Screwtape Went Down to Georgia

'The safest road to Hell is the gradual one.'

Dear Reader (Including Kim Jong-un’s heroic frogmen who traversed the globe, risking life and limb to help steal the election),

Since I got a late start and my brain isn’t quite working yet (I know this because when I try to add short columns of single-digit numbers together I start to smell burnt hair), I asked my Twitter followers for G-File topic suggestions. And while I generally oppose journalists engaging in fan service, this “news”letter is different. So, let’s start there.

One popular request was to discuss Joe Biden’s explanation for how he broke his foot, a topic I can already see is sparking a mini-truther movement out there, which is weird. I mean, this isn’t exactly Jimmy Carter’s story about the killer rabbit.

Anyway, Biden says that when he got out of the shower, his German Shepherd puppy dropped a ball in front of him. “And I’m walking through this little alleyway to get to the bedroom,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper, “and I grabbed the ball like this and he ran. And I’m joking, running after him and grabbing his tail. And what happened was that he slid on a throw rug. And I tripped on the rug he slid on. That’s what happened. Oh man, not a very exciting story.”

Even if this makes me seem like even more of a RINO (in spite of my street cred that should ballast me against this), I’m going to tell you I believe him. Why? Well, first of all, he’s right. It’s not a very exciting story. More to the point, if you’re going to lie about how you really broke your foot—presumably by dropping a crate of North Korean-forged ballots while slogging through the cranberry bogs of Maine—is this the story you’d come up with?

Secondly, I have much weirder stories of injuries I’ve sustained because of my dogs. True story: In 2016, I took Zoë and Pippa to the park for a predawn perambulation. Zoë—far more rambunctious back then—ran off to investigate something or other. A few moments later, I heard heavy footsteps crossing the soccer field. I looked toward the sound and saw what I briefly thought was Zoë running toward me. It turned out it was a very large deer fleeing my dingo. The crepuscular hoofed ruminant mammal smashed into a heavy iron gate. The gate popped off its hinges and struck me in the head and abdomen. If the bolt on the gate hit me, I might have died. The deer appeared to be fine, and the dogs were utterly unconcerned by the fact that I was knocked to the ground and possibly seriously injured.

I’m still not sure my wife believes me, even though I have pictures. 

Now, my real objection to Biden’s story isn’t that it’s unbelievable but that it’s believable: You shouldn’t pull on dogs’ tails, damn it. And you really shouldn’t do it if you’re a 78-year-old fresh out of the shower (just don’t picture it). Maybe there’s more to the story, but the one he offers seems like a bit of a self-own to me.

Georgia on my mind.

Speaking of self-owning, a few folks suggested I talk about the auto-masochistic frenzy of political self-junk-punching in Georgia. So let’s do that.

For the last few years, a certain subset of the right has convinced itself that the Democrats aren’t just wrong or even bad, but that they are singularly evil and lethally dangerous enemies of America, hell-bent on destroying all that is sacred by imposing godless socialism on us all.

I’ll skip the usual structural reasons for this development—the Big Sort, media balkanization, and, yes, the behavior of some Democrats—and focus instead on the part relevant to my point. The president of the United States said this sort of thing a lot.

A second data point: The president is a deeply flawed and crude person with a thumbless grasp of the Constitution, the duties of his office, and the most rudimentary tenets of religion and traditional morality. Because this is so incandescently obvious, casting the Democrats as an existential threat to All We Hold Dear makes it a lot easier to overlook these things. Hence all of that “He’s our King David” gibberish from the early days of the Trump presidency. When you’re in a Manichean existential battle with the unholy Forces of Darkness, it’s much easier to overlook the adultery, greed, deceit, and corruption of your anointed champion.  

Now, normally I’m not one to leap to the defense of Democrats, but I think offering the faint praise that they are not all evil incarnate is literally the least I can do.

But, here’s the funny part. Some of the people who believe this most passionately—or claim to—are in Georgia right now insisting that the Armies of the Righteous are morally obliged to hand unified control of the Congress to the Sinister Horde. "Where's Kelly Loeffler? Where's David Perdue? They oughta be standing right here," Lin Wood said to attendees of a “Stop the Steal” rally this week.

“They have not earned your vote. Don't you give it to them. Why would you go back and vote in another rigged election for god’s sake! Fix it! You gotta fix it!"

In other words, “We must stop the Communist thralls of China who control the media and the Democratic Party by giving them control of the Senate!” It’s just crazy enough to work.

Now, of course, this is when Wood’s defenders would pause from their glue-huffing to say that’s not really his aim. He wants to use the Georgia runoff as leverage to get Gov. Brian Kemp to help overturn the Georgia results by proving something that can’t be proved. But even if it could be demonstrated that the Axis of Evil—comprised of the dead hand of Hugo Chavez, the Communist Chinese, and the North Koreans along with their vassals in the Democratic party and the media—stole the Georgia election from Trump (but not from down-ballot Republicans!) with the willful cooperation of the Georgia Republican party that controls the state,  you know what would happen? Well, okay—if they could prove that, I suppose a lot would happen. But if they could succeed with the more humble aim of getting the state legislature to give their electoral votes to Trump, Biden would still be president.

(If you think I’m being unfair to Wood, by the way, just scroll through his Twitter feed. It’s like the scribblings of a man trapped in a refrigerator box, suffering from hypoxic hallucinations induced by inhaling too many of his own farts.)

It’s only now dawning on Trump World that this is not helpful. Even Newt Gingrich, who still insists the election was stolen, says that Wood is being “totally destructive.”

You deserve this.

So here’s the thing: All of these people deserve the mess they’re in.

It’s not widely known that Al Pacino was an intern at Commentary magazine (true story). But it may surprise you to learn that not only did Pacino go to acting school, but that late in his career he attended Overacting School. Perhaps the greatest example of this was his bravura performance in Scent of a Woman in which he played the drunk, blind (and blind drunk) Lothario, Lt. Col. Frank Slade.

In the climactic scene, Col. Slade is defending a young man before the school honor board trial. “I'm not a judge or jury,” Slade declares in a hot mess of a peroration. “But I can tell you this: He won't sell anybody out to buy his future! And that, my friends, is called integrity! That's called courage! Now that's the stuff leaders should be made of. Now I have come to the crossroads in my life. I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew. But I never took it. You know why? It was too damn hard.”

For nearly five years now, it has been obvious that Trump was unfit for the job and the arguments marshaled in his defense were cynical rationalizations that, for some, eventually mutated into sincerely held delusions. Sure, some deluded themselves from the beginning, but I’ve talked to too many Republican politicians and conservative media darlings who admitted it in private. And even the griftier gibbons going full Gorka as they fling their own feces for fun and profit in Trump’s defense knew it. At least Steve Bannon, whose greatest contribution to political discourse has been to introduce the concept of “flooding the zone with shit,” is fairly straightforward about seeing Trump as a tool—in every sense. He’s leaked more anti-Trump tales to more anti-Trump journalists than anyone.

For the Bannonistas, following the wrong path wasn’t a hard choice, but an easy one. You think Jenna Ellis, who rates as a Z-team legal talent only because our alphabet is limited to 26 characters, would become a legal adviser to a president under normal circumstances?

But for a lot of otherwise decent politicians and commentators, doing the right thing was just too damn hard. At every stage, they fed the Trumpian alligator another piece of themselves and said “This much, but no more.” But now all that is left are stumps, and it’s hard to walk in the right direction on stumps or hold your hands up to shout, “Stop!” when you have no hands.

Again, I think most of these people are good people, but good people can be wrong. And if there’s any lesson to be gleaned from 2,000 years of Judeo-Christian influenced literature, it’s that good people can simultaneously be seduced and blind to their seduction and the compromises that come with it. See Graham, Lindsey.

If, six months ago, I were to describe the last month to the politicians still rewarding and encouraging Trump’s behavior, most would say I was succumbing to Trump Derangement Syndrome. “Oh, come on, he wouldn’t do that!” they’d say. And even for those who thought this outrageous affront to the civic order might be possible, they’d certainly take great offense if I followed up with, “Not only will he try to steal the election with deranged conspiracy theories, not only will his champions call for martial law to erase the loss, but you won’t say ‘boo’ about it. In fact, you’ll even say he should run again.”

Well, that’s happened. They created this self-destructive mess. They created it by refusing to take the right path not just because the right path was hard, but because the wrong path was so easy. As Screwtape explains, “the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

Now, America isn’t in Hell, but the people who did nothing, or far too little, are daily beset by lesser, fresher, hells of their own making—and I’m making popcorn. The gloriously entertaining spectacle of Trump and his ambitious progeny suddenly having to deal with their own mini-Trumps in the form of Wood, Powell, and their minions is enough to turn their home-brewed dumpster juice into a delicious elixir sweeter even than liberal tears. Mike Pence fading into the shrubbery like Homer Simpson is a profile in strategic cowardice of schadenfreudtastic proportions. The exquisite agony of Republicans righteously insisting that their own election was devoid of fraud while mumbling that there are “legitimate questions” about the candidate at the top of their own ticket makes the fremdschämen humor of The Office seem like a particularly uplifting episode of Little House on the Prairie by comparison. The Fox pundits who spent years monetizing Trump sycophancy suddenly having to grapple with the object of their toadying turning on their prized soapbox is splendiferously karmic.

I understand that this all sounds awfully self-righteous. But I’ll tell you, I feel like I deserve my gloating. I’m not alone in my right to it, but I deserve my share. I’ve been saying “don’t do this” for five years and I’ve been mocked and shunned for it. So forgive me if I enjoy my I-told-you-so moment. Or don’t forgive me. I’m used to it.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: Last weekend I came home from a trip to see my mom (and Fafoon, Paddington and even Winston). (Before you scold me, my daughter and I got COVID tests before we went) When I returned, the Fair Jessica, who stayed behind to mind the beasts, told me that she was mad at “Your dog.” It’s deer season in D.C., which isn’t a reference to hunting but the prevalence of especially intoxicating deer scat. Pippa has been rolling in it way too much lately. But while I was gone, she apparently rolled in something much fouler, in a zone Steve Bannon may have flooded, if you get my meaning. TFJ was very cross about it and having to clean it up. She even said, unfairly in my opinion, that if it happened on my watch “I don’t know what you’d do. You’d probably just leave her in the woods.” Anyway, folks on Twitter wanted to know what happened. In other news, Zoë no longer brings out her leaf every night. We don’t know why the ritual started or why it stopped (though moving the plant seemed to play a role). But she has started grabbing a piece of kindling from the wood pile every night to chew on. And I now think I know why: Pippa often gets up on the couch and sits next to Jessica. Often, her cat Ralph joins them, sitting behind Jessica’s head on the back of the couch. This makes Zoë very jealous. She aroos and chuffs about it for a bit and then comes to me to demand attention. When she bores of that, she goes into the kitchen, grabs the wood and starts chewing half-heartedly on it until she finally stops and just guards it like her leaf. I think she thinks this is her way of saying, “I don’t care what you guys are doing. I have my stick,” or leaf, or whatever.

Oh one last thing: My sister-in-law uncovered a forgotten puppy pic of Zoë. If you look closely, you can see the spot on her leg where they shaved her for I.V. I bring it up because, for those of you who don’t know, the Canine Update began as the Zoë update when she was very sick with parvo and readers wanted to stay in the loop about how she was doing. Then, because she got into so much dingo trouble, people wanted to keep up with her exploits. When we got Pippa, we expanded it to the Canine Update.

Six or so years later, everyone is doing just fine and enjoying the fall mightily.

ICYMI

The week’s first Remnant, with Virginia Postrel

The inklings of what the GOP might be for the foreseeable future

Puritanism everywhere

The week’s second Remnant, with Bing West

The conspiratorial style in “conservative” politics

My appearance on Diane Rehm’s podcast

And now, the weird stuff

A minor miracle to brighten your day

It’s happening!

The origin of the “Ki,” “Ma” sound effect in Friday the 13th

In case you need a refresher on what Margaret Thatcher actually sounded like after listening to that terrible impression Gillian Anderson does on The Crown

AI now attempting to simulate singers from our fleshy world