I Love a Parade, but Not This One

Trump’s supporters and opponents alike are decent and patriotic. If only he lived up to their standard.

People who are for Trump always say “Look, he’s got an unfortunate character and temperament, but he’s good on regulation, good on the courts.” The problem, the veteran said, is the but. Once you get to the but, you are normalizing him—you are making him normal, which means you are guaranteeing a future of President Trumps. That means you have lowered the presidency forever, changed it forever, just when the world’s problems are more dangerous, and thoughtfulness and wisdom more needed.

.. Trump supporters, on the other hand, chose him and back him because he isn’t normal. They’d tried normal! It didn’t work! Of course he’s a brute, but his brutishness was the only thing that could surprise Washington, scare it, make it reform. Both parties are corrupt and look out only for themselves; he’s the one who wouldn’t be in hock to them and their donors. Is he weird? Yes. But it’s a weird country now. He’s the only one big enough to push back against what’s pushing us.

.. It is a central belief of Trump supporters that of course he’ll make mistakes—he’s not a politician, he’s new, he’ll learn. An underestimated aspect of Trump support is sheer human sympathy. They see him taking a pounding each day in the press and feel for him as a human being. The press misses this, but Mr. Trump doesn’t. He uses it.

.. His criticism went right at the Trump supporters’ faith that he will learn in the job. The executive said: He doesn’t learn! He’s not able to. He doesn’t have that mechanism inside that allows people to analyze problems and see their part in them. And without that you can’t improve.

.. If his two former wives are speaking truthfully, he betrayed the classic pattern of the abuser: He roughs you up, is contrite, vows to change, roughs you up.

.. You can’t really blackmail Donald Trump on personal conduct because nothing said about him would surprise or shock. Mr. Porter, however, was blackmailable.

.. Why did they let him stay on? Maybe because they were desperate: He was a respected establishment pro who could do the job. The administration struggled to attract such people.

..  I would add the big secret everyone knows both here and abroad and that occasionally springs to the forefront of the mind: A fundamental is unsound. Compared with other countries we look good, but compared with ourselves we do not. Our ratio of total debt to gross domestic product has grown to more than 100% and can’t keep growing forever. 

.. It is a ridiculous and embarrassing idea. If you want to show respect for the military make the Veterans Affairs Department work. A big, pointless, militarist display with gleaming weapons and shining tanks is so . . . Soviet. What do you gain from showing off your weaponry? What are we celebrating—that we have nukes? That we have to have them is a tragedy.

“The abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power.”

.. If there’s a parade that purports to honor our military men and women, they will go. But they’re not stupid, they’ll know what it is. It is Trump being Trump, and obsessing the nation. It’s bread and circuses.

And it is not like us, at least the old and honored us.

Who’s Afraid of Jordan Peterson?

When a British interviewer tried to shut him up, I knew he had something interesting to say.

.. Mr. Peterson is called “controversial” because he has been critical, as an academic, of various forms of the rising authoritarianism of the moment—from identity politics to cultural appropriation to white privilege and postmodern feminism. He has refused to address or refer to transgendered people by the pronouns “zhe” and “zher.” He has opposed governmental edicts in his native Canada that aim, perhaps honestly, at inclusion, but in practice limit views, thoughts and speech. 
..  scholarly respect for the stories and insights into human behavior—into the meaning of things—in the Old and New Testaments. (He’d like more attention paid to the Old.) Their stories exist for a reason, he says, and have lasted for a reason: They are powerful indicators of reality, and their great figures point to pathways. He respects the great thinkers of the West and the Christian tradition.
.. Mr. Peterson states clearly more than once that grasping at political ideology is not the answer when your life goes wrong. There’s no refuge there, it’s a way of avoiding the real problem: “Don’t blame capitalism, the radical left, or the iniquity of your enemies. Don’t reorganize the state until you have ordered your own experience. Have some humility. If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city?”
.. To fail, you merely have to cultivate a few bad habits.” Drugs, drinking, not showing up, hanging around with friends who are looking to lose, who have no hopes for themselves or you. “Once someone has spent enough time cultivating bad habits and biding their time, they are much diminished. Much of what they could have been has dissipated,” he writes. “Surround yourself with people who support your upward aim.”
.. “It is true that many adults who abuse children were themselves abused. It is also true the majority of people who were abused as children do not abuse their own children.”
.. When people, especially those in a position of authority, like broadcasters, try so hard to shut a writer up, that writer must have something to say.

When cultural arbiters try to silence a thinker, you have to assume he is saying something valuable.

So I bought and read the book. A small thing, but it improved my morale.

Trump, Oprah and the Art of Deflection

Will American politics return to normalcy in 2021 or 2025? I’m not betting on it.

Deflection as a media strategy has become an art form. Its purpose is to avoid answering a charge by misdirecting it and confusing the issue. It’s often used during crisis.

.. The paparazzi had chased her like jackals, raced after her car in the tunnel, surrounded it, and taken pictures after the crash. Fleet Street hunkered down in confusion, perhaps even some guilt. Then some genius noticed Buckingham Palace wasn’t flying a flag at half-staff. The tabloids rushed to front-page it: The cold Windsors, disrespecting Diana in death as they had in life. They shifted the focus of public ire. Suddenly there was no more talk of grubby hacks. Everyone was mad at the queen.

 

.. Ms. Lewinsky had gone into virtual hiding in 2008, when Hillary last ran, and didn’t want to do it again. So in 2014, just before the cycle got serious, she rather brilliantly wrote a piece for Vanity Fair in which she announced yes, she’d been a victim in a national scandal and the true culprit was . . . the press, the internet and the “feedback loop of defame and shame.”

In fact she was the Clintons’ victim, but she successfully deflected your gaze. Once Mrs. Clinton’s people understood Monica would be taking shots not at Hillary but at Matt Drudge, Ms. Lewinsky’s problem went away.

 

.. The best deflection has some truth in it. The Windsors were a chilly lot, and the internet does amplify a personal humiliation.

 

.. as I watched the Golden Globes. Hollywood has known forever about abuse, harassment and rape within its ranks. All the true powers in the industry—the agencies, the studios—have one way or another been complicit. And so, in the first awards show after the watershed revelations of 2017, they understood they would not be able to dodge the subject. They seized it and redirected it. They boldly declared themselves the heroes of the saga. They were the real leaders in the fight against sexual abuse. They dressed in black to show solidarity, they spoke truth to power.

 

.. They were upset, as Glenn Reynolds noted on Twitter , that you found out, and thought less of them. Anyway, they painted themselves as heroes of the struggle.

 

.. Deflection is brilliant, wicked, and tends to work.

 

.. But could she win? Absolutely.

Oprah is stable. Oprah is smart. Oprah is truly self-made. She has a moving personal story. She has dignity and, more important, sees the dignity in others. She is fully wired into modern media; she helped invent modern media. Reporters and editors are awed by her. People experience her not as radical but moderate. She has been a living-room presence for two generations and is enormously popular. The first poll, published Wednesday, had her leading President Trump 48% to 38%.

 

.. But it freaks you out, doesn’t it? Not that American presidents now don’t have to have the traditional credentials and governmental experience, but that maybe they can’t be fully accomplished and appropriate because that’s boring. History has been turned on its head. In falling in love with celebrity and personality, we are acting not like a tough and grounded country but a frivolous, shallow one.

 

.. I had a disagreement with a friend, a brilliant journalist who said when the Trump era is over, we will turn for safety to the old ways. We will return to normalcy. 

.. No I said, I see just the opposite. We will not go back for a long time, maybe ever. We are in the age of celebrity and the next one will and can be anything—Nobel laureate, movie star, professional wrestler, talk-show host, charismatic corporate executive.

The political class can bemoan this—the veteran journalists, the senators and governors, the administrators of the federal government. But this is a good time to remind ourselves that it was the failures of the political class that brought our circumstances about.

.. at least half the country no longer trusts its political leaders, when people see the detached, cynical and uncaring refusal to handle such problems as illegal immigration, when those leaders commit a great nation to wars they blithely assume will be quickly won because we’re good and they’re bad and we’re the Jetsons and they’re the Flintstones, and while they were doing that they neglected to notice there was something hinky going on with the financial sector, something to do with mortgages, and then the courts decide to direct the culture, and the IRS abuses its power, and a bunch of nuns have to file a lawsuit because the government orders them to violate their conscience . . .

 

.. The idea that a lot had to go wrong before we had a President Trump, and the celebrity who follows him, has gotten lost in time, as if someone wanted to bury it.

Sometimes I see a congressman or senator shrug and say, in explanation of something outlandish, “It’s Trump.” And I think: Buddy, you’ve been on the Hill 20 years, and we didn’t get to this pass only because of him. That’s a deflection.

The Sexual-Harassment Racket Is Over

For a quarter century we had been stuck in He Said/She Said. Now predators are on notice.

To repeat the obvious again, journalists broke the back of the scandal when they broke the code on how to report it. For a quarter century we had been stuck in the He Said/She Said. Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas gave their testimonies, each offered witnesses, and the fair minded did their best with the evidence at hand while sorting through all the swirling political agendas. In the end I believed Mr. Thomas. But nobody knows, or rather only two people do.

.. What happened during the past two years, and very much in the past few months, is that reporters and news organizations committed serious resources to unearthing numbers and patterns. Deep reporting found not one or two victims of an abuser but, in one case, that of Bill Cosby, at least 35. So that was the numbers
..  The testimony of the women who went on the record, named and unnamed, revealed patterns: the open bathrobe, the running shower, the “Let’s change our meeting from the restaurant to my room/your apartment/my guesthouse.” Once you, as a fair-minded reader, saw the numbers and patterns, and once you saw them in a lengthy, judicious, careful narrative, you knew who was telling the truth. 
.. Maybe the difference now is that the Clintons are gone
..  “What’s remarkable is that these women are being believed.” Most didn’t have police reports or witnesses, and many were speaking of things that had happened years ago. “We have finally come to some kind of national consensus about the workplace
.. “But Clinton was not left to the swift and pitiless justice that today’s accused men have experienced.” He was rescued instead by “a surprising force: machine feminism.”
.. Gloria Steinem in March 1998 wrote a famous New York Times op-ed that, in Ms. Flanagan’s words, “slut-shamed, victim-blamed, and age-shamed” the victims and “urged compassion for and gratitude to the man the women accused.” This revealed contemporary feminism as “a weaponized auxiliary of the Democratic Party.”
..  Ms. Steinem characterized the assaults as “passes,” writing: “Even if the allegations are true, the President is not guilty of sexual harassment.”
.. An aging Catholic priest suggested to a friend that all this was inevitable. “Contraception degenerates men,” he said, as does abortion. Once you separate sex from its seriousness, once you separate it from its life-changing, life-giving potential, men will come to see it as just another want, a desire like any other. Once they think that, then they’ll see sexual violations as less serious, less charged, less full of weight. They’ll be more able to rationalize. It’s only petty theft, a pack of chewing gum on the counter, and I took it.