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Bloodbaths, Blunders, and Blowback
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Bloodbaths, Blunders, and Blowback

Elites in the media and academia are trying to describe a world only they think exists.

President Joe Biden speaks at Stupak Community Center on March 19, 2024, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Biden delivered remarks on making affordable housing more available for American families. (Photo by Ian Maule/Getty Images)

Hi, 

I’m writing from the parking lot of a La Quinta Inn in Aberdeen, Maryland. I’m headed north to deal with some family business from my mom’s estate tomorrow morning. I pulled over to write you this note and smoke a cigar in the process, or maybe vice versa. 

Such is the weirdness of the life I have chosen. If you told me 20 years ago that I’d be writing the last G-File before I turned 55 in the shadow of a hotel in a sketchy part of Aberdeen, Maryland, I might have made different choices. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I didn’t make those choices. I’m just noting that life isn’t planned, it’s lived. 

In case you didn’t know, I often park behind hotels like this, not just because you meet the most interesting people, but because there’s always one side of the building where you can easily park that provides shade, which I require to craft these epistles.

Speaking of said epistle, I’m going to write it like I’m living on a desert island in the South Pacific, spending my idle time constructing a replica of this very La Quinta Inn out of discarded plastic bottles and other detritus, flotsam, and jetsam that wash up on the beach. In other words, I will stitch it together as stuff comes to me. When I’m done, if it looks like a G-File—or a La Quinta Inn—great. If it doesn’t, my apologies in advance. Some days the tide brings you Happy Meal toys, sometimes it brings fully laden diapers. 

Last night I was on CNN. The host, Abby Phillip, noted that Democrats were boasting that the Biden campaign swing out West is proving that the president is not as infirmed and helpless as his critics claim. As I noted, this is true. Some on the right talk about Joe Biden as if he struggles to remember to keep the flap on his hospital gown shut or navigate a spoonful of Jell-O from his tray to his mouth. And if that’s the standard people want to hold Biden too, Biden will exceed expectations every day. But it’s worth keeping in mind that this is the political equivalent of raising the limbo stick to the ceiling. We normally expect presidents running for reelection to be able to take a trip, give a speech, and chat with people without treating it as a major accomplishment. 

We also talked about the now fully tiresome “bloodbath” debate, which I wrote about in my Los Angeles Times column. I don’t have much to add to what I wrote, save to note that Donald Trump, too, benefits from goal-post moving. Every time Trump gives a remotely normal speech about policy or abstains from ad hominem attacks—which is admittedly pretty rare—his boosters flood the TV studios to cheer as if it is a major event. Knowing that he might be watching, they pull out all the stops to encourage Trump to stick to this approach. “Stay on policy!” “Be presidential!” “Trump the statesman!” “Take the high road!” But the positive reinforcement never sticks. Like a dog returning to his vomit, he always reverts back to his actual character. Character is destiny, so he is destined to be Trump in full. 

Okay, I have another point from my column I want to attach some plastic bottles to. In my argument that the press should show some restraint in how it covers Trump, I explicitly skipped making an idealistic appeal to the mission of journalists to stick to the facts and not choose sides. It’s not that I don’t believe that stuff, I just don’t think it’s the most effective argument for persuading people who sincerely believe that thwarting Trump is consistent with their lofty principles. Nor is it useful for people who sincerely believe—as many people of good faith do—that his use of the term “bloodbath” was, in fact, a threat or a glimpse of the real Trump. Instead, I appealed to them on expressly cynical grounds. It is in the self-interest of the press not to go to 11 on every outrage. The media doesn’t have a vast storehouse of credibility it can afford to spend down. If they want to arouse popular outrage against Trump, they should let a few hard-to-hit pitches go by without swinging for them. 

What’s remarkable about the elite media is how much it laments the loss of faith and trust in the media while refusing to do any of the obvious things that might mitigate the trend. It’s like they think people will eventually come to their senses and once again defer to what they’re told by people with journalism degrees. Biden’s not actually too old! Trump’s a monster! 

I’ve been reading a lot of European history lately, and time and again there are instances where kings, czars, and other aristocrats fail to comprehend that the masses don’t invest in them the authority they believe is their divine birthright. 

“The people should obey!” the potentates declare. 

“They’re not,” reply the advisers. 

“Tell them again, this time with feeling” their majesties respond. 

“We did.” 

“You’re fired.”

Rulers like Czar Nicholas II or James II or Louis XVI clung to a view of their authority that eventually led to their total loss of authority. I think a lot of people in the press think they have the ability to assert what reality is when what little influence and authority they actually have rests on their ability to illuminate reality, not dictate it. 

The weird thing is that the people who actually hate the media the most—on the right and left—share an outsized view of the power of the media. It’s impossible to listen to a conservative or liberal podcast, cable news harangue, or panel discussion without hearing claims that “the media” is responsible for this wrongness or that misunderstanding. To listen to—some very highly rated—Fox News hosts, you’d think that if “the media” just told the truth no one would disagree with them about anything. 

Let’s strain this analogy to the point where we risk losing an eye to the nuts and bolts holding it together popping off like a cheap submarine that dove too deep. It’s almost like they’re rival aristocrats-in-exile thinking that if they had the throne, everything would be right in the world. 

I see versions of this all over the place. If “the media” just reported the “truth” that Israel is evil, everyone would agree that it’s evil. If the “the media” stopped lying about Donald Trump or Joe Biden, everyone would love or hate them. There’s a lot of bad reporting out there, but for many people “fake news” is simply the news they don’t want to hear. 

This magical thinking exists across the ideological spectrum. But it finds its most cogent and explicit expression on the left, in the form of word policing. Tell people to stop saying “mother” and start saying “birthing person” and all of the messy problems that come with surgical (or more superficial) sex changes in the real world will evaporate.  The lefty linguist George Lakoff used to argue that no one would have a problem with trial lawyers if we just called them “community protection attorneys.” No one will object to paying taxes if you call them the “membership fees” required to be an American. 

The left’s commitment to the magical authority of words is constantly getting it into trouble. In his State of the Union rally, Joe Biden referred to an alleged murderer as an “illegal” and many of his allies lost their minds. “How dare he use that word? No one is illegal. Blah blah blah.” If my use of “blah blah blah” seems overly dismissive of these complaints, let me respond by saying I think it was merely duly dismissive. 

It’s a perfectly cromulent word to describe immigrants who are here illegally. But if you prefer to put things in Lakoffian terms, fine. He’s an alleged murderer who skirted his membership dues as an American. When normal Americans are told that they should reserve their outrage over an American being killed by an illegal immigrant not for the murder, but for the mischaracterization of the immigrant’s immigration status, a great many of them are bewildered. And the media responds with bewildered bewilderment over their bewilderment. “You should care about what we tell you to care about.”

There have been a bunch of stories lately about the “backlash” against Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). The fans of DEI go to great lengths to claim that the backlash is against the lowercase ideas of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and not the bureaucratic ideological project that is the DEI industry. It’s a very old tactic. Point out that the Black Lives Matter organization is full of deranged and corrupt Marxist activists and the response is, “You don’t think black lives matter” or, shorter, “racist!” You might recall that my favorite illustration of this tactic is from the TV show Parks and Recreation. A cult that worships Zorp the Surveyor, a 28-foot tall lizard with a volcano mouth, once took over the town of Pawnee, Indiana. A harmless remnant—a different remnant than the Nockian one—of Zorpies still hangs on. They call themselves “the Reasonablists” because they want to claim that anyone who criticizes the cult is unreasonable. 

I find it difficult to read a lot of left-of-center, high-brow, journalism these days because it’s so shot through with a similar mindset. Call ideas you don’t like “white supremacy” or “anti-immigrant” and you don’t have to bother with pesky details. 

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that it’s really weird that “phonics” isn’t spelled like it sounds. But that’s not important right now. I also don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that the left has invested an incredible amount of time and energy in a similar project to demonize the right as racist, xenophobic, etc. If you’d like 10,000 words on this incandescently obvious observation, I can easily oblige. But let’s skip that on the assumption you agree. 

How has that worked for Democrats? For elite universities? 

After vast investments in DEI—intellectual and budgetary—elite universities have found themselves having to explain why antisemitism, and even antisemitic violence, has festered amid all the talk about diversity and inclusion. If you declare sex is biologically or genetically determined you get mandatory counseling or scolding. But if you declare the Middle East—or the quad—should be judenfrei, well, it’s complicated. 

Meanwhile, one of the most significant trends in politics in my lifetime appears to be unfolding before our eyes. Hispanics and to a lesser degree African Americans are migrating toward the GOP (so are young people, another supposedly “natural” constituency of the left). And not the GOP of the Bushes—who sincerely endeavored toward lowercase diversity and inclusion—but Trump’s GOP.  I think the trend is often overstated, but it’s also real. How can this be? While the media and the professors have turned up the volume to ear-bleeding levels about the bigotry, xenophobia, and white supremacy of the right, the supposed targets of this “hate” are fleeing their supposed protectors? 

I think there are many reasons for this trend, mostly having to do with issues far upstream of partisan politics. But one thing is clear: The “reality” described by the paladins and high priests of progress isn’t the reality seen by large numbers of the supposedly oppressed. I am not trying to absolve the right of any bigotry. The parapets of the internet are festooned with idiot gargoyles trafficking in hateful nonsense. But the rhetoric that fills the pages of highbrow magazines and air of MSNBC studios isn’t dealing with the world as it is, it’s describing the world they want to see, because in such a world they enjoy undiluted moral authority. They want to talk about bloodbaths, and everyone else tunes it out as bloodless bathos. 

And, yet, like the aristocrats of yore, they can’t grasp why their subjects don’t recognize their authority. 

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Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief and co-founder of The Dispatch, based in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, enormous lizards roamed the Earth. More immediately prior to that, Jonah spent two decades at National Review, where he was a senior editor, among other things. He is also a bestselling author, longtime columnist for the Los Angeles Times, commentator for CNN, and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. When he is not writing the G-File or hosting The Remnant podcast, he finds real joy in family time, attending to his dogs and cat, and blaming Steve Hayes for various things.