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Donald Trump, Nietzsche, and TikTok
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Donald Trump, Nietzsche, and TikTok

A very bloggy G-File.

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Waco Regional Airport on March 25, 2023, in Waco, Texas. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Hey,

Don’t tell Steve, but I’m part of an underground movement here at The Dispatch that nobody calls B4 (Bring Back Better Blogging). Nobody calls it that because I just made up that name, partly because I like alliteration. (After all, alliteration is amusingly addictive and always adds an awesome aspect to any article. It’s a fun form of figurative filibustering that fuels a feeling of fascination and fosters a sense of fluency with phrasing.)

This rebel alliance wants The Dispatch to have a group blog, much like the Corner, which I came up with back in my National Review days. Contrary to rumors—mostly spread by me—Steve isn’t opposed to the idea because he’s an enemy of joy. He worries that a blog would encourage bad habits that The Dispatch was founded to oppose: hot takes, getting caught up in the effluvial tides of Twitter and cable news, etc.

Now, if you’re close to my age, you might remember the animated series The Adventures of Letterman. This was not, as you might guess, some creepy fanfic about the comedian and late-night TV host David Letterman. It was part of the 1970s kids show The Electric Company, and it—allegedly—helped little kids learn to read. Narrated by Joan Rivers, the eponymous hero of The Adventures of Letterman (voiced by Gene Wilder) was constantly besieged by Spell Binder (voiced by Zero Mostel). Spell Binder, who had what today would be considered a culturally offensive turban, was constantly changing words by replacing letters in nefarious ways.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dgKJ0JnMLnE

So a modern day, more culturally edgy Spell Binder might take the phrase “enemy of joy” and mischievously replace the “Y” in “enemy” with an “A,” thus rendering a very, very different image.

But where was I? Oh, right: blogging. Given the insane amount of verbiage I peck out on this keyboard every week, you might be shocked to learn that I crave more opportunities to write. There are all sorts of things that I’d love to opine on that don’t merit a full column or “news”letter but require more thought and space than Twitter allows. I also miss the badinage of engaging my colleagues on various issues.

If I were more disciplined, I wouldn’t need to buy more accommodating pants. But that’s not important right now. I’d also collect these little items and write a blog-style “news”letter from time to time. I try, but some of the items grow stale and, besides, I forget to write them down. Add in the fact that my memory has gotten worse and the voices screaming in my head have grown louder, and finding those ideas amid the detritus in my brain pan is like looking for a lost contact lens at an outdoor Metallica concert. “Everyone quiet down and stop moving!”

Still, as Donald Trump claims to have said about his decision to make Ron DeSantis stop crying, “Let’s give it a shot.” Herewith a few scattershot observations, blog style.

Ron DeLachrymosity?

About the prior reference, I should say that I think Trump is, of course, lying when he says DeSantis came to him with “tears in his eyes” begging Trump for an endorsement (and not just because his lips were moving). And I say this as someone who has criticized DeSantis’ public groveling for the nomination. The ad in which he essentially showed himself indoctrinating his little kids into a political cult was, in my opinion, grotesque. I have friends who think it was funny. I have other friends who think it was gross-but-necessary. I think it was neither:

Still, the claim that he was bawling beggars belief. That doesn’t mean it isn’t effective. Michael Brendan Dougherty recently made a very good, albeit depressing, point about the Trump-DeSantis battle. People like us look at the firehose of bulls— that Trump sprays and grade it with the tools of reason and logic. But Trump is actually more of a postmodern performance artist than a practitioner of linguistic precision and logical legerdemain. As MBD puts it:

… it doesn’t actually matter that one day Donald Trump is begging DeSantis to say something on the impending charges from Alvin Bragg in Manhattan, putting DeSantis in the role of protector, only the next day to turn around and try to recast him as an ingrate. And no, it doesn’t matter that in one breath Donald Trump says Florida is great but only because of the sun and the ocean. And in the next breath he portrays it as a “sh**hole country” that DeSantis has run into the ground. And it’s not supposed to make any sense when he blames DeSantis for closing the beaches and calls him Lockdown Ron, only to then blame DeSantis for Covid deaths.

On one level, Trump is like Jason Bourne under attack in his swank posh Paris pied a terre grabbing anything that can be used as a weapon. But on another level, he’s just trying to convey that he’s a “fighter” willing to smash anything in his path. “Parsing any of Trump’s attacks,” MBD writes, “and working out what Trump’s views and policies will be is literally like trying to divine the future from the way debris lies after a mudslide.” He’s demonstrating his political will—his will to power, in Nietzschean terms. And like the Ubermensch, he rejects all constraints—bourgeois, democratic, decency itself—as the concerns of lesser men.

Nietzsche’s escalator.

The tragic thing isn’t really that a former president of the United States is so morally depraved, it’s that so many Americans—particularly self-styled conservatives—like it. I think more conservatives dislike this stuff, but they are nonetheless cowed by it.

I detest describing Trump as an Ubermensch, because he would consider it a compliment.

But in a way, the label fits. For Nietzsche, the Ubermensch was the culmination of human evolution that we should all strive for: A being who transcended the ethereal and otherworldly ideals of Christianity—and the bourgeois, small d-democratic morality Christianity informed—in favor of creating one’s own values for one’s own needs. The Last Men were the nihilistic, pleasure-seeking mass of people who couldn’t be bothered to care about anything beyond their own contentment.

The Last Man was the “most despicable” of men; “he that is no longer able to despise himself.”

A good person who gives into sloth despises the sloth within him. The Last Man is a person who makes peace with his own sloth because sloth feels good. This is why I’ve always hated the obsession with hypocrisy. Disliking hypocrisy, in yourself and others, is valuable. But when you make hating hypocrisy the defining feature of your ethos, you make “honest” and “authentic” sinfulness a virtue. A glutton who condemns gluttony is a hypocrite. He can erase his hypocrisy by promoting gluttony for everybody, but he doesn’t become a better person in the process.

I think the way to square this circle is to remember something simple: Nietzsche was wrong. His critique of the comfort-besotted Last Man was basically right. But his assertion that the superior man, the “super man,” is the individual who pridefully rejects morality in favor of his own will was profoundly wrong. The Ubermensch isn’t an advancement in human evolution—it’s the culmination of what is most repugnant about the Last Man.

The Last Kids.

I wrote my syndicated column about the proposed TikTok ban. To listen to a lot of defenders of TikTok, the idea of banning it is stupid because young people really enjoy using it. The suggestion that their entertainment should be interrupted because it’s in America’s interest is greeted with shrugs. “Who cares if the Chinese have my data?”

According to Vitus “V” Spehar, a TikTok influencer with nearly 3 million followers, Sen. Mark Warner said, “Well, I know you like TikTok, but you’ll get over it, you can just go to another platform.’”

Spehar, who apparently specializes in “politics and civics,” responded, “Wow. What a burn. And also, how dismissive to say something like that. I would never say to you, like, ‘Well, Mark, I guess we could just pick another senator. Who cares who it is?’ He wouldn’t like that.”

Um, you’re absolutely free to say that about a United States senator. In fact, people say exactly that sort of thing on a daily basis. They say it most often around the time of what experts on civics and politics call “elections.” More importantly, who cares what someone would like? I’m sure beneficiaries of sugar subsidies wouldn’t “like” someone saying they should be abolished. That’s not exactly an argument against abolishing them.

Grown-ups don’t settle major public policy questions based upon whether someone would or wouldn’t like the answer.

Or at least they’re not supposed to. But in a populist era where comfort and entertainment are prized over work and responsibility, this passes for a serious argument about a serious national security question.

It’s particularly amusing to watch Democrats struggle with this dilemma. The party is obsessed with the glories of “youth engagement” and “youth activism.” When the issue is, say, climate change, all of the rhetoric is Kennedy-esque: “Ask not what your country can do for you …” But when it comes to actually asking this vast constituency to do something other than vote, namely to stop using one source of handheld entertainment, it’s asking too much.

Don’t ask.  

I’ve avoided writing about the shooting in Nashville because it’s all so terrible and all the more terrible for being so exhausting. I have no new arguments to make—and neither does anyone else as far as I can tell.

The only new aspect to this inexpressibly horrific murder is the fact that the shooter was a woman, by which I mean she was born a biological female. Female spree killers aren’t unheard of, but they are rare. What makes this case more complicated is that the murderer (who I will not name) was in the process of identifying as a male.

This has made everything about a terrible situation worse, and the thought of extrapolating from this fundamentally anecdotal fact to sweeping statements about anything makes me queasy.

What’s even more unsettling is watching so many people do exactly that.

There have been plenty of self-described “Christian” spree-killers. If Vance called on Christians or the right to do some similar soul-searching, I missed it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for soul-searching—there’s ample reason for it these days across the ideological spectrum. But it’s always easy to say “they” have to do soul-searching.

On the other hand, I have no patience for all the angst over “misgendering” the shooter that’s unfolding in the press. I would have fewer problems if the media abandoned pronouns in their coverage of such heinous cases and just referred to the murderers as “demons.”

Now, I get it—heck, I’m somewhat guilty of it myself—the actual facts are simultaneously so evil and so familiar that commentators are desperate to find some new angle to talk about. But there’s something profoundly self-indulgent about thinking this is the angle that should consume so many when they haven’t even buried the three murdered 9-year-old kids and three adults yet.

Then there’s the issue of the demon’s manifesto. LBGTQ+ groups don’t want it released:

“It should not be published,” Jordan Budd, the executive director of Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere (COLAGE), told Newsweek. “The focus should be on how this was able to happen in the first place. There should not be such easy access to deadly weaponry.”

Now, I’m open to the idea that manifestos of serial killers should not be made public, or at least not while passions still run high. But that has to be a policy that doesn’t depend on what “kind” of killer it is. If a murderer’s manifesto (allegedly) puts Christians or Jews or conservatives in a bad light, it can’t be made available for a million hot takes about the dangers posed by constituencies disfavored by the media but kept under wraps when inconvenient for favored constituencies.

I have lots of liberal journalist friends who think conservatives are paranoid victims of “disinformation” for thinking the mainstream media is in the business of ideologically shaping narratives to fit their worldview. Giving in to these demands would be a perfect—and long-remembered—example of exactly that.

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.