Dear Reader (including all of you who insist on novelty in these “Dear Reader” gags),
The “Whistleblower” story could be huge, or it could be a nothingburger, or it could be something in between. And I’m wary of competing in the race to be wrong first.
But that’s the world we live in these days. Every five minutes, someone fires a starter pistol to get everyone bolting out of the blocks toward whatever conclusion best suits their priors—or their marching orders. Then hours or days later, it turns out to have been a false start.
It’s like the writers of LOST and The Sopranos collaborated on the script of this timeline. Major plot developments seem destined to explode only to fizzle, leaving the audience to ask, “What was the deal with that smoke monster?” or, “What ever happened to the Russian in the Pine Barrens?”
Sunday, Sunday, Sunday
Forget all of the hopes and fears people invested in the Mueller probe. Just consider what has happened since last Sunday.
A New York Times story about Brett Kavanaugh seemed to be greasing the skids for the impeachment of a Supreme Court Justice, and by Wednesday the Washington Post was reporting the Democrats were shouting “Run Away!” like a scene out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Also on Sunday, Trump was tweeting we were “locked and loaded” for retaliation against Iran for the drone attack in Saudi Arabia. All we were waiting for was orders from the Saudis, because when Trump “leads from behind” and/or genuflects to the Saudis, it’s manly and America First-y, unlike when Obama does it in squishy globalist fashion. But by Monday, Trump was saying he was in “no rush” and didn’t want war. In those 24 hours, countless pundits and partisans ran from one position to another like Scooby and the Gang running from some ghost in a haunted mansion.
This constant zig-zagging is unsettling all by itself. But the accompanying riots of hypocrisy that come with it, as people instantaneously ratchet up their indignation and lock down their talking points, makes the whole spectacle of our politics a Rorschach test in which the blots keep morphing like the globules in a lava lamp.
I’m struggling to put my finger on what bothers me most about this atmosphere. But I think it’s the way combatants on all sides act like it’s outrageous to suggest that the story might not be what they want it to be. Everyone is like Charlton Heston shouting, “You can have my narrative when you pry it from my cold dead hands!”
I don’t know if Trump offered an indefensible quid pro quo to the Ukrainians in order to get them to dig up dirt on Biden. I also don’t know if there’s legitimate dirt to be found. Both things are possible, together or separately. And if there is dirt on Biden, that wouldn’t exonerate Trump if he did what some allege. It is not outrageous to think any of these scenarios is possible or even plausible.
For instance, I laughed very hard when Donald Trump tweeted this about the whistleblower story:
Knowing all of this, is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially ‘heavily populated’ call. I would only do what is right anyway, and only do good for the USA!
This is a work of art in the categories of fan service and gaslighting alike. If you think Trump might say something inappropriate on a phone call with a foreign leader, that doesn’t make you dumb, it makes you minimally observant. This is a guy who, while wired for sound, told Billy Bush about how he likes to sexually assault women. Just this week, he tried to get a military official to detail the secret surveillance technology in his wall prototype at a press conference. In a private meeting, he railed about sh*thole countries in front of Democrats who probably pulled their hamstrings rushing out to leak it. He blurted out highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister. At a press conference in Helsinki, he inappropriately took Vladimir Putin’s side against the American intelligence community. The whole reason he isn’t in the impeachment dock right now, as the Mueller report and Corey Lewandowski’s recent testimonies attest, is that his aides know not to follow through when he “inappropriately” tells them bat guano crazy things.
The point is that Trump says whackadoo stuff constantly, and he expects his praetorians to defend it right up until the moment he decides to backtrack. For instance, again on Sunday, he tweeted, “The Fake News is saying that I am willing to meet with Iran, 'No Conditions.' That is an incorrect statement (as usual!).”
The thing is: Trump has said numerous times, including on camera, that he would gladly meet with the Iranians with no preconditions.
Forget how exhausting it is to argue with people who ascribe deep strategic genius to all of these zig-zags. The far more draining experience is to argue with people who seem to deliberately have the long-term memory of a fruit fly, instantaneously taking Trump’s word for it every time he calls something “fake news.” The old narrative was that Trump was a man of peace, eager to negotiate with anybody without preconditions. Then, when he calls this narrative a lie, the same people who believed the old narrative are outraged by anyone who refuses to forget the old one along with them.
The Kavanaugh Cock-up
Since we’re on the subject of narrative maintenance, I suppose I should say a few words about the Kavanaugh story, starting with the fact that it’s a story.
When the Rolling Stone rape fraternity story broke a while back, I was one of the first to call b.s. on it. One of my great regrets is that I let a friend talk me out of writing that column a week earlier, even though I was pretty confident in my skepticism. Regardless, the response from a lot of people on the left was, “How dare you suggest these things don’t happen.”
My response was, “I never said ‘these things’ don’t happen. I said this didn’t happen. This story is not believable. These alleged facts don’t seem like facts.” (I’m paraphrasing several dozen arguments.)
As I wrote almost exactly a year ago, the original Kavanaugh drama was essentially an allegory, in which the characters weren’t actually people, but avatars or totems for categories of people. For Martha Nussbaum, Maureen Dowd, and countless others, Kavanaugh was a stand-in for White Male Entitlement.
I absolutely believe guys in college and high school do stupid stuff—and stuff far worse than stupid. Forget “believe”; I know it. I also know that white men can feel entitled to things they shouldn’t feel entitled to. But the argument that "some people do bad things, therefore this person did what he’s accused of" is anatomically indistinguishable from textbook bigotry and lynch mob logic. “We all know that Jews do X. This person is a Jew and he’s been accused of X. Therefore I believe the accusers.”
That’s not how it’s supposed to work.
Now, sure, hearsay and rumor are kinds of evidence, at least outside a court of law. But even in journalism and politics, they are rightly considered very low and unreliable forms of evidence. In fact, for journalists and detectives, they’re called “leads”—things that might guide someone toward actual facts or things that might not pan out at all.
The disgusting thing—or at least one of them—about the Kavanaugh smear is that leads are being used as substitutes for facts. And when one bit of innuendo, rumor, or hearsay proves to be shaky, instead of disappearing, it’s propped up by another morsel of the same stuff. The Ramirez story was the purest garbage, intended to shore up the weaknesses in Ford’s story. So in order to bolster that, the Times’ writers slapped on yet more garbage:
We also uncovered a previously unreported story about Mr. Kavanaugh in his freshman year that echoes Ms. Ramirez’s allegation. A classmate, Max Stier, saw Mr. Kavanaugh with his pants down at a different drunken dorm party, where friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student. Mr. Stier, who runs a nonprofit organization in Washington, notified senators and the F.B.I. about this account, but the F.B.I. did not investigate and Mr. Stier has declined to discuss it publicly. We corroborated the story with two officials who have communicated with Mr. Stier; the female student declined to be interviewed and friends say she does not recall the episode.
Most of the food fight this week has focused, understandably, on the bit in bold, because it wasn’t in the original New York Times piece and had to be added on later, only after Mollie Hemingway pointed out that the supposed victim has told people she has no recollection of such an event and has not been interviewed. This hasn’t stopped many outlets from referring to her as a “victim,” even in stories about the Times’ screw-up. In other words, even when discussing how the evidence is lacking, the narrative is maintained.
But too little public discussion has centered on the absurdity of the story itself.
Look, I’m a sophisticated “news”letter writer. At least two of my belts are made of real leather, and even when I was in college, I waited for the bathroom to be available even if there were no dishes in the sink. So I don’t like wallowing in this kind of sordid stuff. Moreover, I paid my dues on this kind of beat 20 years ago arguing about the priapic presidency of Bill Clinton. So I have very little desire to write about Brett Kavanaugh’s gavel, as it were.
Let me also say that I loathe identity politics and I don’t like speaking for whole categories of people based solely on their race, gender, or class. But I’ve talked to a large number of middle-aged straight white guys over the last week, and grabbing dudes by their junk is just not done. I am fairly certain that if I grabbed Brett Kavanaugh in such a manner, no matter how drunk he was, his response would be something along the lines of, “Dude! Let go of my action!” Not, “I’ll give you five minutes to get your hand off my penis.”
(Moreover, there’s just the physical implausibility of it. The story says that his friends—plural—pushed his business handward. Was this...a two-man job?)
Anyway, it’s probably best for everybody if I move on.
I Wish We Could Say We Hardly Knew Ye
Since I spent so much time talking about dicks, I feel like I should say something about New York Mayor Bill de Blasio dropping out of the presidential race and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stepping on his de Blasio with all of his face-painting. The remarkable thing about de Blasio’s impotent campaign wasn’t its failure to launch. It was more the fact that everyone remarked from the get-go that it would fail. When he broke the news on Morning Joe, there was literally no shock, no gasps of disappointment. It was oddly like the political equivalent of that old observation that successful plane landings and takeoffs aren’t news, only crashes are. But in this case, the crash was the predictable boring story everyone saw coming. De Blasio is like the president of some tiny liberal arts college where all the administrators act like they’re impressed with his woke perorations because the job requires it. As for Trudeau, I honestly can’t muster the left-wing outrage over the racism or the right-wing outrage over the double standard reserved for pretty progressives. I just think it’s funny and that it would take a heart of stone not to laugh.
Various & Sundry
Canine Update: Everything is great with the doggers because the weather is finally changing. I even got Zoë to play hide and seek with me again, which she won’t do when it’s hot out. Pippa just got her swanky new haircut, which she hated getting (she tried to get in every car outside the groomers), but seems to like because it means the humans are more likely to rub her belly (which is insanely soft post-trimming). Everyone is in a good mood. Gracie even gave Pippa a smooch. There was one rough moment when Zoë was a bit too tough with Pippa, but that wasn’t intentional. She was just pissed the rabbit got away.
I’ll be on Fox News Sunday this…Sunday.
Last week's G-File
Elizabeth Warren's inexcusable constitutional ignorance
This week's first Remnant, with Mary Eberstadt
This week's second Remnant, with some guy named Ben Sasse
Me on Special Report last night
The latest GLoP
Progressives become anti-science about fracking and vaping
I talk to Yuval Levin about National Affairs
And now, the weird stuff.
Debby’s Friday links
Thanks, Google Maps
Dark preview of Area 51 raid
That's one way to deal with being fired
Leonard Read hardest hit
Life is full of dark ironies
What a time to be alive
A cool dog
A second chance
Alea iacta est
The Titanic's greatest mystery
You hate to see it
Music is global