped with Roe v. Wade. One might say that instead of being a 1789 originalist, she’s an originalist of 1973.

As Bill Clinton said to the intern after sitting on the couch and patting his lap, do you see what I’m getting at?

Tampering for Me, But Not for Thee

The doctrine of the Living Constitution is a perfect example of how behind every double standard is an unconfessed single standard.

One of my longest-running peeves is how so many public bathrooms require me to touch a door handle that non-handwashers have used. But that’s not important right now. Another of my long-running gripes is how whenever Republicans propose amending the Constitution, Democrats suddenly freak out about how wrong it would be to “tamper” with the Constitution. It’s a weird position to hold when you see nothing wrong with liberal judges reading new meaning into the Constitution.

Similarly, during the Bush years, when alleged NSA wiretapping of American citizens (not named Flynn) offended Democrats, they loved to declare themselves champions of the Constitution and the Founders, quoting at the drop of a tri-cornered hat Ben Franklin’s line that “those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.”

It apparently hadn’t occurred to them that the doctrine of a Living Constitution can sanction things they don’t like, too. This itself is ironic, given that the principal author of the Living Constitution idea — Woodrow Wilson — saw no problem in prosecuting thought-crimes, jailing political dissenters, and domestic spying.

But let’s get back to Feinstein. She was also horrified that Gorsuch is a critic of the Chevron Doctrine (which gives the benefit of the doubt to bureaucrats to interpret the law as they see fit). She insisted that it must not be revisited or amended in any way. Gorsuch correctly believes that the Chevron decision gave too much power to bureaucrats to invent laws, treating legislation as living, breathing documents too.

Feinstein insisted that experts must have the power to do what they think is best, even if Congress did not grant them that power. But the question is not whether the bureaucrats are right in the opinions. The question, as Michael Gillette famously put it, is whether unelected bureaucratic agencies should be able “to define the limits of their own power.” Historically, that is a job for the legislature and, when the law is vague, judges. But under Chevron, bureaucrats are given precisely the kind of arbitrary, prerogative power the Founders saw as inimical to liberty and the rule of law. As Charles Murray put it in his book By the People:

Chevron deference augments that characteristic of prerogative power by giving regulatory bureaucrats a pass available to no private citizen and to no other government officials — including the president and cabinet officers — who function outside the regulatory state. For everyone except officials of the regulatory state, judges do not defer to anything except the text of the law in question and the body of case law accompanying it.

The unifying theme here is what has been the central premise of progressivism for the last 100 years: It’s about power (See: Progressives & Power). When the Living Constitution yields the desired ends of progressives, the Living Constitution is a vital means. When the Living Constitution is inconvenient to those ends, we must bow down to the immutable and unchanging authority of super, super-duper, and supercalifragilisticexpialidocious precedents.

You can be sure that if the mystagogues of the administrative state had a Pauline conversion to minarchist libertarianism and started interpreting statutes in the most minimalist way possible, Senator Feinstein would start pounding the table about lawless bureaucrats. If judges started invoking the Living Constitution — informed by, say, new scientific insights into fetal pain — how quickly would liberals decry the lawlessness of constitutional evolutionary theory?

Close Encounters with Crappy Fathers

Last night I took my daughter to go see Life. It doesn’t exactly break new ground in the genre of sci-fi horror movies about first encounters with aliens. And it is no spoiler to say that the movie screams from the first frame “This won’t end well.” (There’s a joke about the American Health Care Act in there somewhere).

But it sparked a fun conversation with my kid last night about alien movies. And since readers seemed to like it when I aired my grievances about King Kong (to paraphrase Clemenza, I can’t stand the way the adventurers say, “Leave the dinosaurs, take the gorilla!”), I figured I would dilate on my problems with Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

In the movie, Richard Dreyfuss is a happily married man and father of several kids. He is also one of a few dozen people exposed to some kind of mind-ray invitation to an alien rave party at Devil’s Tower. (“Come for the music and lightshow, stay for possibly decades of anal probing!”) The invitation doesn’t come via an annoying e-mail from PaperlessPost, but from a kind of mind control that turns humans into bipedal salmon, willing to risk death by anthrax just to get there. Why the aliens bothered with this when they were perfectly happy to abduct children and capture our servicemen and hold them against their will for 30 years is never explained.

Anyway, Dreyfuss leaves his family. Well, actually, his family leaves him first when they conclude that he would rather make sculptures out of mashed potatoes and garden dirt than be a productive member of society or a good father. But, even after he realizes that if he gets on the alien ship, he could be there for decades (just like the soldiers), leaving his kids to grow up fatherless, he still gets onboard the ship. Note, he did have a choice. The mother of the abducted child doesn’t join him. But Dreyfuss is the quintessential middle-age-crisis male of the me-decade and he’d rather go on his adventure and leave Terri Garr to raise his kids without even a chance for alimony.

I think it’s worth mentioning that Steven Spielberg made Close Encounters before he became a father, and that he told an interviewer in 2005 that he would not make the same movie today:

Q: Father figures are common things. . . . Mr. Spielberg, was [War of the Worlds, the subject of this interview] your idea of reversing what you did in Close Encounters with a guy who goes with the family rather than abandoning it.

Spielberg: Well, I was never really conscious of that. I know that Close Encounters certainly, because I wrote the script, was about a man whose insatiable curiosity. More than just curiosity, he developed an obsession and the kind of psychic implantation drew him away from his family and only looking back once, walked onto the mothership. Now, that was before I had kids. That was 1977. So, I wrote that blithely. Today, I would never have the guy leaving his family and go on the mothership. I would have the guy doing everything he could to protect his children, so in a sense, War of the Worlds does reflect my own maturity, you know, in my own life growing up and now having seven children.

Dreyfuss’s actions in Close Encounters have always vaguely bothered me, but it took my daughter’s outrage at his selfishness to fully appreciate it. I had to promise her at P.F. Chang’s last night that if aliens invite me to visit them, I won’t leave her.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: I don’t have much to report here. Because my mother-in-law’s funeral blew up our Spring Break plans, I decided on the fly to take my daughter up to New York to visit her other grandma and have some fun with dad. (Gotta get in some quality time just in case the mind-control ray convinces me to go discover myself in outer space.) We saw School of Rock on Broadway and did other fun stuff. But between spending last week in Alaska and this week in NYC, the point is that I haven’t spent a lot of time with the beasts.

My wife, the Fair Jessica, reports that the Dingo has been vigilant in her dingoness. And I have been posting a great number of dog pics on Twitter (not least because National Puppy Day was yesterday . . . ). Here’s Pippa as a puppy (if you have diabetes, you might not want to expose yourself to such sweetness). Here’s never before seen archival footage of Pippa as a puppy. Here’s Zoë back before we learned she was so sick (a couple days later she was in the veterinary ICU). And here’s Zoë on Monday helping me not get work done.

ICYMI . . . 

My thoughts on The Walking Dead.

For Republicans, playing defense is hard.

The ritualistic symbolism of presidential budget proposals.

I was on Morning Edition Friday, uh, morning.

I will be on Greg Gutfeld’s show this evening (which means you lazy bastards who just read this on Saturday mornings rather than subscribing to the “news”letter version will learn this too late).

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

What will happen when Betelgeuse explodes?

The graves of famous dogs

Dog, sled

How 1,600 people went missing from our public lands without a trace

College student gets bad grade, amends Constitution, gets grade changed

Snowpiercer

Don’t get too close to a neutron star

Cocktails from The Simpsons

Australian teen fights croc to impress girl

Civil War veterans do the Rebel Yell

The most unsatisfying video ever made

Gray whale creates rainbow

*Deep breath* Parrots flying high on drugs are annoying farmers by plundering poppy fields to feed their opium addiction

How to get that song out of your head

Hard Situations Mean Hard Choices

by Jonah Goldberg
Thinking through the noxious fart cloud of health-care reform.

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 (but not the people complaining about the tardiness of this “news”letter. I am four hours behind National Review World HQ in New York. Not to mention the fact that pneumatic tubes had to be carved into the permafrost),

I’m writing from sunny Fairbanks, Alaska.

That right there is a good example of a fake-but-accurate statement. It has been remarkably sunny here. It’s also been cold, existentially cold. It’s been No-one-can-hear-you-scream-in-space cold. It’s been so cold that if you lost the heat, you wouldn’t think long about whether it’s worth burning your daughter’s Fathers’ Day card or your prized comic-book collection (that your wife thinks takes up needless space in the attic because she just doesn’t get it).

But it has been sunny, which is nice, because without the good lighting, you’d never be able to catch the subtlety of the blue in your fingertips or watch bits of your soul wander out of your nostrils.

The Mess Back Home

Anyway, more about Alaska later.

I’ve been out of town during a pretty tumultuous time in Washington. If I were a political cartoonist, I’d probably be a pain in the ass. I only say that because my dad worked with hundreds of political cartoonists over his career, and he’d always say that they tended to be pains in the ass. The only political cartoonist I know first hand is Ramirez, and he seems like an exception to the rule. Then again, he’s a conservative, so he’s an exception to more than one rule.

Anyway, where was I? Oh right. If I were a political cartoonist, other than making work for proctologists who concentrated in pain relief, I’d capture the mood in Washington right now by drawing the elevator at the U.S. capital with all the relevant players standing with pained expressions and maybe one or two holding their nose.

Then — because if you’re going to imagine yourself being something you’re not, you might as well imagine that you’re really good at it (nobody daydreams about having super powers but being really lame at using them) — I’d brilliantly draw “health care” as some sort of noxious fart cloud and everybody in the elevator — Obama, Trump, Ryan, McConnell, Pelosi, Reid, Schumer, Cthulhu, etc. — saying “It wasn’t me!”

I know what you’re thinking: George Will doesn’t use the phrase “noxious fart cloud” often enough (I think the last time he did, it was in a column about the Panama Canal Treaty). But that’s his problem.

If Ryan is wrong, it could just as easily be because his plan is too ambitious, not because it’s too timid.

I agree with Ponnuru, Levin, Klein, and Podhoretz (an all-too plausible name for a kickass law firm) in their criticisms of the House bill and what it represents. But I really don’t share the outrage and shock of many of my friends on the right, particularly among Donald Trump’s most ardent fan base. The way some of them talk about the House Republicans’ American Health Care Act (AHCA), you might be led to believe that they expected Donald Trump to get to Paul Ryan’s free-market right on health care. I suppose if you took just 10 percent of the things Trump has said about health care — “get rid of the lines!” and, uh, something else — and pretended that was all he had ever said on the subject, you might be right. But the simple fact is that Trump never thought much, never mind read much, on the bedeviling complexity of the health-care system, particularly post-Obamacare passage. That’s why the president could say — sincerely! — the other week that “nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”

Many of us, including those who are now shocked, said years ago that if Obamacare passed, it would radically, and perhaps permanently, change the relationship between the individual and the state. Now, many of the same people are gobsmacked that Paul Ryan says the fix has to happen over time and in three stages. He might be wrong about that. If making incorrect predictions was green beer, we’d all be able to pee our full names in the snow with emerald letters from today until the next St. Patrick’s Day.

But if Ryan is wrong, it could just as easily be because his plan is too ambitious, not because it’s too timid. I could walk you through the problems with budget reconciliation, the math of the Senate, etc., but I won’t because that’s Yuval’s job. I could also bepop and scat about how if you nominate and elect a man of Nixonian domestic-policy instincts, you shouldn’t be stunned when he pursues Nixonian policies. Blaming Ryan for proposing a plan that could pass the requirements of the White House strikes me as more than a bit cowardly. Maybe “cowardly” is the wrong word, since the point of much of the anti-“Ryancare” rhetoric is really about defenestrating Ryan in favor of a more Bannon-pliable nationalist who can replace him.

But I actually don’t want to beat up on Trump today because:

a) I do that a lot already;

b) He’s actually been much more free-market oriented in his appointments and tax proposals than I expected (so far);

c) While I disagree with Trump ideologically, politically I find myself in the uncomfortable place of being more sympathetic to his predicament than some of his longtime boosters who have suddenly discovered the Rorschach test they’ve been staring at isn’t a window on the real world;

And, d), because I’d much rather belabor strained analogies about the most ferocious member of the weasel family (wait for it).

Hard Situations Mean Hard Choices

Again, I don’t much like the House health-care plan as proposed. But when you are in a crappy situation, you shouldn’t be too haughty about the fact that the solutions are pretty crappy too. Difficult choices are always — always — between at least two really good options (steak or lobster?) or at least two really bad ones. In the annals of human history, there are precious few examples of sane people agonizing about whether to choose a check for a million dollars (or the Stone Age equivalent) or having their soft bits eaten by a wolverine. That’s an easy choice.

Since this is a complicated point, allow me to illustrate. Say you’re handcuffed to a radiator and are told that in one hour a hungry wolverine is going to be released into your rumpus room. That’s a crappy situation because your only solution is either to wait, and then fight, the wolverine — so much kicking and yelling “No! Bad wolverine! Stop it! Don’t eat that!” — or do something very painful to get out of the handcuffs before the beast comes in.

There is one other kind of scenario where decisions are hard: When you have imperfect information. Choosing the lady or the tiger is easy when they’re behind glass doors. (“I see you, Mr. Tiger!”)

That’s the situation the GOP finds itself in. No, not literally. But it’s bad options on top of bad options multiplied by imperfect information for as far as the eye can see. Trump came into office promising everything would be easy. A lot of people chose to believe him. That was foolish. It also wasn’t Paul Ryan’s fault.

Mutants Everywhere

Maybe I have wolverines on my mind because I saw Logan this week. (I liked it, but I didn’t love it.) There’s no point in doing a full review here, but — and I can’t believe I’m saying this — I think Sonny Bunch’s take is very good.

Bunch notes that a lot of the reviews of the movie describe the world of Logan as “dystopian.” But it’s not really dystopian. It’s not perfect, sure, but, hey, look out the window; that ain’t dystopia either (unless you live in Camden, N.J.)!

I can’t believe I’m saying this — but I think Sonny Bunch’s take is very good.

What makes reviewers think it’s dystopian is that the mutants have been culled from the gene pool through some kind of “public health” campaign. No new mutant has been (naturally) born in 25 years. “Does this make the world of Logan a dystopia?” Bunch asks. “Not as we understand the term at present.” Rather, “It just makes it Denmark.”

The Danes, you see, have set out to make Down syndrome a memory in their society by weeding out the Lebensunwertes Leben (life unworthy of life). No one calls that a dystopia. Heck, Francis Fukuyama says that Denmark is the teleological Shangri-la at the end of history. Once we get there, humanity can kick off its boots and relax. We made it!

Bunch makes a good point here about Denmark and he does a good job of tweaking liberal sensibilities about their soto voce fondness for eugenics — so long as it’s the right kind of eugenics.

But if he really wanted to earn his reputation as a Level 20 (Chaotic Good) Troll, he would have taken these analogies in other directions as well.

One of the most brilliant aspects of the mutant storyline in Marvel comics (now ripped off everywhere) is its political and cultural adaptability. Mutants are Jews fleeing a Holocaust. Mutants are blacks facing bigotry and segregation. Mutants are immigrants with no rights or, again, Jews with no homeland. Some mutants are even racial supremacists who see themselves as homo superior. Heck, mutants are even guns (or gun owners). In one scene in the first X-Men movie, Senator Kelly says to a colleague:

Senator, listen. You favor gun registration, yes? Well some of these so-called children possess more than ten times the destructive force of any handgun! No I don’t see a difference. All I see are weapons in our schools.

Mutants are such malleable cultural props for several reasons. First, they tap into the modern cult of identity politics: that our political or cultural self-conception is a hardwired fact of nature, immune to assimilation or scientific refutation. Mutants are also definitionally non-conformists, and non-conformity is the new conformity. (The mutants who choose to “pass” as human are considered to be living in a state of self-denial, the second greatest sin after bigotry itself). Last, mutants are victims “just for being different,” which is a form of saintliness in our secular culture. Even the mutant supremacists claim the mantle of victimology and resentment (call them the alt-homos).

Anyway, the better and more explosive analogy isn’t to Down syndrome, which most progressives have no objection to weeding out of the garden of humanity — such cases are near the heart of abortion-as-sacrament talk. But what about homosexuality?

I understand that we’re in a confusing period where definitions are lexicological shmoos, serving the needs of the given moment. I have a hard time keeping it straight (no pun intended) whether gender, sex, and sexual orientation are choices or innate characteristics. But if the old orthodoxy holds that most gay people are simply “born that way” (which I think is true), that means homosexuality is rooted in biology and/or genetics. And that means science can get to it. I am in no way condoning that. But it will be interesting to watch when being pro-life becomes a staple of the gay Left.

I’m a big subscriber to the view that science and technology drive culture and politics far more than we appreciate and, quite often, far more than ideas (See, Thingamabobs Have Consequences. Denmark ain’t the End of History, it’s a portal to a whole new chapter of human history, and not necessarily a pretty one.

Donna Gavora, R.I.P.

I came up to Alaska this week to attend my mother-in-law’s funeral (please forgive the sudden change in topic and tone, but respect must be paid). I was always going to write something about Donna (here’s the obituary, written by my wife, the Fair Jessica), but I feel particularly compelled to because I feel so guilty about this week’s GLoP podcast.

On the podcast, John Podhoretz asked me to talk about my father-in-law, Paul. And, as anyone who knows me personally can attest, I love talking about Paul. He’s lived a larger-than-life life. He’s brilliant, curmudgeonly to the point of parody, and incredibly generous all at once. A Slovakian Horatio Alger — who looks like a member of the Ukrainian politburo circa 1974, who swam the Danube to escape the Communists, and got a degree from Milton Friedman — is easy to talk about in an entertaining way, which is what I did.

But I didn’t come to Alaska to celebrate Paul, but to remember Donna. And Donna was different. First of all, she was lovely.

But more important, perhaps more than anyone I’ve ever met, she was a person of love. I’m Jewish, and pretty secular at that. I’m also more than a bit cynical and snarky and writing about love comes as easily to me as figure skating did to Dom DeLouise. (I was delighted when my sister-in-law Carrie married an Indian-American guy from Baton Rouge. It took some of the weight off of me as the exotic son-in-law.)

Intellectually, I’ve always had at least a vague understanding of the Christian idea of “God is love.” And I always felt I had a better grasp of the Catholic relationship between faith and good works, perhaps because it lines up pretty closely with Jewish notions about repairing the world and all that. I bring this up because I’ve never seen both ideas personified more in a person than in Donna. Her whole life was defined by love and the good deeds (and hard work) that flowed from that love. Love for God. Love for the Church. Love for the community. Love for music and the students she taught it to. Love, most obviously, for her family. She gave of herself, constantly. Every time I visited, it seemed she was continually coming and going to visit the sick or the lonely, to console the grieving, to play the organ at a church service, to help with the church garden, or take the grandkids somewhere.

Single men rarely coach Little League — we do that kind of thing because our wives make us.

My most poignant memory of Donna is from 14 years ago, when my wife was pregnant with our daughter. Donna came down to Washington, planning to help take care of the new baby. But my wife ended up needing an emergency C-section (I’ll tell the story of her epidural not working another day). Very long story short: At one point, I ran back to the house to get something and found Donna, on her knees praying for Jessica and the baby. As far as I could tell, she’d been that way since I had left hours before.

Little of this should matter to most of you, but there are three points that I think are relevant for everyone.

In speeches, I often talk about the importance of family and marriage to civil society. The decline of volunteerism and social trust is, in my view, most attributable to the decline of the family in America. (As Charles Murray likes to note, single men rarely coach Little League — we do that kind of thing because our wives make us.) When I look at how much good work — better work than the state could ever do — was done by Donna, it reminds me how even the best government programs are a poor substitute for the organic work of communities. And people who want to strip religion from public life risk ripping the heart out of the kind of social solidarity they claim to crave.

Second, technically speaking, Alaska isn’t “flyover” country because it’s way past where the planes that fly over “flyover country” stop. But culturally, it is exactly the type of place that people on the coasts look down on with condescension or contempt. Alaska may arouse a bit more fascination than, say, Nebraska. Grizzly bears (and Sarah Palin) will do that. But the point remains. And when I hear people deride traditional or religious or “white” America, I often think of my wife’s family and get angry. When I hear pro-lifers denigrated as people of evil intent, I think of Donna in particular, whose pro-life views barely touched ideology but were enveloped in thick layers of love. Feel free to disagree with her position, but her motivations could not have been more decent or loving.

The last point is both terribly personal and entirely universal. In the first G-File after my brother died, I wrote:

In terms of my own internal response, the most glaring continuity between my dad’s death and my brother’s is loneliness. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got lots of company. I have lots of people who care for me more than I realized. I’m richer in friends and family than I could ever possibly expect or deserve.

But there’s a kind of loneliness that comes with death that cannot be compensated for. Tolstoy’s famous line in Anna Karenina was half right. All unhappy families are unhappy in their own way, but so are all happy ones. At least insofar as all families are ultimately unique.

Unique is a misunderstood word. Pedants like to say there’s no such thing as “very unique.” I don’t think that’s true. For instance, we say that each snowflake is unique. That’s true. No two snowflakes are alike. But that doesn’t mean that pretty much all snowflakes aren’t very similar. But, imagine if you found a snowflake that was ten feet in diameter and hot to the touch, I think it’d be fair to say it was very unique. Meanwhile, each normal snowflake has its own contours, its own one-in-a-billion-trillion characteristics, that will never be found again.

Families are similarly unique. Each has its own cultural contours and configurations. The uniqueness might be hard to discern from the outside and it certainly might seem trivial to the casual observer. Just as one platoon of Marines might look like another to a civilian or one business might seem indistinguishable from the one next door. But, we all know the reality is different. Every meaningful institution has a culture all its own. Every family has its inside jokes, its peculiar way of doing things, its habits and mores developed around a specific shared experience.

One of the things that keeps slugging me in the face is the fact that the cultural memory of our little family has been dealt a terrible blow. Sure, my mom’s around, but sons have a different memory of family life than parents. And Josh’s recall for such things was always not only better than mine, but different than mine as well. I remembered things he’d forgotten and vice versa. In what seems like the blink of an eye, whole volumes of institutional memory have simply vanished. And that is a terribly lonely thought, that no amount of company and condolence can ease or erase.

I’ve always been very jealous of my wife’s family. Not because it is “better” than mine — but because it is so large and so close. It is a whole sprawling community in its own right. At the funeral this week, it hit me quite hard that the culture of the Gavora clan will live on, not just because of love, but because of scale. They have stories that won’t be forgotten because there will always be someone around who remembers them. My oldest brother-in-law Danny delivered the eulogy (drafted by my speechwriter wife) and it was full of stories. About how Donna used to put a couple of the kids in the trunk of the car as ballast so they could get up the icy road to their house. Stories about driving 6,000 miles round-trip, with a half-dozen kids in a station wagon, to visit her family in Colorado every summer.

The Gavoras came to Fairbanks with little and they prospered because they never forgot that. My favorite story about Donna was how when my wife was a kid, she and her siblings would ask for some sugary cereal at the grocery store. Donna would say, “I’m not going to get you that, you’ll just eat it.”

Bear in mind: The Gavoras owned the grocery store.

Stories are what make a culture and a civilization. Memory is what sustains both. The Gavoras are rich in a way money can’t buy because they are swimming in memories of love, shared.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: Obviously, I don’t have much by way of first-hand accounts of the beasts, as I have been away a lot. But our spectacular dog-permabulator, Kirsten, agreed to actually dog-sit for us while we were off for the funeral and the beasts couldn’t be happier.

Kirsten is kind of like the archetypal divorced dad who only wants to be the kids’ best friend, showing up for the fun stuff. And it works. They probably love her more than us, running to her car for the midday walks without ever looking back. And they were ecstatic when Kirsten brought them home and then didn’t leave. It was like bringing Chuck E. Cheese’s to the house. Anyway, it was on her watch that the beasts finally conquered the wildlands around D.C. and became the Romulus and Remus of a new canine civilization. We shall mint coins with this image on them.

Also, as some of you may recall, Pippa started out as Donna’s dog. It should be no surprise that Donna was a passionate dog person. She would take her labs, Midnight and Maggie, on long adventures in the woods around Fairbanks. But with her health declining, she couldn’t handle the furry ball of energy that was Pippa, so we agreed to take her in. Given how the spaniel started out in our family as a persecuted minority under the rule of Zoë the Terrible, I always assumed she was bit meek around all dogs. But while I’ve been here, I’ve learned that this is not the case. She was once a mighty warrior herself. Here she is tackling a mighty beast of the north and keeping him in his place.

My Friday column overlaps a bit with the first part of this criminally long “news”letter. But it references C.S. Lewis and uses the phrase “thunderclapping but” so I think you should take a look.

My Wednesday column on apathy vs. fear, which I rather liked.

The new aforementioned Ricochet GLoP podcast.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Mouse on a plane grounds British Airways Heathrow flight

What going to Mars will do to our bodies

Each state’s most beautiful library

The states redrawn as equal population units

The year in stunning science images

Jetpack skiing

How the world’s heaviest man lost it all

Indianapolis installs tiny ramps on canal to help ducklings

Rabbit hole leads to 700-year-old secret Knights Templar cave network

Lawyer’s pants catch fire during arson trial

The men who volunteered to be poisoned by the government

Death Star trench-run cornhole set

Bulldog and iguana are friends

The man who was Godzilla

Radioactive boars lurk in Fukushima

Rhino demands belly rub

Man attempts to smuggle $164,000 of cocaine through the airport by hiding it in his pants

Bill Paxton’s best roles: a supercut

Patrick Stewart receives his foster dog

Jack Russell terrier enjoys dog-show obstacle course

Just the Facts?

by Jonah Goldberg
The real problem with the American media is that we live in an era of groupthink, populist fervor, and cultural and political panic.

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 76 percent of you who outvoted my wife!),

A long time ago, monster snakes fought tyrannosaurs in an epic contest for survival.

More recently, but still a long time ago in Jonah-years, my dad and I had a disagreement over color photography in newspapers.

But since you brought up giant snakes and dinosaurs, I’d like to invoke my right of personal privilege and complain about the forthcoming King Kong movie. Well, not the forthcoming one, because I haven’t seen it yet, but about all the previous ones.

If you know where I am going with this, feel free to skip ahead. (I don’t mean “read ahead” or “scroll down,” I mean get up out of your bathroom stall or the veal pen you call an office cubicle and go skipping for a few minutes. Get some exercise people.)

So where was I? Oh right. You brought up giant snakes and dinosaurs and said you were excited about the new King Kong movie. Then you asked me to share my longstanding complaint about King Kong movies. And since you insisted, here it goes. Why doesn’t anyone care about the dinosaurs and giant snakes in King Kong moves?

In the original King Kong (1933), as well as the 1976 and 2005 remakes, the greedy humans go to an island for their own selfish capitalistic reasons. When they get there, they encounter giant snakes, dinosaurs, etc.

Oh, and they also discover a big gorilla. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a really big gorilla. But imagine you’re sending a telegram or e-mail back to the home office:

We found a living Tyrannosaurus Rex, a brontosaurus, a whole bunch of pterodactyls, this crazy huge snake, and a large number of other dinosaurs. We also found one extraordinarily large monkey. We’re going to kill all the dinosaurs we encounter, but don’t worry, we’re definitely going to bring back the giant monkey at enormous financial and human cost. We think it’ll be good for marketing. MMMmmkay?

Or even worse, what if the intrepid explorers went to Skull Island, came back, and simply said: “We went to this crazy island and we came back with a really big gorilla” — never even mentioning all of the dinosaurs?

Which brings me to that conversation with my dad.

Just the Facts?

I remember when newspapers started running color photos on the front page. My dad, whose birthday was this week, was a man of conservative temperament, philosophy, demeanor, fashion (I never saw him wear a pair of jeans), hair (what there was of it), and pretty much everything else except perhaps humor (though his delivery wasn’t merely conservative, it was so dry Frank Herbert could set a bestselling sci-fi series in the middle of it). So, I assumed he wouldn’t like this garish change to a practice that had a long tradition of existence.

“I don’t like it,” I said, starting the conversation (obviously, I am quoting from memory; it’s a cruel fact of life that no one transcribes our conversations with our fathers).

“I’m in favor of it. They had to do it,” he replied, while putting his keys and his wallet in their assigned space on the dresser in his bedroom, the way he did every single day (again: conservative dude).

“Really? I think it looks cheap.”

“What is the point of running pictures in a newspaper?” (My dad had a gift for lecturing with questions.)

“To show something that happened,” I answered.

“What color is blood?” he asked.

“Red,” I replied, now fully sensing the trap.

“Is a color picture more realistic than a black-and-white picture?”

And there you have it. Now, I could have gone on and made some high-fallutin’ point about how some people think that black-and-white photography distills the essence of a scene better than color photography does. But I didn’t because a) I didn’t think of it, b) he would have rolled his eyes at that, and c) because I am pretty sure the commercial break for the 4:30 movie was coming to an end, and I wanted to catch the stunning conclusion to Gamera: The Giant Monster.

Anyway, my dad’s point was pretty simple. Newspapers are supposed to give customers news, and “news” is just a fancy word for “facts.” Color photographs convey more information than black-and-white ones do, so when it became technologically feasible, they had an obligation to make the switch. Now, he might have thrown some other stuff in there about how television news (in color, of course) was eating into newspapers and so they wanted to seem less antiquated. But again, Gamera.

I keep thinking of late about that conversation in light of the media’s ongoing bowel-stewing freakout over Donald Trump.

I keep thinking of late about that conversation in light of the media’s ongoing bowel-stewing freakout over Donald Trump.

Consider the latest brouhaha over Jeff Sessions. (I won’t rehash all the facts, since you, dear readers, are the most informed and savvy people in the Known Universe, except for a few of you named Todd, who are the worst.)

The crux of the controversy is Sessions’s flawed reply to Senator Al Franken (D., Still Not Funny). The Washington Post launched this frenzy by reporting that Sessions’s answer to Franken’s supposedly probing question was not entirely accurate.

But here’s the thing. In this nearly 2,000-word article, the Post apparently couldn’t find the room to include the actual question Franken asked. Instead, the authors wrote:

At his Jan. 10 Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, Sessions was asked by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) what he would do if he learned of any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of the 2016 campaign.

I am not saying that this is an indefensible paraphrase of Franken’s question. Certainly, a lot of Democrats think this gets to the heart of it. But a lot of other people think it doesn’t capture it at all.

Here’s what Franken’s asked Sessions in its entirety:

CNN has just published a story and I’m telling you this about a story that has just been published, I’m not expecting you to know whether it’s true or not, but CNN just published a story, alleging that the intelligence community provided documents to the president-elect last week that included information that quote “Russian operatives claimed to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.” These documents also allegedly say quote “there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.” Again, I’m telling you this is just coming out so, you know . . . but, if it’s true it’s obviously extremely serious. And if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russians in the course of this campaign, what will you do?

A reasonable person — a category that I think includes Jeff Sessions — can read this and believe that the crux of the question Franken is asking can be found in that last sentence: “And if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russians in the course of this campaign, what will you do?”

And it just so happens that’s the question Sessions answered.

I know this is a wild-eyed bit of speculation on my part, worthy of a French existentialist, but I’m going to stick to my guns on this assertion.

Now, as Bill Clinton said to the Shoney’s hostess who asked him to sign her boobs, stay with me. If you think this is a reasonable interpretation of what actually transpired, or even if you don’t, but you can muster the kind of open-mindedness that our heroic champions of the Fourth Estate constantly boast of possessing in greater portions than the plebes who read their newspapers, you might think that the people reporting the news would include this news (a.k.a. fact) in their news report.

Of course, you would be wrong.

By paraphrasing the question, the reporters took what was a debatable interpretation of events and made it an objective account of events — or at least that’s what they were endeavoring to do.

Personally, I think leaving out the question is akin to reporting back from Skull Island that you found a giant gorilla, but forgetting to mention the dinosaurs.

Web Traffic Is Thy God and Thou Shalt Have No Others Before Me

On Thursday, I recorded a podcast with the Federalist’s Ben Domenech. Before we got to the important stuff (e.g., sex with robots, hurling rocks from the moon, etc.), we talked for a while about the media in the age of Trump. He told me that at the Washington Post’s sparkling new headquarters they keep conservatives chained up in go-go-dancer cages suspended from the ceiling. No, wait, that was a dream. He told me that the Post has a giant screen on the wall of the newsroom that displays in real-time their web traffic. Ben noted that nearly all of the most-read stories were anti-Trump. He asked whether we can rely on the press to be objective when all the market incentives are for Trump-bashing all the time.

You’ll have to listen to the podcast to hear my full answer. But let me take a different stab at my point here. One of the great (or terrible) things about the Internet is that it allows the suits to put numbers behind everything a journalistic outfit puts out. This makes it easier for editors to substitute data for their own judgment. The same dynamic was at work with the advent of sophisticated TV ratings.

The Peoria, Ill., store sells nine sets of Wolverine superhero underoos every week while the Gary, Ind., franchise only sells three.

In the world of business, this kind of thing is a huge boon. Walmart’s revolutionary impact on retail stems in no small part from its ability to micro-slice data so they can manage their inventory in incredibly efficient ways. The Peoria, Ill., store sells nine sets of Wolverine superhero underoos every week while the Gary, Ind., franchise only sells three but it also moves a huge amount of air fresheners (because Gary smells so bad), etc.

But journalism is supposed to be different. Editors are supposed to use their judgment about what information readers should get. Sometimes, this involves a lot of eat-your-spinach reporting that isn’t exactly sensational or sexy — but is important nonetheless.

I say journalism is supposed to be different, because there has always been a gravitational pull toward pandering to the desires of the public. But the ideal was still there. And, while this runs counter to the populist spirit ensorcelling both the Left and the Right these days, let me say this is a good ideal. Don’t get me wrong, I think the media gatekeepers have frequently abused their power over the years. But to say that humans have fallen short of ideals is not an argument against ideals. A good Catholic can concede that some priests and popes have fallen short of their principles without having to condemn their principles in the process.

Ben’s question is a good one. But I don’t think the problem is the market incentives represented by the page-view and unique-visitor numbers. Those incentives have always existed. And while obsession with web-traffic statistics is a real problem (back when I ran NRO, I’d hit refresh on the traffic software like a monkey hitting the pellet dispenser in a cocaine study every few seconds), the real problem is that we are in an era of groupthink, populist fervor, and cultural and political panic.

Ideals for Thee, but Not for Me

I know I keep saying this, but behind every double standard is an unconfessed single standard. With Barack Obama, the elite media didn’t pander to page clicks by running sensational stories about the president. It served as his praetorian guard. The L.A. Times — where I am happily a columnist — still hasn’t released the Rashid Khalidi video. The New York Times refused to quote Jeremiah Wright’s inflammatory rhetoric even as it reported on the controversies about it. And when it did so, the Times invoked the ideals of responsible journalism. I could do this all day. The point — like with the Post leaving out Franken’s actual question — isn’t to say the editors didn’t have defensible arguments for their decisions, it’s simply to say that the media have a tendency to look for excuses to invoke their ideals when that will yield the kind of news that supports their ideological or partisan leanings.

Liberals have either not noticed this or dismissed this tendency for the most part, because it comports with their own ideological and partisan worldview. But conservatives have noticed. That’s why Donald Trump’s “fake news” rhetoric has such wide currency on the right.

From Normless to Gormless

This is the point I was trying to get at in my column the other week about the center not holding. To the extent that Donald Trump has damaged democratic norms (and he has), his success is attributable to the fact that elites — in journalism, but also in academia and elsewhere — have corrupted those norms to the point where a lot of people see them as convenient tools for only one side in the political and cultural wars of our age.

I got this flattering e-mail this morning about Friday’s column:

Mr. Goldberg,

I have long been a fan of yours. I appreciate the clarity of thought, and I appreciate your point of view . . . usually.

[Your] March 3rd column about Trump and his address to Congress has prompted me to write.

Factually, and from a conservative’s point of view, the article was correct.

And I know, from your columns and appearances on Fox News, that you have never been happily on the Trump train.

My issue is that there is no Democrat I’ve read who would hold anyone on their side of the aisle to the same standards we, as conservatives, hold ours. I find nothing wrong with what you wrote — but it disheartens me that what conservative analysts and pundits write or speak usually ends up as ammunition for the looney Left.

Hence my dilemma — I’m proud that we are able to be honest with ourselves, but at what cost to the Republican/conservative brand?

[Name withheld]

This gets to the heart of the dilemma.

There’s a reason why so many conservatives have become perverse acolytes of Saul Alinsky. They think the Left broke all the rules and therefore the only recourse for the Right is to play by the same tactics. The problem with this approach is that when you adopt amoral (or immoral) means, those means tend to create new ends: Winning. It’s telling how the chief defense of Trump’s behavior during the campaign was, “At least he fights!” Conservatism isn’t supposed to be just about fighting, it’s supposed to be about fighting for something. Populism is about winning for its own sake. As Huey Long said, “What’s the use of being right only to be defeated?”

At the same time, I get the Right’s frustration.

I have no great answer here. Trump is attempting to do a lot of very good things for conservatism. He’s also attempting to do some things that aren’t very conservative, and, in the process, transform the definition of conservatism. Pat Buchanan has a point in his column about Trump’s address to Congress:

Watching Republicans rise again and again to hail Trump called to mind the Frankish King Clovis who, believing his wife’s Christian God had interceded to give him victory over the Alemanni, saw his army converted by the battalions and baptized by the platoons.

One had thought the free-trade beliefs of Republicans were more deeply rooted than this.

When I saw Paul Ryan stand and applaud a massive new entitlement to state-subsidized childcare, I had to wonder what was going through his mind.

Conservatism isn’t supposed to be just about fighting, it’s supposed to be about fighting for something.

I understand that the question of how to support or criticize Trump is an extremely thorny prudential one for Republican politicians. It’s also a thorny problem for conservative writers, such as yours truly. But it’s not the same problem.

Personally, I would be much happier if the only intramural arguments we had were over trade or childcare. These are tolerable debates within conservatism. What makes things so much more difficult, and what is so much more dangerous, is that the broader culture is accelerating its animosity for objective and independent norms — the clear rules that apply to everyone. (Just look at the insane development in the rise of anti-Semitism unfolding as I type.) Bakers must bake cakes for our team! But don’t you dare force them to bake cakes for yours! Donald Trump didn’t create the deterioration, but the way he practices politics is having a centrifugal effect on the process, pulling things apart even more.

It’s sort of like what football would look like if you removed all the rules save for the requirement to get touchdowns (and, I suppose, the requirement to relinquish the ball after scoring), with the fans cheering whatever brings victory to their team. A player killed a guy? At least he fights!

Various & Sundry

Just a heads up, there will be no G-File next week as I will be away on business for AEI’s annual meeting of the Pentaveret, known colloquially as the World Forum.

Canine Update: As I may have mentioned, the dogs have me well-trained, waking me up around 5:00 a.m. rain or shine, weekend or weekday. (If I’m out of town, they don’t wake up the Fair Jessica.) Well, the missus was out of town this morning (she’s got a new job, which will require a lot of travel, more on that later). The dogs came in at 4:45, and, as per protocol, Zoë allowed me to hit the snooze button for 15 minutes (by “snooze button,” I mean her belly, which I must rub, so there’s really not a lot of snoozing involved). Zoë flipped over on her back and inched up next to me. But then, she sneezed right onto my mouth (which, fortunately, wasn’t open). Given my germaphobia, I freaked out a bit and leapt out of bed spitting, and spitting mad. Zoë meanwhile thought it was hilarious and assumed that my leaping to my feet meant that I wanted to wrestle.

I have exciting news. A while back, John Podhoretz, editor of the indispensable journal Commentary, had the brilliant idea of discarding the usual fundraiser model for egghead institutions. Instead of a normal annual dinner with a speech, he launched the annual Commentary Roasts. He convinces some fool to be the object of scorn and ridicule of his peers and betters. Past roastees have included Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, Dick Cheney et al.

Well, this year John has opted to swing big. He’s asked me to be the object of baseless and outrageous smears. I have no idea how tickets and that stuff will work (Note: As it’s a fundraiser, it will no doubt be pricey). But I am sure it will be fun, at least when I get to clear the record at the end of the evening. Mark it on your calendars: November 7, a day that will live in infamy.

So, Thursday, while watching the collective freakout over the Sessions story on Morning Joe, I dashed off this silly item for the Corner: a vignette revealing Jeff Sessions’s deep-cover Russian-mole status. I got a surprising amount of positive feedback. But some of the negative responses were kind of bizarre. A lot of liberals were furious with me for making light of this deadly serious issue. I’m used to that sort of thing. But others were just annoyed by it in a “how dare you not write like a pundit” sort of way. I used to get this kind of thing a lot more — like when Cosmo the Wonderdog interviewed foreign leaders — and I can’t quite figure out where the anger comes from. I think it might have to do with the fact that some people just don’t like to have their categories messed up.

In other self-promotional news:

I recorded a new Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast (mostly) about the Oscars.

I wasted 20 minutes of my life ranting about the gender identity of digital assistants.

I posited a theory to explain our times by dipping my toes into the world of physics.

I discussed the Jeff Sessions’s nothingburger on The Federalist Radio Hour podcast.

I wrote about Trump’s good but not spectacular speech, and what its reception means for conservatism.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Costa Rica has a giant dog sanctuary

Why is the speed of light the speed of light?

An underground Everest?

Could the blood of komodo dragons stave off the post-biotic cataclysm?

Mars needs lawyers

The Best Picture nominees measured by their areas of greatest popularity

Animals that look like they’re about to drop the hottest album ever

Our ancestors were drinking alcohol before they were human

There’s an ancient Roman road beneath an Italian McDonald’s

Sea lions are very good at volleyball

Does your name shape your face?

The monk who saves manuscripts from ISIS

Why water from different places tastes different

Scottish schoolkids give their dead goldfish a Viking funeral

Austrian man attempts to enter building with a jar of cockroaches

How your food can kill you

What too much plastic surgery can do to you

Why we (probably) can’t have flying cars (for now)

Down with the Administrative State

by Jonah Goldberg
The most interesting moment of CPAC wasn’t Trump’s speech — it was Steve Bannon’s performance.

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 all of you who send me fake e-mail saying this “news”letter isn’t perfect. Dishonest fake readers!),

I had to take a break from this “news”letter to listen to Donald Trump’s CPAC speech. Then, I had to feed the kid, who’s home sick. Then I had to . . . well, to make a long story short, I’m sitting in my car outside of Fox News in D.C. and I don’t have a lot of time left before the suits in New York start smashing my collection of National Review–themed hummels like Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours when he breaks the glasses at the cowboy bar. Charlie Cooke likes to call me on Skype and pretend to accidentally nudge one off the shelf for every 15 minutes I’m late. (“Oh dear, look at poor Russell Kirk, how shall we ever put him back together again?”)

So, I’m going to start fresh here and see how far I can get before I have to go on air.

When President Trump finally got around to talking about his agenda, I thought it was a very good — i.e., effective — speech. I disagree with all of the demonization of free trade and I thought his disparagement of his predecessors was no less shabby than when Obama said similar things. Also, I could do with less of the “blood of patriots” talk — more on all that in a moment. But if he does all the other stuff he talked about, I would be very happy.

Also, Trump delivered a good performance and it’s not shocking the crowd ate it up. One of the things the mainstream media doesn’t seem to fully appreciate is that just because Trump isn’t having a honeymoon with the press, the Democrats, or a good chunk of independent voters, that doesn’t mean he’s not having a very real honeymoon with Republicans. They want him to succeed and they want his “enemies” not just to lose, but to be humiliated (hence the popularity of Milo in some corners, and a chunk of my least friendly e-mail).

Indeed, I think there’s good reason to believe that the honeymoon is more intense precisely because Trump is under such a sustained assault. Something similar happened under George W. Bush when the Left lost its collective mind and did everything it could to undermine a wartime president. Conservatives — me included — out of a sense of both loyalty and anger rallied to Bush and had a tendency to overlook certain foibles and mistakes for the greater good. We may not be at war — at least not like we were in, say, 2005 — but the Left and the media are clearly at war with Trump. And because Trump often makes it difficult for his allies to defend him on ideologically or politically consistent terms, the attachment is often more emotional than rational. Ann Coulter titling her new book “In Trump We Trust” or, as Kellyanne Conway put it on Thursday, saying that CPAC should really be called “TPAC” (i.e., Trump-PAC) gets right to the heart of the situation. Politics on the right is increasingly about an emotional bond with the president.

Which brings me to Trump’s comments on the media and fake news. Trump said:

Remember this — and in not — in all cases. I mean, I had a story written yesterday about me in Reuters by a very honorable man. It was a very fair story.

There are some great reporters around. They’re talented, they’re honest as the day is long. They’re great.

But there are some terrible dishonest people and they do a tremendous disservice to our country and to our people. A tremendous disservice. They are very dishonest people.

You do see what he’s doing right? The guy who once literally pretended to be his own publicist hates anonymous sources? The guy who powered his way into politics by claiming “very credible sources” told him that Obama’s birth certificate was fake is upset by “fake news”?

That’s the guy who hates anonymous sources and thinks they shouldn’t be “allowed” to talk off the record? Trump says that not one of the nine sources in the Flynn story exists. But Flynn was fired anyway. Well, that’s interesting.

Trump’s White House — like all White Houses — routinely floats stories in the press on background. Will he not allow them to do that?

Now, I think the press relies on anonymous sourcing too much. And I think many of these anonymous sources have been unfair to Trump. But what Trump is doing is preemptively trying to discredit any negative press coverage, including negative polls. According to Trump, the only guy you can trust is Trump. Trump is the way. Trump is the door. In Trump you must Trust.

If you recognize that, great. And if you want to defend it as brazen — and arguably brilliant — political hardball, that’s fine too. But if you actually believe that the only source of credible information from this White House and its doings is Trump himself, then you should probably cut back on the Trump Kool-Aid.

Something similar is at work with the delightful show put on by Reince Priebus and Stephen Bannon. It is entirely possible — even likely — that reports of their seething existential animosity for one another are exaggerated. But if you watched that performance yesterday and came away believing that these two guys are ripe candidates for a buddy-cop movie then you should probably avoid watching infomercials or you’ll find your garage full of Tanzanite and ShamWows.

What struck me during the Reince-Bannon show was when they both insisted in various ways that they always knew they would win the election (not true) and that everything they are doing has been carried out with flawless precision. This is an addendum to the “In Trump We Trust” argument. The upshot here is that they want you to think that any bad news is fake news because they’ve been right about everything so far. Conservatives — far more than liberals — should understand that politicians make mistakes and never have complete mastery of the details or the facts on the ground. That is at the heart of the conservative critique of government and it does not go into remission when Republicans are in office. Blind faith in experts and politicians is unconservative no matter who is in power.

Down with the Administrative State

The most interesting thing about CPAC so far wasn’t Trump’s speech but Bannon’s performance. He removed all doubt (even before Trump’s speech, which re-confirmed it) that he is the Mikhail Suslov of this administration (Suslov was the chief ideologist of the Soviet Politburo until he died in 1982).

Deconstructing the administrative state is a kind of nightingale’s song for many intellectual conservatives.

I have been very hard on Bannon of late, but let me say that I thought he did a very good job. Charles Krauthammer is right that merely coming on stage without horns was a PR victory.

I will also say that I loved his comments about “deconstructing the administrative state” — though I do wonder what’s wrong with the term “dismantle”?

Deconstructing the administrative state is a kind of nightingale’s song for many intellectual conservatives, particularly my friends in the Claremont Institute’s orbit. It’s been great fun watching mainstream journalists, who are not fluent in these things, talk about the administrative state as if they understand what Bannon means. The “administrative state” is the term of art for the permanent bureaucracy, which has come untethered from constitutional moorings (please read Phillip Hamburger’s Is Administrative Law Unlawful?, or Charles Murray’s By the People, or my forthcoming book — which as of now has some 75 pages on this stuff). Most of the law being created in this country is now created on autopilot, written by unelected mandarins in the bowels of the government. It is the direct result of Congress’s decades-long surrender of its powers to the executive branch. The CIA is not the “deep state” — the FDA, OSHA, FCC, EPA, and countless other agencies are.

If Bannon and Trump can in fact responsibly dismantle the administrative state and return lawmaking to Congress and the courts (where appropriate), then I will be ecstatic, and I will don the MAGA hat. But that is a very big if. The bulk of that work must be done by Congress, not the presidency. And any attempt to simply move the unlawful arbitrary power of the administrative state to the political operation of the West Wing will not be a triumph for liberty, it will simply amount to replacing one form of arbitrary power with another.

The Wages of Nationalism

And that brings me to Bannon’s other Big Idea: “Economic nationalism.”

Rich Lowry and I have been going back and forth on nationalism vs. patriotism quite a bit. I’m not going to revisit all of that because it’s already gotten way too theoretical. But what I do want to say is that when nationalism gets translated into public policy, particularly economic policy, it is almost invariably an enemy of individual liberty and free markets. This should be most obvious when it comes to trade. The Trumpian case for economic nationalism is inseparable from the claim that politicians can second guess businesses about how best to allocate resources. For instance, Trump boasted today:

We have authorized the construction, one day, of the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines. (APPLAUSE)

And issued a new rule — this took place while I was getting ready to sign. I said who makes the pipes for the pipeline? Well sir, it comes from all over the world, isn’t that wonderful? I said nope, comes from the United States, or we’re not building it. (APPLAUSE)

American steel. (APPLAUSE)

Now, you may think the command to buy American steel is a great policy or that the statism implicit here is a small concession in light of the benefits it creates. It certainly seems that the applauding crowds at CPAC think that. But let’s take a moment and recognize what that applause represents: The flagship conference of the conservative movement rose to its feet to cheer protectionism and command-economy policymaking. That is a remarkable change of heart.

Bannon is desperate to launch a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure program in the name of economic nationalism. He thinks it will be as “exciting as the 1930s.”

Well, “exciting” is one word for the 1930s, but it’s not the one I would use and it’s not one that conservatives — until five minutes ago — would have used. FDR was a proud economic nationalist. The National Recovery Administration (NRA) was slathered in nationalism. It was run by Hugh Johnson, the man who ran the draft during the First World War and who tried to literally militarize the economy. Under the NRA, a dry cleaner, Jacob Maged, was sent to jail for charging a nickel under the mandated price for pressing a suit. Under the NRA, big businesses created a guild-style corporatist political economy.

Economic nationalism taken to its logical conclusion is socialism, with pit stops at corporatism, crony capitalism, and the like. When you socialize something, you nationalize it and vice versa.

Now I don’t think that Trump and Bannon want to go nearly that far. Many of their proposed tax and economic policies will help the free market. But nationalism has no inherent limiting principle. The alt-right nationalists despise the Constitution precisely because it is a check on nationalism. For the unalloyed nationalist mind, it’s us over them, now and forever — and the definitions of “us” and “them” can get dismayingly elastic. (“This is the core claim of populism,” writes Jan-Wener Muller in What is Populism, “only some of the people are really the people.”)

In their initial essay, Rich and Ramesh write:

Nationalism should be tempered by a modesty about the power of government, lest an aggrandizing state wedded to a swollen nationalism run out of control; by religion, which keeps the nation from becoming the first allegiance; and by a respect for other nations that undergirds a cooperative international order. Nationalism is a lot like self-interest. A political philosophy that denies its claims is utopian at best and tyrannical at worst, but it has to be enlightened. The first step to conservatives’ advancing such an enlightened nationalism is to acknowledge how important it is to our worldview to begin with.

Not to repeat myself, but in this telling, nationalism is a passion — one that Rich and Ramesh believe needs to be tempered by adherence to certain principles about the role of government and other enlightened understandings about society and man’s place in it. It seems to me that when that nationalist passion runs too strong, when the fever of us-over-everything lights a fire in the minds of men, the thing that Rich and Ramesh want to use to temper that passion could rightly and fairly be called “patriotism.” And therein lies all the difference.

The G-File That Was to Be

So now that I’ve gotten that out of my system. I’ll return to this regularly scheduled G-File, though I’ve had to cut some of it out for length, which will sound like a circumcision joke in a minute.

Every Friday morning, I stare at a blank screen like Homer Simpson watching Garrison Keilor: “Stupid keyboard, be more funny!”

The hardest thing about this “news”letter is the first sentence. The second hardest is the last sentence.

Once I break through the dam, though, I have a hard time stopping the flood. Indeed, the reason this logorrheic epistle runs so long is that once I get going, I have no idea how to stop. Like Bill Clinton’s attitude toward interns, I always feel like more is more.

Since you brought up Bill Clinton, let’s talk about penises.

Some of you may know that I went to an all-women’s college. I wouldn’t call myself the Rosa Parks of gender integration — I’ll leave that to the historians — but it was a heady experience. I learned more about Foucault than The Federalist Papers and got into a lot of arguments with feminists of every stripe (and there are quite a few stripes).

Back in the 1980s, one prominent wing of feminism was very big on the whole “sex is rape” thing. “No woman needs intercourse; few women escape it,” Andrea Dworkin famously argued. Some uncharitably — if not entirely inaccurately — said that this was a particularly convenient argument for Ms. Dworkin. Though I think Zardoz was more pithy: “The penis is evil”:

I bring this up because yesterday the noted scholar Chris Cuomo said that twelve-year-old girls who don’t want to see a penis in their locker room are intolerant.

One Twitter user on Thursday morning asked Cuomo to respond to a twelve-year-old girl who “doesn’t want to see a penis in the locker room.”

Cuomo called such an attitude a “problem” and wondered if she is not the issue but “her overprotective and intolerant dad.”

“Teach tolerance,” Cuomo added.

This is a classic example of having such an open mind that your brain falls out. Cuomo, I assume, believes it was wrong for Anthony Wiener to tweet pics of his man-business at young women, but he apparently thinks if you have any problem with the potential exposure of the Organ Formerly Known as Evil to even younger girls — in actual 3D space — you’re a bigot or were raised by one.

Against Nationalizing the Transgendered

Look, I’m a bit of a squish when it comes to the transgendered. Interpersonally, my belief in the importance of good manners trumps some of my ideological and scientific commitments. When I meet someone who was born a man but lives as a woman, I may have some opinions she doesn’t like but I’m going to show some common courtesy and respect her desire to be something biology says she’s not.

But where I get off the bus is on statements like this: “We must acknowledge and come to terms with the implicit cissexism in assuming that only women have abortions.”

The claim that men can get pregnant is a funny one coming from a Left that constantly insists the Right is “anti-science.” Now, it may be true that some women who decide they want to be men can get pregnant, but that’s because they are women. The idea that there are 56 different genders is not one found in science, but in smoky dorm rooms and in academic seminars where the fluorescent lighting eats away at brain cells. It is a modern form of romantic rebellion against the allegedly oppressive constraints of science and reason. The old romantics had it much easier. When the French poet Gérard de Nerval famously walked his pet lobster through the Tuileries Garden — “It does not bark and it knows the secrets of the deep” — it was easier to shock the bourgeoisie.

You know who else we should have tolerance for? Twelve-year-old girls who don’t want to see male junk in the girls’ locker room.

I firmly believe that society should have some compassion for the transgendered. And that’s true whether you take transgenderism on its own terms or if you think it’s a disorder of some kind. Cuomo is right that people should err on the side of tolerance.

But you know who else we should have tolerance for? Twelve-year-old girls who don’t want to see male junk in the girls’ locker room. We should also have tolerance for parents who do not like the idea of their daughters going into bathrooms with cross-dressers or any other grown man who insists that he has a right to use the little girls’ room. And there are, by my rough calculation, 1 million times more people who fall into these latter categories.

Hard cases make for bad law. Life deals a lot of hard cases to people. The way the Founders got around the problem of hard cases is by pushing most questions down to the most local level possible. They were wary of trying to nationalize every issue. The Trump administration was entirely right to change the federal government’s guidance on this issue. They would be wrong, in a spirit of nationalism, to declare that every school, city, and state should follow a single “right-wing” policy toward the transgendered, just as it was wrong for the Obama administration to impose a single “left-wing” standard. If some communities come to different conclusions about how to handle the question, based upon local values, limited resources, etc., so be it. Who is to say that even the Wonder Twins of policymaking — Bannon and Priebus — can know better than a local school board or city council?

Various & Sundry

There’s still time to sign up for the National Review Institute Conservative Summit (where I will no doubt be condemned in absentia). Details, here.

For those interested and in town, the great Kathryn Lopez and the somewhat suspect Ryan Anderson (I kid, I kid) are doing some important events on assisted suicide.

My take on CPAC and Milo.

The media are not the enemy, but they also aren’t objective.

Canine Update: As I am running extremely late and even more long, I’ll be brief. Longtime readers may recall that when we first introduced Pippa, the Spaniel, to Zoë the Dingo, it did not go well. Zoë was determined to kill Pippa for about two very stressful months. Pippa is a lover (mostly of tennis balls and laps) not a fighter. Zoë is a death-dealing Carolina swamp dog. They now seem to love each other. But my wife, the Fair Jessica, has a worrisome, Agatha Christie–like theory or concern. The last two times she’s taken them to Scott’s Run in Virginia (a big park), Zoë has chosen a very worrisome moment to announce a surprise wrestling session. She’s waited until they were on a very high cliff or ridge to suddenly pounce on the poor Spaniel. Pippa doesn’t mind the wrestling, normally. But Jess is concerned that this is an elaborate scheme to do-in the Spaniel while maintaining plausible deniability. “It was accident!” doesn’t work when you’ve mauled a spaniel. But, it just might get a sign off from the canine homicide unit.

What do insects do in the winter?

2017 Underwater Photography of the Year Award winners

Beware the assassin bug

Winston Churchill on extraterrestrial life

Russia’s weirdest playgrounds

A history of fake blood

A history of laser tag

Every Best Visual Effects Oscar Winner

Thoreau’s Walden . . . in video game form?

Siberian tigers hunt a drone

Federal government spent $150,000 researching the supernatural

Good news: Cats don’t cause psychosis

Why astronauts can’t get drunk in space

The President Isn’t the Hero of the American Story

by Jonah Goldberg
Does anyone seriously believe that Trump persuaded significant numbers of people at his press conference who didn’t already love him?

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

Dear Reader (Including the Dingo who cares not about your petty beauty contests),

Since most of this “news”letter is going to vex friends, let’s start with something that all right-thinking people can agree upon: If Neil deGrasse Tyson wants to continue being considered an intellectual, he should really stop talking (or at least stop tweeting).

Just before I started to pound out this dyspeptic cri de coeur of consternation, I saw this amuse-bouche of vapidity:

Now, in a reductionist kind of way, this is obviously true. When two people, two tribes, or two nations fight, they tend to have profound disagreements about who should win.

But the idea that people almost always go to war because they believe different things to be true is really quite ridiculous. Did Caesar, Alexander the Great, or Genghis Kahn have a giant war map in front of them demarking which nations agreed with them and which didn’t? “Oh, I would dearly love to conquer Gaul, will someone find out if they disagree with us on something?”

What, pray tell, do Crips and Bloods really disagree on? (Note: I have no idea if they still exist, feel free to add any other gangs: Sharks and Jets, Dead Rabbits and the Bowery Boys, the Yancy Street Gang and Ben Grimm, whatever.) The prime mover of their disagreements isn’t ideas but power, status, and, probably, the money that flows from them. They might invent grander arguments to defend their bellicosity, but those arguments are downstream of those primary motivations. Hitler believed some awful things, but he didn’t invade France because of his disagreements with the French. He invaded France because he wanted to rule it. The disagreements were secondary. David Hume said, “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” I don’t fully subscribe to this view, but I don’t think it’s entirely wrong either.

RELATED: How the Center Does Not Hold

Now Tyson is almost surely making what he believes to be a clever point about religion. And it is certainly true that there have been religious wars, some of them quite sincere. And some of them were populist justifications for wars of another motivation, proving yet again that scientific expertise doesn’t automatically transfer to other realms of study. What he seems to want to suggest, however, is that if everyone agrees on the majestic sovereignty of science, there will be no more conflict. His global empire of “Rationalia” will usher in an era of eternal peace.

Not only is that incredibly, mind-bogglingly, and incandescently absurd and extremely creepy and dangerous. It is also — wait for it — profoundly unscientific.

Canine Flatulence as Far as the Eye Can See (or Smell)

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote in this space:

I’m reminded of a scene from Don Quixote: A man walks into the center of town and gathers a crowd for the show he’s about to put on. The man picks up a dog and inserts a tube into its ass. The man then begins to inflate the canine like a balloon. The crowd watches, fascinated. The dog grows larger and rounder. Eventually, the man pulls the tube out and the air escapes loudly from the poor pooch’s rectum as it runs away.

The performer turns to the crowd and asks something like: “You think it’s easy to inflate a dog with a tube?”

That guy may be the best dog-inflator in the world. He may have tapped into something real — the need to see extreme reverse dog farting — but that doesn’t mean we should make him president.

That scene came to mind Thursday as I watched the reaction to President Trump’s press conference. My friend Mollie Hemingway captured a very widespread sentiment out there:

And I agree with her: It certainly was entertaining in parts. In other parts, not so much. But the problem is that entertainment value is one of the lowest standards one can hold a president to. It’s entertaining, apparently, to see a man stick a tube up a dog’s butt, but that doesn’t make it art. And it may be entertaining to watch a president of the United States spill out his id on national television like a torn net full of mackerel on a dock. But if that’s a standard for how to judge a presidential press conference, why didn’t we elect Charlie Sheen?

Does anyone seriously believe that Trump persuaded significant numbers of people who didn’t already love him?

I keep hearing from conservative pundits that a lot of people out in the “real world” thought this press conference was awesome. I’m sure this is true. But I wonder how many conservative pundits realize that the people who thought it was awesome are already in Trump’s amen corner (and that these are precisely the folks that conservative pundits are most likely to hear from — and depend on?). Does anyone seriously believe that Trump persuaded significant numbers of people who didn’t already love him?

I’ve written a bunch about the MacGuffinization of American politics in recent years. Ace of Spades coined the term to describe how the media covered Barack Obama. They cast him as the hero of a drama and the only goal was to see how he overcame problems. It didn’t matter if he was wrong on policy — including the Constitution — what mattered was whether he emerged victorious. “In a movie or book, ‘The MacGuffin’ is the thing the hero wants,” Ace explained. “Usually the villain wants it too, and their conflict over who will end up with The MacGuffin forms the basic spine of the story.” Further on, Ace writes:

Watching Chris Matthews interview Obama, I was struck by just how uninterested in policy questions Matthews (and his panel) were, and how almost every question seemed to be, at heart, about Obama’s emotional response to difficulties — not about policy itself, but about Obama’s Hero’s Journey in navigating the plot of President Barack Obama: The Movie. As with a MacGuffin in the movie, only the Hero’s emotional response to the MacGuffin matters.

It was the MacGuffin dynamic that first made me realize that Trump could defeat Hillary Clinton.

Now the MacGuffin thing is just a useful metaphor or analogy. But the dynamic it captures goes to the very core of humanity. While working on my book, I’ve come to believe more than ever that man is a story-telling animal and that stories are what give us meaning, direction, and passion. Hume’s point about reason being a slave to passion should be more properly understood as “reason is a slave to narrative.” But we can talk more about that later.

RELATED: The Media’s ‘Me Party’

The relevant point here is that Trump was right when he said that he didn’t divide America, it was divided when he showed up. What concerns me is that vast numbers of conservatives who lamented the MacGuffinized presidency and media of the Obama era have grabbed with both hands the MacGuffinized presidency of Donald Trump.

It is entirely true that the press served as an eager participant in the story of Obama. It is also entirely true that much of the mainstream media is playing the reverse role in the story of Trump’s presidency. And, it’s also the case that much of the conservative media is now playing the role they once decried in the MSM. The same people who rolled their eyes at every clickbait headline blaring “Watch as Jon Stewart DESTROYS” this or that Republican now cheer as Trump rails against the “Failing New York Times” or “Very Fake News.” It doesn’t matter that Trump’s arguments are as bogus, selective, or disingenuous as Stewart’s. What matters is to cheer the “butt hurt” of Chuck Todd or Jim Acosta or some other enemy.

Sean Hannity has taken to calling Chuck Todd a leader of something called “the alt-left,” a thing that is not a thing except in Hannity’s studio. (The “alt” in “alt-right” refers to a desire to replace the traditional Right with a new tribalist-nationalist Right. What “Left” is Chuck Todd trying to replace? This is weak-tea Alinskyite distraction.)

I’m reminded of that old saying, “Die a hero or live long enough to see yourself defending Chuck Todd.”

Now, that’s not entirely fair since I’ve always liked Todd, despite our fairly frequent disagreements. But you know what I mean. And I also agree with Mollie that the mainstream media has a lot to answer for when it comes to how they’ve treated conservatives and Republican presidents. I’ve written literally tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of words on this very point. And while I think Mollie is being unfair to Chuck here, I also think she misses the point.

When Donald Trump says any — and I mean any — negative coverage of him is fake, he’s making a very, very different claim than that of traditional bias. He is saying that news stories — with multiple sources from his administration, sometimes on the record — are simply fabricated. And just because the self-loving press idiotically takes the bait every time, handing him the mallet to bludgeon them with, doesn’t change the fact that the president of the United States is not only wrong, he’s lying. Yes, the New York Times gets stories wrong (News flash!), but it is not a work of fiction.

Whether he understands what he’s doing or not, Trump’s goal is to delegitimize any critical voices.

The argument one often hears from anti-anti-Trump conservatives is that they’re just holding the mainstream media accountable. Fine. Do that. But if you don’t show much interest in holding a president — who is the leader of the Republican party and maybe the conservative movement — accountable, then you’ve become an accomplice to the hero in a MacGuffinized presidency. One can see this most clearly when you hear radio- and TV-show hosts dismiss an argument by noting it comes from some alleged “Trump hater.” It’s the exact same tactic liberals used against those of us who criticized Bill Clinton. My animosity for Bill Clinton didn’t make him play football-coach-and-the-cheerleader with an intern. Likewise, my alleged feelings about Trump don’t make me wrong when I point out he’s lying when he says he won in a historic landslide or when he insists that his administration has been humming like a well-oiled machine.

Whether he understands what he’s doing or not, Trump’s goal is to delegitimize any critical voices. I think he’s motivated more by narcissism than by some evil-genius scheme, but it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is truth. We are entering a phase where everything is measured not by veracity, but by feeling: If certain facts make us feel like “our side” is losing, then those facts aren’t real. If certain fictions make the other side feel bad, then they are facts. Again, Trump didn’t create this sorry dynamic, but he is accelerating it at blistering speed. I’m less concerned about “fake news” than I am by fake opinions — by which I mean the widespread tendency to score political arguments based upon how much applause they will get from your team.

Reading Kevin Williamson’s terrific essay on President’s Day, I’m of a mind to think the presidency has always been MacGuffinized. But just because a problem has a long pedigree doesn’t mean the problem can’t get worse. I know I use this line from Orwell too much (and I’m eager to hear suggestions for substitutes), but it captures the dynamic of the moment so well: “A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks.” Collectively, we’re all getting drunk on our feelings and then failing all the more completely for it.

Beinart’s Gotcha

And that reminds me, Peter Beinart, my old sparring partner, has attempted to take National Review to the woodshed. Let me say upfront that he makes a defensible general point about anti-anti-Trumpism (a phrase I’ve been using for two years). It is a safe harbor for a lot of conservatives who don’t want to be too critical of a newly elected president who is not only popular with their readership but who is also in the infancy of his presidency and has promised an agenda they would very much like to see enacted.

I was anti-Trump throughout the primaries and in a different, but still substantial way, through the election. After Trump won, I declared myself no longer a member of “Never Trump” for the simple reason that it was a meaningless term after he won. I could be “Never New England Patriots” throughout the season and the playoffs, but once they won the Super Bowl, it would be silly to say we must take back the ring. I took a wait-and-see position because, it seemed to me, that was the only mature, patriotic, and responsible position to take. And that’s still my position (though wait-and-see doesn’t mean “stop telling the truth,” which is why I’ve both praised and criticized him). Some of my colleagues at NR are more enthusiastic about Trump, some less. But for the most part, as an editorial matter, that’s remained our position. Also, some conservatives I know — at NR and elsewhere — have taken the view that the Trump presidency will end badly but there’s no good reason to freak out now when Trump hasn’t yet earned the freak out, especially if that means we will have lost credibility when we may need it down the road.

The problem with Peter’s critique is that he’s cherry-picking various columnists to construct a narrative that doesn’t hold up.

The problem with Peter’s critique is that he’s cherry-picking various columnists to construct a narrative that doesn’t hold up. He doesn’t point to any NR editorials, and his examples come from stand-alone columns written by writers — some of whom don’t work for the magazine — who have the freedom to say what they want. If guest writer X writes that Trump is a God-King, that doesn’t mean that National Review writer Y has changed his position on anything. Moreover, Peter makes no effort to acknowledge that much of the “anti-anti-Trump” media criticism is really quite valid. Saying the election of Donald Trump is the equivalent of Pearl Harbor is ass-achingly stupid. Pointing that out may be helpful to Donald Trump, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

Lastly, the fact that National Review runs a variety of pieces reflecting different points of view on the right is not quite the damning charge Peter seems to think it is. Beinart was the editor of The New Republic for quite a long time and I know he knows that that magazine (back when it was good) often had internal disagreements that make those at NR today seem like a fight over what kind of scones to serve at a tea party. I have disagreements with some of my colleagues (last week’s “news”letter was mostly dedicated to a pretty serious one with my boss), but that strikes me as a sign of National Review’s intellectual health. What Peter and a great many of his peers in the liberal press need to understand better is that a failure to agree with them on the nature of the moment isn’t necessarily evidence of hypocrisy; it’s evidence that we are conservatives who are inclined to take our own counsel. That this should shock anyone is a mystery to me.

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Various & Sundry

Canine Update: The beasts are doing well, but we’ve gotten ourselves into a bit of a pickle. One of my wife’s favorite things to do is to feed dogs ice cream. If she could find a way to monetize the practice, she’d probably go pro. So, for a while at night, after dinner and the evening constitutional, she would give each canine a scoop of vanilla in a little dish. Pippa wisely prefers to make the experience last, licking her portion methodically. Zoë follows in the footsteps of Cooper (seen here in one of the greatest YouTube videos of all time), devouring the ice cream as quickly as possible. Once it’s gone, she seems to immediately forget that she was ever given any ice cream and looks at Pippa the way a 400-pound prison inmate looks at a white-collar criminal with a pop tart.

But that’s not the problem. The dogs now consider the ice cream to be an entitlement. And when we don’t have ice cream, they follow Jessica around the house barking and howling as if she has the power to make it materialize (which, after all, she does in their little canine brains). We’ve tried to put them on a twelve-step program, but they have no interest in earning daily chips for their ice-cream sobriety and since they believe that their higher power is an ice-cream dispenser they remain baffled.

Thanks to the YPU: On Monday night, I debated at the Yale Political Union. It was my second time and it confirmed for me that I had not dreamed how weird the first time was. Still, they were a very impressive bunch of kids for the most part. The proposition to be debated was that the “Elites should rule” — a topic I didn’t choose and wasn’t particularly interested in defending the way I was expected to.

I began by telling them that debating whether the elites should rule could be rephrased as “Should Yale students continue to get their monies’ worth from their tuitions.” I was more than a little dismayed by how many of them have so little use for democracy, the Constitution, or federalism and I was more than a bit shocked to hear two members of the Conservative party talk about the need to switch to either an unelected Catholic aristocracy or the Confucian model of the civil service. But, hey, youth.

Afterwards, the Party of the Right took me out to The Owl for liquor and cigars and that was truly a grand time. Thanks again to everyone.

ICYMI . . . 

Why Trump is probably not playing 4D chess.

Why there’s more to the Middle East conflict than the Israeli–Palestinian dispute.

How history will remember Obama’s presidency, why Tom Hardy may or may not make a good James Bond, and other observations I made on the Fifth Estate podcast.

I talk what-aboutism, Trump’s rocky early weeks, Hamilton, Oscar predictions, and more on the latest Ricochet GLoP podcast.

Why the center is weakening.

Don’t forget to sign up for the National Review Institute 2017 Ideas Summit in D.C. on March 16-17.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Valentine’s Day links

What if the Internet stopped for a day?

The evolution of Keanu Reeves

Ten actors who almost died while filming

Ten actors who took their acting too far (without dying)

*deep breath* Transgender woman, 58, who killed her sixth husband in a botched castration is arrested for threatening to shoot a judge

Just Alaska things: a moose fight in someone’s Anchorage front yard

Why you should never kiss a toad

Turning dragonflies into drones

The math of great literature (no, really)

Inside the world’s first five-star cat hotel

The Rio Olympic venues, six months later

Greek town evacuated to defuse World War II bomb

Can you identify these cities from their light signatures?

A working pipe organ made entirely from paper

Were past sightings of sea monsters actually just dying whales?

The history of bad breath

Do fictional characters “exist” in the real world?

Cronenberg Valentine’s

The weirdest animal hearts

Who owns the Moon?

The animals of the 141st Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

Puppy rescued from well in Istanbul

Never Go Full Ninth Circuit

by Jonah Goldberg
Unpacking the Ninth Circuit’s travel-ban ruling — and a rejoinder to Rich Lowry in our ongoing discussion of nationalism.

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

Dear Reader (including the manufacturers of the Bernie Sanders action figure, now with the seize-the-means-of-production Marxist grip),

One of my favorite scenes of any comedy — and it’s very un-PC — is in Tropic Thunder when Robert Downey Jr. (in blackface!) explains to Ben Stiller that you “never go full retard.” The conversation is about film roles. Well, if you haven’t seen it, watch:

Now, I don’t like the term “retard” — and I really don’t like it in political debates. We aim for something loftier here.

Still, the scene came to mind because there should be a similar rule in legal circles: “Never Go Full Ninth Circuit.” Personally, I think it sounds better in Latin: Nolite umquam ire plenus nona circuit (and if any of you Latin pedants send me an e-mail correcting my translation, I will come to your house and scatter your Dungeons and Dragons figurines off the kitchen table).

The other day I noted on Special Report that Antonin Scalia had a rubber stamp on his desk with one of his favorite phrases: “Stupid but Constitutional.” I hope that one day, a Supreme Court justice will have a stamp on his desk that says, Numquam Plenus Nona Circuit.

Anyway, I understand that the case against the Ninth Circuit can be exaggerated. Yes, the West Coast’s federal appellate court has the highest rate of cases that have been oveturned by the Supreme Court, but the vast majority of its cases don’t get appealed to the Supreme Court. Hence the qualifier “Full Ninth Circuit.” Going Full Ninth Circuit is when you claim that that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional. That’s a Simple Jack move, not a Rain Man or even a Forrest Gump move.

It’s not that any single one of their findings in the travel-ban case violates the principle of Nolite umquam ire plenus nona circuit, it’s the totality of the thing. For starters, here is what the relevant statute says:

Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.

As Ben Wittes notes:

Remarkably, in the entire opinion, the panel did not bother even to cite this statute, which forms the principal statutory basis for the executive order (see Sections 3(c), 5(c), and 5(d) of the order). That’s a pretty big omission over 29 pages, including several pages devoted to determining the government’s likelihood of success on the merits of the case.

This is like the pope changing a major part of Church doctrine without referencing the Bible or a film critic writing a book about mob movies without mentioning The Godfather.

Then there’s the claim that states have standing to challenge this executive order because they have state schools where students or faculty may be affected, thus depriving them of the ability to provide an enriching educational experience. How does this new standard work? Universities would be affected by a draft or a war, can they challenge those policies because it would affect their students? The president, I gather, can order a naval blockade around the United States. That might interrupt some U-Dub student’s planned semester at sea. Shall the commander-in-chief call to make sure he’s not interfering with anyone’s plan to take a few easy courses by day and smoke a lot of hash by night?

The fancy lawyer guys I’ve talked to think the most egregious thing in the ruling is that the judges are concerned about the “potential due process rights” of illegal aliens. This calls to mind Socrates’ famous query: “Huh?”

The executive order is only aimed at people trying to enter the country. If you are an illegal immigrant already here, it has no bearing on you. If you are an illegal immigrant trying to enter or re-enter the United States — illegally! — what are these due-process rights you’re talking about?

But I think the craziest part of the ruling is the idea that a president’s campaign statements have legal weight and could violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. This is battier than Bruce Wayne’s home office. Every cliché-spewing poli-sci major and pundit for the last 17,000 years (give or take) has noted that politicians say one thing when campaigning and another thing when in office. Even Mario Cuomo — that savant at casting banal observations as seemingly brilliant insights — said that we campaign in poetry and govern in prose (Donald Trump changed that to we campaign in limericks and govern in tweets).

Whatever you think of Trump’s original call for a Muslim ban (I think it was ludicrous) the whole point is that Trump did the right thing. He talked to his advisors and they said, “You can’t do that.” So he said, “Okay, what can we do?” And they came up with this executive order. It was shoddily done and on the merits isn’t nearly as vital to American national security as he claims. But that’s my point. He did something vastly less ambitious because the demands of governing required it. The judges responded, in effect, “We don’t care. We’re still going to punish you for it.”

David French is exactly right when he says this ruling is a Pandora’s Box. Where does this retromingent line of legal reasoning end? Barack Obama insisted he would fundamentally transform America and suggested he’d make the oceans recede. Could some judge reviewing an EPA regulation have said, “But the president said . . . ” about that? This is taking the rigorous rules of Twitter logic and putting them into law.

David French is exactly right when he says this ruling is a Pandora’s Box. Where does this retromingent line of legal reasoning end?

I firmly believe the Trump White House screwed the pooch on this thing from the get-go. By doing so, the president set in motion events that have made things even worse. The Ninth Circuit loves to preen under normal circumstances. The judges took a sloppily rolled out — but ultimately legal — executive order and used it to set potential precedents that, if left standing, will have calamitous repercussions.

If one thinks of the courts as a political institution with collective interests, the smartest thing the Ninth Circuit could have done is say something along the lines of “this is stupid but constitutional.” If they really think Trump is the monster the “resistance” Left thinks he is, they’ll need more, not less, credibility in the days to come. But, much like the mainstream media, they’ve decided that crying wolf from Day One is the preferable way to go. And that’s why they went Plenus nona circuit.

Nationalism, Again

For those who haven’t been reading NR this week, what the Hell is wrong with you?

But if you have a good excuse — e.g., the hooker handcuffed you to a towel rack in a motel, you had heart-transplant surgery, a bear ate your face, etc. — you missed a lengthy and civil badinage about the question of nationalism and its role in American life. (See, here, here, here, here, and here). I’m already running long so a lengthy recap is not in the cards. But, in brief: Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru penned an eloquent defense of nationalism qua nationalism in a cover story for the magazine. I modestly dissented, arguing that in America, nationalism is different from patriotism. I’m going to pick up where we left off below on the assumption you’re pretty much up to speed. If it’s not your cup of tea, that’s fine. I’ll see you next week (when I pretend to be the cable guy).

As Rich Lowry is my boss — or at least one of them (the perils of wearing many hats) — let me start off by saying that not only is he a powerful man, but a handsome one, too.

I should also say that I love these debates at NR, and it speaks well of him and the magazine that Rich encourages them.

And now that I’ve blown enough sunshine up his nethers to earn a solar tax credit from the Obama administration, let’s get on with it.

In their cover story Rich and Ramesh wrote:

Indeed, the vast majority of expressions of American patriotism — the flag, the national anthem, statues, shrines and coinage honoring national heroes, military parades, ceremonies for those fallen in the nation’s wars — are replicated in every other country of the world. This is all the stuff of nationalism, both abroad and here at home.

To which I responded, in part:

This is at the same time both entirely right and fundamentally misleading. It leaves out what the flag represents. It glides over the fact that the national anthem sanctifies the “land of the free.” Our shrines are to patriots who upheld very specific American ideals. Our statues of soldiers commemorate heroes who died for something very different from what other warriors have fought and died for millennia. Every one of them — immigrants included — took an oath to defend not just some soil but our Constitution and by extension the ideals of the Founding. Walk around any European hamlet or capital and you will find statues of men who fell in battle to protect their tribe from another tribe. That doesn’t necessarily diminish the nobility of their deaths or the glory of their valor, but it is quite simply a very different thing they were fighting for.

Rich responds to this by writing like an angel on a cloud (okay, now I’m really done with the up-sucking):

It is a charming characteristic of American nationalism to believe it isn’t and can’t possibly be nationalism — that is for other countries, not us. So Jonah seems to imply that other countries can’t have true patriotism because they don’t have the Declaration and our founding ideals. Their heroes honored with statues — I guess that means you, William of Orange, and you, Admiral Nelson, and you, Tadeusz Kosciuszko — were combatants in grubby wars of tribe versus tribe, as Jonah puts it. This is the equivalent of the New Yorker “View of the World from 9th Avenue” for world history, with the ideals and struggles for independence and self-government of others reduced to utter inconsequence.

Like a mail-order Ikea entertainment center, this is going to require some unpacking before we can even get started.

When Rich says, “Jonah seems to imply that other countries can’t have true patriotism because they don’t have the Declaration and our founding ideals . . . ” you should translate that as, “Rich seems to be inferring.” I have no problem conceding that patriotism exists in other countries. Americans didn’t invent the word, after all.

Let’s stipulate that patriotism means “love of country.” People all over the world love their countries. Even people who live under oppressive dictators and hate their governments will say that they love their country. Indeed, many of the greatest patriots swim against the nationalist tides in their homelands.

Love is a quadrupedal, five-toed mammal with a prehensile trunk formed of the nose and upper lip. Oh wait, sorry that’s an elephant. Love is like a movie about randy underwear models locked up in a prison run by a buxom bisexual warden. No wait that’s not it either.

I guess the point is that love, much like pornography and elephants, is hard to define, but most of us know it when we see it. But I think we can all agree that love is contextual. Love requires an object, and the nature of that object defines the nature of our love. I love my wife, my daughter, my dogs, and eating cold fried chicken over the kitchen sink — but I love all of these things in very distinct ways.

I guess the point is that love, much like pornography and elephants, is hard to define, but most of us know it when we see it.

Let me try it a different way. I have always believed that American conservatism is inseparable from American patriotism. I said “inseparable from” not “identical to.”

Since everyone’s quoting Samuel Huntington these days, I’ll do it too. Huntington observed that conservatism is a “positional ideology.” By that he meant that there are many conservatisms because conservatives in different societies seek to conserve different things. A conservative in France in, say, 1788 seeks to conserve that rich bouillabaisse of altar and throne. A conservative in England seeks to conserve the monarchy, among other things.

“Men are driven to conservatism by the shock of events,” Huntington wrote, “by the horrible feeling that a society or institution which they have approved or taken for granted and with which they have been intimately connected may suddenly cease to exist.” This is why I share Yuval Levin’s contention that, at its core, conservatism is gratitude.

To my mind, conservatism is gratitude. Conservatives tend to begin from gratitude for what is good and what works in our society and then strive to build on it, while liberals tend to begin from outrage at what is bad and broken and seek to uproot it.

This is why I had no problem saying that Barack Obama’s talk of “fundamentally transforming” America was literally unpatriotic. If patriotism is love, then wanting to fundamentally transform what you love isn’t really love. In speeches I used to tell married men, “Go home tonight and tell your wives, ‘Honey, you know I love you. I just want to fundamentally transform you.’ See how that works out for ya.” Love requires loving something as it is, not for what it might be at your hands.

Patriotism is also a positional orientation (I’m a little reluctant to call it an ideology). A patriot in England, never mind Russia or Botswana, loves different things than a patriot in the United States. It’s something of a paradox: All patriotisms are equal in that they are all subjective, but not all patriotisms are equal when measured against certain ideals.

And that makes all the difference in the world. Lowry asserts that I think other countries can’t have patriotism because they don’t love the Founding and our principles of liberty. Not at all; rather, I think American patriotism is different because America — the object of our love — is different. As Hayek noted, America is the one place where you can be a lover of liberty and a conservative because in America conservatives seek to defend the liberal principles of the Founding.

This creates another paradox. The American colonists considered themselves English subjects and inheritors of an English tradition. But they were, quite obviously, not English nationalists. Indeed, they rebelled against the crown precisely because the inherent logic of nationalism — obey the crown, do as you’re told, abide by tradition — was in their eyes a violation of more important English principles that stretched back to the Magna Carta and beyond. The Founders took the arguments of Locke, Burke et al and followed them to their logical and glorious conclusion that ended up leaving the monarchy in the dustbin of (American) history.

In the nations of the Old World, nationalism is a tribal passion or sentiment that relies (in theory) on mystic and ancient myths of a shared ancestral past. Most of the foundational writers on nationalism, like Johann Herder, argued that nation and volk were literally like an ancient family. There’s no room to go into it here in any detail (though I do at great length in my forthcoming book), but the idea that the nation is a family is a very pernicious one, conceptually ceding all manner of authorities to the state that it does not and must not have.

In America there is nationalist sentiment, to be sure, but the ‘doctrines’ of nationalism find no easy purchase here.

In America there is nationalist sentiment, to be sure, but the “doctrines” of nationalism find no easy purchase here. Werner Sombart’s famous question, “Why is there no socialism in America?” has elicited many answers, but the most agreed-upon one is that America has no feudal past. America represented a sharp break with the ancient notion that polities — nations, empires, city-states, tribes, etc. — were no different than families with an unimpeachable pater familias at the helm. We celebrated and enshrined very different notions in our national DNA, which is why Alexis de Tocqueville could observe that the American was the Englishman left alone. What makes America exceptional, what makes American patriotism and conservatism different, is that the object of our love and gratitude is different. If Rich wants to define nationalism as love of country and nothing more, that’s his right. But he would be wrong.

So when Rich tries to insinuate that I don’t think William of Orange was a patriot, he’s wrong. But his patriotism was fundamentally, philosophically, and morally different than American patriotism. And, by the way, it most certainly was tribal, if one is allowed some leeway when using the term. As he knows, England — and Europe — was cleaved in a vicious “Cold War” (historian J. P. Kenyon’s phrase) between protestants and Catholics. The Earl of Essex told the Privy Council in 1679: “The apprehension of popery makes me imagine that I see my children frying in Smithfield.” To this day you can still find Irishmen who’ll say, “I don’t care if I swing by a rope, down with King Billy and Up with the Pope!”

If you don’t want to call that tribalism, fine. But I think my point stands just fine. In America, we said goodbye to all that, and that’s made all the difference in the world.

Et Tu, Abe?

Rich is a greater student of Abraham Lincoln than I’ll ever be (“Lowry, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!”). But I’ll risk his wrath by reminding him that Lincoln understood the exceptional nature of America as much as anyone. He was dismayed by the nationalist passions that trampled upon the patriot’s commitment to law and liberty. As he said in his Lyceum address:

“I mean the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice.”

“Thus, then, by the operation of this mobocractic spirit, which all must admit, is now abroad in the land, the strongest bulwark of any Government, and particularly of those constituted like ours, may effectually be broken down and destroyed — I mean the attachment of the People. Whenever this effect shall be produced among us; whenever the vicious portion of population shall be permitted to gather in bands of hundreds and thousands, and burn churches, ravage and rob provision-stores, throw printing presses into rivers, shoot editors, and hang and burn obnoxious persons at pleasure, and with impunity; depend on it, this Government cannot last.”

Lincoln recognized that the lust of nationalism was unhealthy and destructive unless it be channeled into the proper orientation of American patriotism.

“As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor; — let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the character of his own, and his children’s liberty.”

Lincoln recognized that the lust of nationalism was unhealthy and destructive unless it be channeled into the proper orientation of American patriotism.

I should say that I agree entirely with Rich when he writes, echoing Huntington, “When you lose our nation and common culture, you’re going to lose our creed, as well.” Which is why I said that in a normal time our differences would be largely academic. My purely academic disagreement here is that talking about the burning need for more “nationalism” is not the best way to spark a recommitment to our nation and culture.

The Whitewash

And that brings me to our final disagreement. Rich is understandably perturbed by my closing paragraph:

In a normal time, I would still have the above disagreements (and a few others I left out) with Rich and Ramesh, but they would be entirely academic. But this is not a normal time, and the decision to slap a coat of paint over the term nationalism becomes difficult not to interpret as a whitewash. If the intent is to educate the president about what nationalism, rightly understood is, I wish them luck, but I won’t get my hopes up.

Rich fairly notes that his nationalism-rightly-understood project predates the current moment and his own tenure in the captain’s chair at NR. That is all fair. And if I had the chance to do it over I would rephrase that penultimate sentence to read: “But this is not a normal time, and the decision to slap a coat of paint over the term nationalism makes it somewhat more difficult to defend it against the accusation that it is a whitewash.”

Politics is about moments. We put “under God” in the Pledge in order to kick dirt on the shoes of Communists. Trent Lott said many times that America would have been better off if Strom Thurmond had been president and no one noticed or cared. And then they did. Choosing to rush to the defense of nationalism — no matter how rationally or defensibly — at a moment when mobocratic nationalism-improperly-understood is on the rise opens you up to the charge of being on the other side of the question. As I suggested in my initial response, I think that’s unfair and misguided. But it should also be expected.

Various & Sundry

First off, if you haven’t signed up for the National Review Institute Ideas Summit (March 16–17), I really think you should. It looks like it will be the best one in a very long time even though — or perhaps because! — I won’t be there. I have a family commitment I can’t get out of. I am quite dismayed about it. But if you’re interested in the prospects or plight of the conservative movement and you can make it, I don’t know why you wouldn’t go.

Canine Update: The beasts are the beasts doing their strange beastlike and beastly things. I’d fill you in on all the details, but I’m very late for an important date. We’re taking the kid to Chicago to see the road show of Hamilton for her birthday (we couldn’t afford or get tickets in NYC). So instead I will leave you with some important video of their strange goings-ons.

ICYMI . . . 

My first response to Lowry-Ponnuru on nationalism.

My take on Trump’s latest defense of Putin.

My latest take on Trump’s . . . Trumpiness.

Who’s afraid of Kellyanne Conway?

My NPR appearance Friday morning.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Can corn turn hamsters into cannibals?

The first underwater image of a diver

Your CDs may be decaying into worthlessness

The Dark Knight’s debt to Michael Mann

John Hurt recites “Jabberwocky”

An upper Midwest UFO?

Kayaker descends waterfall wearing LED lights

How many exclamation points do great writers use?

Is SMOD just a little late?

John Wick: Chapter III — Dog Wick

Polar bears want to eat your face

How to go on a quest for the Holy Grail

“The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” feat. Janky Washing Machine

Dance moves scientifically proven to be sexy

Hemingway the spy?

Are today’s Americans weaker than their predecessors?

1967 in photos

Why is the passenger seat of a car called “shotgun”?

Cows like accordions

The ‘Reasonabilists’ of Berkeley

by Jonah Goldberg
If you think free speech is assault but assault is free speech, you’re a moron of world-historical proportions.

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 any in Australia. Just FYI some of us still think you guys are great),

Longtime readers of this “news”letter might think about taking a speed-reading course. But that’s not important right now.

Some longtime readers — and a few quicker ones — might recall that one of my favorite episodes of Parks and Recreation involved a cult that worshipped an alien-beast-god known as Zorp the Surveyor, a reptilian Cthulhu rip-off. The harmless-seeming cultists, who look like the grandparents at an Osmond-family reunion, occasionally gather in a local park to greet the fiery destruction that Zorp has been prophesied to deliver. Anyway, the details, much like the House Progressive Caucus these days, really aren’t very important. The relevant bit is that when the Zorp-worshippers first formed — and briefly took over the town — they decided to call themselves “The Reasonabilists.” They figured no one would want to seem unreasonable by criticizing them.

(I know, I know: I should find another way of illustrating this point, but Rich Lowry has cut my budget for pop-culture references. I’m just lucky I don’t have to get everything at the Pop Culture Dollar Store remainder bin. Then it’d be “Lucy, you have some ’splaining to do!” and “Matlock!” references every day. Though, I should say as an aside, you can find some great stuff in there. Like that Johnny Quest episode with “Norway’s Greatest Acrobatic Dwarf!”)

Anyway, where was I? Oh right: the Reasonabilists. I bring them up because I have been in a twitchy, quick-tempered, fugue state of dyspepsia and crankery for the last couple days (“Days?” — The Couch) about the riot at Berkeley.

I don’t mean the violence or the fact that this couldn’t have gone better for Milo, a click-baiting huckster and alt-right apologist. I don’t even mean the fact that the authorities only arrested one person. Though that does vex me considerably. If you think free speech is assault but assault is free speech, you’re a moron of world-historical proportions. And if you think rioting is some charming rite of passage, you deserve to have your campus destroyed.

Anyway, what really gets my goat are coyotes. Which is why I have to keep buying new goats.

But what really ticks me off isn’t the rioting and violence. Well, I mean yeah, of course that stuff pisses me off. But we’re used to that sort of asininity from the Jacobin hordes. What has my left eyelid involuntarily flicking and my tongue clicking like psychopath when the thorazine wears off are the constant references to the “irony” of these riots at the “birthplace” of the “free-speech movement.” I can’t watch the news with glassware in my hand for fear of reflexively crushing it.

I hate to give any credence to this “triggering” nonsense, but every time I hear it, it sets me off like I’m Ron Burgundy and Veronica Corningstone has just said my hair looks stupid.

Even on Fox News people say it, and I’m all like “Fffft! Thiffft! [twitch] Wha-what . . . did you say?”

Do you want to know where the birthplace of the free-speech movement was? Well nobody knows for sure, but I have some guesses. It might have been ancient Athens. Or it might have been Jerusalem or Bethlehem. Or maybe it was London where, in 1689, the English Bill of Rights established a constitutional right to free speech for Parliament. Or maybe it was Philadelphia in 1776 or 1789.

I can make arguments for all of these places as birthplaces for the free-speech movement. You know where I can’t make that argument? Mother-[expletive deleted]ing Berkeley in 1964.

Oh sure, if you want to say that the Free Speech Movement™ was launched there, that’s fine in the same way it’s fine to say Reasonableness started in 1970s Pawnee, Ind. But the Free Speech Movement™ only had slightly more to do with free speech than Zorp-worship has to do with reasonableness.

I’m not going to wade deep into the weeds on all this, but if you want to you can read, say, Nathan Glazer’s 1965 Commentary essay “What Happened at Berkeley.”

“Those of us who watched the Free Speech Movement (FSM) daily set up its loud-speakers on the steps of the administration building to denounce the president, the chancellor, the newspapers, the Regents, the faculty, and the structure and organization of society in general and universities in particular, could only admire the public-relations skill exhibited in the choice of a name for the student movement,” Glazer wrote.

The students at Berkeley already had the right to free speech. As Glazer noted, left-wing groups regularly brought in Communists and other controversial speakers to campus. In fact, when bringing in Communists no longer seemed rebellious or controversial enough, left-wing groups brought in the West Coast leader of the Nazi party. The left-wing scamps even dressed up like Nazis and handed out fliers for the meeting at all the entrances to campus.

The students at Berkeley already had the right to free speech.

Sort of like what Bill Clinton always says about blind hookers, you just have to hand it to them; those 1960s lefties were a tougher crop than the playschool communards of today’s campuses.

Anyway, the students had free-speech rights. What they weren’t allowed to do was organize and raise money for off-campus political activity on campus. Anyone who works for a 501(c) organization or knows anything about the rules regulating politicians, charities, foundations, etc. can grasp the distinction. And if you’re freaking out about Trump’s promise to “destroy” the prohibition of churches being involved in political activity, you might get it, too.

What initially set off the protests was the administration’s decision to enforce the rule at a park on the edge of the campus, where hippies and political activists hung out, I imagine, in thick clouds of pot smoke and righteous indignation.

Anyway, you can say it was a bad policy, but the issue from the outset was never really about free speech. It was initially about the use of campus resources and, very quickly, the will-to-power of a bunch of radicals who thought that any restraints on their political agenda were inherently illegitimate. It was also a classically romantic revolt against “the system.” Mario Savio, the huckster-philosopher at the forefront of the FSM™ famously proclaimed:

There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious — makes you so sick at heart — that you can’t take part. . . . And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.

“Romanticism,” Baudelaire explained, “is precisely situated neither in choice of subject nor exact truth, but in the way of feeling.”

Feelings are what drove the Free Speech Movement™. The FSMers felt that their feelings mattered more than anyone else’s facts. They felt that any restrictions or rules that hindered their desire to express their feelings were unfair. It was the dawn of a romantic revolt in the academy where debate was dethroned and the tantrum put on an altar. It soon spread to other campuses, like Cornell where the administration literally caved to gun-wielding goons because they were too afraid to champion their own principles in the face of authentic feelings.

The easily triggered idiot-babies of today’s campus Left who squeal, “I don’t want to debate. I want to talk about my pain” or who insist that offensive speech is no different from a punch in the face are the direct descendants of the Free Speech Movement™ because it was Berkeley where the Feelings Supremacy Movement began and where it is clearly thriving today.

Vengeance Is Mine Sayeth the Democrats?

Anyway, enough with all that. I have a lot more to say about romanticism and whatnot, but we’ll save that for the book.

On a different note, I was listening to MSNBC’s Morning Joe on my drive back from the NPR studios when I heard Eugene Robinson say something interesting — Wait, wow, that might be the squishiest sentence I’ve ever written. I feel like I may have just invited a right-wing intervention.

Lowry: “Jonah, this is a safe space. It’s just that we’re worried about you.”

Williamson: “Screw that noise. <slap!> Snap out of it Goldberg!”

Anyway, Robinson was talking about how the Democrats have to fight the Gorsuch nomination hammer-and-tongs even though they know that they’ll lose. He writes in his column today:

Senate Democrats should use any and all means, including the filibuster, to block confirmation of President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. They will almost surely fail. But sometimes you have to lose a battle to win a war.

This is purely about politics. Republicans hold the presidency, majorities in the House and Senate, 33 governorships and control of the legislatures in 32 states. If the Democratic Party is going to become relevant again outside of its coastal redoubts, it has to start winning some elections — and turning the other cheek on this court fight is not the way to begin.

Now, as a matter of political analysis, I think this is defensible. I’m not sure it’s right. But that’s beside the point. What I think is funny is that Robinson — and the whole Morning Joe crowd — is arguing for futile, partisan rage and obstruction as a necessary good. It’s funny because for the last eight years Robinson and liberals like him have been complaining about the GOP’s alleged obstructionism for obstructionism’s sake almost as if it was unpatriotic. “My fear is that stasis has become a structural feature of our politics. Nothing lasts forever, but this depressing state of affairs could be with us for quite a while — and could get worse,” Robinson wrote in 2013. That same year he celebrated Harry Reid’s decision to invoke the “nuclear option.”

Way to nuke ’em, Harry.

It was time — actually, long past time — for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to invoke the “nuclear option” and ask his colleagues to change the Senate’s rules. This isn’t about partisan politics. It’s about making what has been called “the world’s greatest deliberative body” function the way the Framers of the Constitution intended.

Recently, it has barely functioned, as Republicans abused the old rules to prevent the chamber from performing its enumerated duties. There was a time when the minority party in the Senate would have been embarrassed to use such tactics in pursuit of ends that are purely political, but we seem to live in an era without shame.

The key sentence there is: “This isn’t about partisan politics.” Of course it was, and of course it is now. Robinson’s a nice guy, but he has an annoying history of “concern trolling” in which he pretends that he really wants what’s best for the GOP, which — surprise — almost invariably involves bending to the Democratic agenda.

I really can’t blame the Left for being a little unhinged right now. They thought History was on their side. They’re terrified of Trump. They’re in the minority. Blah blah blah. I get it.

But for eight years, a lot of liberals behaved a lot like the Reasonablists, claiming they were objectively concerned with gridlock and GOP obstruction — not on partisan grounds but on some high-minded principle. They even claimed their agenda wasn’t ideological, just “pragmatic” and data-driven. Suddenly, when confronted with a president with whom they profoundly disagree, they’re advocating almost the identical approach to the one they condemned as irrational and dangerous: Obstruct! Resist! Remember, they not only condemned Republicans for this approach, but insisted it was racist. I particularly like this passage from Robinson’s column:

Trump’s pick, Judge Neil Gorsuch, has the résumé required of a Supreme Court justice. But so did Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s last nominee, to whom Senate Republicans would not even extend the courtesy of a hearing, let alone a vote. . . . That, too, was purely about politics.

I’m not counseling eye-for-an-eye revenge. I’m advising Democrats to consider what course of action is most likely to improve their chances of making gains in 2018, at both the state and national levels.

I have no doubt that there’s some fine, nuanced distinction to be made between counseling “eye-for-an-eye revenge” and counseling that Democrats simply pander to the demands of base voters who hunger for eye-for-an-eye politics. I can even imagine that an electron microscope could find the very fine line between nakedly arguing that Democrats must pursue the futile politics of obstructionism and gridlock while condemning Republicans for doing the same thing.

But it gets worse than that. The Tea Parties, liberals slanderously insisted, were not only racist but dangerous and fascistic. Now, the same liberals desperately want their own tea party? Um okay, good luck squaring that circle. But while the Tea Parties talked about the Constitution and picked up the trash after their own rallies, the embryonic left-wing Tea Party movement cavalierly uses violence and violent rhetoric. It even talks about military coups and fantasizes about blowing up the White House.

By all means, opinion journalists such as Eugene Robinson are allowed to be partisans. But it would be nice if more of them admitted that is what they are.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: Not too much to report. The Dingo continues to be exceptionally difficult these days. She’s been a lot like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, though the analogy kind of falls apart when you consider that our house really isn’t like a Nazi POW camp and Steve McQueen wanted to do more than just lie down on the grass outside the camp and wait for distaff dogs, rambunctious rabbits, savory squirrels, or fascinating foxes to go by.

We wouldn’t care much if she could be a good girl. We used to let the late, great Cosmo the Wonderdog sleep unsupervised on the landing outside our front door for hours on end. He liked to survey all that went by and occasionally saunter down to the street to demand affection from a human or to see the papers of a passing dog (this is a euphemism for butt-sniffing, of course). But Cosmo was one of the greatest and most responsible dogs that ever lived. The Dingo can’t be trusted not to get in fights, dig up lawns, or kill various critters. She’s not hostile to humans at all (though, for some reason, she does think little girls are fascinating and likes to get in her puppy-play stance and bark at them “Frolic with me!”) but she just can’t be trusted to be left unsupervised.

As for Pippa, she still only has two basic modes: ball-chasing fanatic and comatose pile of boneless spaniel. If any Hollywood producers need a spaniel that can seem dead on camera, Pippa might be your girl. Wait for her to fall asleep and you can carry her around like a furry Ziploc bag full of Jell-O.

Feline Query: So, the Fair Jessica and my daughter just got back from the vet with my wife’s cat and the good cat. Apparently, the good cat, Gracie, is too fat. On the one hand, this kind of bothers me. Gracie can leap straight up to a counter that is three or four times her body length away. If I could, from a standing start, jump up to a first- or second-floor window, you wouldn’t be all like, “Man, you need to get in shape.” On the other hand, there’s no denying that Gracetofur (as we call her) is looking increasingly Rubenesque. Does anyone have any guidance for a good way to help a cat lose a few pounds? Specifically, in a two-cat household?

Here’s some of the stuff I did this week:

Is Trump taking the Bannon way?

My thoughts on Neil Gorsuch.

My thoughts on Neil Gorsuch’s nomination fight.

My Groundhog Day essay, now twelve years old.

My Groundhog Day essay, now twelve years old.

My Groundhog Day essay, now twelve years old.

I went on Fox News to tell UC-Berkeley that it should be ashamed of itself.

I went on NPR to talk about the torrent of leaks coming from the Trump White House.

Oh and since I’m self-promoting, here’s a flattering write-up of my speech down in Florida this week. (Note: the part about me being “hot” was not an aesthetic judgment but a polite way of saying that I was sweating like Bill Clinton in a confessional.)

And, since I’m recycling old pieces. I had a very cool compliment this week. Several people at my cigar shop told me that the reason they go there is because of this piece I wrote several years ago. I don’t know why they waited so long to tell me. But I’m glad they did.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

How do bees survive the winter?

The woman who walked from New York to Alaska

How hard is asteroid mining?

Corgi models propeller hat

Dogs prefer reggae, soft rock

The secret history of the first cat in space

Why didn’t the thief-catching net catch on?

Tech-savvy writer scams a tech-support scammer

John Hurt: An (incomplete) retrospective

Words in other languages with no single English equivalent

The nuclear bunkers designed for luxury living

Nature is scary: Lion edition

Puppy reunited with long-lost toy

Why frogs’ tongues are so sticky

Feral bunnies are taking over Las Vegas

Nation’s bacon reserve hits 50-year low

Why children ask “why?”

Every day in Groundhog Day

How hard is it to fake insanity?

Maybe the ghosts haunting these abandoned psychiatric hospitals can help you

Week One

by Jonah Goldberg
Yes, the mainstream press is hypocritical — but that doesn’t mean conservatives should lower themselves to that standard.

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 I mean that no matter how large a crowd you’d form on the National Mall),

I’m on a plane flying to Seattle — at least I hope that’s where this plane is heading. Unfortunately, I seemed to have packed the working part of my brain in my checked luggage. When I told the TSA guy that I needed to get my rational homunculus out of my checked bag, he looked at his melting watch face and said, “There’s no time because time is an illusion,” and then suddenly sank into a pool of water lilies.

Suffice it to say, it’s a discomfiting way to begin a flight, never mind a “news”letter or colonoscopy.

Fortunately, this state of affairs seems to perfectly suit the state of affairs we’re all in (come to think of it, Bill Clinton would make a great governor of the State of Affairs, but that’s a subject for another time).

Week One

Whether you are ecstatic with the first week of the Trump presidency or whether you keep looking out the window to see if the rivers have turned to blood, or even if you’re some aging slattern ranting about “blowing up” the White House (I checked several times: Madonna did in fact say “up” — I was surprised, too), it seems everyone can agree the new normal is pretty different than the old one.

Like a sack full of six plastic eggs of glow-in-the-dark silly putty, a half-eaten tuna-fish sandwich, 42 standard-issue playing cards, a six pack of Jolt Cola, $1,000 dollars in gold bullion, a mint condition Tito Puente basement tape, a modified Speak-and-Spell that can broadcast to outer space, and the head of Alfredo Garcia, Trump’s first week was something of a mixed bag. Some of the executive orders were fantastic, some were good, and pretty much all were defensible given that he campaigned on them.

Hypocrisy Über Alles

I don’t have much time for the charge of Republican hypocrisy for supporting these executive actions. Charlie Cooke laid out the why in detail, but you can think of the argument this way: If Trump exceeds his authority and suspends habeas corpus, it will not be hypocritical for opponents of the move to celebrate the next president revoking that executive order.

Then again, if hypocrisy were helium we’d all have funny voices and some folks would just float away.

I agree with pretty much all of the right-wing criticism of the mainstream media these days, or at least the intelligent stuff, of which there has been plenty. What the MSM still fails to appreciate is the degree to which they’ve spent the last 40 years — at least — presenting news as unbiased and objective when it was in fact coated with, saturated in, and bent by all manner of confirmation biases, self-serving narratives, assumptions, and ideological priorities that leaned left. No, it wasn’t all “fake news” (man, am I exhausted by the ridiculous misuse of that term), at least not most of the time [insert outrage over Duranty’s Pulitzer, Janet Cooke’s and Steve Glass’s fabulations, and of course that time Dan Rather climbed the jackass tree only to hurl himself down, hitting every branch].

Journalists live in a social milieu where the borders between the Democratic party, liberal activism, and liberal experts are very, very fuzzy.

I would even go so far as to argue that most of the time liberal bias isn’t even deliberate. Maybe because I’ve been reading so much public-choice theory and psychology stuff of late, I tend to credit conspiracy theories less and groupthink more for the wayward state of the mainstream media (though Mark Hemingway makes a good point about Plowshares’ sub rosa complicity in pushing the Iran deal). Still, the more you get to know elite “objective” journalists, the more you can appreciate that they are trying to do it right. But it also becomes all the more obvious that they live in a social milieu where the borders between the Democratic party, liberal activism, and liberal experts are very, very fuzzy.

For instance, last week I wrote about that ridiculous article in the Washington Post accusing David Gelernter of being “anti-intellectual.” Much of the Post’s “reporting” hinged on a lengthy, catty quote from a member of the Union of Concern Scientists. As I noted, the Union of Concerned Scientists has always been a political operation. It’s a classic example of an outfit that liberal journalists invest with non-partisan authority so they can pass off partisan views as “science” or some other objective expertise.

In 1985, the editors of National Review wrote:

The Union of Concerned Scientists, except for the publicity it commands, can be dismissed. It has been a scandal for years — a letterhead with a few distinguished names acting as shills for a membership of left-wing laymen (anyone can be a Concerned Scientist, just by paying the membership fee).

Countless activists-in-experts-clothing organizations run on some variant of this model, from the Women’s Sports Foundation to the National Resources Defense Council.

Reporters routinely call experts they already agree with knowing that their “takes” will line up with what the reporter believes. Sometimes this is lazy or deadline-driven hackery. But more often, it’s not. And that shouldn’t surprise us. Smart liberal reporters are probably inclined to think that smart liberal experts are right when they say things the smart liberal reporters already agree with.

For these and similar reasons, liberal ideas and interpretations of the facts sail through while inconvenient facts and conservative interpretations send up ideological red flags. Think of editors like security guards at a military base. They tend to wave through the people they know and the folks with right ID badges. But when a stranger shows up, or if someone lacks the right credential, then the guards feel like they have to do their job. This is the basic modus operandi for places like Vox, which seek to explain not the facts or the news, but why liberals are right about the facts and the news.

For instance, The Atlantic, which I think is mostly a great magazine, recently ran a ridiculous article about abortion. The gist is that ultrasound technology has been used to “push” the false notion that fetuses are, you know, humans (apparently they’re Tonka Trucks).

The Atlantic had to issue a series of very embarrassing corrections to this very embarrassing article.

It is inconceivable to me that even if The Atlantic were willing to run a similar pro-life article, that it would have let anything like these errors through. The editorial guards would have brought out those giant dental-mirror things and studied the undercarriage of every sentence, for the simple reason that liberal journalists tend to discover their journalistic skepticism when they hear or see things that clash with their worldview, and they tend to leave their guard down when they hear or see stuff that confirms it.

And you know what, the same thing is true for conservative journalists, because it’s true of people (I’d offer the relevant quotes from Haidt or Daniel Kahneman, but my Kindle e-reader thing isn’t playing nice with the plane’s WiFi). The distinction is that there aren’t a great number of conservative journalists, certainly not in print, who don’t openly admit their biases to the reader. There are literally thousands of mainstream journalists, editors, and producers who insist that they are objective — and who actually believe it. And that leaves out the fact that liberalism is besotted with the idea that liberals aren’t ideological at all in the first place, which makes it even harder for them to recognize their ideological biases. And, then, when everyone they know, including all the right “experts,” are in a total bowel-stewing meltdown over the Trump presidency, it is very difficult for them to find perspective and balance. “Donald Trump puts salt on his French Fries just like Napoleon!”

So, I get why so many of my friends on the right are freaking out about the double standard being applied to Trump. It is an entirely legitimate complaint. But it is also incredibly insufficient and, at times, dangerous. Every day I see conservatives on Twitter and TV denouncing, say, the New York Times for calling Trump a liar because the Times didn’t say the same thing about Clinton or Obama. Fine! Great point. It’s a double standard. Who among us can contain our shock that the MSM is tougher on Republicans?

But it doesn’t mean it’s not true about Trump! The media’s double standard doesn’t absolve Trump of lying, does it? O.J. Simpson literally got away with murder. Is it unfair to other murderers if we don’t let them get away with it, too? Actually, I’m sure it would feel unfair to other murderers, but that’s not an argument for repealing laws against murder.

And that brings me to the danger here. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but our president has a persecution complex. He thinks any inconvenient but truthful coverage of him is an unfair criticism and any unfair criticism is a lie. What makes this complicated is that sometimes Trump is right. Some of the coverage has been ridiculous and desperate nonsense, as Mollie Hemingway ably chronicles. And some of the coverage has been merely accurate-but-hypocritical. Howard Kurtz ran through a list last night on Special Report. When Bill Clinton lied, it was called “misleading” or “less than candid” but when Trump lies, it’s a “Lie!” in the headline. (One can make the argument — as I have — that many of Trump’s lies are less offensive because he just glandularly blurts them out, while Bill Clinton lied like an artisan whittling a ballerina out of a block of wood, with loving, expert attention to every detail.)

Trump thinks any inconvenient but truthful coverage of him is an unfair criticism and any unfair criticism is a lie.

But you know what? When I say Trump is lying about something, I’m not guilty of any double standard. I called Bill Clinton and Barack Obama liars all the time. You know why? Because they lied all the time. And yet every day, if I criticize Trump about anything, the cultists scream at me some version of “Oh yeah! Why weren’t you this critical of Obama?” or “What about Bill Clinton!?” It’s like they don’t know who they’re talking to. If Trump plays Baron-and-the-Milkmaid with an intern, I will make a big deal out of it and so will the New York Times. Their hypocrisy will not apply to me.

When conservatives — I’m not referring to Republican political hacks, that’s their job; I’m referring to actual conservative writers — go out and respond to the negative coverage solely by attacking the MSM messengers, they are in effect condoning — or at least providing cover for — Trump’s behavior and feeding the idea that he’s a victim whenever anyone does anything other than applaud. Steve Bannon wants to demonize and delegitimize the mainstream media. Given his record at Breitbart, that’s some odd casting for Champion of Journalistic Integrity, but whatever. That’s his fight, and shame on the mainstream media for making his job so easy.

But what should conservatives do? Exactly what most of us have been doing.

I keep hearing from Trumpistas that I’m biased and that my criticisms of Trump can therefore be dismissed. Oddly, they never say that when I praise him, often in the same television appearance or column. Meanwhile I keep hearing from Trump critics on the left and right, that I — or National Review (and the Weekly Standard et al) — must join the liberal freakout over Trump, as if “Never Trump” meant disregarding a legitimate election (Hint: It didn’t).

I think that’s all nonsense. Indeed, I think this is something of a golden opportunity for quality conservative journalism. Based on what has transpired so far, much of the mainstream media can’t be trusted to respond proportionately or accurately to Trump. And, based on what has transpired so far, neither can big swaths of the entertainment wing of the right-wing media. They will, Pravda-like, announce that each new Trumpian wheat harvest has exceeded all expectations, for quite a while it seems.

But if you actually watch the news side of Fox News, or read National Review, the Weekly Standard, Commentary (not to mention the more responsible conservative websites: The Federalist, Hot Air, etc.), you’ll find that we tend not to be swept up in the hysteria of the Left or the Right. There’s a diversity of writers and opinions to be sure, but on the whole we have praised some of what Trump has done and criticized other things. Fox reports inconvenient facts for the Democrats and inconvenient facts for the Trump administration. It’s not always easy to draw the lines — again, mixed bags and all — but so far I’m proud of the way most of my colleagues and peers have handled all of this weirdness.

What I would hate to see, however, is conservatives getting seduced into arguing that the standards we championed under Democratic presidents weren’t really our standards after all. That’s my problem with the right-wing obsession with MSM hypocrisy. By itself, it’s correct but inadequate — because it basically amounts to anti-anti-Trumpism and nothing more. There’s been way, way too much of that already in the era of Trump — and we’re only a week into his presidency.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: Well, let’s see. Pippa successfully pinned the Dingo last night (never before recorded on video). I suspect that Zoë let her, given how she pulls her punches with the Spaniel. Still, Pippa’s self-esteem needed the boost.

On the advice of readers, we gave both stinky dogs a vigorous tomato-juice bath. The result: a reduction by 90 percent in stygian stinkiness! Unfortunately, I wasn’t home to take pictures, and as the Fair Jessica somewhat acerbically pointed out to me when I said she should have, she couldn’t get it on video because if she had let go of the Dingo for even a moment, Zoë would have escaped the tub — and a tomato-juice-saturated Dingo is not something you want to get out of the containment area.

All right I gotta go. I hope to see some of you at the Roanoke Conference this weekend.

ICYMI . . . 

My reaction to Donald Trump’s Inaugural Address last week, written after the G-File came out.

My first (of probably many) attempted Kremlinologies of the Trump White House.

Did Melissa Harris-Perry already forget that Obama was president for eight years?

What Trump means when he says “America First.”

Mel Gibson, Trump vs. the media, Oscar reactions, and more in the latest Ricochet GLoP podcast.

Build the Wall, but Mexico doesn’t have to pay.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Firefighters rescue piglets in Russia

When a horseback cavalry captured a naval fleet

When U.S. hostages gave their North Korean captors the bird

When Americans get to work

The economics of a hit TV show

Are cats and dogs equally intelligent?

Are dogs taking over the Internet from cats?

Dogs help unload groceries

More than 100 puppies rescued from crashed van in New York

Dogs mushing

The lost art of the screensaver

The history of the umbrella gun

A 1927 map of gangland Chicago

What it’s like to live like an astronaut

What’s the speed of dark?

Let’s hope our children didn’t watch the Women’s March

The man convinced that strangers were his crush in disguise

A sunset so beautiful it almost doesn’t seem real

Australian zoo wants public’s help collecting one of the world’s deadliest spiders

Great movie special effects that aren’t CGI

Parasite inception

College students accidentally given 30 grams of caffeine for an experiment instead of 0.3 grams

The Unwisdom of Crowds

by Jonah Goldberg
The heroic unit in the American political tradition is the individual, not the mob.

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.

Treasured Peruser (including those who will brook no innovations in the “Dear Reader” gag),

I am writing this before Donald Trump’s inaugural address, which is a weird thing to write. I expect I’ll have reactions to the address itself up in the Corner.

I didn’t go down to the Mall today, but it’s not because I was “boycotting” Trump. A team of scientists could harvest the DNA of Abe Lincoln, Calvin Coolidge, Ronald Reagan, Phil Gramm, William F. Buckley, Winston Churchill, and Rowdy Roddy Piper and create some sort of super president with laser vision and a Kung Fu grip and I still wouldn’t want to go down to the Mall, get bumped by other people, and stand in the cold for hours only to hear a speech in the rain.

There’s something that people don’t know about me — and they never will because I never used my real name and then I burned that motel down to the ground.

But there’s something else people don’t know about me. I’m not a big fan of enthusiasm, particularly among large numbers of people. When large numbers of people get really into something, I tend to go the opposite direction.

I guess the one place it doesn’t bother me is sports. As you know, I’m not a big sports guy, but I am a guy and I get the appeal of going all in for your squad out on the diamond and shouting, “Acquire more points!”

But beyond that, I’ve never much liked events where spectators get too into anything. I like music, but I find concerts where everyone is all agog vaguely creepy. I sometimes feel like everyone else has been hypnotized and I’m expected to play along. Or sort of like I’m the only stoned one in the crowd (when it’s actually closer to the other way around). I don’t mean this as a smug thing. I wish I could get more into things like that. It certainly looks fun and, back in the day, the chicks seemed to dig it.

SLIDESHOW: Donald Trump Inauguration

I think the fact that I’m a “don’t just do something, sit there” type of guy informs a lot of my politics. It’s certainly a huge part of why I’ve never liked youth politics and think so little of young people who take so much pride in being young: a) You didn’t do anything, everyone who has ever lived past, say, 21 accomplished “being young,” too; b) there is no ideological content to youth politics; c) if the best thing you’ve got going for you is that you can boast you were born later than other people, you’ve really got nothing going for you; d) shut up kid, you’re bothering me; e) Grumble!; and f) Harrumph!

The Unwisdom of Crowds

But the realm where crowds and enthusiasm bother me the most is politics. The cult-like adoration for Obama made me feel vaguely unsafe, like when someone a bit too chatty opts for the urinal next to yours after walking past ten empty ones. Okay, that’s not exactly the right analogy, but that makes me feel unsafe, too.

And so did stuff like this:

Look, I like kids. But crap like that makes me want to run through the room in a bloody clown suit while revving up a chain saw. (Don’t worry: Even in my darkest thoughts I wouldn’t hurt anyone — but I would like to see them scurry.)

Similarly, I am a big fan of volunteerism so most of this is harmless even if it makes me uncomfortable.

But when Demi Moore ends this thing by pledging to be a “servant of our president” it makes me want to peel off my face like the plastic film on the screen of a new iPhone. (Though I do think it would be fun to make Charlie Cooke watch it using the Ludovico technique just to see how long it took before he turned green, grew out of his restraints, and started shouting in that fake accent of his, “British Hulk shall smash neo-feudalism in my new country!”)

I bring this up for several reasons. First, because I couldn’t think of anything else to write about this morning. Second, because I think it’s a relevant point lost on some Trump fans. Even if he were my first choice in the primaries, I would never have gone all in with the MAGA hysteria. And that’s not just because I have ideological problems with Trump’s nationalism. If Jeb had been my first choice (he wasn’t), I still wouldn’t have been out there waving my big foam finger, shouting “Jeb’s No. 1!” and putting mayo on everything. If George Pataki were my first choice, I’d sue my dentist for accidentally lobotomizing me with his drill because that’s the only scenario where I could see that happening. In short, Trump could be Calvin Coolidge (re)incarnate, and I still wouldn’t wear flair because I don’t do flair.

The Politics of Transcendence

I guess my point is that I don’t like crowds. I don’t trust them. Good things rarely come from them. Not all crowds are mobs, but all mobs start as crowds, and I’m a little allergic to the vibrations within in them. The heroic unit in the American political tradition is the individual, not the mob. The crowd is what makes the cult of personality a thing. Without the crowd, it’s just a person.

I ran across this quote recently from the pastor and author Eugene Peterson.

Classically, there are three ways in which humans try to find transcendence — religious meaning — apart from God as revealed through the cross of Jesus: through the ecstasy of alcohol and drugs, through the ecstasy of recreational sex, through the ecstasy of crowds. Church leaders frequently warn against the drugs and the sex, but at least, in America, almost never against the crowds.

I think this is a fantastic insight. That feeling I don’t like at concerts is, I think, related to this quest for transcendence by the crowd. I didn’t like it in Obama’s new-age revivalism and I didn’t like it in Trump’s old-timey revivalism.

The old cliché about how politicians campaign in poetry but govern in prose gets at the same point.

Now you can disagree with me about crowds and you can think Peterson is all wet. That’s fine. But there’s an important political point here. Elias Canetti notes in his book Crowds and Power that inside the crowd, “distinctions are thrown off and all become equal. It is for the sake of this blessed moment, when no one is greater or better than another, that people become a crowd.”

“But,” Canetti adds, “the crowd, as such, disintegrates. It has a presentiment of this and fears it. . . . Only the growth of the crowd prevents those who belong to it from creeping back under their private burdens.”

In other words, bubbles pop. The sort of aesthetic or transcendent enthusiasm of the crowd is by definition unsustainable. The concert must end, the rally must stop. The old cliché about how politicians campaign in poetry but govern in prose gets at the same point. Barack Obama nearly destroyed the Democratic party by thinking he could translate the transcendence of the crowd into a governing style. Donald Trump would do well to learn from Obama’s mistake.

Waiting for Calvin

Speaking of Calvin Coolidge, he’s been on my mind ever since Amity Shlaes pointed out on Twitter that Coolidge’s “inaugural” remark upon learning he inherited the presidency was, “I believe I can swing it.”

Coolidge wasn’t my jelly, he was my jam as some annoying person might say. Longtime readers of the G-File might recall some of my favorite Coolidge lines. When asked to summarize the record of his administration, Coolidge replied, “Perhaps one of the most important accomplishments of my administration has been minding my own business.” The point wasn’t that he was lazy, the point was that it takes work to stop government from doing stupid things. “It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones,” he once remarked.

When Coolidge said, “When you see ten problems rolling down the road, if you don’t do anything, nine of them will roll into a ditch before they get to you.” Again, the point wasn’t laziness, it was confidence in the ability of society — a.k.a. the people — to figure things out for themselves. For every ten big problems our society faces, nine of them aren’t the government’s problem. Liberals think not only that all ten are the government’s problem, but that ten is an insanely low tally of the big problems the government is supposed to be dealing with. And fewer and fewer conservatives would endorse the Coolidge Ratio.

I’m increasingly convinced we’ll never have another one like him. My point isn’t that we don’t produce people like Coolidge anymore — though that’s more than a little true, too. It’s not that a Coolidge couldn’t get elected today either, though who could argue with that? It’s that even if we somehow produced a Coolidge and got him or her elected, the nature of the state is such that even Coolidge couldn’t really be Coolidge.

One of the tasks Mephistopheles has assigned me as I continue to burn in Book Hell is dancing the Lambada with Helen Thomas, our naked bodies bonded together as one with Saran Wrap. Oh wait, that’s real Hell.

No, in Book Hell, I’ve been reading a lot about the administrative state. We don’t need to get too deep into those weeds now, but one of the things I’ve come to believe is that the administrative state is unlawful and another is that it is the enemy of civil society.

Even if we somehow produced a Coolidge and got him or her elected, the nature of the state is such that even Coolidge couldn’t really be Coolidge.

I kind of think of civil society as coastal wetlands. For years, people overlooked wetlands as the kind of ugly, swampy places that served no great purpose. It turned out that wetlands are hugely important. They absorb bad runoff from reaching the ocean, they buffer the coast from soil and beach erosion, and they offer a diverse ecosystem a habitat they can’t find anywhere else. If you think of the government — particularly the administrative state — as an ocean, civil society is the wetlands that keep the ocean from eroding everything. They’re a buffer that blunts the impact of the state. Conversely, they are what stop the nine out of ten problems Coolidge talked about. Without the wetlands, all ten just roll straight into the state’s ocean-sized lap.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Man that analogy has some holes in it.” And my answer to that is: Considering the price you paid for this “news”letter, you should count yourself lucky I didn’t go with the women’s-prison-movie analogy that I wanted to run with.

The reason we can’t have a Coolidge today is that government has gotten involved in so much he would have to be an activist just to unwind a fraction of it. C. S. Lewis says somewhere that if you took a wrong fork in the road, it’s not progress to keep walking in the wrong direction. It’s progress to turn around and find the right road.

As I’ve written several times now, I feel more and more like I’ll be in the Nockian remnant for a good while. But today is not the day to rehash old arguments about Donald Trump. That day will come soon enough. Today is a day to wish him well and hope for the best.

I’m reminded of H. L. Mencken’s obituary for Coolidge, a president he first scorned but later came to appreciate. “Should the day ever dawn,” Mencken said, “when Jefferson’s warnings are heeded at last, and we reduce government to its simplest terms, it may very well happen that Calvin’s bones now resting inconspicuously in the Vermont granite will come to be revered as those of a man who really did the nation some service.”

I’m not a big fan of the slogan “Make America Great Again.” And I’m not sure what Donald Trump meant last night when he said we’re going to do things we haven’t done in “many, many, decades.” But if he can get us back to the right fork in the road, and to a place where he could be replaced by a Coolidge, or at least to a place where his bones might be revered, he will have made America greater yet — and he’ll have my gratitude.

Here’s hoping.

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Various & Sundry

Canine Update: So, things have been weird around here. First of all, neither dog seems as interested in eating as they once did and Pippa appears to be scared to come into the kitchen at dinnertime for fear that the Dingo will attack her, which she hasn’t done (to our knowledge) for a very long time. More troubling, Zoë’s wild, stubborn side is coming back. She’s just been a bad girl lately. She jumped out of the car window the other day. On Wednesday night, she got loose from my wife around 6:30 at night. She refused to come in the house until midnight. She just sits on the lawn and runs away from you if you try to get close. She pretends like it’s a game.

At first, we thought it was just the cold weather, which does seem to fill her full of beans. That seems to be part of it. But the other problem, we think, is that our neighborhood in D.C. has seen a population explosion of rabbits. Dogs may believe that “squirrels are tennis balls thrown by God” but Zoë believes that rabbits are squirrels done right. First of all, they are so hoppy and she finds the hoppiness irresistible. Second of all, and this is the really important part, they cannot climb those infernal trees. Anyway, Zoë is constantly looking for them, sniffing for them, chasing them. She’ll wait for hours with dingo-patience for a sign that one has emerged from its carrot-strewn bunkers, and then she’s off. And then there was yesterday. Perhaps in an attempt to get some olfactory camouflage, she rolled in some foulness the likes of which you’d only expect to find in Sid Blumenthal’s secret basement. The Fair Jessica gave Zoë a double bath and yet hours later she still smelled, uh, bad.

My first column this week: Why national unity is so elusive.

Friday’s column: “Anti-liberal” does not equal “anti-intellectual.”

And now, the weird stuff. (“And I thought this G-File was already weird enough!” — The Couch)

Debby’s Friday links

A real-life Westworld

A photo of Lincoln’s first inauguration

SMOD failed to destroy Earth, but this space rock could destroy Earth’s economy

The door to Hell

How many of us can hear flashes of light?

Beware the Slenderman

Is Cthulhu still calling?

What the first European visitors to Hawaii thought of surfers

Why is this lake pink?

Can humans hibernate?

What do we really know about pirates?

The most overused sound in trailers today

How to Help Trump Win

by Jonah Goldberg
For Donald Trump to have a successful conservative presidency, the Trump Tribe needs to grapple with how popular Trump actually is.

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

Dear Reader (including the good cat, which for some reason is opposed to my daughter getting an education),

I should just say it clearly: I will never fall in love with Donald Trump. For most of you, this is not a big surprise. But for some, it’s a kind of betrayal. In much the same way the Left gets furious when you just don’t care enough about its priorities, many of Trump’s biggest supporters get bizarrely angry at the fact that I am not emotionally correct when it comes to the new president.

Monsieur Google tells me that “emotional correctness” is a term that’s been used before including by — ack! — the constantly self-parodying Sally Kohn. But fortunately, I don’t mean it the way she does. In fact, I think I mean something close to the opposite.

There’s a lot of tribalism and romanticism in the water these days. By tribalism I mean the idea that loyalty to one’s side comes first and arguments come later, and when they do, they must be bent to fit the needs of one’s side. By romanticism, I mean the primacy of feelings over facts.

Epistemic Closure for Thee, But Not for Me

The vexing thing is that a lot of liberals agree with this observation when it’s framed as a criticism of conservatives. That’s Obama’s whole shtick these days, decrying “bubbles” and the lack of a “common baseline of fact.” And by “these days,” I really mean his entire presidency. Obama has always argued that anyone who disagrees with him is doing so from a deficit of facts and surplus of partisanship and ideology. Even when Elizabeth Warren disagreed with him, he resorted to this lazy arrogance.

But Obama is hardly alone. This has been a theme in progressivism going back a century, from the progressive obsession with “disinterestedness” to JFK’s insistence that “political labels and ideological approaches are irrelevant to the solution” of modern challenges. “Most of the problems . . . that we now face, are technical problems, are administrative problems,” he insisted, and these problems “deal with questions which are now beyond the comprehension of most men.”

The whole ludicrous and yet somehow quaint “epistemic closure” panic of the last decade and the rise of “explanatory journalism” illustrated the extent to which liberals believe that confirmation bias is a uniquely conservative failure. Paul Krugman cut to the epistemological chase with his claim that “facts have a liberal bias.” Neil deGrasse Tyson’s fantasies of creating a utopian world called “Rationalia” is in one sense a great punchline to a joke, but it’s also a perfect example of how liberal tribalism uses scientism to discredit perspectives it doesn’t like.

Care, Damn It

All of that is annoying, but it can’t hold a candle to the ugliness of emotional correctness. In recent years, we’ve seen how the real crime isn’t conservative intellectual or ideological dissent but conservative emotional dissent. Mozilla’s Brendan Eich being pelted from his job, the perfidious treason of the wedding-cake bakers, the assaults on Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A, the bonfires of asininity lit every day on college campuses: These have so much less to do with an ideological argument and more to do with the new unwritten and unspoken fatwah: “You will be made to care.”

During that idiotic Halloween controversy at Yale, one student captured the moment beautifully when she complained that an administrator’s attempts to discuss, explain, and debate the issue were beside the point. “He doesn’t get it,” she wrote. “And I don’t want to debate. I want to talk about my pain.” The truth is she didn’t just want to talk about her pain, she wanted her pain validated and even celebrated.

In the Soviet Union and other totalitarian societies, displaying overt signs of “insufficient enthusiasm” is a crime:

“Now, if a North Korean university professor is suspected of insufficient enthusiasm for the system, they will be gone without a trace very quickly,” Andrei Lankov has written of the Hermit Kingdom. “Even the memory of the unlucky victim would likely disappear.”

The other day an NPR reporter tweeted:

Marilyn Geewax surely can’t think that Tom Price, a doctor, is against curing cancer. But she clearly thinks that there’s some serious problem with Price for not applauding an entirely debatable and typical rhetorical bauble in a State of the Union Address. My point isn’t to single out Geewax. I’m sure she’s a perfectly nice person.

My point is simply that in this moment of cultural and ideological polarization, the refusal to share one’s passions is a sign of disloyalty.

The Trump Tribe

And that is true on the right as well. In fairness, it’s surely always been true on the right to one extent or another, because the phenomenon I’m talking about is a product of human nature not ideology. The coalitional instinct is a universal human trait that causes people to link up in tribal bonds. The great evolutionary psychologist John Tooby explains that the coalitional instinct “explains a number of otherwise puzzling phenomena.”

For example, ancestrally, 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. This is why group beliefs are free to be so weird.

I’m writing about this at considerable length in my book, so I won’t cannibalize myself here. But the coalitional instinct is an important concept to keep in mind these days.

It certainly helps me understand the barrages of invective and utterly bizarre psychoanalyzing I’m subjected to every day. For instance, last night I was on Bret Baier’s Special Report. On the show, I praised Trump’s appointments and offered a plausibly favorable interpretation of his disagreements with his cabinet officials. I also defended Trump’s tweets supporting LL Bean, but I criticized others. The response, as usual, from the Trump Tribe was an irrational miasma of rage and projection.

When you cut through the trollery, the basic complaint is simply that I am guilty of insufficient enthusiasm for Donald Trump. I keep getting asked in various ways, “When will you get over your Never Trump obsession?” As I’ve written countless times now, as far as I’m concerned, Never Trump isn’t a thing anymore. Trump won, he’ll be the next president, so there’s nothing to be “never” about.

As far as I’m concerned, Never Trump isn’t a thing anymore. Trump won, he’ll be the next president, so there’s nothing to be ‘never’ about.

The problem is that “Never Trump” has morphed in the minds of both liberals and conservatives to mean something very different. For liberals, it means one must never defend anything Trump does or even nod to his legitimacy in the slightest way — lest one be guilty of some form of hypocrisy (this is just another manifestation of the ancient practice of liberals telling conservatives the right way to be conservative).

On the right, Never Trump has become a convenient psychological crutch for dismissing inconvenient arguments. Like the ever-metastasizing phrase “fake news,” it’s waved like a magic wand to make any threatening claim disappear without having to deal with it on the merits. Marxists used to use the term “false consciousness” in much the same way: to head-off threatening facts or arguments by attacking motives. When I point out that until a few months ago Republicans and conservatives despised crony capitalism or “picking winners and losers,” the instant reply amounts to: “When are you going to get over your Never Trump obsessions?”

The upshot of all of these responses is “Get with the program,” “Get on board the Trump Train,” or “Get on the right side of history.” I’ve spent the last two decades decrying this form of argumentation from liberals — twice at book length. I don’t see why I should abandon that position now. Indeed, the only logically consistent argument for why I should (and one often whispered or hinted at behind the scenes) is that it’s the safe play for my career and my income — to which I say, “Meh.”

How to Help Trump Win

But I’ve dilated on all that many times in this space, so let me make a different point. I very much want Trump to be a successful conservative president — which is to say, I don’t want him to be a successful statist president. I understand all-too-well that many of Trump’s fans do want him to be a successful statist president. They don’t use the word “statist,” preferring the rough synonym “nationalist.” They either sincerely think, or convincingly pretend to think, that there’s a meaningful difference between a statist and a nationalist. There isn’t.

That’s a worthwhile argument to have, and there will be many opportunities to have it down the road.

But if Trump is going to be a successful conservative president, I think his biggest fans will have to recognize their own tribalism. I’ll give you two examples. Last night I got these responses to my appearance on Special Report:

And

Put aside how much these tweets exemplify the points I made above.

The most relevant point is the claim that “the voters want him to tweet.” Trump’s spinners make similar claims ten times a day, insisting that “the American people” support whatever it is he’s doing at a given moment.

Donald Trump’s approval ratings are the lowest for any incoming president in history, by a very, very wide margin. Obama went into his inauguration with a net favorability rating of +71. George W. Bush and Clinton had +36 and +50, respectively. Trump? Negative seven (-7). He’s dropped 13 points in the last month. Quinnipiac has his favorability rating at 37 percent, a marked drop since November. The internals are worse. He’s lost ground in almost every category since the election. Only 12 percent of Americans say they think he will be a “great president.” Oh, and Americans think by a 2–1 margin (64 to 32) that he should stop tweeting.

Looking at these numbers, it is very difficult to see how the Trump Tribe can claim he has the support of the American people for his behavior since the election, unless you define “the American people” as the Americans who unabashedly support Trump. And it seems that a lot of people in the Always Trump camp believe exactly that.

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Various & Sundry

Yes, yes, I know this was not a particularly — or even remotely — jocular G-File. Sometimes that’s the way things break. For those who’ve come to expect that every week, I apologize. My muse for this “news”letter is always unapologetic self-indulgence, and sometimes I just don’t have the pull-my-finger jokes in me. I’m still deep in Book Hell and have a slew of big-time hassles in my private life I’m trying to deal with. I also woke up to discover I made a stupid mistake in my column today, which always puts me in a foul mood. Tune in next week, maybe we’ll both have better luck.

Canine Update: The beasts are doing well, though Pippa had a scary incident with the dogwalker in which she fell through some ice. She emerged a bit like George Bailey after he’s shown the light in It’s a Wonderful Life. Pippa greeted everyone, including some dogs she’s normally afraid of like Spock after he realized Captain Kirk wasn’t dead. And since this “news”letter has been deficient in Vitamin J (for jocularity), I’ll recount a somewhat off-color tale from this morning.

While I was getting dressed for our pre-dawn perambulations, Pippa and Zoë were doing their usual celebratory wrestling and mutual face-licking. At one point, as she is wont to do, the Dingo was biting the scruff of Pippa’s neck when she, uh, well farted. It was surprisingly audible and seemed to take Zoë more by surprise than anyone else. She wheeled around to see what the Hell happened in steerage on the HMS Dingo. At first, she seemed shocked that she didn’t find a squirrel with a Woopee cushion. But then she caught the scent and followed it out of the room like one of those Loony Tunes dogs that smells a roast beef from far away. Perhaps that’s why she seemed so keen to enjoy the fresh air this morning.

ICYMI:

Has the New York Times given up on stopping Jeff Sessions’s confirmation?

Should Trump’s appointees fear his Twitter account?

The new Ricochet GLoP podcast discusses Meryl Streep and the Golden Globes, the culture wars, Rogue One, and more.

Obama’s farewell address was a campaign rally in disguise (corrected version).

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Picasso’s life in self-portraits

A map of global superstitions

Why not? Scientists blast antimatter atoms with a laser for the first time

Taxpayers foot the bill for Doggie Hamlet

Brits send meat-and-potato pie into space

How many basset hounds can fit on a couch?

Behold what lurks in the sea’s dark depths

Moon sits atop castle

Is Cthulhu calling?

Salvador Dali sells chocolate

Orson Welles sells wine

Ricardo Montalban sells cars

James Brown sells noodles

How do you poop in Antarctica?

Rescuers save stray pregnant dog

Dogs, in one gif

Behold: Spider lives underwater

Behold: Spider eats snake

Science: Conservatives really are better-looking

Science: Revenge really is sweet

The world’s saddest destinations

NASA has a plan to destroy Earth-threatening asteroids, but SMOD turned out to be a liar like every other politician, so we won’t need it

Scientists are building an animal-fart database

Watch a Furby burn

Peanut Truthers and the ‘Lost Friends Theory’

by Jonah Goldberg
Political correctness is a kind of civilizational autoimmune disorder.

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

Dear Reader (and all the ships at sea),

As Bill Clinton said, as he rapidly flipped through the dog-eared pages of the October 1987 issue of Juggs, “I think I need some new material.”

For starters, I think I need to start picking on someone other than Bill Clinton for my cheap letch jokes (he’s still good for some of my more upscale letch jokes, of course). More broadly, I think I need some new old gags, if I’m going to keep pecking out this “news”letter.

I’ve run into this problem before. For years, when I was speaking to a particularly friendly crowd, I would begin my talk, “I’m happier than Helen Thomas at a Hamas rally to be here tonight.”

First off, it was funny because it was true.

Second, like telling Michael Moore there’s a free Happy Meal in the middle of a frozen Lake Michigan, it was a good way to break the ice.

But Thomas went off to collect her 72 virgins, and the joke not only got stale, but it also became clear that some folks couldn’t immediately remember who Helen Thomas was. Was she one of the Golden Girls? Danny Thomas’s Mother? (“Was that the lawyer who helped those terrorists?” one lady asked me after a speech. I replied, “No, but that’s a good guess.”)

And if the audience can’t catch the reference right away, the joke doesn’t work as well. That’s one of the reasons I’ve had to shelve all those jokes about Milton Berle and Forest Tucker walking into a bar in Nantucket.

So, I’m still searching for a “Happier than . . . ” line that works. So far none really sing. Happier than . . . Elizabeth Warren at a sweat lodge, than Harry Reid watching an orphanage fire, than Donald Trump when Arnold Schwarzenegger gets bad ratings on The Apprentice?

Oh, then there’s that problem. There’s a kind of détente between me and a big swath of my “news”letter readership these days. They’ll tolerate my wait-and-see attitude toward Trump, they’ll applaud my attacks on the Left, and — oh yes — they’ll keep coming back for the dog pics. But if I make fun of Trump, suddenly a rightwing form of P.C. humorlessness kicks in. Like the old joke,

Q: “How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?”

A: “THAT’S NOT FUNNY!!!”

Making light of the notorious DJT is now somehow beyond the pale for many on the right. That’s gonna get old in a hurry. Sad!

Anyway, as Bill Clinton said to the Vietnamese masseuse when she ended her personal phone call, let’s get back to the issue at hand. I think this “news”letter could use some new gags, maybe some new personalities (“What the Holy Hell, does that mean?” — The Couch), and some new obsessions in 2017.

But that day isn’t today.

Hey, You Got Your Cultural Marxism in My Peanut Butter

So, finally, science caught up to my wife (there’s a Stepford Wives or Westworld joke in there somewhere, but I ain’t looking for it). She’s been on a tear about the zero-tolerance for peanuts thing since my daughter was born. No, she’s not a peanut truther; she knows that some kids really do have bad allergies. But the spike in nut allergies is, uh, nuts. And, like with so many things, she blames the parents.

Well, now the new National Institutes of Health guidelines back her up. Fear of an allergic reaction to peanuts causes parents to delay exposing their kids to peanuts. That delay increases the chance that the kids will be allergic to peanuts. Early exposure, in other words, essentially inoculates you to peanut allergies:

“There is this magic window of opportunity, where you can introduce peanut-containing foods,” David Stukus, a pediatric allergist who coauthored the new guidelines, told Stat News. When “we introduce peanut-containing foods early, the immune system can get used to it.” Up is down, down is up, peanut products are for babies.

Now, this doesn’t surprise me at all. We’ve known for years that kids who grow up on farms or with dogs are less likely to get asthma when they grow up. Kids who grow up in sterile environments are more likely to get allergies than kids who’re allowed to get messy. This is commonly called the “hygiene hypothesis.” (Though I just learned from Professor Wikipedia that it’s also called the “lost friends theory,” which may be one of the saddest medical terms ever. Even “ass cancer” sounds funny.)

I think there’s a great analogy here.

I’ve been arguing for years, that political correctness is a kind of civilizational autoimmune disorder. As I put in 2013,

My point is that the institutions — the organs of the body politic — that are the most obsessed with eradicating bigotry (as liberals define it) tend to be the places that have to worry about it the least. The Democratic party is consumed with institutionalized angst about prejudice, intolerance, and bigotry in America. But the odds are that relatively few of these people (particularly those under the age of 50) have been exposed to much real racism or intolerance. The same goes for the mainstream media. In fact, many major media outlets have explicit policies dedicated to hiring and promoting minorities, women, gays, etc. Like the Democratic party, some have very strict hiring quotas in this regard. The well-paid executives and managers of these institutions come from social backgrounds where the tolerance for anything smacking of overt bigotry is not just zero, but in the negative range; they bend over backwards to celebrate members of the officially recognized coalition of the oppressed. (Of course, this coalition doesn’t include traditional-minded Christians, but that’s a subject for another column.)

And again last year in a G-File about people getting ill, or “microaggressed,” by positive statements about America or Western Civilization:

Now, if you suffer heart palpitations, feel light-headed, or in some other way manifest symptoms of panic because you hear that “America is the land of opportunity” or “there is only one race, the human race” you have an allergy to America and its ideals.

Kevin Williamson had a great piece yesterday about the hilarious brouhaha over pick-up trucks and the question of where the “real America” is. He writes:

Farming America is, indeed, part of the real America. But so is Broadway. So is Wall Street. So is Hollywood and Malibu and glorious Big Sur, and Chicago and Detroit and Miami and all the weird old places in America that don’t even feel like America at all, like New Orleans and Aroostook County, Maine. So is Muleshoe, Texas, and the campus of Harvard. America is a big, splendid place. . . . 

Russell Kirk, describing his “canons of conservative thought,” argued that to be a conservative is to appreciate genuine diversity, “the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems.” The Left is living up to Kirk’s expectations: The increasingly sneering attitude of coastal elites toward the more conservative interior, particularly for the poor communities there, is as undeniable as it is distasteful. But conservatives are not immune to these Kulturkampf tendencies, either. No, the whole country does not need to be Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It doesn’t need to be Lubbock, Texas, either.

I agree with this entirely. I’ve quoted that line from Kirk many times in my rants — written and verbal (and on one occasion in Mexico, interpretative dance) — about the glories of federalism. College kids usually just stare blankly at me when I invoke Kirk or the Founders, suspecting that if a cape-wearing fuddy-duddy with a sword cane — never mind those horrible Pale Penis People who founded this country — liked something, then it can’t be good.

But you know what sets off a little “Aha!” flash in their otherwise dead, soulless eyes (like a doll’s eyes)? When I say that federalism would make this a “much more interesting country to drive across.”

A lot of elite kids think they’re well-travelled because they’ve been to New York City, L.A., and London. But they also tend to notice that these places are all pretty similar, with the same clothing stores and coffee chains. They’d get a more authentically “foreign” experience if they simply took the bus to a working-class neighborhood in their own cities. Still, these kids genuinely love the idea that different places can be different. It’s only when you activate their ideological subroutines that they become leftwing culture warriors Hell-bent on imposing their corporatized version of “social justice” everywhere.

I’d also point out that that this is nothing new. I’m running out of room here, but I wrote about this at length in my last book:

The Nation ran a whole series of articles under the heading “In These United States” purporting to reveal that Manhattan was an island of sophistication in a vast wasteland of American backwardness. This was the era when it became an article of faith that the artist must hate the society in which he lives, that he must be “a public enemy” in the words of H. L. Mencken, and that the “vox populi is, to him, the bray of an ass.” The writers for the Nation ridiculed what is today called “fly-over country” — which back then was really “train-through country” or perhaps “cruise around country” — with relentless condescension. Chronicling his impressions of Minnesota, Sinclair Lewis lamented that the “Scandinavians Americanize only too quickly!” Perhaps not surprisingly, the South was an object of particular scorn. One writer believed that Mississippi could only be saved by an invasion of civilizing, cultured, missionaries from the North. Another scratched his head to ask what, if anything, Alabama had ever contributed to humanity.

Last, I think one reason why the cultural polarization in America has gotten so pronounced of late has a lot to do with “The Big Sort.” Charles Murray points out in Coming Apart that communities used to be more vertically integrated. What I mean is that there used to be more cultural and economic elites living in and alongside middle- and lower-class communities. Sure, the rich had nicer houses in a better part of town, but they also mingled at social functions — sports events, school functions, the grocery store — with people outside their “bubble.” That’s less the case today. This makes it harder for people to understand, well, other people. Say what you will for the draft, it did force a lot of men from diverse backgrounds to get to know one another.

And I’ll say this for Donald Trump. One of the keys to his success as a politician is that, despite the fact he’s a celebrity billionaire who hobnobs with the rich and powerful, he has the manner and personality of someone who can talk to the plumber or the janitor about last night’s football game. Michael Bloomberg or John Kerry meanwhile, seem like the kind of guys who would explain to Eddie Murphy that you might find bacon on a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich.

I have no great solutions to these problems, and in some cases, I get nervous when people call some of these things “problems” because we live an age where too many people think there’s no principled limit to what kind of problems the government should try to solve.

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Canine Update: There’s not too much to report this week. The girls have been generally well-behaved. Though there is the issue of the centipede. When I left town last week, I left the housesitter/dogwalker a bunch of new toys for the dogs and, yes, cats. I will admit, like millions of Americans, the Goldbergs get their animals Christmas presents — but, unlike millions of Americans, we do not wrap them! We got the cats an orange rubber centipede. It’s a bit slimy and sticky (sort of like those rubber things you throw at the window and it creepily crawls down). Anyway, when we got home, we discovered that Zoë had taken possession of this thing.

She doesn’t do anything with it. But she acts like it’s a ham bone or a necklace of squirrel heads. If any mammal — human, canine, feline — gets near it, she growls, yipes, and gets in a protective crouch. She’ll then grab it and run to a different part of the house. We can’t figure out the attraction, though my best guess is that there’s something about it that triggers the swamp dog in our Carolina Swamp Dog. Still, the look of contempt on the good cat’s face when she sees Zoë panic when she merely walks past the thing is kind of priceless. I keep shouting at the Dingo, “No one wants your slimy centipede! Relax!”

Still, she’s a good girl.

ICYMI: My Conversation with Bill Kristol, recorded in the secret neocon lair.

My first column of the week was on how Obama’s last-minute foreign-policy decisions hurt his party.

I also wondered how the new intellectual journal of Trumpism will fare.

And complained about reporters’ treatment of Twitter in the news.

And appeared on Special Report with Bret Baier.

And noted the partisan shift on Julian Assange.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

This is pretty funny

God made a dog

Shelter dogs get beds

Dog struggles to understand glass

Dog struggles to understand rainbows

Dog thwarts Roomba uprising

And for the cat people: Aliens promo shoots of Sigourney Weaver and Jones the cat

Artist wants to sculpt your laughter, send it into space

Science: Chimpanzees recognize butts like people recognize faces

Science: Hand sanitizer can cause a breathalyzer false positive

Is the speed of light slower than it used to be?

Finally: Snotty sea blob rediscovered

Brave New World alert: Sofia Vergara sued by her own embryos

Not sure if Bespin or Dubai

Behold: The multifaceted transformations of Cheetos

Behold: A KFC Fried Chicken–scented candle

When will America be worthy of the donut Whopper?

A two-year-old’s solution to the Trolley Problem

The evolution of Disney animation

Behold: The shotgun guitar

The history of zero

Just who are Internet commenters anyway?

Cookie Monster, reversed

Why do dwarves sound Scottish and elves sound like royalty?

Listen to a piano older than Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven

A map of the entire Internet (as of 1973)

The U.N. vs. Israel

by Jonah Goldberg
Why do so many people believe the United Nations to be a tribune of virtue?

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 all the dudes in this coffee shop with man-buns),

As Michael Moore’s proctologist says at every appointment, “I’d really rather not do this today, but it’s my job.”

I’m in Dallas, killing myself to “finish” my book. I put “finish” in air quotes (while I put actual Finnish people in a pit in my basement, “It puts the herring in the basket or it gets the hose again”) not just because there’s so much left to do and so little time to do it in, but because even after I’m “done” my editor is going to walk around this enormous pile of paper staring at it like a farmer slowly circling a meteorite that landed in his wheat field, incapable of processing why it looks like a smoking, irradiated replica of Dom DeLouise in a sailor suit.

Why Dallas you ask? Because the Cowboys rule!

I’m not actually a Cowboys fan, but I’ve learned that when in doubt about how to deal with the locals, shouting “Cowboys rule!” solves a lot of problems.

I’m in Dallas because the Goldbergs planned to be on a family vacation right now. But then again I also planned to have this book done by now (“Bahahahahahahahahhaha!” — The Couch). So we had a dogsitter/housesitter already reserved. My wife took the kidlet to a warm beach with her parents. And I got out of town, borrowing a buddy’s pad in the Greenville section of Dallas. If you have trouble with Texan accents, “Greenville” is how they pronounce “B-R-O-O-K-L-Y-N” here.

If I sound like I’m avoiding getting to the substance of this “news”letter, there’s a reason for that. I haven’t been following the news as closely as I normally would because I’m so deep in the weeds on the thing that rhymes with “nook” that I feel like doing that thing that rhymes with “mowing my drains pout.” (I didn’t even write a syndicated column yesterday.) But I skipped last week’s “news”letter — and since I vowed over the bloody corpse of my partner all those years ago in Laredo that I’d never miss two G-Files in a row, here we are.

Israeli Idiotic

There isn’t much new to say about Barack Obama’s United Nations fiasco. I just reread my post from last Friday, right after the news broke and I haven’t heard anything that changes my initial take.

But as Bill Clinton said about his marriage vows, I won’t let that stop me.

Because I have the most Jewy name this side of Shlomo Abromowitz, lots of people think I know a lot about Israel. Sometimes it’s funny. I’ve even had people refer to me as an “expert” on Israel. (It’s devilishly fun to ask them, “Why do you think that?”)

I’m not an expert on Israel. I’ve been to Israel exactly once. I’ve been to France a half dozen times, and even wrote and produced a documentary on Notre Dame Cathedral. Still, I’m not an expert on France either. Yet, almost every day some troll on Twitter or in an e-mail (or snail mail) insinuates that I am, or accuses me of being, obsessed by, or in the employ of, Israel. I write about the place maybe once or twice a year in the normal run of things. My rule of thumb is that if you think I’m obsessed with Israel, it’s because you’re obsessed with Israel and/or The Joooooooz.

RELATED: Defund the United Nations

But what’s amusing to me is the way some people assume my Goldbergness is what drives me to support Israel. It’s really not the case. I’m with Israel because Israel is in the right and it’s our ally. By no means do I think that Israel is a flawless country. I’m no fan of the politics of the ultra-orthodox crowd in Israel, I find a lot of Israelis rude (at least the ones in New York), and I think the Knesset makes the Galactic Senate of the Republic in Star Wars seem efficient and functional. There are things I like, even love, about it, too. The shawarma is amazing. The women are both tough and beautiful. And, most of all, Israelis persevere.

Still, I find arguments about Israel incredibly tedious. What I mean is my position on Israel is pretty close to my position on, say, Great Britain, Japan, or Australia. It’s a democratic country. It respects the rule of law. It’s a strategic ally. And, that’s sort of about it. It’s not complicated. Yes, yes, Israel’s historic and religious status as the only Jewish homeland and all that has emotional power for me — and a lot of other people.

Also, because I find so many anti-Israeli arguments and politics so fundamentally dishonest, flawed, and — quite often — repugnant, it’s easy to get really worked up on the topic.

But in a very straightforward way, that’s all a distraction. If Britain were somehow surrounded and besieged by existential enemies my position — and I hope America’s position — would be: “We’re with the Brits.” That doesn’t mean we’d automatically send troops or start a war and all that. Those are prudential, tactical, questions to be worked out with our allies, etc. But the principle couldn’t be simpler.

My position on Israel is pretty close to my position on, say, Great Britain, Japan, or Australia.

Now, unlike my position, the situation surely is complicated. Israel is surrounded by enemies and a few paper “allies.” I love how Israel’s critics make such a fuss about Israel’s military superiority as if it has nothing to worry about. If you’re walking into a saloon where everybody wants to kill you, you might walk in better armed than everybody else. If Israel loses a single war, it loses everything. America hasn’t been in a war like that since the Revolution. Even if we “lost” WWII, the idea that the Germans or Japanese would or could conquer North America is highly debatable. I would like to think that our culture could stay as free and democratic as Israel’s if we were under constant threat of military annihilation.

Whenever Israel is attacked, her critics bemoan the heavy-handedness of its military responses. Even in the bad cases, I tend to marvel at Israel’s restraint. Israel is a perfect example of how lefties shout “Violence never solves anything!” only when the good guys use violence.

It may seem a trite debating point given how often it’s made, but if Mexicans or Canadians (stop laughing) were launching rockets into our cities for years, while insisting that the U.S. has no right to exist whatsoever, I very much doubt Americans would tolerate anything like the military and political shackles Israel puts on itself. Nor am I sure that it would be a good thing if we did.

The U.N. vs. Israel

One last point regarding the Security Council vote. It needs to be remembered that the U.N. hates Israel because it is in the political interests of member states, particularly Arab states, which use Palestinians as a distraction from their own despotisms, to hate Israel. Think of all the horrors and crimes committed by evil governments around the world. Now think about the fact that from 2006 to 2015 alone the U.N. has condemned Israel 62 times. All of the other nations combined have received 55 condemnations. Iran? Five. The genocidal Sudanese? Zero. Anarchic Somalia? Zero. Saudi Arabia? Zero. Pakistan? Zero. China? Zero. Russia? Zero.

The U.N., more than any other player save the Palestinian leadership itself, is responsible for the horrible plight of the Palestinians because it is in its institutional interest to keep the issue alive. After World War II, there were untold millions of refugees all around the world; they all found homes and settled down — except for the Palestinians.

The Global God State

So I’m working on this book. More on that later. But yesterday I was writing about an argument Steve Hayward shared with me. In the 18th century, liberals — Locke, the Founders, etc. — finally overthrew the Divine Right of Kings. Then in the 19th century, the progressives — borrowing from Hegel — established the Divine Right of the State to replace the Divine Right of Kings. (Hegel, recall, argued that “the State is the Divine idea as it exists on earth”). As I’ve written many, many times, psychologically for many progressives the State plays the role they think God would play if God existed.

Anyway, we can return to all that another time.

The only criteria for membership in the U.N. is existence. This is literally the lowest standard possible.

But the reason I bring this up is that I think, for a lot of people, the U.N. occupies a similar place in their brains. Some people just love the idea of the U.N. so much they are blind to the reality of it. For reasons that have always baffled me, the promise of a “Parliament of Man” — an explicitly utopian concept — is just incredibly seductive for some people. So they invest in the U.N. magical properties that are utterly absent from Turtle Bay.

Yes, the U.N. does some good things. But the assumption that, if the United Nations didn’t exist, those good things wouldn’t get done is ridiculous. It’s like saying that if government didn’t pick up your garbage, garbage would never get collected. Meanwhile, the U.N. does all manner of terrible things, that wouldn’t be done if it didn’t exist.

Given how much I roll my eyes after someone tells me that the U.N. voted on this or that, I sometimes worry that I’ll have to blindly crawl around the floor looking for my eyeballs because they’ll roll right out of my head. The only criteria for membership in the U.N. is existence. This is literally the lowest standard possible. More to the point, a great many of the countries that vote in both the General Assembly and the Security Council are what social scientists call “crappy dictatorships.” So when, say, North Korea casts its vote, it has all the moral force of a wet fart as far as I’m concerned. Here’s how I put it 14 years ago in a G-File:

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who’ve tried to use the fact that the U.N. voted on something as proof that the U.N. is right. College kids will shriek the word as if it drips with self-evident authority: “It voted against the United States!” “Don’t you understand? It voted!”

Well, voting, in and of itself, has as much to do with democracy as disrobing has to do with sex. Both are often necessary, neither are ever sufficient.

I always think of “the Commission” when I want to illustrate this point. That’s what the Mafia called its confabs of the major mob families. Think of that scene in The Godfather where Don Corleone arranges for the return of Michael from Sicily (and subsequently realizes that all along it was Barzini, not that pimp Barzini, who outfoxed Santino). The Commission was democratic. It took votes on where and when to install drug dealers, bribe judges, and exterminate cops. Now, just because it took a vote, does that make its decisions any more noble or just? Well, the U.N. is a forum for tyrants and dictators who check the returns on their Swiss bank accounts — and not the needs or voices of their own people — for guidance on how to vote. The fact that Robert Mugabe, Bashar Assad, Kim Jong-Il, Hassan al-Bashir, Fidel Castro, et al., condemn the United States from time to time is a badge of honor. And the fact that we, and other decent peoples, feel the need to curry their favor and approval is a badge of shame.

It’s kind of funny. We’ve spent the last six weeks hearing how eeeeeeevill the Electoral College is because it represents the votes of states — American states — rather than the popular vote. “White supremacy! Eeek!” and all that nonsense. But a great many of the same people have no problem with a U.N. Security Council vote that currently includes the governments of China, Russia, Egypt, and Senegal. I’ll confess to not knowing too much about Senegal’s commitment to democracy (I know, you’re shocked. If only I had a Senegalese name . . . ), so let’s put them aside. But please don’t expect me to keep a straight face when you try to tell me that the Electoral College is undemocratic but the votes of Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Abdel al-Sisi, and Nicolás Maduro are authentic representations of the people.

Indeed, the very structure of the U.N. Security Council with the Great Powers getting permanent seats and veto power is nothing more than the institutionalization of the concept that might makes right. I’m open to the argument that, as a matter of realpolitik, this arrangement is necessary. But by definition realpolitik is statecraft minus morality or idealism.

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In my first only column of the week, I wondered whether I need forgiveness for my political sins (Spoiler: Nope).

Canine Update: As I’ve been gone, I don’t have too much to report. Word from home is the beasts are doing just fine. I deep fried a turkey for Christmas (I’m now a total convert), and the dogsitter tells me Zoë spends an inordinate amount of time licking the grease stain in the backyard. If you go here and scroll down, you can at least find a lot of pictures of my beasts (and the turkey-frying) who I miss terribly (both the fried turkey and the beasts).

On Sunday, I’m told my latest conversation — recorded about a month ago, I think — with Bill Kristol will be posted. I’m told it took this long to get up because it takes a lot of time to bleep out all the f-bombs.

And now, the weird stuff, 2016 retrospective edition.

Debby’s Friday links

Merriam-Webster’s 2016 word of the year is . . . 

2016 will be exactly one second longer than expected

2016 National Geographic nature photographer of the year contest winners

2016’s most-googled items

2016 in celebrity deaths

Artist recreates Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band cover with celebrities who died in 2016

2016 in memes

2016 in internet slang

2016 in volcanic activity

2016 in images of Earth

2016 . . . IN SPACE

2016 in discoveries

2016 in extinctions

2016 in top-ten lists

2016 in truck spills

2016 in news bloopers