Part 1—Your own favored side can be wrong: As summer ends, we're confronted with a teeming cast of potential apes and/or angels.
Plus, our own new era begins next week! As best we can tell, we won't have a new web site up and running by that time. But it will be time for us to move on, at least in certain ways.
This means that we need to review that teeming cast this week. Let's start with the New York Times' Bret Stephens—and, dear God, with Sam Stein, politics editor at The Daily Beast and an MSNBC contributor.
Stephens started his most recent column with the sad but mandated horseplay concerning "truth isn't truth." To us, that suggests that he's joined a type of mob. Far worse, as he continued, he offered an unwise suggestion:
STEPHENS (8/25/18): Over the years I’ve periodically been reminded of the many ways in which Bill Clinton’s presidency debased our civic culture. This week the reminders have been especially pointed.Good grief! In context, Stephens seems to be praising Kavanaugh for the recommendation he made in 1998—for the suggestion that "Judge Starr," as was piously called, should publicly examine every garment in the Clinton/Lewinsky underwear drawer.
First we had the president’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani on NBC on Sunday, explaining to Chuck Todd that “truth isn’t truth”—an invitation, perhaps, to parse the meaning of “isn’t” just as Clinton once parsed the meaning of the word “is.”
Next came the publication of a scathing 1998 memo from Brett Kavanaugh, written when the Supreme Court nominee was a young lawyer working for the independent counsel Ken Starr.
“The president has disgraced his Office, the legal system, and the American people by having sex with a 22-year-old intern and turning her life into a shambles,” Kavanaugh wrote, calling it “callous and disgusting behavior that has somehow gotten lost in the shuffle.”
Credit where due! Kavanaugh knew, even then, that Bill Clinton never had an affair with the famous "21-year-old intern" of mainstream press corps novelization. In fact, Monica Lewinsky was 22 to 24 years of age during her intermittent relationship with Bill Clinton—the relationship which Kavanugh hoped to see frisked in detail.
Just for the record, this famous intern was an intern for exactly ten days of the 16-month period which involved (ten) sexual interactions with Clinton. And she had already accepted a full-time federal job when the first interaction occurred.
In short, Clinton never had sex with the "21-year-old intern" of mainstream press corps fame—but so what? Given the way the hominid brain works on stampede, our journalists novelized Lewinsky as a "21-year-old intern" as they wrote—and wrote, and wrote and wrote and wrote—about the exciting affair.
Kavanaugh wanted all ten of their sexual acts explored in thrilling detail. Stephens seems to think this was good sound advice. We see this later in his column:
STEPHENS: Thanks to the #MeToo movement, there’s been a long-delayed reconsideration among liberals about their past defense of (or relative indifference to) Clinton’s sexual predations. Monica Lewinsky and Juanita Broaddrick, once targets of left-wing snickering and contempt, have at last received a measure of respect as victims and survivors.According to Stephens, we have to hold our presidents to higher (sexual) standards. To see if they're measuring up, we need to examine their sexual acts in full, rich detail.
But the reconsideration isn’t complete. On Wednesday, I noted that Republicans who demanded Clinton’s impeachment 20 years ago—because he had corrupted the moral fiber of the country and the legal fabric of the state—are hypocritical in refusing to apply the same logic to Trump.
By the same token, liberals now calling for Trump’s impeachment ought to rethink the excuses so many of them made for Clinton 20 years ago. That it was “just sex.” Or that “lying about sex” doesn’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense (even if it’s lying about sex under oath). Or that “character doesn’t matter” so long as the administration produces peace and prosperity. Or that the motivating animus of the president’s critics is reason enough to dismiss the criticism.
These excuses were toxic not because they had no merit, but because they sidestepped the core of the issue: that the survival and ennoblement of democracy depend on holding people in high office to higher, not lower, standards.
This strikes us as catastrophically bad advice. To us, this almost starts to seem like the brain of the great ape on stampede.
In his missive to Judge Starr, Kavanaugh railed against the way Clinton had "turned the life" of the federal employee in question "into a shambles.” It didn't seem to occur to Kavanaugh that it might be his own Dimmesdalian peeping Tom instincts which were having that effect.
Was Lewinsky's life turned into a shambles by Clinton, or by a band of peeping Toms? Presumably, you can argue it flat or you can argue it round.
That said, the peeping Toms ran in a pack during the year of impeachment. They then turned on a dime after Clinton's Senate trial, transferring their fury to Candidate Gore in March 1999.
This widespread act by the mainstream press eventually led to death all over the world. That said, the conduct which sent George W. Bush to the White House has never been discussed to this very day. Great apes maintain strict codes of silence, especially those with press passes.
Kavanaugh wanted all ten sexual acts to be fleshed out in detail. On his way to a subsequent giant sex scandal at Baylor, Judge Starr took this advice.
Because we great apes reason this way, three full years of this nation's time were devoted to Bill Clinton's ten sex acts. It started in January 1998 and extended through November 2000.
Nothing else could be discussed. This sent George W. Bush to the White House. From there, he went to Iraq.
Bret Stephens seems to think that this was a good idea. Depressingly, Sam Stein seems to agree.
Stein is one of the (several) sensible members of Morning Joe's gang of like-minded pundits. Rather plainly, he isn't crazy. He isn't mean or stupid.
Like Stephens, Stein seems like a thoroughly decent person. That said, we humans have a long history of signing on to gruesome ideas—and this is especially true when we start running in packs.
We ran in a pack in The Ox-Bow Incident, the 1943 feature film which lost the Oscar for Best Picture to Casablanca's sunnier picture of human functioning. We ran in a pack in Chapter 22 of sacred Twain's Huckleberry Finn, even as other citizens of the town were suspending their disbelief at a circus performance.
We're strongly inclined to run in packs. We're strongly inclined to suspend our disbelief, or perhaps our critical judgment, when we do so.
We're strongly inclined to reason poorly when we start running in packs. But whatever the reason, Stein seemed to adopt Stephens' view on last Thursday's Morning Joe. We need to focus more on the sex, this sensible liberal said:
STEIN (8/23/18): There's so much to unpack...Not that Stein's "a moral warrior" here! To watch this statement, click here, skip to the 2:15 mark.
But then, I keep coming pack to this one thing that's sort of nagging me, that we have basically just taken it as a given, and not at all an extraordinary thing, that [Trump] had an affair on his wife, with a 5-month-old kid, and paid hush money to cover it up.
I mean this, in normal presidential times, would have been an extraordinary scandal, and certanly for someone with the devoted support of the evangelical community. But at this juncture, we're just sort of like "OK! He did that! And let's talk about the campaign finance crime element of it."
It just seems crazy that we're losing the moral element of it. Not that I'm a moral warrior here, but he does have a huge evangelical following that under any other administration would have gone to the mat over this and would have been apoplectic.
MIKA: Yeah. So Eddie, chime in...
Mika, who was stricken this day, asked Eddie Glaude to "chime in." "Chiming in" is what we great apes do when we run in a mob.
(Mika had cued Stein by referring to Trump's "lascivious" conduct. For the record, the lascivious conduct in question is alleged to have happened in 2006!)
In this instance, Stein chimed in with his acceptance of an emerging line of thought. According to this line of thought, we need to focus on the sexual conduct of political figures. We mustn't "lose the moral element of it," even if we have to go back a full ten years in search of lascivious conduct to which we cab object.
If you watch the tape of Stein's remarks, you'll see him expressing special feeling about the way Donald J. Trump (presumably) mistreated his wife. He's expresses special feeling about that five-month-old son.
Stein doesn't mention the people who died, all over the world, the last time we staged a sex stampede of this type. He doesn't mention what occurs when we turn our discourse over to "the moral element of it."
What happens, of course, is this:
What happens when we let the Kavanaughs and the Judge Starrs rummage through every item found in the underwear drawer? Duh! Over the course of the next several years, nothing else will be discussed.
We'll talk about those ten sex acts and we'll talk about nothing else! Meanwhile, due to the private nature of the subject, we'll rarely be able to figure out what may have actually happened, unless we put a Dimmesdale like Judge Starr in charge.
Make no mistake! Powerful interests jump for joy when we head down this road. The various ways they loot the public will go unexplored as the Kavanaughs, the Starrs and the Stephenses—and now, even the Steins—tell us that "the moral element" is the ultimate thing.
We won't discuss the looting of our health care system; we have to discuss sex acts. We won't discuss the way Trump changed the tax code. We have to listen to Stormy Daniels "telling her story" concerning one alleged sex act from 2006.
We can't discuss our urban schools—who gives a fig about them? We're going to talk about Clinton's (ten) sex acts, and we're going to talk about the moral element of who Trump allegedly f*cked back in 2006!
This is what Stein, a progressive, thinks we ought to discuss! When you run with Mika and Joe long enough, this is where you may end up.
You'll note the way Stein, a progressive, shaped his heartfelt narrative. He took two shots at The Others, the evangelicals, for the current state of affairs. Stephens, of course, had cast liberals in the same role.
Stein also made this remarkable statement: "I mean this, in normal presidential times, would have been an extraordinary scandal." Watching Stein say that, we thought of noble Nestor, the seasoned charioteer, speaking to the headstrong Diomedes on the plains outside Troy:
NESTOR: Few can match your power in battle, Diomedes,How young is Stein? Extremely young! He's just fourteen years out of college! (Dartmouth, class of 2004.) That's about as young as a man can be on cable. (They prefer their women younger.)
and in council you excel all men your age
But you don't press on and reach a useful end.
How young you are—why, you could be my son,
my youngest-born at that...
But it's my turn now, Diomedes.
I think I can claim to have some years on you.
So I must speak up and drive the matter home.
Because we have some years on Stein, we were struck by some of his comments. "In normal presidential times," would the claim that Trump had sex with Clifford on one occasion "have been an extraordinary scandal?"
Please! In Kennedy times, and in subsequent years, no such news would have been discussed at all. It was only in the times of Gary Hart that our journalists began to hide in the bushes hoping to spot sex acts.
People are dead all over the world because Matthews and Williams and Lawrence and them behaved this way in the case of Bill Clinton. People are dead all over the world, but Stein, like Stephens and Kavanaugh, wants to go there again.
For today, our key point:
Once we let them start to talk about this, they'll talk about nothing else! Even now, power elites are shouting with joy as they see this road being taken.
In our view, Kavanaugh gave Judge Starr some bad advice in that earlier era. In our view, Stephens—and now, even the liberal Sam Stein—are heading down that same road.
As the summer comes to an end, a remarkable cast of characters are stampeding across the plain. We're going to sort them out as best we can in this last summery week.
Are we really "rational animals?" Or are we Professor Harari's great apes? As the week proceeds, we'll examine that seminal question to the extent that we can.
We'll offer one key bit of advice—stop suspending your disbelief! Stop assuming that your team, and your tribe, surely have it right.
All week, we'll imagine the possibility that our team leaders have certain things wrong. In truth, when we great apes begin to stampede, almost no one—no one at all—is likely to get much right.
Tomorrow: Good God! "Feminist icon!"