Another placeholder from Jonah Goldberg, excerpted from his weekly newsletter, The G. File. As usual, it signifies far-reaching truths beyond the events of the moment. My remarks will follow in a separate post.
The Trumpian Flood
The deluges of nonsense in our political era are changing the ecosystem of the right, maybe forever.
Dear Reader (and people who won’t let the light of covfefe ever die),
Yesterday, I drove for nearly 100 miles with my hazard lights on—and not for the usual reason that I forgot to turn them off after double-parking outside a liquor store. It rained like one too many chemtrails from one of the planes owned by “Big Air” had finally burnt a hole between our dimension and the water-verse and all the wet from the Earth where everyone has gills was pouring into our reality. I stopped at the Joe Biden rest stop in Delaware—yes, that’s a thing—where I ran in to go to the bathroom and get a cup of coffee (though not the coffee from the bathroom). For a second, I thought the fire alarm was going off, until I realized a gaggle of people around me all had the same shrieking sound coming out of their pockets and handbags. No, I hadn’t stumbled on a stealth lemur-smuggling operation; everyone’s phone was getting the same emergency broadcast warning about flash-flooding. I should have waited out the rain, but my kid got back from a very long trip, and I promised her a burger and a milkshake.
But that’s not important right now, except to explain why I am writing this from my mom’s lair, surrounded by very high-end cats, in an undisclosed location near where Alexander Hamilton, America’s First Rapper, had his last mic drop.
On my long drive, white-knuckling it like Bill Barr monitoring Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, I had a lot of time to think. I’m not sure that time is a river, but I do think events move as if they were floating on one. Canyons are formed by water carving a slice out of the surface of the planet. This process is very predictable until something—a meteor, an earthquake, a dam, whatever—blocks the water’s path, and suddenly the water seeks a new route. It seems to me we’re in one of those moments. Such periods can be brief from our perspective, or they can last so long that the chaos of the flood seems like a new normal.
I cannot catalog all of my objections to the “post-liberal” crowd’s arguments. But one thing I am inclined to agree with is that the old conservative consensus—limited government, liberal democracy, etc.—has indeed broken down, and it’s not obvious to me it will be restored anytime soon.
I think this is nuts. I wish it weren’t. I wish we could finish the Trump chapter in the unfolding tale of the right as a bizarre moment where the river merely broke its banks and will, after a respectable period, return to the old course. That’s what usually happens after a deluge—like the one I drove through yesterday. The rain stops and the water subsides; everything returns to normal. But sometimes the flood is so strong, the rains so heavy, that the old landmarks that kept the river on its traditional path get washed away.
I fear that is what has happened.
One small example: The Claremont Institute has long been one of my favorite landmarks of the conservative landscape. Its motto is “Recovering the American Idea.” It is dedicated to teaching “the principles of the American Founding to the future thinkers and statesmen of America.”
Well, Claremont just announced its new crop of Lincoln Fellows, long a fairly prestigious program for accomplished young conservative professionals (both my wife and my friends Steve Hayes, Tevi Troy, and Ross Douthat were fellows). This year’s crop includes…Jack Posobiec and Mytheos Holt. Posobiec is one of the more successful trolls of the Trump era, parlaying his Pizzagate theories and stint at Gateway Pundit into a gig at One America News. Here he is explaining how Emmannuel Macron is a pawn of the deep state, which uses drugs for mind control.
Holt is somewhat less embarrassing, in the same way it’s less embarrassing to be caught in the window of Saks Fifth Avenue only pretending to have sex with a donkey rather than actually being caught in the act. He is a prominent defender of “white nationalism” and promoter of the idea that Trump is a man of great personal virtue.
Now, there’s an argument for recruiting immature young professionals into a program like this: to indoctrinate them—in the best sense of the word—to the faith. Literally to make them fluent in right doctrine. But the flip side to prestigious programs is also to send a signal to young professionals that certain arguments and behavior foreclose opportunities like the Lincoln Fellowship.
I would like to think that my friends at Claremont were, in an over-abundance of optimism, focusing on the former to the point that they lost sight of the latter. But I have little reason for confidence. The Claremont Review of Books, which is still a worthwhile journal that I often learn from, seems increasingly interested in reconciling decades of work championing the importance of rhetoric, statesmanship, and fidelity to constitutional principles with normalizing not only Trump, but also the projects of the various remoras (like Posobiec) that have attached themselves to his presidency.
The famous “Flight 93 Election” essay was, according to its fans, a kind of shot heard round the world launching this shift. To me, it was the dull thump of the canary hitting the coal mine floor. If the author of the essay hadn’t deleted his work at the old Journal of American Greatness, I’d offer a link. But here’s something Michael Anton, then called “Decius,” wrote in an argument with me:
Here’s what’s really going on. The old American ideal of judging individuals and not groups, content-of-character-not-color-of-skin, is dead, dead, dead. Dead as a matter of politics, policy and culture. The left plays by new rules. The right still plays by the old rules. The left laughs at us for it—but also demands that we keep to that rulebook. They don’t even bother to cheat. They proclaim outright that “these rules don’t apply to our side….They use our commitment to American principles the same way that Islamic radicals in the West use Westerners’ commitment to Western principles to cow us into acquiescing to anti-Western measures.
Antonious Decius certainly had a point about the left, as I have argued countless times. But as anyone who read the CRB over the years knows, the point of having principles is that they are principles. If owning the libs is a more important priority than sticking to your principles, were they ever really your principles in the first place? Harry Jaffa, whose ideas form the soul of Claremont’s founding mission, held to his Lincolnian principles against all enemies—liberal and conservative alike. Lincoln’s principles made his job harder. The Founders’ principles inspired them to risk their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor on their behalf. The reason they’re considered statesmen is that they managed to achieve victory while holding onto their principles and for the sake of those principles.
The old notion of fusionism tried to merge classical liberalism with traditional conservatism. Today’s new fusionism is trying to reconcile traditional conservatism with nationalism, populism, Trumpism, grifterism, and the jackassery of the Broflake mobs who think it’s incredibly manly to whine about how unfair the libs are to them. (I credit Scott Lincicome with the term, which is a perfect marriage of the snowflakey arguments tie-dyed in testosterone rhetoric.)
A minimum requirement for every argument for principle is some truth claim. One needn’t argue for transcendental truth or cosmic truth. Some principles can simply be pragmatic and empirical. For instance, it’s an observable fact that markets are better at producing wealth than collectivism. We can argue about the moral or epistemological super-structure that makes this so—Divine Plan, natural rights, whatever—but the data don’t lie. So much of what passes for conservatism these days isn’t about defending truths, but about fabricating the veneer of truthiness around demonstrable lies.
And the hamster spinning the wheel of this Rube Goldberg (no relation) machine of bullshit is the president.
The Clown Summit
A vast industrial complex dedicated to turd-polishing churns day and night, working at convincing people they should not believe their lying eyes. No granule of B.S. is too small that it cannot use a little buffing. Again, my favorite example: Remember the “covfefe” tweet? That was an act of brilliance!
Trump’s reference to his now-deleted covfefe tweet even got printed and blown up yesterday at the White House “Social Media Summit,” ostensibly dedicated to the glory of free speech.
Free speech, you might recall, is one of those principles the Founders thought to be important. And let me stipulate: There’s a serious argument out there, with reasonable people on every side of it, about how to apply and protect free speech principles on social media. Senator Josh Hawley, a serious man with serious ideas, was there. He wants to protect free speech by empowering commissioners at the FCC to enforce some modernized version of the Fairness Doctrine. I think that it’s a bad idea, for the reasons David French lays out here. But, again, it’s a serious argument, even if I have a hard time understanding how giving the administrative state— and that’s what the FCC is most emphatically part of—the power to enforce ideological balance on private companies is an effort to protect free speech.
Then there’s Donald Trump’s contribution:
“And we don’t want to stifle anything, we certainly don’t want to stifle free speech. But that’s no longer free speech…See I don’t think that the mainstream media is free speech either, because it’s so crooked, it’s so dishonest…So to me, free speech is not when you see something good and then you purposely write bad, to me that’s very dangerous speech, and you become angry at it…But that’s not free speech.”
As Thomas Jefferson said, “huh?”
I understand that it’s often hard to pick through the president’s word salads to find the croutons of meaning or reason, but it sure seems like what he’s saying is that free speech is the speech he likes. Meanwhile, the audience he’s speaking to was plucked from the elite cadres of his meme war shock troops. In other words, they were there because he thinks free speech boils down to whoever is most willing to make the shiner’s shammy snap while polishing turds. I have twenty years of criticizing the mainstream media under my belt, but by what sane criteria are the mainstream media not practicing free speech but the folks at Infowars are? For the President of the United States, people like the savior of Flight 93, Bill Mitchell, and QAnon are champions of free speech because, in the president’s apt words, “the crap you think of is unbelievable,” but The New York Times isn’t?
We’re Not Going Back
It’s because of garbage like this that I think we can’t go back to the way it was. Too many people and institutions chose to float with the tide rather than grab sandbags and fight the onrush. Too many owe their credentials to the fact that they served bravely in the meme wars. Too many have changed their minds about the free market, free trade, and free speech to suddenly start extoling Reagan and Lincoln as if Trump never happened.
I don’t want to go apocalyptic because I sincerely believe things will eventually get better. But Yeats’ lines do come to mind,
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity
Not too long ago, Paul Ryan won the Churchill award at the Claremont Institute’s annual Churchill dinner. This year, I am reliably informed, his image was greeted with boos when it appeared on the big screen. Tim Alberta’s important new book recounts how Paul, a man I am still happy to say I admire and consider a friend, retired rather than fight the flood. He’s been excoriated by many for it and in honesty some of that is deserved. But at least he recognized the rising waters for what they were and decided to retreat to higher, drier, ground rather than just go with the flow.
I have more respect for that than for the Kent Brockmans who, at the first glimpse of giant ants, welcomed our new insect overlords.