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 shut-ins, obsessives, convicts, unrepentant practitioners of mopery, and masochists who will actually read this epic-length ranty “news”letter from beginning to end),
I have nothing but sympathy for those of you who are sick of my wasting the precious space of this “news”letter on Donald Trump. How you feel about Donald Trump and this “news”letter is how I feel about the raging Trumpster fire raging through my party and my country: Would that we could spare time to talk about something else.
At times, I sometimes think I’m living in a weird remake of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. If you’ve seen any of the umpteen versions, you know the pattern. Someone you know or love goes to sleep one night and appears the next day to be the exact same person you always knew.
Except they’re different, somehow. They talk funny. They don’t care about the same things they used to. It’s almost like they became Canadian overnight — seemingly normal, but off in some way. Even once-friendly dogs start barking at them. I live in constant fear that I will run into Kevin Williamson, Charlie Cooke, or Rich Lowry and they will start telling me that Donald Trump is a serious person because he’s tapping into this or he’s willing to say that. I imagine my dog suddenly barking at them uncontrollably. (I don’t worry about this with Ramesh because Vulcans are immune.)
I’ll say, “I’m sorry Rich, I don’t know what got into her.”
And I can just hear the Lowry-doppelganger replying, “When Mr. Trump is president, dogs will behave or they will pay a price. Just like Paul Ryan and Michelle Fields.”
“Lowry you bastard! You went to sleep! Why!? You went to sleep and now you’re gone!”
I for One Welcome Our New Orange Overlord
I’m losing the will to rebut Donald Trump’s “arguments” because he really doesn’t make any. First of all, most of his interviews are rapidly becoming as journalistically adversarial as the infomercial host asking, “Mr. Foreman, is it really true I’ll lose weight and save money by using the George Foreman grill?”
I’m losing the will to rebut Donald Trump’s ‘arguments’ because he really doesn’t make any.
But more importantly, if you listen to Trump’s answers to almost any question about how he will fix a problem, he uses up the first 95 percent of his time explaining, re-explaining and demagoguing about how bad the problem is. (That is, if he’s not talking about polls.) Then in the last few seconds, he says we’ll fix the problem by being really smart or by winning or by hiring the best people.
In other words, he has no idea how to fix it.
Before Trump gelded him, or before he went to sleep and awoke from his husk with a strange, new, Renfield-like respect for his master, Chris Christie was very good at pointing out how Trump can’t explain how he will do anything. Now no one seems to care.
What I can’t get my head around is how other people can listen to this stuff and hear something substantive or serious. I truly don’t understand it. Or maybe I do understand it, and I just don’t want to because I don’t like what it might say about a lot of people I respect.
The Stages of Trumpodism
Among the commentariat, the first signs of creeping Trumpodism take the form of anti-anti-Trumpism. The argument usually starts off by grudgingly and bloodlessly conceding that Trump is imperfect — who isn’t? Wink wink. Then comes the extended and passionate diatribe about how the real nuts are the ones who are making a big fuss about how awful he is. Sometimes, they talk of “Trumpophobia” without the slightest acknowledgement they are buying into the left-wing crutch of attaching the suffix “phobia” to delegitimize arguments they can’t or won’t deal with.
Politically, anti-anti-Trumpism, as Orwell could have told you, amounts to being objectively pro-Trump, even if it doesn’t sound like it.
Often, the next stage is to lock into a face-palmingly stupid logical fallacy: People said Reagan was awful, therefore people who say Trump is awful must be wrong, too.
In part because I think the word “meme” should be banned, I suspect this argument is an earworm. (That’s a calque for ohrwurm for those of you who subscribe to this “news”letter for the pretentious Tuetonic-tinged sesquipedalianism. (“‘Sesquipedalian’ refers to long words, not obscure ones, you fraudulent logophile!” — the Couch.)
But this earworm isn’t Milli Vanilli’s “Girl You Know It’s True . . .”; it’s “They Called Reagan Bad Things, Too.”
I shouldn’t have to explain this, but you could replace “Reagan” with “Charles Manson” or “Carrot Top” or “Bud Gretnick the narcoleptic plumber of Muncie, Indiana” and it would have exactly as much logical power. Just because some people were wrong about one politician nearly 40 years ago, doesn’t mean completely different people are wrong about a completely different politician four decades later.
For a pristine example of this argument, see Edward Luttwak’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal from earlier this week. (Or stay tuned to this “news”letter because it will come back.) The really infuriating part is the hidden bait-and-switch buried in this fallacy. The people who said that Reagan was a dunce, a fool, or fraud were liberals. The alleged “Trumpophobes” the Trumpods are aiming their fire at are actually conservatives. It’s a weird kind of stupid to say that Trump is like Reagan because liberals said Reagan was a fool — in response to conservatives who say Trump is a fool.
The next stage of conversion is the power-lusting gaze at Trump’s popularity. “He’s tapping into something real,” is repeated endlessly as if tapping into anger justifies pretty much anything.
I understand the anger. I understand that political junkies are likely to marvel at anything that arouses such political passion. I also understand that politicians have a weakness for anything that inspires the masses. I remember how the sainted Jack Kemp was just a bit too spellbound by Louis Farrakhan’s Million Man March, for example.
But what bothers me is the way that this admiration or appreciation bleeds into power-worship. One of the most illuminating aspects of this entire sorry chapter in American history — and it’s not even done yet — is how so many smart people reply to criticisms of Trump with declarations about his popularity and his success. This form of argumentum ad populum is more fit for ancient Rome. The people want blood sport! Give them blood sport! I get that people are legitimately hurting from the effects of globalization and Obama’s ridiculous policies. That doesn’t make protectionism any more advisable.
The next phase of the Trumpodian metamorphosis is often a weird self-serving braggadocio. Trump’s fans will often respond to a criticism of Trump by bragging that they knew “from the beginning” that Trump was going to be big.
It goes something like this: I offer a criticism of Trump. Someone freaks out at me on Twitter by saying “Who cares what you think!?” or “You just don’t get it!” and then they follow up by boasting about how they always knew Trump would be big, like some aging, bitter music critic who saw Lou Reed play early on in some dive bar in Newark. “I knew he had ‘it’ the moment I saw him!”
Well, the first problem with this kind of argument can be summarized in the timeless words of Aristotle: “So f***ing what!?”
Bully for you! How does that rebut my claim that he has no clue how health care works or my argument that protectionism is dangerous? Saying you predicted Trump’s appeal isn’t a reply, it’s changing the topic to some utterly meaningless preening about yourself. I remember predicting that Bill Clinton would win the election not long after his comeback in New Hampshire in 1992. Does that mean Clinton’s policies were right? I didn’t predict that Obama would be reelected in 2012, but does that mean my criticisms of his policies are somehow wrong?
Oh, and just to be clear: Donald Trump ain’t no Lou Reed, he’s more like Vanilla Ice or Andrew Dice Clay. Just because a performer — and that’s what Trump is, a performer — has a marketable formula doesn’t make him a genius. Justin Bieber made $58 million in 2013. I’d rather have his pet monkey tutor my kid.
Logically, this reflex strikes me as idiotic. But psychologically, it’s telling. I suspect it’s a way to signal that you are more tapped into what the masses want and show your loyalty to the Cause.
Dog Fart America
I’m reminded of a scene from Don Quixote: A man walks into the center of town and gathers a crowd for the show he’s about to put on. The man picks up a dog and inserts a tube into its ass. The man then begins to inflate the canine like a balloon. The crowd watches, fascinated. The dog grows larger and rounder. Eventually, the man pulls the tube out and the air escapes loudly from the poor pooch’s rectum as it runs away.
The performer turns to the crowd and asks something like: “You think it’s easy to inflate a dog with a tube?”
That guy may be the best dog-inflator in the world. He may have tapped into something real — the need to see extreme reverse dog farting — but that doesn’t mean we should make him president.
Driving home from the airport on Wednesday, I happened to hear part of Sean Hannity’s interview of Newt Gingrich on the radio. Gingrich, whom I like and respect, said something along the lines of “Trump’s waging a campaign of high policy” or “He’s winning voters over with policy at the highest level.” I can’t give you the exact quote because when I heard it, I almost crashed into a mailbox. Gingrich added, more plausibly, that Trump is running perhaps the most nationalist campaign since Andrew Jackson.
This prompted a good question from Hannity: “What’s the difference between a nationalist and a conservative?”
Newt answered that a nationalist wakes up every morning asking, “What can I do to further America’s interests?” (or something along those lines). He then added that a conservative is more likely to have bought into the “post–World War II international order.” The implication being that conservatives are kind of like cookie-pushing internationalists who care more about going to Davos than fighting for America. This is largely the kind of argument you hear from Laura Ingraham, who at least seems to believe it. Then Gingrich went on and on about how terrible the U.N. is.
Now, again, I like Gingrich. But this is flim-flammery. It would’ve been nice if Sean had asked Newt to explain how that answer reflects on Gingrich, given that the former speaker almost single-handedly got NAFTA passed. Moreover, the idea that, say, National Review’s opposition to Trump is grounded in — or even related to — our desire to protect the United Nations is insane.
What dismays me is I have to believe Gingrich knows this. He’s smarter than I am and better read. It’s stuff like this that makes me feel like checking under Newt’s bed for the remnants of the giant space pod that took over his body.
It was either Aristotle or Larry Storch who said, “You can’t be disappointed in your enemies, only your friends.” And that brings me to my friend Bill Bennett. I’ve known, admired, and defended Bill for years. He’s a mensch and a fighter of noble causes.
I am a frequent listener to Bill’s radio show, mostly when perambulating my canines. Bill is not entirely pro-Trump, but he’s certainly anti-anti-Trump. Bill says concerns about Trump amount to “Trumpophobia.” Last week, he asked rhetorically, “Is it because he’s crude?” And then Bill Bennett rhapsodized about how he’s so worldly that a little profanity doesn’t bother him. Again, we’re talking about Bill-fudging-Bennett (that was a fantastic example of tmesis by the way). That’s not the Bill Bennett I know.
Then there’s this from last week’s Washington Post:
“I’m used to being the moral scold, but Trump is winning fair and square, so why should the nomination be grabbed from him?” asked Bennett, now a conservative radio host. “We’ve been trying to get white working-class people into the party for a long time. Now they’re here in huge numbers because of Trump and we’re going to alienate them? I don’t get it. Too many people are on their high horse.”
Again: I love Bill. But I don’t know anyone who knows the view from the saddle more than Bill. Here’s an abbreviated list of his books:
The Book of Virtues
The Devaluing of America: Fight for Our Culture and Our Faith
The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals
The Broken Hearth: Reversing the Collapse of the American Family
Index of Cultural Indicators: Facts and Figures on the State of American Society
The Children’s Book of Heroes; The Children’s Book of Faith
The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood
Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism
And here’s just a few things that I would have thought the author of these books would find disqualifying for a president of the United States and de facto standard-bearer of conservatism.
Trump said it doesn’t matter what the media writes about you “as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.”
Trump boasted that his ordeal of avoiding the clap while sleeping around so much amounted to his own “personal Vietnam.”
He said that John McCain’s ordeal avoiding dying at the hands of his torturers wasn’t heroic.
As for everyone else’s Vietnam, Trump got out of that by claiming to have a medical condition that instantly healed when hostilities ended.
He bragged — in print! — about bedding married women and has admitted to cheating on at least two of his wives.
He boasted that he “whines until I win.”
He’s condemned Charles Krauthammer, George Will, and many other friends of Bill’s (including yours truly) with far, far more vitriol than he condemns Vladimir Putin, the butchers of Tiananmen, and David Duke.
The man is so lacking in moral clarity that he dismissed Vladimir Putin’s murdering of journalists by saying, “I think our country does plenty of killing also.”
This is a man who expresses a passionate desire to change the First Amendment so he can punish journalists who don’t kowtow to him.
This is a man who praised the mass murder at Tiananmen and criticized Gorbachev for not being as tough-minded.
This is a man who says he “reads the Bible more than anybody” but can’t — after months of opportunities — speak intelligently about it for 30 seconds.
This is a man who, by any objective measure, lies nearly as much as Bill Clinton but with a tenth of the skill.
He lacks the patriotic seriousness to do minimal homework, even when his ignorance has been pointed out time and again. (Bill’s colleague Hugh Hewitt asked Trump about the nuclear triad in August. Several months later, when the question came up again Trump was, if anything, more ignorant.)
This is a man whose business dealings have been shot through with shady practices, mob ties, and fraudulent claims (also known as “lies”).
This is a man with a totally thumbless grasp of what the Constitution is about or what conservatism is (“Conservatism means,” according to Trump, “to conserve our money”).
This is a man who boasted for months that he will torture our enemies and indiscriminately murder their children as a matter of policy.
This is a man who says that the last Republican president deliberately lied us into war and plays coy about whether 9/11 was an inside job.
Now, Bill has criticized some of these things, he just doesn’t think they add up to anything that justifies trying to keep this guy from taking over the GOP or the country. And, bear in mind, I haven’t even talked about Trump’s “policies.”
To Bill’s credit, he had me on the show on Monday to argue with him about it all. We did. My heart wasn’t entirely in it because I hate being at odds with Bill. I think that’s one reason why I didn’t do as well as I could have. Another reason: I couldn’t believe what Bennett was saying. (Here’s the full audio.) Remember the aforementioned Reagan fallacy?
This is a partial and rough transcript:
Jonah: Conservatism has more to do with gratitude, as our friend Yuval Levin puts it. Conservatism, as Lincoln put it, was the adherence to the old and tried against the new and untried. And to those things that we love, that have made this country great. That we should be grateful for. And my problem with Donald Trump is he says he wants to make America great again and yet he reveals not an iota of understanding about what made America great.
Bennett: Well, neither did Reagan.
Bennett: I was just reading Bill Leuchtenberg . . . Just bear with me for a minute and I’ll come back to your argument.
Bennett: This is Bill Leuchtenberg, great Democrat, liberal, friend of mine. Wrote [The American President:] From Theodore Roosevelt to Bill Clinton. “No one ever entered the White House so grossly ill-informed as RR. In all fields of public affairs, from diplomacy to the economy, the president stunned Washington by how little he knew.” “His mind,” said Peggy Noonan, who was well-disposed toward him, “was barren terrain.” I wonder if Peggy would like to be reminded of that. Columnist David Broder wrote “the task of watering the arid desert between Reagan’s ears was a challenging one for his aides.” And on and on it goes. Now this was said, that he was dumb and stupid and had no grasp of policy. Now his grasp of policy in some areas was very thin. I know. I was there. I was one of the areas. He was interested in what I was doing but he had very little grasp of the right policy there. So these things were said about him. He also said that the main job he had was to win. Remember: we win, they lose. Trump is saying similar things . . .
Jonah: There are two things going on there. First of all, I think Leuchtenberg is a great historian, but that assessment of Reagan is sort of ludicrous, at least in terms of what I’m talking about.
Bennett: No, but it was what a lot of people thought for a very long time. It’s certainly what the Left thought, almost forever.
Jonah: That’s fine. But I think a non-biased, objective observer would know that Ronald Reagan had thought deeply and seriously about his philosophical biases, about his core principles. The guy read Hayek. You read his diary, this is a guy who had thought deeply about what he believed about the world and how the world works. Now yes, he may not have known about the fineries of tax policy or education policy. That’s fine. But the idea that he didn’t have core convictions about liberty, the Constitution, the role of government, and that was obvious even at the time. And if liberals want to dismiss it, that’s fine, but that’s their bag, that is not the truth.
Bennett: But is it, can I just ask this? Isn’t it fair to say, in the broadest outlines, we can see, yes, there’s been some nibbling at it and some backing away from it, some core convictions on the part of Trump?
Jonah: I don’t see it. I honestly don’t see it.
I Hate This
I truly fear that this is an existential crisis for the conservative movement I’ve known my whole life.
I know I’m being glib and jocular as I criticize Bill and other friends. That’s basically how I argue. But let me be clear (as Obama likes to say too often): I hate this. I hate it. I hate attacking people I respect. I hate hearing from former fans who say they’re ashamed to have ever admired me or my writing. I hate being unable to meet fellow conservatives half-way. One of the things I love about conservatism is that we argue about our principles; as I’ve written 8 billion times — more or less — we debate our dogma. I love our principled disagreements. But I honestly and sincerely don’t see this as a mere principled disagreement. I see this as an argument about whether or not we should set fire to some principles in a foolish desire to get on the right side of some “movement.” I have never been more depressed about the state of American politics or the health of the conservative movement. I hate the idea that political disagreements will poison friendships — in no small part because as a conservative I think friendship should be immune to politics. I certainly hate having to tell my wife that my political views may negatively affect our income. But I truly fear that this is an existential crisis for the conservative movement I’ve known my whole life. And all I can do is say what I believe. If Donald Trump is elected president, I sincerely and passionately hope I will be proven wrong about all of this. But I just as sincerely and passionately believe I won’t be.
Various & Sundry
I wrote most of this very late Thursday night in California, which means it was extremely late according to my body clock. I had a speech for the Pacific Research Institute last night (Friday) and now I’m going on vacation with my family. I probably will not file next week, and given the absurd length of the above diatribe, that’s probably for the best for everyone. I need the break, and you probably do, too. I have no canine updates to report, other than the fact Zoë is very happy the spring weather has lured the vermin out of their arboreal and subterranean lairs. So below are some weird links.