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One More Time With Feeling: Unity Is Overrated
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One More Time With Feeling: Unity Is Overrated

Don’t let Nazi raccoons keep you from thinking straight.

A raccoon sits on a log in the zoo on September 6, 2005 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Dear Reader (even the litigious romantics among you),

They told me that if Joe Biden was elected president, gangs of Nazi raccoons would run wild in German cities—and they were right. 

The weird thing about that sentence is that the part that’s not true is the bit about Joe Biden. Nazi raccoons are running wild in Germany. According to one version of the story, the Nazi Department of Forestry and Conservation—run by Hermann Göring—released four raccoons into the wild in the 1930s, thus earning the sobriquet “Nazi raccoons.” Another version says they escaped from their cages during an Allied bombing. Some critics of American foreign policy no doubt prefer this version, because it supports the idea that there’s always “blowback” to American leadership in the world. No doubt Candace Owens, who now “thinks” we should have stayed out of World War II, prefers this version. I mean, is stopping Hitler and ending the Holocaust really worth it if it comes at such a high cost? 

Regardless, the Nazi raccoons now number around 2 million and are wreaking havoc. In 2017, one raccoon even blew up a power station.

It’s funny, in the waning days of World War II, as the Allies advanced further and further into Germany, Hitler and his advisers came up with Operation Werewolf (Unternehmen Werwolf), intended to wage merciless guerrilla warfare against the Allies behind enemy lines and against any Germans who gave up the fight. The Werewolves didn’t last long after the war, but Unternehmen Müllpanda—Operation Trash Panda—is going strong nearly a century later. Nazi raccoons own the night in many German cities, moving in bands through the streets and occupying attics, garages, and cars. The Germans are fighting back: I learned today that raccoon sausage is a thing.

I Googled “Is raccoon safe to eat?” and apparently, if cooked correctly (trash pandas can carry rabies as well as all manner of parasites), they’re good eatin’—at least according to the sorts of people who would ever think to eat one. I am not such a person (though I’m not kosher, I don’t eat animals with hands), but, because I didn’t use Express VPN (promo code Remnant!), I’m sure I’m going to start getting ads for the sorts of people who are. 

Anyway, like all Nazis, these raccoons are not content to rule just Germany, they’ve crossed the border into France, Belgium, and the Czech Republic claiming evermore Lebensraum. None of the recent articles mention them moving into Poland, but even the briefest Googling reveals furry blitzkrieg crossed the Polish border a long time ago. I mean, of course Nazi raccoons would invade Poland.

Why am I writing about this? Well, for a few reasons. 

First, there’s an old rule in my line of work: If you can justifiably talk about Nazi animals, you should. True story: After my dad took me to see Raiders of the Lost Ark, I said I felt bad about the monkey dying. My dad said, “Well, he was a bad monkey.”

I responded that I didn’t think he was a bad monkey. Dad replied: “Jonah, he was a Nazi monkey.

Despite the monkey working with Nazis and even doing the Sieg Heil salute, I don’t think my dad was right. But it sure is fun saying “Nazi monkey.”

Second, I had a crazy morning with podcasts and meetings, and not much time to think of something to write about. So, when the God of the Deadline drops Nazi raccoons in your lap like a bottle of coke in The Gods Must Be Crazy, you don’t ask questions. 

But I do have a point to make, which brings me back to my opening line. I went on a bit of a stemwinder on the solo Remnant (aka The Ruminant) this morning about a familiar topic in this space: catastrophizing. More on that in a moment. 

I’m going to keep mentioning Yuval Levin’s new book, American Covenant, because I want people to read it. I also want to ingratiate myself with him sufficiently that he finally fulfills his promise to me to get Fresca back in the AEI office fridge. But that’s not important right now. 

Part of Yuval’s argument is that we misunderstand the role of unity in our constitutional order. The Constitution was crafted to foster productive disagreement: faction against faction, state governments against the federal government, the executive branch against the legislative branch. The goal wasn’t to secure unity, but rather to foster healthy competition. That’s what free speech is for—to let people argue. Contrary to the rhetoric of a lot of Republicans these days, senators and congressmen are not supposed to take orders from the president (never mind the party’s presumptive nominee). Presidents are not elected to be the boss of anybody but staffers in the executive branch. A king can tell a subject what to do; the president can’t tell you to do anything without the benefit of law.

And the law is written by the legislature. Legislators are not elected to be answerable to the president—even presidents of the same party. Legislators are elected to be answerable to their voters. Newly elected presidents are famously frustrated with the fact that they have to ask Congress for permission and authorization to do all sorts of things. But that’s how the system works.

This bothers cultists of the presidency—in all parties—because they’ve become convinced that presidents are more like elected kings in charge of the country. Thing is, they are not in charge of the country. They’re in charge of … staffers in the executive branch. And even that is subject to limitations set by Congress, the courts, and the Constitution. 

This is one reason why presidents, and acolytes of the cult of the presidency, love crisis. As Rahm Emanuel famously put it, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that [is] it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

Before I go on, it’s worth noting that “serious crisis” is a redundant phrase, like “close proximity,” “unexpected surprise,” “advance warning,” “complete opposite,” and “boring New York Times editorial.” If a crisis isn’t serious, it isn’t a crisis. 

Emanuel rightly got a lot of grief for saying that, but some interpretations of what he said are less damning than others. Crises do create political opportunities to get things done. Donald Trump’s illegal bump stock ban was implemented in response to a crisis—the mass shooting in Las Vegas. The problem wasn’t that Washington responded to a mass murder made possible by a modification that made a semi-automatic rifle into, for practical purposes, an illegal machine gun. The problem was that, because the Trump White House issued an illegal executive order, the pressure on Congress to respond to a crisis appropriately and lawfully was short-circuited. 

That’s the problem with the triplet cults of the presidency, crisis, and unity. In a crisis we want a Big Man to do what is necessary, to represent the will of the unified people, and just get things done. This is why presidents love to declare things are crises—to get permission to work outside the rules. That’s the appeal of the “moral equivalent of war.” Declare something an existential threat like a war, and the president gets to act like a commander-in-chief or king on the home front. “As in the great crisis of the World War,” Franklin Roosevelt explained in 1933 introducing the National Industrial Recovery Act, “it puts a whole people to the simple but vital test: Must we go on in many groping, disorganized, separate units to defeat or shall we move as one great team to victory?”

Whether it’s climate change, chaos at the border, or a thousand other crises—real and pretend—partisans and cultists love the idea of using emergencies as an excuse to work around the system. That’s the crux of my problem with catastrophizing: It gives people permission to stop thinking, stop following the rules—constitutional, legal, moral, political, cultural—and reduce questions to fear and panic.

In 2020, Donald Trump said that if Biden was elected, “He’ll bury you in regulations, dismantle your police departments, dissolve our borders, confiscate your guns, terminate religious liberty, destroy your suburbs.” He said that Biden’s energy plan “would mean that America’s seniors have no air conditioning during the summer, no heat during the winter, and no electricity during peak hours.” In a debate with Biden, he also said, “They say the stock market will boom if I’m elected, if he’s elected the stock market will crash. The biggest analysts are saying that.” And he constantly said MS-13 would rampage across America like so many Nazi raccoons hopped up on amphetamines and cough medicine. (I’m paraphrasing.)

Now, don’t get me wrong: Plenty of bad stuff has happened with regulations and the border. But the stock market is near its all-time high, old people still have air conditioning and heat, and the suburbs, last I checked, are still there. Ditto police departments and religious liberty.

Trump didn’t say that if Joe Biden was elected, Nazi raccoons would ravage Europe. But it’s the same idea. Joe Biden and his surrogates insist that democracy will end if Trump is reelected. I don’t think reelecting Trump would be good for democracy, but I also think democracy will survive even if he returns to the White House.

I’m a broken record on the problems with the cult of unity. Unity is amoral; a tool. Hamas is unified. The mafia places a huge premium on unity. The Nazis were very unified, as are the Nazi raccoons (though there might be some collaborators for all I know).

Unity can be moral when used for moral ends. And, in the context of the American constitutional order, with moral means. However much you think the border, climate change, MS-13, fentanyl, student loan debt, bump stocks, etc. are crises, the way to deal with crises is to have a big argument about them—not peddle catastrophes and demonize people who disagree with what you want to do.

Persuade people. Hold hearings. Pass laws. One reason to operate that way is because the people you demonize today will eventually be in power, and the shortcuts you took will be undone using the same shortcuts. Laws are hard to repeal; executive orders aren’t.

But another reason to do things the right way is that the result will probably—though not necessarily—be better than presidential diktat. What is certain, though, is that more Americans will agree with the result and have a sense of ownership of it, because their elected representatives took the time to debate, negotiate, and ultimately legislate. 

Which brings me back to Yuval. “The breakdown of political culture in our day,” he writes, “is not a function of our having forgotten how to agree with each other but of our having forgotten how to disagree constructively.” 

That’s what the Constitution was set up to make possible: Constructive disagreement.

People don’t think clearly and don’t necessarily act decently when freaked out with panic over a crisis or threat of a catastrophe. That’s why I keep pushing back on all the horse hockey about the “Flight 93 election” stuff. Essays like that are a deliberate effort to scare people out of thinking straight.

It’s not that we don’t face problems, even crises. We do. But the cheerleaders of crisis who insist that liberal democracy or constitutional republicanism (which are, for nearly all practical purposes, the same frick’n thing) is not up to these challenges have no credibility with me. Because practically none of them have even tried to address these challenges the right way, and some of them don’t want the right way to work anyway. Not only would that prove them wrong, it would make the catastrophists and crisis mongers irrelevant.

That is a goal worth unifying around—that, and the Nazi raccoon menace. 

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: The fox who lives across the street is causing real problems. He comes out late at night or early in the morning and yells to everyone, “Stay away from my kids.” Zoë and Pippa insist on barking at it. Pippa in particular thinks she needs to keep shouting, “Hey, there’s a fox outside!” or “Hey fox! Go away!” She stays up so late chastising the fox that she sometimes insists on sleeping in or recommitting to wall work. (Though we still get some work in the early morning hours.) Zoë is more interested in making the fox go away. Lots of folks have inquired about whether Chester is okay, since he’s mostly an outside cat. He’s encountered foxes before and the sound has been like cutting a shopping cart with a chainsaw, or a Nazi raccoon running into some IDF dogs. But he’s fine. And yes, we are still appeasing him. The dogs really don’t like the heat. Gracie, on the other hand, loves to take sunbaths all day long. 


And now, the weird stuff

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.