Bill O’Reilly’s Nostalgia Factor

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

Never Go Full Ninth Circuit

The ‘Reasonabilists’ of Berkeley

Week One

The Unwisdom of Crowds

How to Help Trump Win

Peanut Truthers and the ‘Lost Friends Theory’

The U.N. vs. Israel

Never Trump Nevermore

Democrats’ Dumbest Complaint

What the Carrier Intervention Portends

by Jonah Goldberg
The economic impact of Trump’s Carrier deal is insignificant, but the signal it sends is hugely important.

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

Dear Reader (including those of you who put the lime in the coconut and shake it all up),

Let’s borrow a page from television and do the epistolary version of one of those show recaps. You know, like, “Previously on MacGuyver . . . ” (my favorite was how the TV version of Fargo sometimes began their episode recaps “Erstwhile on Fargo . . . ”). So, “Previously in the G-File . . . ”

In September of 2015, I wrote a G-File on how Trump’s popularity was corrupting conservatism. Then, almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a “news”letter arguing that Donald Trump’s cult of personality is corrupting conservatism. It was titled, “Trump’s Cult of Personality Is Corrupting Conservatism.” Then last March, I wrote about how many lifelong conservatives seemed like pod-people in the Invasion of the Body Snatchers, changing positions and attitudes almost overnight as Trump gained in popularity. The more traction Trump got, the weaker the grip traditional conservative ideology had on quite a few famous ideologues.

(Then, last May, I managed to fit 78 Cheetos in my mouth at one time. But that’s not important right now. Though, who knows? It may be super relevant for the series finale! This is actually one of the reasons I dislike show recaps — they telegraph what the writers want you to know, making a show more predictable).

Taking these positions made a lot of people, including friends, mad. I understand that. I’m not going to rehash all the old arguments, but I will say my conscience is clear. Indeed, on the recent National Review cruise a good number of people, flush with the joy of seeing the Fall of House Clinton, told me that they “forgive” me for taking the positions I did. I appreciate the sentiment, as it was clearly sincere and offered with magnanimity and friendship.

But you can keep your forgiveness. I don’t want it, at least not for this. I have plenty to be sorry for (“The shoddy quality of this ‘news’letter seems a good place to start” — The Couch) but my stance in 2016 isn’t one of them.

More to the point, when you seek forgiveness for a misdeed, it is morally obligatory to try to correct your behavior. If I ask for your forgiveness for drinking all your beer without permission, I probably shouldn’t express my gratitude for your forgiveness by cracking open one of your beers and burping out a “thanks, <bwaaaaaarrpp> bro.”

This was always an underappreciated angle to Bill Clinton’s perfidious sleaze. He’d apologize for doing something when caught, and then go back to doing it the moment he was in the clear. How many times do you think he apologized for his “past indiscretions,” on his way to the pharmacy to load up on Cialis and Tetracycline?

Well, I’m not going to play that game. It would be weird for me to apologize for telling the truth as I see it about Trump — and then continuing to do it.

The Golden Ticket

Oh, that reminds me: I have a theory about the furor over the possibility that Mitt Romney might get the secretary of state job. You see, I’m willing to wait to discover what Trump’s motivations are. Maybe he really likes the idea of forming some kind of unity government. Maybe he thinks Mitt is the right man for the job. Or maybe he wants to show the world he can make the author of No Apology apologize. Anything’s possible.

No, I’m referring to the rage the Romney flirtation has elicited among many in Trump’s inner circle. Clearly part of it is that Huckabee and Gingrich just don’t like the guy. That much is pretty well known. But the list of politicians they personally dislike must be fairly long, and they haven’t mounted public campaigns against them. Something else is going on.

Listen to Gingrich on Laura Ingraham’s show excoriating Romney for “sucking up” to Donald Trump. Now, I like Newt, so I’ll refrain from hammering the point that he has not exactly been reserved in his praise for Donald Trump. But I can’t let this bit go:

I am confident that he thinks now that he and Donald Trump are the best of friends, they have so many things in common. That they’re both such wise, brilliant people. And I’m sure last night at an elegant three-star restaurant, he was happy to share his version of populism, which involve a little foie gras, a certain amount of superb cooking, but put that in a populist happy manner.

He goes on a bit more, childishly putting stink on the fact that Romney speaks French, for example. But two things stand out here. First, it’s not like Newt is a stranger to fancy restaurants. Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich don’t behave like Jake and Ellwood throwing shrimp cocktail into each other’s mouths and trying to buy the womenfolk at the next table. Newt had a half-million dollar revolving line of credit at Tiffany’s and wrote his dissertation on education reform in the Belgian Congo. Spare me the boob-bait-for-bubbas rhetoric.

Second, it’s clear that Gingrich, Huckabee et al. are kind of freaked out by the possibility that Trump isn’t quite the Henry the Fifth they hoped he would be.

Consider the following thought experiment.

So that brings me to my theory (shared by Josh Barro, who beat me to the punch on this): Trump’s magnanimity is a threat to the loyalists.

Consider the following thought experiment. A very rich guy makes you an offer: “If you eat this bowl of sh**, I will grant you a wish.” You think about it for a minute or two, and then you grab a wooden spoon and start to dig in, when the rich guy says, “Hold on. You’ve got to do it publicly.”

Well, you figure, “What’s the difference? Once I get my wish it will be worth it.” So, you head on over to a television studio with your plastic bib and your spoon, and you tuck into the steaming bowl like Mikey in the old Life cereal commercials.

Then the rich guy says, “Sorry, one more thing: I can only give you a coupon for your wish. But, I promise to honor it once I get the job of genie. Just keep eating.”

What to do? You’ve already acquired a reputation for coprophagia and no one else is offering wish-coupons, so you stick it out. Besides, you’re not alone. A bunch of other folks have been promised similar coupons and you’ve formed a tightknit group. You spend a lot of time talking about how smart you are for agreeing to this arrangement. You fantasize about what you’ll do with your wishes and how sorry the naysayers will be.

Then, the rich guy gets the job of genie. Woo-hoo!

Naturally, you want to redeem your coupon. But all of a sudden, the rich guy starts playing coy. He’s honoring the coupon for some people, but not you. That would be fine — one coupon at a time and all. But then you learn that the genie-elect is giving out coupons to people who didn’t partake of the fecal feast. Uh oh.

And then you see news reports that the big man is not only giving out wishes to people who never earned a coupon, but he’s considering granting a wish to the foremost guy who criticized the big man and tried to keep him from being able to grant wishes at all!

In many respects, for the hardcore Trumpers, the best days may be behind them.

Okay, this is getting belabored. But you get the point. If Trump remains the loyalist, Gingrich, Huckabee et al. have golden tickets. The last thing they want is Willie Wonka Trump letting just anybody into the chocolate factory.

I don’t blame them for being pissed. They put up with a huge amount of grief inch-worming like Andy Dufresne out of Shawshank Prison for Trump and, in some cases, were forced to leave behind prized positions to fit in the sewer pipe. That’s what comes across most palpably to me in that Gingrich interview: resentment over the fact his golden ticket has been devalued.

This illuminates a point I’ve made before. The more “presidential” Trump gets, the more pissed off many of his fans will get and the more popular he will become. In many respects, for the hardcore Trumpers, the best days may be behind them. He’s already, rhetorically at least, thrown the racists under the bus. Heck, as someone joked on Twitter, when they ate those frog legs, they might as well have been eating Pepe.

Carrier on My Wayward GOP

If the only casualties of a Trump presidency were the opportunists, courtiers, and comment-section trolls, I’d be pretty giddy. But this Carrier decision shows that the damage will not be nearly so surgical. The rot is already setting in. (You knew the recap thing at the beginning of this “news”letter meant I would return to the subject of corruption, right?)

As a political act, it is very, very easy to exaggerate the economic importance of the Carrier intervention. It’s less than a thousand jobs. Save for the workers and families directly involved, it’s all symbolism.

And while the politics of this are great for the incoming Trump administration, they are absolutely terrible for free-market conservatives. The former president of AEI and a veteran of the Reagan administration, Christopher DeMuth, used to argue that perhaps the most important thing Ronald Reagan did was fire the air traffic controllers. In isolation, it was not that big a deal. But the message it sent was hugely important at a time when Eurosclerosis was spreading in America. Reagan let it be known that the public-sector unions no longer had the whip hand and the government couldn’t be extorted.

Trump’s Carrier intervention may just send an equally loud, but nearly opposite signal: that the White House is going to pick winners and losers, that it can be rolled, that industrial policy is back, that Trump cares more about seeming like a savior than sticking to clear and universal rules, and that there is now no major political party in America that rejects crony capitalism as a matter of principle. After all, don’t expect the GOP to recycle the language it used for the bailouts, Cash for Clunkers, Solyndra, etc., when it comes to Carrier. The RNC belongs to Trump.

I’m not going to get into the weeds explaining the bad economics here, but I suggest you look at my AEI colleague Ben Zycher’s critique — or National Review’s own editorial (or the Examiner’s). My point is that I shouldn’t have to!

This is from Friday’s New York Times:

“I don’t want them moving out of the country without consequences,” Mr. Trump said, even if that means angering the free-market-oriented Republicans he beat in the primaries but will have to work with on Capitol Hill.

“The free market has been sorting it out and America’s been losing,” Mr. Pence added, as Mr. Trump interjected, “Every time, every time.”

I don’t begrudge Trump his distrust and/or ignorance of the free market. He ran on dirigisme, protectionism, and a cult-of-personality approach to issues of public policy (“I alone can fix it!” and all that B.S.). He has spent his entire professional life working, bribing, and cajoling politicians for special deals — and he’s been honest about it.

But Mike Pence is supposed to be one of us. He’s supposed to be, if not the chief ideologist of the Trump administration, at least the mainstream right’s ambassador and emissary in the West Wing. And here he is casually throwing the “free market” under the bus in order to elevate crony capitalism, industrial policy, and rule of man over rule of law. Does Pence really believe that America loses in the free market every time? Really?

Does Mike Pence really believe that America loses in the free market every time? Really?

Last night on Fox News’s Special Report, our friend Matt Schlapp — the head of the American Conservative Union (!) — could not muster a single reservation about Trump’s embrace of corporatism. What. The. Hell?

I spent a year hearing that Trump was like Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, and Ronald Reagan. And for eight years Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, and nearly every major conservative critic of the Obama administration has, as a matter of routine, denounced the way the Obama administration picked winners and losers in the economy. Apparently, the hierophants of capitalism have discovered a new Apocrypha to the holy books: The free market is great — unless Donald Trump feels otherwise.

Again, one can over-interpret this one event. Reagan imposed protective tariffs to help save Harley Davidson. But you knew that the decision was a political necessity and the sort of exception that proved the rule. No one doubted that Reagan was a free-market guy in his heart. But Trump has made it abundantly clear that he is beholden to no core ideological program. He’s a “pragmatist” who goes by his gut (after all, he only intervened with Carrier because he saw a story on the news). But I’ve been to too many tea-party rallies and GOP rubber-chicken dinners to let the rest of them off the hook. You cannot simultaneously spout off about F. A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Adam Smith and the superiority of the market economy, limited government, and the Constitution and have no problem whatsoever with what Trump did here.

It’s unclear as of right now how many of these former mystagogues of the market were lying then or whether they’re lying now. I like to think that this is mostly about the petty corruption that is inherent to politics and that Pence et al. don’t actually believe what they are saying now. But that is hardly an argument for trusting them later.

Various & Sundry

The reason this “news”letter is so tardy is that I’ve had to write it on a plane and now in the Denver airport and neither is particularly conducive to such things. And now I must go find my connecting flight to Caspar, Wyo. (Don’t ask).

I don’t have much by way of a canine update this week as I’ve been travelling and working like a crazy man (gotta get this frick’n book done) and we were out of town for Thanksgiving (without our beasts) and Zoë was stuck in the Cone of Shame. I asked The Fair Jessica if she had anything to report for the canine update. And she sent me these pictures. When you own hyper dogs, there are few things more satisfying than knowing they’ve been successfully exhausted. Of course, Zoë is always ready to muster the energy to fight the enemy.

Oh, that does remind me. For a while now people have been complaining that I don’t tweet pictures of Zoë in her trademark pose in the back of the car anymore. The reason for that is she stopped doing it for like six months. I have no idea why. But just this week, she decided to start doing it again.

If that’s not enough canine updating, you can try and spot the beasts here.

Now, here’s some stuff I wrote:

The semi-comical spectacle of Trump’s transition.

My first column of the week danced on Castro’s grave.

In the newest GLoP Culture podcast, John Podhoretz tells a whippersnapper to get off his lawn.

Bears will eat your face.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Gun-toting granny foils armed robbery

The birth of crystals

Cross-country runner hit by deer during race

(Different) runner amputates leg so that he can run again

Classy insults from Latin and Greek

Tiny hamster wears cast to help heal his tiny broken arm

A movie accent expert on the best (and worst) movie accents

Why dogs stick their heads out of car windows

Is cheese the key to a longer life?

And also . . . ?

Chinese robot rises up against humanity?

Amityville Horror house finds a buyer

Pet monkey sparks tribal fight in Libya

The best mannequin challenge?

The art of the Hollywood backdrop

Disney World’s singing runway

Behold: The Cthuken

Behold: The bun that holds both a hamburger and a hotdog simultaneously

Colorless rainbow spotted in Scotland

Why do books smell the way they do?

The dreamlike landscape of Iceland

The Fall of House Clinton

by Jonah Goldberg
This time, I think the Clintons might really be finished.

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 ships at sea),

Last night was the traditional National Review smoker on our splendid post-election cruise. This is an ancient tradition, the origins of which stretch back into the mists before time and the stories of a young solo sailor by the name of William F. Buckley Jr. — sweat, sea water, and shark blood glistening off his chest — who settled in to enjoy a relaxing cigar after killing the great white beast with his bare hands.

I bring this up for two reasons. First, to alert the reader that I am feeling a bit hungover from both smoke and spirit alike (so please, stop reading so loudly!); second, because I think I must say goodbye to another great white beast: Bill Clinton — and his remora bride, Hillary.

This is a good time to do it. The feeding frenzy atmosphere around the Trump transition is bananas given that there’s so little to say about it. My position on Trump remains unchanged from last week’s G-File: Like Bill Clinton after taking a blood test, I am entirely in wait-and-see mode.

Meanwhile, if I wait too long to give the Clintons a send-off, it will seem not only gratuitous — which would be fine, that’s what I’m going for — but also stale. The bad taste of the Clintons lingers on enough, though — like the acidic after-burp from my lunch in Mexico yesterday — that it still seems a bit relevant.

It Takes a Heart of Stone Not To Laugh

I feel a little like a hungry Sid Blumenthal looking down at a box full of live, white mice: Where to begin?

Well schadenfreude is always a good way to get your day going. The stories about Hillary measuring the drapes are all over Washington. They literally popped champagne on the campaign plane on Election Day.

I like to imagine Bill Clinton going through binders full of women — and not the Romney kind — picking out the “deputies” he’d like to work with in the White House and Sid Blumenthal letting his fingers wander over an assortment of fine Italian leather riding crops pondering his return to power.

Someone recently told me that the Bill Clinton Presidential Library is built off-center on its campus in anticipation of the day that Hillary’s presidential library would go along side it. I can’t find any corroboration of this, save for the fact that if you look at these pictures, it certainly seems plausible.

The Clinton Restoration That Wasn’t

It also seems plausible because the Clintons always planned on Hillary becoming president. It was the logical corollary for the “two for the price of one” nonsense Bill peddled from the beginning. The Clintons burrowed into the brain stem of the Democratic party, like one of those ear-tunneling scorpion things in Star Trek II, and they never left. In the process, they hollowed out the party. Barack Obama helped of course (see my recent column on that), but the Clintons didn’t mind too much because they knew if the bench was cleared of competition, Obama would have to hand the keys to Hillary.

The Clintons burrowed into the brain stem of the Democratic party, like one of those ear-tunneling scorpion things in Star Trek II.

It’s also plausible because there’s really no other explanation for why Hillary would stay married to Bill — even on paper — not only enduring the constant humiliation but actually working assiduously to discredit the inconvenient members of Bill’s harem. Clinton defenders love to righteously justify their partnership on the grounds that no one has a right to judge someone else’s marriage. Logically, I’ve always thought “no right to judge” arguments were a little ridiculous. But in the case of the Clintons, they’re so absurd they fall into the category of gaslighting. The Clintons always boasted about their marriage — that was the whole point of the two-for-the-price-of-one argument. At the Democratic convention, Bill gave one of the oddest testimonials to a wife by a husband ever given, making it sound like he fell in love with her because she’d make a great chief of staff. “She’s a changemaker! A changemaker!” he insisted, sounding like she knew how to give four quarters for a dollar better than any teenager at a video arcade.

But if you dared enlist inconvenient facts in your own judgment of their nuptial endeavors, you were violating some sacred rule. In other words, their marriage was relevant but we were only allowed to subscribe to their interpretation of it. Our lying eyes were illegitimate.

The Tornado

I know it seems impossible given the nigh-upon Swiss precision and focus of this “news”letter, but I rarely do much prep for this thing. I wake up, drink a dozen raw eggs, and start typing. But since I’m in book-writing Hell and on the high seas, I figured that maybe I should get ahead of the game.

So, a few days ago, I asked my research assistant, Jack “Not the Belt! Please Not the Belt!” Butler, to pull together a Clinton Greatest Hits file.

“What specifically are you looking for?” he asked, his flinching fear dripping from the e-mail.

“Everything.”

“Everything?”

“E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G!” [In my best Gary Oldman from The Professional voice.]

Jack did a fine job, thus avoiding getting the hose again. The ship’s antediluvian WiFi groaned downloading the document, like Michael Moore at Walmart trying not to stand up in his scooter as he strains to grab a family-sized tub of SpaghettiOs from a high shelf. The Travel Office, the commodities futures, the Rose Law Firm billing records, the Lincoln Bedroom, on and on it went. A great feeling of dread came over me.

You see, the retromingent trail of House Clinton stretches so far back and coats so much of our lives, even pondering the question gives me a queasy feeling, like contemplating using one of those black lights to find the carpet and cushion stains on Jeffrey Epstein’s plane.

As I looked over the document, reading all those names associated with all those scandals, legal, moral, and ethical — Webb Hubbel, Charlie Trie, Lanny Davis, Sid Blumenthal, et al. — I tried to get myself psyched up to wade back into it. I felt a bit like Bill Murray in Meatballs trying to get Fink excited about the eating contest to come: “Look at all those steaming weenies.”

But the truth is that stuff is a bit sad and tedious. Don’t get me wrong, as it says in the Torah, it is always good to mock Sid Blumenthal. But so many of the people around the Clintons are also victims. James McDougal, Bill’s former business partner, once said that the Clintons “are really sort of like tornadoes moving through people’s lives. I’m just one of the people left in the wake of their passing by.” McDougal died of a heart attack in prison in 1998.

The Devil’s in the Details

More to the point, my problems with the Clintons never had that much to do with the scandals. Oh sure, I was infuriated when Hillary brought her Medicis of the Ozarks tactics to Washington and had the staff of the White House Travel Office carted off in handcuffs just so she could give some Hollywood friends a business opportunity. And, sure, I was disgusted by Bill’s Baron-and-the-Milkmaid games with a White House intern.

James McDougal, Bill’s former business partner, once said that the Clintons ‘are really sort of like tornadoes moving through people’s lives.’

But it was the little things that made me detest them so. Remember when Clinton went to Ron Brown’s funeral and was yucking it up with a pal only to realize television cameras were rolling? He suddenly started to weep for his dear friend. It was this kind of manipulation of the public — and the way the press and his fans (but I repeat myself) fell for it, that so disgusted me. In 1999, when Hillary was preparing to run for the Senate as the heroic martyr of her own marriage, The New York Times Magazine was brought in to start the roll out. In order to convey that she wasn’t just a policy polymath (who just happened to help deliver a Republican Congress because of her disastrous health-care scheme) but also a super-mom, they set up a display of Chelsea’s collection of Beanie Babies. Never mind that Beanie Babies had only just come on the market and Chelsea was in her second year of college at Stanford, Beanie Babies focus-grouped well.

Which, of course, brings me to the issue of their cynicism. Of course, one could run through the greatest hits from their catalog: the renting of the Lincoln Bedroom, the pardon-selling, and all that. But again, it was the little things. When Bill was down in the polls, he wanted to go on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard to do what he likes best (not counting conducting impromptu Lyme disease tick-checks at Hooters): schmooze with celebrities and play golf. But Dick Morris, his psephological haruspex, had butchered a goat and found that the entrails foretold this would poll poorly. So they all went camping in Yellowstone instead. If only Bill had poll tested his affair with Monica before he pole tested her.

And don’t even get me started with the lying. Bill was one of the most impressive liars in American history. Yes, yes, all politicians lie. But Bill was a savant, a priapistic prodigy of prevarication in which he portrayed himself as a paladin of principle (that was a plug for my spoken word album, Alliteration is my Bag, Baby). “I have vivid and painful memories of black churches being burned in my own state when I was a child.” There were none. “Since I was a little boy, I’ve heard about the Iowa caucuses. That’s why I would really like to do well in them.” The Iowa caucuses started in 1972, when he was at Oxford. In Israel, he said he had met with Palestinian children earlier that day who expressed their love of Israel. He never met with them. He lied about big things too, of course. But, again, it’s the little things.

Among Hillary’s greatest problems wasn’t that she was a liar, but that she was so bad at it. When Bill lied, it was like watching a jazz impresario scat. You could pull him off an intern, slap him in the face with a half-frozen flounder, and he could, without missing a beat, plausibly explain that he was just a gentleman trying to help push the young lady over a fence.

But when Hillary lied, which was often, it was like watching a member of the Politburo explain to a hungry mob of peasants that food-production targets exceeded expectations. Hillary never seemed to fully grasp that Bill’s lying skills did not become community property when they got married along with his collection of back issues of Juggs and that shoe box full of used pregnancy tests. There was music to Bill’s lying while Hillary deceived the way Helen Keller played the piano.

Goodbye to All That

And now they’re gone. Oh sure, they’ll pop up from time to time, the way Bill’s cold sore would keep coming back. But they’re now part of history, not the future. And the best thing about this is it means the gaslighting is over. For virtually my entire adult life, the Clintons have corrupted the apparatchiks of the Democratic party, in and out of the media, by forcing them to go along with the charade. They did it in part because people feared their vindictiveness, to be sure. But their vindictiveness was itself a byproduct of their perceived power.

In 2008, people would ask me if we were finally done with the Clintons and I would respond, “Haven’t you seen any horror movies?” Freddy Krueger and Jason always came back. But now, I think they’re really gone.

Freddy Krueger and Jason always came back. But now, I think they’re really gone.

And with them goes the infatuation — along with the fear. People forget the cult of personality, the willful suspension of credulity, that was integral to these gaslighting grifters. When Bill Clinton congratulated Dan Rather and Connie Chung for their softball interview of the first couple, Rather responded: “If we could be one-hundredth as great as you and Hillary Rodham Clinton have been together in the White House, we’d take it right now and walk away winners.”

Well, now they’re all just walking away.

Various & Sundry

Contrary to lots of speculation, the National Review post-election cruise is going swimmingly. Some feared that it would go literally swimmingly, as the angry mob made many of us walk the plank. Not so. There’s definitely a variety of opinions, but, for the most part, nearly everyone understands where NR was coming from during the election and appreciates that we did right as we saw it. It’s a great bunch of people. Tonight, we’re doing a Night Owl session which originally supposed to be a GLoP podcast. But Rob Long had to cancel at the last minute, so instead we’re doing a special mash-up podcast with me and John Podhoretz versus the cast of Mad Dogs and Englishmen (Charlie Cooke, a.k.a. British Shaggy, and Kevin D. Williamson). Look for it on Ricochet.

Canine Update: As I am at sea (“Not just literally,” — The Couch), I don’t have much to report. The Fair Jessica tells me, however, that the beasts have mostly been on their best behavior. The Dingo did escape once and refused to leave the front yard, despite all attempts at bribery with meat products and promised adventures (usually, if you get in the car with Pippa, she will believe that a squirrel sortie is in the offing. Not this time). I like to think that she was waiting on the front lawn for me to arrive.

I contributed to a Los Angeles Times conservative symposium on the meaning of Trump’s win.

I responded to the appointment of Steve Bannon. But I think Ian Tuttle had the best response.

My Wednesday column was on people who think everything is racist.

Friday’s column was on the “normalization” of Trump.

On November 29, Ramesh and I (and maybe Rich) will be putting on an event on the future of conservatism at AEI in our new super-swanky headquarters. If you’re in town, stop by.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Supermoon around the world

The case against cats (except for my good cat)

Awkward touch escalator prank

Twenty-foot snake drops out of restaurant ceiling

Colorized photographs of women in Tsarist Russia

Cinematic space trips

Don’t be too worried about this colony of herpes-infected monkeys in Florida

Superior gives up one of her dead

The Spielberg face

The broken technology of ghost hunting

SMOD tied with Satan in DeKalb County, Ga.

The 2017 NYC taxi-driver calendar will really rev your engine

Orphan goat raised by two St. Bernards

Hundreds of strangers join man for his last walk with his dying dog

Polar bear pets dog

Mother pup reunited with her litter at animal shelter

“Meet” the zeptosecond, the smallest slice of time yet recorded

Hmmm . . . blood from human teens rejuvenates the body and brains of old mice

(Simpsons did it)

Pilot calms down political argument on his plane

Australian man fined after using drone to bring sausage to his hot tub

Bob Dylan not interested in flying to Sweden for his Nobel Prize