A romance novel explains why Trump is destroying the media and a Jewish survival doctrine provides a road map for conservatives who want to win.
These are strange times and I sometimes have a strange brain. That may explain why, in the days since the Alabama election, when I read about Trump’s clashes with the media or see the #NeverTrumpers willing to sacrifice America to their principles, some pretty strange analogies — analogies about romance novels and rabbinical rules — pop into my head. Let me explain:
Writing at the L.A. Times, Matt Welch discusses the fact that conservatives feel strongly that, in the many elections held since (and including) the presidential election 2016, the really big loser has consistently been the American media:
“Roy Moore Proves Media Only Destroys Itself in Elections” ran a headline Monday in The American Spectator. “The late Charles Manson seems to have gotten a more sympathetic press” than Republican Roy Moore, complained former human events editor Allan H. Ryskind in the Washington Times. “The real reason for a situation that allows the Roy Moores and Donald Trumps of the world to rise above mere laughingstock status,” opined former George W. Bush speechwriter Matt Latimer in Politico, “is that the media has totally lost its connection with a large portion of the nation.”
Meanwhile, the media’s been congratulating itself on scoring a victory in Alabama. Welch is intrigued by this disconnect, which he chalks up to insider and outsider criticism:
All political media criticism — whether it was the more left-leaning alternative and New Journalism of the ’60s and ’70s, the right-leaning AM radio revolution of the ’80s and ’90s or the social media cacophony we see today — begins as a necessary and bracing reminder to the big media fish that they, too, swim in water, even if they don’t feel it.
But soon, the outsider critique brushes up against the first iron law of media criticism: Partisan skepticism inevitably drifts toward media illiteracy. What starts out as a tool for more sophisticated news consumption eventually degrades into an excuse for those who choose not to believe inconvenient journalism.
Welch’s report triggered a slightly different train of thought in my brain: Trump is extraordinarily adept at baiting the media into intemperate behavior that shows the media at its worst — even if there’s some underlying virtue underlying the media’s position. And what does this remind me of? A Georgette Heyer novel, of course.
The novel, one of my favorites, is The Nonesuch. The book’s plot is the usual comedy of manners that Heyer handles with a touch as deft as Jane Austen’s, tempered only by a more modern sensibility. Here’s the quick rundown:
Ancilla is an intelligent, accomplished young gentlewoman with a strong sense of self worth and a good sense of humor (making her more empowered than the American women born of the Women’s Liberation Movement). Owing to her family’s impoverishment, instead of becoming a charge on her family, she’s chosen to work as a governess. Ancilla has two charges: her employer’s daughter and her employer’s niece. The niece, Tiffany, is an extremely wealthy, staggeringly beautiful, selfish young woman who is charming when happy and a termagant when crossed. It takes very little to cross Tiffany.
Sir Waldo Hawkridge comes into the town to set up an orphanage, as he is charitably inclined. He’s quite modest, so he keeps secret the reason for his coming. The gentry in the town have no interest, in any event, in exploring his motives for visiting. He is “The Nonesuch,” meaning that, when it comes to looks, wealth, athletic ability, and charm, there is none such as Sir Waldo. The only person unimpressed is Ancilla, who erroneously believes him to be a dissolute gambler, which he is not. The meat of this delightful story involves Sir Waldo’s efforts to woo Ancilla.
One of the engines driving the romance is the fact that Sir Waldo’s cousin Lord Lindethl a sweet-natured young man, has accompanied him. Unfortunately, Lord Lindeth spots Tiffany in a charming moment and falls head over heels in love with her. Both Ancilla and Sir Waldo wish to nip this passion in the bud, because both understand that Tiffany is poison for any man unlucky enough to marry her, notwithstanding her wealth and beauty.
Of course, the easiest way to end the affair is for Tiffany to show her worst side to Lindeth. Ancilla, though, struggles with this notion. On the one hand, she wants to save Lindeth from a terrible fate; on the other hand, Tiffany is in her charge and it goes against the grain for her to encourage bad behavior. Fortunately, Sir Waldo has no such constraints . . . and this is the point at which I finally bring the story back to Donald Trump.
Sir Waldo deliberately baits Tiffany by “sort of” flirting with her, which is very bad behavior coming from an older man of the “ton” (i.e., Britain’s uppermost class). Not only that, he blows hot and cold, alternately plying her with fulsome compliments and dismissing her with subtle, but vicious, put-downs. Tiffany, unaccustomed to being played, cannot control herself. She becomes both vicious and hysterical, even though it should be obvious to her that she is shattering her reputation in the eyes of the young men around her, including Lindeth.
Trump, believe it or not, rude, crude, Trump, is playing the role of handsome, suave, talented Sir Waldo. Those who are not blinded by hate know that Trump, a savvy businessman and reality-TV star, is perfectly capable of controlling himself if he wishes. When it comes to the media, that’s not his wish.
Like Sir Waldo, Trump is deliberately engaging in provocative behavior because he knows that the media, a collection of spoiled Tiffanys, will be unable to control itself. Moreover, he understands that, once it’s lost control, the media’s bad behavior — it’s lies, insults, hysterics, and manifest bias — will drown out any improper conduct on his part.
Because I understand what Trump is doing, and I see how well it’s working, I’m not bothered by Trump’s Twitter excesses or his off-the-cuff comments. He is using high-level persuasion here. As he proved during the campaign, he understands that it’s irrelevant if he makes himself look clumsy or crude, provided that he makes his opponents look stupid, vicious, biased, and hate-filled.
If Trump were keeping points, he would award himself double or triple points when his opponents, in their rage, don’t remember to train their fire on Trump alone but, instead, turn it on his supporters as well. Hillary’s unforced “Deplorables” error is a perfect example of a winning round for Trump.
I guess I’m probably one of the few who can analogize Trump’s behavior around the press to an old (but wonderful) romance novel, but it does help me keep perspective about what’s going on.
I promised one other strange analogy and I always try to deliver on my promises. This one has to do with #NeverTrumpers.
For many years, I’ve been a huge fan of National Review. I was such a big fan that last fall I treated myself to the cruise. I really wanted to be around the writers I admire, men such as Jonah Goldberg, David French, and Kevin Williamson. They are superb writers, extremely well-informed and, in Goldberg’s case, incredibly funny.
I know that Don Surber (who should be a daily read for all of you, as he’s as good a Trump analyst as Scott Adams) has absolutely no respect for these men because they are #NeverTrumpers. Because Surber believes (as I do) that Trump is an extremely good executive, despite the theatrics, and has the ability to become the most consequential president since Abraham Lincoln, he also believes that those who lack the vision to see Trump’s worth are hidebound, unprincipled morons.
I actually see the National Review types in a different light. They are principled — too principled. To them, conservativism is an exquisite vision that must by treated with reverence. To see Trump soil it with his instinctively-reached ideology and his periodic willingness to meet the Left horrifies their sensibilities. At least Goldberg and French are periodically (and honorably) able to give Trump credit where it’s due, although you can see them choking on doing so. Williamson, however, has immured himself behind a wall of Trump hatred, which can’t be good for his soul and certainly doesn’t help his writing.
Incidentally, people such as McCain, Romney, and Kristol are not principled. They’re utterly faux conservatives who hide behind elitist behavior to justify consistently siding with Democrats on substantive matters against Trump and other constitutional conservatives. McCain is worse, by letting is pique against Trump (and he’s justifiably pique-ish) get in the way of what should be his greater loyalty to America itself.
And no, I’m not crazy to call Trump — a Democrat for most of his life and someone who reaches political conclusions based on instinct, not intellect — a constitutional conservative: he respects separation of powers much more than any president since . . . well, before Wilson; he’s appointing strict constructionists (i.e., constitutional conservatives) to the federal bench; he’s obeying America’s laws; and he’s reining in the disgraceful, and completely unconstitutional, expansion of the federal bureaucracy.
But back to those who see “conservativism” as something too pure to be sullied. They keep making it clear that they would rather hand the country over to Democrats, not because, like Bill Kristol, they support Democrat policies, but because they see that as the only way to preserve perfect and exquisite conservativism from Trump’s crudity, vulgarity, narcissism, and unseemly showmanship. If the orchid isn’t cultivated, it will die, right?
They’re wrong, of course, and I think the rabbis would agree me. (Rabbis? Who are these rabbis? Why is Bookworm suddenly talking about rabbis?)
I’m talking about rabbis because it was rabbis who came up with the doctrine of פיקוח נפש (English: Pikuach Nefesh). This doctrine holds that human life is so important that preserving it transcends every Jew’s obligation to follow the rules in the Torah:
In Judaism, human life is essential and so pikuach nefesh, the obligation to save a life in jeopardy, is considered a major value to uphold. This obligation applies to both an immediate threat and a less grave danger that has the potential of becoming serious. Pikuach nefesh is derived from the biblical verse, “Neither shall you stand by the blood of your neighbor” (Lev. 19:16). According to pikuach nefesh a person must do everything in their power to save the life of another, even donate bodily organs. Ovaday Yosef, the former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, ruled that one may donate an organ to a person in critical need, so long as it does not put the donor’s life at risk.
It is also permissible to travel on Shabbat to save a person’s life. Maimonides declared that a Jew should take the individual, even if a gentile is present, in order to encourage “compassion, loving-kindness and peace in the world” (Mishneh Torah, 2:3). The laws of the Sabbath may be suspended to provide any necessary medical care to a critically ill individual or to an individual in the likelihood of danger to life. However, if a person has only a lesser infirmity or physical ailment, any violation of Shabbat should be minimal or, if viable, performed by a gentile. The laws of Shabbat may also be deferred for a woman who has just given birth within the last three days, to provide more comfort. A patient is allowed to eat non-Kosher food if it is essential for recovery and, on Yom Kippur, a sick person is forbidden to fast if it will impair their recovery and health.
I first came across this concept when reading about Jews in the death camps who ate non-kosher food and did not fast on Yom Kippur. They understood — and any rabbis among them agreed — that surviving the Nazis was a paramount obligation.
The United States, of course, is not a human life. But it is the aggregate of 300,000,000 million human lives.
America stands at a crossroads now. The path of Hillary, the Democrat party, and the utterly unprincipled, un-American “Dissent” is a path to the grave. There is no case ever in which people have thrived under totalitarianism, but that totalitarianism is what America’s Leftists desire.
Rather than deluging you with my own tortured arguments to make this point, a few Milton Friedman quotations will suffice to explain the benefits of freedom and the dangers of anything else. Although these quotations state broad principles, you can readily supply the facts that underlie them:
“Our minds tell us, and history confirms, that the great threat to freedom is the concentration of power. Government is necessary to preserve our freedom, it is an instrument through which we can exercise our freedom; yet by concentrating power in political hands, it is also a threat to freedom. Even though the men who wield this power initially be of good will and even though they be not corrupted by the power they exercise, the power will both attract and form men of a different stamp.”
“A society that puts equality — in the sense of equality of outcome — ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom. The use of force to achieve equality will destroy freedom, and the force, introduced for good purposes, will end up in the hands of people who use it to promote their own interests.”
“The great virtue of a free market system is that it does not care what color people are; it does not care what their religion is; it only cares whether they can produce something you want to buy. It is the most effective system we have discovered to enable people who hate one another to deal with one another and help one another.”
“I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or it they try, they will shortly be out of office.”
“Political freedom means the absence of coercion of a man by his fellow men. The fundamental threat to freedom is power to coerce, be it in the hands of a monarch, a dictator, an oligarchy, or a momentary majority. The preservation of freedom requires the elimination of such concentration of power to the fullest possible extent and the dispersal and distribution of whatever power cannot be eliminated — a system of checks and balances.”
Lastly, in light of the appalling implications flowing from revelations about the way in which bureaucrats in the Justice Department perverted American law to derail Trump’s campaign and, now, his presidency, here’s a truly prescient Friedman quotation: “Hell hath no fury like a bureaucrat scorned.”
It’s no defense to these principles to point to Europe. The reality is that it’s never had true socialism in the years since WWII. It’s had a Kabuki version of socialism that America funded throughout the Cold War. Americans worked much longer hours than Europeans to provide the taxes that allowed Europeans to boast to us about their phenomenal “free” cradle-to-grave care.
With the Cold War over and American funds gone, we can watch Europe’s slow-motion degradation — now, they have neither true freedom nor the virtues of their American-funded socialism. To offset their decline, they are importing tyranny, one refugee at a time.
America is the last remaining bastion of classical liberty in an increasingly tyrannical world. If this freedom goes, we’re all Venezuela, or Cuba, or China, or (God forbid) North Korea. That’s 300,000,000 lives sacrificed.
So maybe the doctrine of Pikuach Nefesh should apply to nations too. And maybe when a nation is balanced on the knife’s edge, with one direction promising a rough-and-ready, kind of shabby freedom and the other direction promising a slow descent into slavery — well, maybe then people cannot afford to be too precious. Maybe they have to stop being completely kosher and recognize that survival requires sacrifice of obsessive adherence to rules and ritual.
Certainly understanding Pikuach Nefesh would have resulted in a different outcome in Alabama. Yeah, Moore’s a crazy dude, and Karl Rove is right to point out that kooky candidates lose. (Lefty candidates, of course, are never “kooky.” Once the media’s finished buffing and polishing them, they’re refreshingly eccentric or genuine; it’s only conservatives who are crazy and evil.) But if the purists had looked at the big picture, which is America’s survival, they could have decided that, while Moore wasn’t kosher, he would be one more vote for keeping America healthy.
Of course, if the purists, players, and political prostitutes on the right had cared about liberty as a long-term principle, they would have backed Mo Brooks, not Luther Strange. Brooks would have been palatable to the grassroots, and would have been much less vulnerable to the harpies on the Left. But that’s water under the bridge; all we can do now is move forward and get it right the next time around.
And now I think I’ve said enough.