So let me say at the front end that Jonah Goldberg is my favorite contemporary political writer. He is vivid, funny, and almost always on point. He is part of the conservative firmament, and yet does not display some of the irritating characteristics on regular display from the kept conservatives, from the kennel-fed conservatives, from the cautious conservatives. He praises Trump regularly when he thinks he did well, and when he doesn’t, he doesn’t. I take him as a fundamentally honest and consistent commentator. So everything that follows here should be read in that context.
But like many conservatives who love their country, I don’t believe he grasps how corrupt the entire system has become. There is a species of conservatism that sees and pillories the regnant follies, but does so in the belief that the “fundamentals are still sound.” Underneath it all we should still be able to find the Madisonian bedrock. All the foolishness is to be lamented, not to mention dissected, perhaps in a forthcoming article. We have to take this skin cancer seriously, they argue, and schedule the operation for the next mid-terms—not coming to grips with the fact that it is bone cancer, Stage IV. If anything is to be done, it will have to be by a mad doctor from Tijuana.
Speaking of a mad doctor from Tijuana, our president is now Donald Trump, and CNN is getting elephant doctor doses of apricot pit extract.
As a sample of what I take to be a case of this kind of denial, consider this following exchange between Jonah and Mollie Hemingway of the Federalist. The context is this. When Trump recently let us all know that he did not have tapes of his conversations with James Comey, but that somebody else might and you would have to ask them about it, Jonah took umbrage. (What a great word, umbrage, what?) He said that Trump was implying that he was deliberately tapped, quite a different thing than having classified material leaked. Two distinct things, man.
But notice that this assumes that the leadership of the intelligence agencies is not hopelessly corrupt. Trump has been pounded by criminal leaks coming from the upper echelons of the intelligence world, and so he coyly implied that such criminals—who ought to be jail—in addition to their guilt with regard to Crime A, might also have ventured over into Crime B. This is like reasoning that the burglars who took your stereo might also have ventured into the kitchen to help themselves to the silver, and is a quite reasonable bit of reasonable reasoning. Two distinct things all right, both of them equally felonious.
Please realize I am not saying that Trump was wiretapped. I am saying that if he wasn’t, the thing that prevented it was not civic virtue. The wheels have come off of this thing, and this is distressing to those who love our form of government. So distressing that sometimes they overlook the obvious.
Please note that I am not advancing the theory of Trump as “mad genius,” or as a savant politician playing “three dimensional chess.” He might be that, or he might be just doing his New York businessman thing, right out where people who don’t understand it can see it. He might just be a thin-skinned man with poor impulse control, or he might have a plan that will astonish us all when finally revealed.
Maybe, maybe not. But I am arguing—with cautious humility, taking care not to be impudent or blasphemous—that God most certainly is (by our notions of respectability) a mad genius. Without saying anything in defense of Trump’s “new kind of presidential,” without signing up as a personal defender of his motives or intentions, I simply note again that Trump is a wrecking ball. And the things getting wrecked all richly deserve it. And some of us are delighted to observe it, which we can do without sullying the white gloves of conscience. Put in whatever amount of irony you need to use in order to make the previous sentence acceptable.
So who is running the crane?
You say that Trump is a manifest clown. Let me grant it for the sake of the discussion. But he is taking it to the other clowns, the ones whose buffoonery has not yet been recognized as such by all the respectable voices. The fury is because the tactic appears to be working.