I’m Not Going To Say I Told You So ... But

Okay, maybe just a little.

Dear Reader (Including those of you patiently awaiting Lord Xenu’s return),

As I’ve mentioned a few times, one of my favorite scenes in On Golden Pond is when Tony Montana is driving an assassin around Manhattan to kill a crusading politician before the do-gooder can give a speech at the U.N. Long story short, Tony has a rule about not killing kids. (After all, as Omar says in Muppets Take Manhattan, “A man’s got to have a code.”) The assassin doesn’t care, so Tony shoots him in the face, then says to the not yet suppurating maw where his face once was, “I told you, no f---ing kids! No, but you wouldn't listen, why, you stupid f--k, look at you now.”

I bring this up because I think I need to take my Prevagen®  for “Memory and Brain Support”—the secret is an ingredient originally found in jellyfish! And we all know jellyfish have really terrific memories. Have you ever seen a jellyfish wandering around a parking lot after a concert or football game wondering where he parked? I rest my case.

No seriously, I’m fascinated by those ads because of the way they say “jellyfish”;  they make it sound like it should have been obvious all along that there would be a memory enhancing substance in jellyfish. If the same ad touted an ingredient originally found in, say, sparrow beaks or Komodo dragon spit it wouldn’t be remotely plausible. But jellyfish? That’s the 7 Minute Abs of good ideas.

Anyway, another reason I bring this up: It occurred to me yesterday that I never had my chance to gloat about, you know, being proven right about Donald Trump. Kevin Williamson took his victory lap this week. I wouldn’t be surprised if Charlie Sykes woke up in a hotel bathtub in Cabo, covered in spooled up $100 bills from partying so hard.

For years, I waited for my moment to say, “You stupid f---s, look at you now!” Sure, I could still have my intern scour my library of receipts like Sam Tarly at the Citadel library, pulling down volume after volume of I-told-you-so fodder, so full the bindings groan like the buttons on my prom tuxedo pants when I try them on.  But now it kinda feels like the moment has passed.

And, yes, I know that people who don’t want to be reminded they were wrong think all I do is gloat (and if you’re sick of hearing about Trump, feel free to scroll down to the next section). I know this, because many of them tell me as much. Well, take my word for it, I have shown heroic restraint.

One reason I haven’t unloaded is that it seemed inappropriate when the full outrage of January 6 was still to be revealed (and I suspect we haven’t heard it all yet). While Trump’s behavior was a perfect fulfillment of my “character is destiny” mantra, it felt exploitative to dunk on people before the dead were buried.

If the siege never happened, and all we had were his lies about the election and his myriad corrupt pardons,  it would have been easier to dance the dance of vindication and sing the song of I-told-you-so.

But the main reason I haven’t rained honeycrisps all over the political battle space just so I could say, “How do you like them apples?” is that vast swaths of the right still don’t see that they were wrong about anything.

Nearly all the usual suspects are like little kids who like to play with matches, despite constant warnings not to, standing in front of the smoldering ashes of their own home. When you say, “Do you understand now?” They’re like, “What? What’s the big deal?”

Worse, they’re constantly whining about how everything is so unfair. Newt  Gingrich is blathering about how Democrats want to “exterminate” Republicans. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz are pretending they were right all along, and Jim Jordan is spewing nonsense about how impeachment is the apotheosis of unjust cancel culture.  Hell, Bill Bennett is demanding that Biden “apologize” for Trump’s first impeachment (and stop the unjust and divisive second one). I am unaware of Bill saying that Trump has anything to apologize for in the events that got him impeached either time—or for anything else. My friend Bill Bennett—The author of The Death of Outrage, The Book of Virtues, The Moral Compass, The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood, et al.—looks upon Donald Trump, consults his clipboard of virtue, and says, “Yep. This checks out.”

Not since (the often unfairly maligned) Herbert Hoover has a president delivered the trifecta of losing the White House, the Senate, and the House after a single term. Yet, to listen to the primetime apologists and their enabling coteries, it is Donald Trump who is owed an apology from Democrats and unceasing effusions of praise from Republicans. And unlike Kevin Bacon saying,“Thank you sir, may I have another!” through gritted teeth, these people seem to really mean it.

My point is that while there’s plenty to gloat about, I don’t feel like gloating (much), because these people are taking all the fun out of it by doubling down on many of the worst aspects of Trumpism, starting with an utter denial that they did—or are doing—anything wrong. It’s one thing to dance in the end zone and celebrate a win. But when the losing team and its fans call the scoreboard “fake news” and just keep bleating about how they didn’t really lose, or that the game was rigged, or that they did nothing wrong when they told their fans to storm the field and wreck the place, gloating is robbed of some of its luster. And when good sportsmanship is redefined as pretending the losers were in fact cheated, anger is hard to keep at bay.

It is a prudential question whether going through with impeachment is the right call. As for the question of principle—whether his conduct was impeachable—I hope you didn’t leave anything in that case, because it’s closed. The mob could have stood in silent vigil around the Capitol, holding Trump-musk scented candles, and what he did would still be worthy of impeachment.

We don’t need to get into all that again, but listening to the Lindsey Graham Chorus insist that the path to unity is kowtowing to the minority of Americans who don’t want him impeached makes me want to eat Tide Pods. It’d be one thing if Graham himself gave a rat’s ass about unity, but he doesn’t. Instead, he always claims the real issue is Biden’s hypocrisy because Biden says he wants unity. One wonders what Lindsey would say if Biden simply wanted justice and accountability? It’s just another example of conservatives borrowing liberal principles because they forgot their own. And I don’t mean he’s borrowing liberal principles because he believes in them. No, he just wants to use a principle he doesn’t care about to claim that someone else is hypocritical. Because liberal hypocrisy—which is real, of course—is the only thing these people know how to get angry about now.

Filibusted.

Speaking of hypocrisy, that reminds me: One nice thing about this return to normalcy is we get to complain about normal asininity again. Like dogs returning to their vomit, liberals are returning to the argument that the legislative filibuster is racist.

Now, it’s true that the filibuster was used by segregationist Democrats to block civil rights legislation. It wasn’t, however, invented by segregationists for that purpose—it was a preexisting mechanism they exploited. But let’s say it was invented by racists to protect slavery or Jim Crow laws. Would that mean it’s still racist today?

As I’ve pointed out countless times, minimum wage laws were promulgated by progressive economists and other intellectuals a century ago for racist and eugenic ends. As E.A. Ross famously said, the “coolie cannot outdo the American but he can underlive him.” The idea was that “subhumans” could afford lower wages than “decent white folks” could. Guarantee a white man’s wage and you’ll get only white workers. Should we abolish the minimum wage?

Personally, I think the case that the minimum wage can have serious negative consequences that disproportionately affect blacks and other minorities has some merit. But that’s an argument for another time (maybe I’ll talk about it on my podcast today). But not for a moment do I think the liberals who push the minimum wage have racist intent, which is why I don’t go around calling Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders racist for wanting to hike it to $15 an hour.

The point being that an idea or policy or rule can have racist origins or history and not be racist anymore. For all I know the slaves who built the pyramids were intrinsically linked to innovations in masonry. That doesn’t mean masonry has the mark of Cain. Or let’s take the mostly ridiculous argument—that spread like wildfire last summer—that policing in America was born as slave patrolling. Let’s say it’s 100 percent true. Would that mean the Atlanta PD is a thoroughly racist institution, never mind so racist that it should be abolished? Woodrow Wilson was a racist who regretted that the South lost the Civil War. He also signed the law creating the Federal Reserve. That doesn’t make the Federal Reserve a Klavern. 

So, let’s get back to the filibuster. This Jim Crow filibuster thing isn’t an argument, it’s marketing. Slap a racist label on something and ta-da! It’s no longer legitimate. Yes, it’s true Strom Thurmond set a record with his failed 24 hour, 18 minute filibuster of civil rights legislation in 1957. That was racist. You know who’s record he broke? Oregon Sen. Wayne Morse who, in 1953, spoke for longer than 22 hours against Tidelands Oil legislation. Was that racist? Do you watch Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and think, “Man, I can’t believe that Jimmy Stewart played a racist”?

Last summer, Democrats killed a police reform bill authored by a black Republican senator, Tim Scott, by threatening to filibuster it. Were they racists?

There are serious arguments for getting rid of the filibuster. I’m not persuaded by them, nor am I persuaded by the claims by Ezra Klein and others that doing away with it will cure polarization. But it’s certainly true that the filibuster wasn’t part of the Founders’ original design. Though that’s a hard data point for people screeching about the eternal transitive property of racism to deploy in their favor. After all, they use similar flimsy claims to argue for the abolishment of the Electoral College—the same allegedly racist Electoral College that Democrats boasted about being on their side until 2016. They say the Founders created the Electoral College to protect slavery, and that therefore it’s illegitimate. Again, that’s not true. But if you think it is, how far down the field do you get by boasting that the same racist Founders never intended the filibuster?

I spent five years pushing back on the bogus claim that the system was rigged if it didn’t yield the results Trump wanted. I see no reason to show any more sympathy for the bogus claim that the system is racist if Democrats don’t get what they want.

Various & Sundry

Animal update: Okay, I have a story. Yesterday I came home after a brief trip out to write my column and smoke a cigar (heated seats, baby!). I had forgotten to lock the door to the back yard, which I rarely do because Pippa has figured out how to, velociraptor-like, pull the handle down and open it. So I came home to a very cold house, with the backyard door open. I greeted the welcoming committee and closed the door. 

Some of you may recall me telling you about the very masculine Chester, our neighbor’s cat. Chester is the alpha cat of our block, though Gracie would never concede any questioning of her sovereignty. Chester loves to prowl around our house and troll our cats like Frank Burns taunting Hawkeye when Hawkeye was confined to quarters (“I can go in, I can go out”). It’s gotten worse of late because the Fair Jessica has taken to giving him treat.s (My wife is one of the toughest women I’ve ever known, but give her an opportunity to feed an animal and she turns into a 5-year-old girl). 

Anyway, about 40 minutes later, I hear the sort of “meeeeooooowwr” that is usually prelude to a wine-soaked donnybrook on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, i.e., a cat fight. I leapt up, which instantly ignited the dogs into the sort of frenzy you’d expect at the basement office at the Pentagon when responding to an alien invasion: long tedium suddenly interrupted by “It’s happening!” mayhem. I look over in the corner of the kitchen to see Chester inside the house, with a full, “What are you gonna do about it?” expression. I have no idea how long he was inside the perimeter since I don’t know when Pippa opened the door in the first place. Both cats—presumably the source of the “I can’t believe you slept with my pool boy!”-quality “meeeeeooowwrr”—were 10 feet away wondering why I hadn’t tazed Chester yet. I ran to the back door, opened it, and—defying thousands of years of accumulated civilizational wisdom—tried to reason with Chester. “Go!” I pleaded. And, as if on command, Pippa immediately ran out, expecting to play fetch. 

The unfortunate consequence of this was Chester’s only exit was now blocked, Pippa playing the unmovable canine Scylla, to Chester’s Charybdis, or Odie to Chester’s Garfield. Chester leapt up on the windowsill and tried to escape along the back of the bench. Zoë, who I had by the collar, was fuming. She glared at me like she was Bruce Wayne when the Joker crashes his party, and I was Alfred whispering, “Don’t do it, Master Wayne.” I grabbed her by the collar and decided to take advantage of what my wife’s bleeding heart had wrought and dragged the Dingo with me—lest she exercise her duties as Lord Protector of the Treat & Scritch Givers—as I sprinted to the counter to get some cat treats in the hope I could entreat Chester to follow them after flinging them outside. But when I turned back, Chester was … gone. I hoped he vanished out the door, but I didn’t know. 

I had to delay taking the dogs out for a half hour search as I turned into Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive. I told all four quadrupeds: “What I want out of each and every one of you is a hard target search of every couch, cabinet, bathroom, bedroom, playroom, litter box, and scratching post in the area.” The dogs were into it. The cats were fine with delegating. I didn’t find him. But all night I worried that Chester was John McClane-ing it in my own Nakatomi Plaza, peeing “Ho Ho Ho” on my best suits. I expected to wake up to Chester splayed, legs akimbo, shouting “Yippee-Ki-Yay, Biped!” as he pounced on my face.

I spotted him this morning on our front step, wondering where my wife was.

Other than that, everybody is fine. They don’t know that the Fair Jessica and my daughter Lucy are returning in the morning, a fact that has me so giddy that Morgan Freeman should be narrating my day.

ICYMI

Last week’s G-File

Last weekend’s Ruminant

Rudy Giuliani, America’s professional crazy person

Listen in to Bret Baier’s podcast to hear from Matt Continetti, Tom Bevan of RCP, and me

We like Ike

Our Dispatch Podcast on the inauguration

The week’s first (due to delays) Remnant with Mo Elleithee

What about Whataboutism?

And now, the weird stuff

Wikipedia has a Middle English translation

The real-life Jedi Order is tax-exempt

The Guinness World Record for “most fraudulent election”: Liberia 1927

Good old… Johnnie Worker scotch?

Popular Affront

The disservice of our national news media is far worse than just ‘bias.’

Dear cable-news bookers, producers, and executives (as well as other interested parties),

If you haven’t noticed, things aren’t going great in our politics. I’ll skip the usual handwringing summary, since (if you care at all about the country or follow current events even modestly) the basic outlines of our predicament should already be apparent. Polarization, hyper-partisanship, tribalism, identity politics, nationalism, socialism, secessionism: Pick your poison.

Indeed these were problems before last week, when we saw a massive mob, egged on by the president, storm the Capitol. The vanguard of that mob—or at least a well-prepared portion of it—was reportedly determined to take legislators as prisoners and/or kill them, and some of them wanted to hang the vice president for not committing an unconstitutional act on behalf of the president. Outside the Capitol, men beat a police officer with American flag poles, attempted to murder other cops, and in fact killed one. Not to be overlooked, many prominent conservative activists and media figures either actively helped organize the “Save America” rally, or promoted it.

Henry David Thoreau once said, “Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.”

Friends, we have a very large trout in our milk, and that’s where you come in.

As I have argued at book length (now out in paperback!), most of the big problems facing us require large generational efforts. Teaching civics and encouraging basic patriotism can’t be done overnight. Another religious Great Awakening could help, but I have no idea how one gets that started.

But I do have a modest suggestion for a relatively small and utterly doable thing that might help. Bear with me.

Down with popular fronts.

For a great many reasons, both parties have a popular-front problem. Historically, a popular front is a broad coalition of disparate groups on the left who agree to overlook their various ideological and political differences for the sake of unity against a common foe. Some popular fronts were justified, and some were disastrous. For instance, the old Jacobin rallying cry, “No Enemies to the Left,” was a standard mantra among 20th century popular-front movements. (The fuller version: pas d’ennemis à gauche, pas d’amis à droit; “No enemies to the left, no friends to the right.”) Alexander Kerensky followed this rule, all but paving the way for the Bolsheviks to come to power. In America, popular frontism nearly led to disaster, but some good liberals at Americans for Democratic Action and in the Democratic party realized that finding common cause with communists loyal to Moscow was a recipe for calamity. 

Whether warranted or not, all popular-front movements share the same flaw: They demand that individuals and institutions be loyal to a single political agenda as well as deferential to ideas they do not actually hold.

Can anybody honestly dispute that this describes much of what’s going on today?

Mirror, mirror.

For most of the Democratic primaries, the competition was almost entirely over who could prove they were the most woke, the most committed to the Green New Deal and Medicare for All, the most determined to issue illegal executive orders to implement the base’s agenda. One sure way to get booed was to raise the possibility that someone was wrong or that their ideas wouldn’t work or be too expensive. It wasn’t until it dawned on actual voters that this popular-front approach was likely to get Donald Trump reelected that Joe Biden finally caught fire.

Republicans used to reject popular frontism as a matter of principle (more about that in a moment). But that principle started to melt away once Donald Trump got the nomination. Nearly all that remained disappeared down the drain after he got elected. For the last four years, at the national level, on TV, talk radio, and in Congress, unity was the highest value—specifically, unity around Donald Trump. It got to the point that support for the man and all his foibles—not any idea, principle, or political program—became for many the single litmus test for who is a conservative. Spoiler: That’s not conservatism.

Simultaneously, the national liberal media mirrored this dynamic. Mirrors reflect images in reverse after all, and liberal media was as uniformly anti-Trump as conservative media was pro-Trump. Like two mimes pretending to be one person looking at his reflection, they presented parallel universes in real time.

The problem is that neither image reflected reality. On Fox News, where I am a contributor (though you might not know it from watching it, and who knows how even this “news”letter will be received), serious objections to Trump were reserved for liberals and Democrats. Yes, of course there have been exceptions to this rule (most notably Fox News Sunday and Special Report), but so few that they help to prove it. Many conservatives, including many who generally supported Trump, objected to his tweeting, his rudeness, and his indiscipline, just to name a few. But you wouldn’t know it from watching Fox & Friends or Fox at prime time. Such objections were reserved for liberals and Democrats—if they were aired at all, accurately or otherwise. For a normal person, the rational takeaway from such programming is that to be a conservative is to be someone who doesn’t object to Trump or Trumpism in any of the particulars. That’s simply not the truth.

Want to know why so many millions of decent Americans believe the election was stolen? Because that’s what they were told—not just by Donald Trump, but by those who echo his statements uncritically. The news side of Fox honorably didn’t peddle those lies, but Lou Dobbs, Jeanine Pirro, and countless guests of both the news and opinion side did, including, heartbreakingly, Bill Bennett.* Meanwhile these lies were reported as “news” by OANN, Newsmax, and other execrable fake news outlets. Politicians like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley know that the audiences that believe this stuff want to hear it, so they went on TV and repeated it. It’s then covered as legitimate news—and in a way it is—and the feedback loop turns into a cyclotron of bullshit.

More broadly, in an age of intense negative partisanship, telling conservatives they’re not part of the team if they disagree with Trump or think Trump critics have a point is a great way to intensify tribalism among conservatives—and liberals. If a liberal tunes in and hears all the conservatives parroting Trump about the election being stolen or how there’s no wisdom or legitimacy to Trump’s impeachments, or how Trump’s rhetoric is just fine and the only people objecting are Juan Williams or Donna Brazile, it is entirely reasonable for them to conclude that conservatism is the cult of personality they were already inclined to think it is. This view, of course, is then reinforced by liberal media, which invites a wide diversity of guests onto both their news and opinion programs who all agree on the same premise.

At least the popular frontism of liberal media is often about actual issues and not just Donald Trump hatred, but it’s no less pernicious. There are definitely socialists in the Democratic party. There are definitely people who believe in all manner of extreme or mockable ideas, from defunding the police, to eliminating cow farts, to the core thesis of the 1619 Project. But you know what? There are lots who don’t. But good luck discovering that by watching vast swaths of MSNBC. If you’re a conservative watching or reading most of the national liberal media, you’d be right to conclude that the Democrats are pretty close to the radical left-wing monolith the conservative media depicts them as.

Decent and reasonable liberals—and there are many of them—don’t appreciate the damage their popular frontism does to their own cause. Forget the merits of why it was wrong for The Atlantic to fire Kevin Williamson, or for the New York Times to cave to its own staff over the Tom Cotton op-ed—the message non-liberals take from such spectacles is: Wow, I’ll never be welcome in that world.

One of the reasons we launched The Dispatch in the first place was to cut through this co-dependent dysfunction. Each side identifies the worst version of the other side and holds it up as a Medusa’s head, claiming that it represents the whole of the other side. Team A unfairly caricatures Team B. Team B says, “Look at how unfair they are!” and then unfairly caricatures Team A, using the initial caricature as proof of their unfairness. And back and forth it goes. It’s like Baptists and Bootleggers, each sustaining the other until both audiences believe the other audience is exactly like the people they see on TV.

Rebuilding conservatism.

Now, I make no apologies for caring more about the health of conservatism. I’ve dedicated my professional life to conservatism and I sincerely believe that America desperately needs a healthy conservative movement. But a healthy conservatism depends on a healthy liberalism. The more extreme the left gets, the more justified the right will feel in responding with extremism, and vice versa.

Serious conservatives used to understand this. As I’ve written many times, the conservative movement didn’t have its successes because it followed a popular-front strategy. Rather, conservatives debated (and sometimes fought) among themselves. Read Nash’s Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945. It’s as much about conservatives warring among themselves as it is about conservatives fighting the left, maybe even more so. Social conservatives versus libertarians, neocons versus paleocons, traditionalists versus capitalists, the devout versus the secular: These debates are what made conservatism a viable movement from the 1940s to, well, pick your own end date.  

William F. Buckley’s Firing Line and National Review hosted intense intra-conservative debates. One of the most important events in the history of conservatism was when, in 1978, William F. Buckley debated Ronald Reagan over ratification of the Panama Canal Treaty.

I should say those kinds of debates still go on now. National Review ran three competing good-faith essays over whether conservatives should vote for Trump in 2020 (Andrew McCarthy: Yes; Ramesh Ponnuru: No; Charlie Cooke: Maybe). Think tanks, which get so much scorn from the new national populists whipping up grievance porn against “the establishment,” remain a home for this kind of debate and good faith disagreement. At AEI, where I am proud to work, we have all manner of internal disagreements about policy, Trump, economics etc. No one calls anyone a cuck or a traitor.

But you know where serious debates don’t take place? On cable news, talk radio, or more importantly, in Congress where political disagreements are supposed to be hotly debated. The Parliament of Pundits that Congress has become is the consequence of many things, but one of them is that primaries are now won by courting TV audiences addicted to popular-front orthodoxy and tribalism.

Here’s one life hack …

So here is my modest proposal to the people who put people on TV: Don’t be afraid to have conservatives disagree with conservatives and liberals disagree with liberals. First of all, such debates are far more interesting than 99 percent of left-right debates, because the combatants can’t proceed far off the starting line without getting mired in first principles.  

By all means, keep it civil, but don’t worry about confusing the audience, because the audience needs to be confused. When we are confused, we struggle to dispel the fog. We listen to arguments. We weigh facts. We consider the track record of those asking us to trust their judgment. We make decisions based upon persuasion. In other words, we engage in the stuff of this thing called “citizenship.”

When we get fed only what we want to hear, it becomes a contest for who can sell the purest junk. Edmund Burke, the founder of modern conservatism, noted as much when he predicted the tragic end of the French Revolution. The popular-front mentality fosters a competition to be the purest and most popular among the most passionate, rather than the most persuasive. Delegates to the French National Assembly, Burke observed, became “bidders at an auction of popularity.” The dynamic inexorably led to a climate where “if any of them should happen to propose a scheme of liberty, soberly limited, and defined with proper qualifications, he will be immediately outbid by his competitors, who will produce something more splendidly popular.”

Democracy is supposed to be about disagreements, not agreements. Forced unity, outside of war or some other national emergency, is antithetical to democracy and poisonous to civility. It’s become a cliché to say we live in two Americas. If that’s true, the people running the media of each nation have an obligation to do more than just live off demonization of the other nation. 

Various & Sundry

Canine update: So the dogs now think the Fair Jessica will never come back and I am their only caretaker (not counting Aunt Kirsten who takes them on wonderful midday adventures during the week). It makes life around the house a bit stressful because when they’re not amped up they follow me around a little bit like Kathy Bates following James Caan in Misery. “Where are you going?” “Why do you need to go upstairs?” “We better go with you just in case.” And of course, “Why did you stop the scritching?” And every time I come back to the house, even after the briefest departure, I get the full welcoming committee treatment. As I think I mentioned last week, they both seem to have been a bit traumatized by our long absence and a dog sitter they didn’t know. It definitely made Zoë more anxious, food driven, and possessive. Last weekend, Zoë found an old semi-desiccated pelt of a squirrel or maybe a rabbit. I told her to drop it. I might as well have told her to do long division. I tried to pry it out of her mouth. A small piece came free. But Zoë then concluded that she needed to hide it from me. Normally that would mean running off into the woods and burying it. But she was on leash and I couldn’t let her off where we were. So she used her only other hiding place: Her belly. She chewed that thing like a sheet of paper made of furry rabbit jerky (which it pretty much was) and swallowed all of it. I’ve waited all week for signs it made her sick. But nope, the iron gut Dingo scored another win. Pippa, for her part, has gotten just a little harder to photograph. She’s not the canine Greta Garbo Zoë is (“No pictures!”) but she turns her head more just when I’m about to take a picture. The cats are fine. Ralph, too, seems increasingly convinced I’m the sole human now. So he’s a bit nicer to me. Meanwhile, Ozzie and Lori, my late sister-in-law’s cats, are starting to assimilate into the dual monarchy of my mom and Fafoon.

ICYMI

Last week’s G-File

Last weekend’s well-received Ruminant

Discussing the impeachment vote with Hugh Hewitt

The week’s first Remnant, with Keith Whittington returning for impeachment talk

Was this really a shock?

Trump diehards are running out of options

Our Dispatch Podcast on the impeachment effort

The week’s second Remnant, with Yuval Levin’s fourth appearance

“Big Tech is censoring my insurrection!”

And now, the weird stuff

Find out what words entered the lexicon in your birth year

The West’s biggest foreign policy flare-up currently centers on a pigeon

Who could have seen this coming?

Top Gear host who once punched Piers Morgan now hosts him on Millionaire

#BringBackInterrobang

Correction, January 15: This piece initially misspelled Jeanine Pirro’s first name.

American Benghazi

Snowflakery for me, but not for thee.

Dear Reader (Not including “Via Getty,” the biggest jerk of them all),

They picked a specific, historically significant date to launch their attack. It was organized and coordinated. Officials knew an attack was possible but didn’t prepare. Four people were killed. Almost instantaneously, the attack became a political and ideological football.

I’m talking about the raid on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012. The Obama administration, heading into a presidential election, dissembled, obfuscated, and lied about the nature of the attack. Officials pushed the idea that the attack was really a spontaneous response to an obscure anti-Islamic video. Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, even told the families of the dead that she wouldn’t rest until they brought the maker of the video to justice. They eventually arrested him on unrelated charges. Democrats and a cooperative media launched a major “national conversation” over the limits of free speech. The idea that mobs of terrorists were somehow or somewhat justified in murdering Americans if they were sufficiently offended was widely debated by Very Serious People.

On Wednesday, we saw a right-wing Benghazi. The analogy isn’t perfect; I don’t think Trump planned a violent attack on the Capitol. He was merely cavalier about the possibility. Though, I could be wrong. Thanks to Trump’s cowardly definition of manliness, he often winks and nods that he wouldn’t mind violence. And when people act violently on his behalf, he has a history of offering his approval. Indeed,  if reports are true, he was reluctant to put an end to the siege once it started.

Regardless, it was obvious that violence was possible, even likely, especially after the president tweeted on December 19, “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” All of the usual thugs, bro-warriors, and unaffiliated idiots had been flexing for weeks. “If you are not prepared to use force to defend civilization, then be prepared to accept barbarism,” a barbarian lacking self-awareness declared on the Red-State Secession Group Facebook page.

Most people on the right have condemned the violence. But much like those who wanted to make Benghazi about a rogue offensive video, much of the right-wing media complex is falling into its comfort zone, blaming the attack on the mainstream media, Twitter, and “elites” who don’t like Trump supporters.

It’s not that these people claim the violence was good. The “it was a video!” crowd didn’t actually endorse the attack on Benghazi, either. Rather, the insinuation is that this was inevitable and understandable because—fill in the blank: the elitists, media, Democrats, the establishment, Trump-bashers, or whoever else you can imagine said mean things about Trump supporters.

For others, the real issue is the double standard from the same crowd of elitists and wokesters who didn’t sufficiently condemn the violence from Black Lives Matter protesters. This is the slop they really love to wallow in. 

The most cynical and grotesque form of this argument goes something like this: Trump supporters sincerely believe that the election was stolen, therefore mocking the idea that it was stolen is offensive, elitist, bigoted, condescending, or inciteful. The same people who giddily encouraged their viewers, readers, and constituents to believe a lie now argue that this is what you get when you call them liars or dupes. Here’s Pete Hegseth explaining why you need to understand the root causes of right-wing rage.

Well, calling Mohammed a pervert is offensive to Muslims, but that didn’t justify the Benghazi attacks. And none of the things these people want to talk about, including the left’s very real double standards on violence, make a mob assault on the Capitol more forgivable.

One of the central tenets of conservatism is that there’s a difference between an explanation and an excuse. I’m happy to concede that many in the mainstream media shamed themselves waving away violence during the  BLM protests. I’m happy to concede that progressive elites have contempt for lots of regular Americans and Christians; I’ve probably written 100,000 words on this point over the last 20 years. All of these things can be true, it still doesn’t shave an onion skin from the layers of outrage we should feel about a mob beating a cop to death with a fire extinguisher. It doesn’t subtract a feather’s weight of opprobrium from a president orchestrating an effort to steal an election by peddling lies and conspiracy theories, never mind from his willful incitement of a crowd to act on that lie.

Condemning the media or Democrats for their inconsistency when it comes to violence is fine by me, but only if in the same breath you condemn the president for the same inconsistency. The president celebrated an attack on a reporter, pardoned war criminals, cheered militias intent on “liberating” Michigan, and the vice president had to cut him out of the chain of command to get the National Guard deployed to put down an insurrectionist mob that, again, murdered a cop and scrawled “Murder the Media” on a door inside the Capitol. If you don’t acknowledge these things, you’re just providing cover.

Also, let’s not overlook the profound category error that has run wild among Trump apologists for four years. Everything they say about the New York Times—or CNN, or the Washington Post, or the Kroger Coupon Sampler—could be 100 percent true. You know what still wouldn’t be true? The New York Times isn’t the president of the United States of America. You can look it up. The Times doesn’t take an oath to uphold the Constitution. It doesn’t have the power to deploy troops.

If President Biden were to say in his inaugural address, “Republicans are evil,” and Rachel Maddow replied in his defense, “What about what OANN said about Democrats,” the same Trump apologists who’ve been spraying pro-Trump flak into the airwaves for the last four years would scoff at such absurd whatabouttery—and they’d be right.   

I understand that Trump has spent his entire presidency as an “outsider” media critic and Twitter troll, but that doesn’t mean the standards we apply to other media platforms is the standard we’re supposed to apply to the president. “What the orange did isn’t so bad, because the apple broke the rules” is a childish argument.

Snowflake nationalists.

One of the more popular phrases on the right is “Facts don’t care about your feelings,” coined by Ben Shapiro. 

It’s a pithy summation of a central conservative argument going back at least a century. My favorite version of it comes from Ralph Waldo Emerson who wrote, “There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism, joined with a certain superiority in its fact.” I always read Emerson as saying that it’s a bit rude when conservatives point out the factual problems of liberal pieties. Sort of like answering honestly when your wife asks, “Do these jeans make me look fat?”

For instance, in debates over sex differences it’s considered mean to note that the fastest or strongest men are going to be faster or stronger than the equivalent women. When Larry Summers noted that there are, statistically speaking, more male geniuses (at least in math) than female ones, he lost his job at Harvard for merely—and meanly—stating the truth. (I should note, there are also way more male idiots than female idiots, but that fact doesn’t offend progressives as much.)

Broadly speaking, progressives argue from ought, conservatives from is. Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves when we decry political correctness. As a Yale student wrote in the school paper during one of the campus free speech controversies, “I don't want to debate. I want to talk about my pain.”

Conservatives mock “safe spaces,” “trigger warnings,” and “snowflakes” who can’t handle hard truths. How many books have been written about liberalism’s “victimization cult”? How many careers have been made by saying things that offend liberal sensibilities? Well, who’s the party of snowflakes now? Stripped of all their lawyerly evasions, Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz endorsed the idea the election was stolen not because they actually believe it, but because the voters they crave want to hear that it was. They all prattle about the “voices of the unheard” and whine about the mean things people say about them or Trump. How much mileage have they gotten out of Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” thing?

Here’s Ainsely Earhardt matter-of-factly claiming that all 75 million people who voted for Trump are “scared.”

Well, first of all, as I noted in today’s column, it’s literally impossible for 75 million people to go “unheard.” Those 75 million people have a vast media complex and one of the two major parties speaking for them. If Donald Trump hadn’t cost them two Senate seats in Georgia, they’d be even more heard. Moreover, not all 75 million of those people are Trump-worshipping MAGA heads. Some of them—many of them—thought voting for Trump was the lesser of two evils; they voted against Biden. Similarly, not all 75 million of them are thin-skinned snowflakes who can’t handle hearing that Trump lost and that the election wasn’t stolen. But as we’ve learned from college campuses, treat people like they’re delicate little flowers and they’ll behave that way.

Besides, there’s a difference between being heard and not wanting to hear anybody else who disagrees. That’s what the “feel my pain” snowflakes say every day on college campuses. “Don’t tell me I’m wrong. Don’t tell me there are facts that contradict what I want to believe.” “Don’t tell me Trump actually lost. I want my fictions and my feelings confirmed, and if you contradict them I’m a victim and you’re an ‘oppressor.’”

Remember this woman, who all of the “liberal tears are delicious” Twitter tough guys love to mock?

The only difference between her and the mob swarming the Capitol on Wednesday is that she went home. She didn’t storm the Capitol. She didn’t murder a cop. She didn’t smear her feces on the wall to own the cons.

President Trump is a whiner. He takes offense at disagreement and thinks flattery and loyalty to him are more important than facts or reality. He thinks it’s unfair when events or facts are inconvenient or don’t ratify his narcissism.

He even thinks Supreme Court justices should be loyal to him, not the Constitution. Conservatives spent decades arguing that the “living Constitution” is an evil concept that places the progressive agenda above the meaning of our founding document. Progressives argued that the Constitution ought to mean what we want it to mean. We said, “Nope the Constitution is what is, if you want it to say something different, amend it. Don’t ‘breathe new meaning’ into it.”

But you know what? At least the progressives believe what they’re saying. You can have an argument with them about it. Trump doesn’t know squat about the Constitution; he just thinks it should mean whatever’s best for him, and he surrounded himself with liars who said Pence could steal the election. But Cruz and Hawley know that what Trump was trying to do was unconstitutional and would, if successful, gut the Constitution and perhaps even democracy. They simply lacked the courage to tell the snowflakes what they don’t want to hear, so instead they lent aid and comfort to the atrocity this week.  

And his biggest fans have internalized some or all of this. When Trump tried to bully Brad Raffensperger into stealing the election on his behalf, the immediate response from the anti-anti-Trump brigades was to whine that Raffensperger’s facts conflicted with their feelings and fantasies. It was mean that Raffensperger broke the rules—and the one thing we know Trump fans really care about is fidelity to the rules.

My favorite effort was the lowbrow bro-indictment that Raffensperger had violated “man code.”

I bring that up because it’s funny, but also because invoking “man code” in the service of the most unmanly public figure in my lifetime is a perfect distillation of the damage Trumpism has done to conservatism. By swaddling populist crybaby-ism in muscle-bro testosterone, Trump and his defenders have defined masculinity as angry snowflakism. Don’t you dare say we’re wrong! Don’t you dare speak ill of the avatar of our victim status! We don’t want to hear that he’s an unpatriotic and sybaritic con man who wears makeup and likes it when other people fight for him to prove how manly he is.

Our feelings don’t care about your facts.

Various & Sundry

Canine update: I got home from Hawaii Thursday morning, and the girls were very happy to see me. We had to leave the critters with a new house sitter and while they’re in fine fettle, I think there was a lot of norm-breaking. It seems like Pippa conned the sitter into a lot of tennis ball play in the backyard. When I got home there were dozens of tennis balls all over the backyard and Pippa’s expectations were even greater than before. 

I have more updates, but I’ll save them for the solo Remnant podcast I’m going to record in a minute. I didn’t plan on taking so much time off from the podcast, but early Christmas Eve morning I got the tragic news that my late brother’s wife had passed away. I’d write about that here, but it feels like too much of a gear change after the above tirade. It was a very difficult time for all of the obvious—and some non-obvious—reasons. One of the more minor consequences was my podcast schedule, but it is in the process of returning to normalcy.

ICYMI

This week’s Remnant, from a post-election event with Charles Murray

Trump proves Acton right

The Dispatch’s editorial after the events on Capitol Hill

“Never has vindication felt so miserable.”

Pulling coups out of thin air

And now, the weird stuff

One of the more bizarre bits of ideological possession on display from the Capitol

Chumbawumba, known for one incredibly repetitive song, actually released 14 albums

This vaccine is going to be awesome

A vaguely nightmarish New Year’s in NYC

The Latin in Barbarians is shockingly authentic

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