Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Mark Steyn, Jonah Goldberg, and Donald Trump

There are two types of people: those who think Mark Steyn and Jonah Goldberg are the best columnists in the world, and those who are wrong.

The rest of us who opine in public might have a really good day and produce an excellent piece now and then but, for prolific quality, coupling insight with comedy, Mark and Jonah are the only mortal locks in the game.

If these two bylines are unfamiliar, you may recognize them from their broadcast work.

Jonah is the panelist with the goatee on Fox News’ Special Report. Be careful you’re not confusing him with the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes, though. A handy way to tell them apart is Jonah is funnier and doesn’t have dry-mouth every damn time he speaks.

Mark, when he’s not writing, is perhaps best known for his guest hosting of Rush Limbaugh’s radio program. He’s the Canadian guy with the British accent.

Normally, I eschew columns about other writers, the subject matter being too esoteric for mass appeal, and the enterprise itself sufficiently meta as to miss the point of policy debate.

To wit, why should I read your prose if all you have to tell me is that Paul Krugman said something stupid or that Ta-Nahesi Coates is a race-obsessed tool? And birds go tweet.

But, as the Romans would say, exceptio probat regulam – the exception proves the rule.

In conservative circles, the exceptional nature of Mark and Jonah is not really in dispute, though their supremacy as I have pronounced it may be.

Kevin D. Williamson and Ross Douthat are always worth a read, as are Kyle Smith and Charles C. W. Cooke. Ann Coulter’s weekly screed always brightens a right-thinker’s Wednesday evening. People really seem to like Matt Lewis, and one always learns something from Charles Krauthammer and George Will.

Given the choice, however, between one of Mark’s non-musical Steynposts or Jonah’s G-File newsletter and any of the above, the discerning curmudgeon knows which way to click.

Two quick examples, chosen more or less at random:

Mark on the willful deterioration of modern Christianity:

“Most mainline Protestant churches are, to one degree or another, post-Christian. If they no longer seem disposed to converting the unbelieving to Christ, they can at least convert them to the boggiest of soft-left clich├ęs, on the grounds that if Jesus were alive today he’d most likely be a gay Anglican bishop in a committed relationship driving around in an environmentally friendly car with an ‘Arms are for Hugging’ sticker on the way to an interfaith dialogue with a Wiccan and a couple of Wahhabi imams.”

And here’s Jonah, on the topic of presidential aspirant Ted Cruz having been born in Canada:

“While I am certainly open to theories about how Ted Cruz is the Manitoban Candidate, hiding in plain sight until he can impose the metric system on our children and make us all passive-aggressively polite, my hunch is that’s not the case.”

That is arguably the best sentence written so far this year.

Before proceeding, I should note that, good as they are, both Mark and Jonah have their weak points.

In Jonah’s case, when he strays from his natural habitat at National Review and writes for mainstream publications like USA Today, his work flattens instantly, losing all traces of humour and style. It’s like he turns into Rich Lowry (incidentally, we pundits have a term of art for the weakest writer on any opinion staff: “Editor”).

Mark, meanwhile, supplements his nonpareil criticism of political correctness, Muslim apologists and “climate change” mountebanks with interminable contemplations of his true passion: songs and their histories. One is patient with such devotion, particularly from someone who has provided so much enjoyment at no charge, as Mark has done. But confronted with thousands of words on who sang the shoo-be-doo’s that magical day when Dean Martin wore a turtleneck and John Kander ordered decaf and Frank Sinatra something-something, honestly, just shoot me.

I should add that neither of these guys is a pal of mine. To my recollection, Jonah and I have never met. Mark and I have a number of mutual friends (Ezra Levant and Kathy Shaidle prominently among them), but I remember meeting him just once, at a symposium and dinner party in New York City over a decade ago. I told Mark he’s the best columnist in the world and he did not disagree. ‘Nuff said.

The reason for all this inside-baseball, tire-pumping, knob-polishing metaphor-mixing is that these two leviathans of limited government – the north and south poles of planet Leave Me Alone – are at odds over the same thing dividing the entire conservative movement right now: one Donald J. Trump.

That’s not to say that they’re fighting – although that pay-per-view would be a goldmine – merely that they disagree.

For months, Jonah has been pleading with anyone with eyes to read that Trump is not a true conservative and is ill-suited to the presidency. Trump has even deigned to respond, referring to Jonah as “a guy that can’t buy a pair of pants” – a putdown that probably needed at least one more rewrite.

Mark, meanwhile, avers that the Trump phenomenon is a perfectly logical reaction to the feckless, conviction-free conduct of so-called "conservative" leaders like John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, et al.

A few words from each on the topic:

Jonah: “Trump has the charisma, I’ll grant him that. But there is no evidence he’s thought deeply about the job beyond how much classier it will be once he has it.”

Mark: “For many conservative voters, 2014 was the GOP's last chance, and they blew it. For those conservative voters whose priority is immigration, 2016 is America's last chance, and Trump's the only reason anyone's even talking about that.”

Both represent their positions well, and for those of us who give regular contemplation to their opinions to help us develop our own (see also, "plagiarize"), beholding them in opposition is like hearing Mom and Dad fight (I'll leave it to Mark and Jonah to decide which of them is which).

I was about to say Mark has the better of this argument until I saw Sarah Palin had endorsed Trump.

While Palin's imprimatur may help Trump in Iowa or among "Evangelicals" (the media's irksome catch-all for anyone who isn't overtly Catholic or a Democrat), I've long suspected that her act has worn thin among regular people.

Sure, we think she got a bad rap in '08 and we were embarrassed to see liberal journalists act as though they were saving the nation by blocking her from the vice presidency – especially when the alternative was Joe Biden.

But her aw-shucks know-nothingness, her cantankerous up-talk, and her shameless self-promotion have started to rankle.

Palin's sign-offs used to mean a great deal – Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, who delivered the ostensibly Trump-maligning GOP State of the Union response, owes her election to being plucked from relative obscurity in a crowded field by Palin in 2010.

Palin was, at one time, the embodiment of that roguish, mavericky, lemme-tell-ya-somethin' ethos that Trump now represents. But today, among the normal people you don't see on political panels, I expect she is a tired brand.

Indeed, as Trump's appeal has been largely based on his independence, it is possible Palin's endorsement could backfire.

It's such a standard politician's move, rendering Trump more like the Republican squishes Mark describes, at least aesthetically.

In a way, Mark and Jonah’s respective positions on Trump the outsider reflect the current state of their careers. While Mark continues to write for publications all over the world, as well as release books and cat albums (no joke, see below), he shook the dust from his cloak and departed National Review, where Jonah is a Senior Editor and now the top-dog writer.

Mark’s reasons for leaving were twofold: One, a prissy NR editor you’ve never heard of (except, perhaps, if you know this story) decided to upbraid him over a couple of jokes Mark referenced in discussing gay marriage and the intolerance of its advocates; two, Mark and NR had irreconcilable differences over legal strategy as they are both being sued by serial litigant and climate mullah Michael Mann.

Much as I would like to say National Review sucks now, in chorus with many conservatives, they still have Jonah – and Williamson, Cooke, and David French are just too darn good for me to spit that out. Even so, under Lowry’s Boehner-like leadership, the place has had a serious come-down from the days when William F. Buckley roamed the earth.

But there they are – Jonah ensconced in what’s left of the manor Buckley built, while Mark, like Liberty Leading the People (although with both breasts covered, one hopes), gives voice to the rabble outside.

Let me be clear about the distinction – Jonah is not claiming Trump won’t win, merely that he shouldn’t; and Mark, while acknowledging Trump’s persistent lead in the polls, is not endorsing him so much as saying, if several election victories by established Republicans make no difference, why not give the new guy a shot?

It’s a rare and significant schism between the two best in the business – with potentially serious implications for everyone reading this sentence – this sentence I am writing now – PERIOD.

Finally, if a person loves animals, little else matters. Jonah writes a good deal about his dogs and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Meanwhile, Mark has released an album for cats – “Feline Groovy.”

Score it that way at home if you like: Mark vs. Jonah, Trump vs. anti-Trump, cat people vs. dog people.

It will be fun to see who’s right, notwithstanding the fate of the world’s indispensable nation.

Theo Caldwell rises like Olympus above the Serengeti. Contact him at

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

How the Left Controls Language

As Dennis Miller is fond of saying, liberals have a War Room for everything but war.

Similarly, the left is ever eager to refer to any unacceptable behaviour as “terrorism,” so long as it isn’t what you or I or otherwise normal people would consider terrorism.

Consequently, a bunch of ranchers occupying a vacant building to protest government overreach is terrorism (or the work of Y’all Qaeda), but a Muslim fanatic gunning down his fellow soldiers while screaming “Allahu akbar” is “workplace violence.

An armed, incoherent recluse inside a Planned Parenthood clinic is a terrorist, but a man who shoots a Philadelphia cop and expressly states that he did so in the name of ISIS is “a criminal with a stolen gun.”

Coordinated rape gangs throughout European cities are to be ignored or explained away, but Donald Trump is the real terrorist.

To the left, terrorism is only terrorism when the perpetrator looks like Johnny Lawrence or Gavin McInnes’ dad.

I could go all day on the forced euphemisms deployed to defend Islam; or, more properly, to insist Islam has nothing to do with terrorism, the clear and unequivocal declarations of the perpetrators notwithstanding.

My friend Ezra Levant points out that in the Calgary Herald’s report on a shooting at a nightclub there, the reader is not informed that both attackers were named “Mohamed” until the twenty-fifth paragraph.

Right now, you’re on the ninth paragraph of this column. Even if you hate my guts (right back atcha, commie), is my meaning difficult to discern?

Opacity, evasion, and obscuring plain truths are liberal hallmarks. The left is all about control, and language is crucial to that ambition.

It’s not just matters of life and death, like Islamic terrorism, wherein liberals twist the truth and seek to co-opt you in their lie. It happens every day, in ways large and small. We must recognize these efforts, and resist them.

If you are a parent, perhaps you recently attended a “Winter” concert or celebration at your child’s school.

To whatever extent Christmas was referenced, you can be sure it was immediately diluted by the mention of other holidays, supposedly in the name of “inclusion,” “diversity,” and “tolerance.”

As G.K. Chesterton put it, “There are those who hate Christianity and call their hatred an all-embracing love for all religions.”

It would create an awkward, binary juxtaposition simply to present Hanukkah as the sole alternative to Christmas, so clueless educators toss in their favourite standby: Kwanzaa.

Honestly, do you know one person who celebrates this made-up, American holiday, invented by an FBI stooge? Does anyone other than schoolteachers ever refer to it without being ironic?

Yet there it is, stuffed in between the birth of Christ and a humongous menorah, perhaps along with some celebratory Gaia bush pruned by Ms. Foster-Jamal’s Grade 2 class.

Again, this isn’t about “diversity” or “inclusion” or any of the reasons leftists might give; it’s about pretending the period around December 25 is jam-packed with all kinds of sacred events, in order to crowd out the one thing even non-believers know is most important.

Lies about gender are ubiquitous these days and, unlike the grinning, passive-aggressive coercion surrounding a “Winter” concert, leftists are more aggressive here.

Even though he is a man in every biological sense, and achieved greatness and fame under his given name, if you fail to refer to Bruce Jenner as “Caitlyn,” you are worse than Hitler. Moreover, Twitter will correct you (and perhaps remove your checkmark).

New York City has now instituted six-figure fines for, “intentionally failing to use an individual’s preferred name, pronoun, or title” or “refusing to allow individuals to use single-sex facilities, such as bathrooms or locker rooms, and participate in single-sex programs, consistent with their gender identity.”

This is madness and a lie but, by controlling the language, the left seeks to control you.

Recently, my wife and I attended a restaurant opening and an old friend introduced us to a fellow of her acquaintance. We talked about how much fun our wedding was (I wore a kilt; the answer to your question is, “lipstick”).

When this new fellow spoke to my wife, he kept pointing at me and referring to her “partner.” After several, conspicuous repetitions of this, I asked him what he meant. Remember, gentle reader, that this chap had just been introduced to me as her “husband” and we were in the midst of talking about our wedding.

He at first feigned confusion at my question, then became prissily offended. He had many married friends, he informed me, who didn’t mind being referred to as “partners.”

My wife and I are not a law firm or a wrestling tag-team (though who knows what the future holds), we are married. Moreover, this man had been given our preferred appellation moments before. Yet, he apparently felt the need to adjust our language to suit his principles.

I wasn’t rude or aggressive in asking (when I’m being rude or aggressive, trust me, you’ll know it), but even my gentle pushback was enough for him to go nancing off and not talk to us for the rest of the evening.

Compare this with the recent news coverage of my old pal Seamus O’Regan and the conscientious well-wishes to him and his “husband.”

Seamus, as you may know, has entered a “wellness” program to embrace “an alcohol-free lifestyle.” For conservatives, this is called “rehab.”

I met Seamus when I was Best Man at his cousin’s wedding in Newfoundland approximately one million years ago. On and off thereafter, we had a number of good-natured, well-refreshed debates about policy. He was, incidentally, the first to spring that, “I’m not a leftist, I’m a classical liberal” routine on me – as though Edmund Burke would be Jake with gay marriage and abortion on demand.

It has been noted that, while decent people hope Seamus can quit drinking, he was positively gleeful in mocking former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford for his substance abuse.

As Seamus addresses his self-inflicted, first-world problems, don’t tell me he’s “courageous” while Rob Ford is a “disgrace,” or that Seamus has a “husband” while my wife has a “partner.”

Seamus’ case is not only an object lesson in how language is contorted to benefit the left, but also of how easy life is for liberals of limited talent and erudition who simply show up (Justin Trudeau, please call your office).

Finally, no contemplation of the left’s linguistic perversions is complete without some mention of the Clintons (though it depends what the meaning of “is” is).

On any issue, either or both of them can be counted on to parse, redefine, misconstrue and outright lie to serve their interests. But two recent instances stand out.

The first, briefly, was a telling moment in which an interviewer asked Donald Trump about Bill Clinton’s “alleged extra-marital affair.” Trump, bless him, was quick to point out Bill’s affair with Monika Lewinsky is not “alleged” but “admitted.” Moreover, well beyond an “affair,” the former president has been credibly accused of various forms of unwanted touching, harassment and rape.

This trick of the left may have worked in the 90s, minimizing Bill’s monstrous acts through the use of language, but it will be tougher this time around. Watch this space.

Second, asked recently to distinguish between a Democrat and a socialist, Hillary Clinton had no answer. The venue was friendly and the questioner was fellow Democrat Chris Matthews.

Even so, Hillary had no coherent reply, demonstrating that, for people who like to control words, liberals are surprisingly weak at deploying them.

This pertains to my swipe at Seamus (and Justin), above. The liberal worldview is all about control and mastery of superficial things, like language and words, but there is nothing of substance beneath that rapacious desire.

Here is a woman who aspires to lead what’s left of the free world, yet she has no cogent answer to a rudimentary question of public policy. It is because she has given no thought to anything but her own advancement.

This shows that for all their posturing and will to power, they are hollow and can be beaten.

You see it on the news, and in your daily life: small moves, subtle edits, and constant, picayune pressure to talk, think, and believe as they do. Speak your mind and let them pound sand.

Theo Caldwell is nodding his head like yeah, moving his hips like yeah. Contact him at