National Review senior editor Jonah Goldberg joined Glenn on today’s show to talk about President Donald Trump’s first year, both good and bad, and why it’s dangerous for moral leaders to make excuses for his deficiencies.
Glenn wanted to know: Why is there no middle ground on Trump? People can’t seem to be able to support him on good things while criticizing him on bad things.
“It’s all or nothing on both sides,” he lamented.
Voters have every right to decide which political leader will benefit their lives more. But Goldberg pointed to comments from Family Research Council President Tony Perkins as an example of extreme and misguided support for Trump. If evangelical leaders want to make excuses for Trump’s reported affair with a porn star, where do they draw the line?
“Going way out there to offer, as [Tony] Perkins called it, a ‘mulligan’ to Trump and basically minimize or dismiss his personal character … I think that’s really problematic for people who pretend to be or claim to be a leading moral authority,” Goldberg said.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article provided courtesy of TheBlaze.
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This is a rush transcript and may contain errors.
GLENN: A guy who’s writing has really affected my life. And I have a ton of respect for. And I think is a brave and funny individual. Jonah Goldberg joins us now.
JONAH: Hey, Glenn, it’s great to be here.
GLENN: It’s great to have you on.
So let me start with this. Before we get in the news of the day and everything that’s going on — you were outspoken on Donald Trump. Tell me the things that he has done that you say, I can’t believe it, this is really good.
JONAH: Oh, gosh. There are a bunch of.
JONAH: Obviously, the judges. Starting with Gorsuch. But also on the lower courts. I like what I’ve seen, about 90 percent of the deregulation stuff.
And some of it is not necessarily his personal handiwork. I mean, Ajit Pai and Scott Gottlieb are doing great things at the FCC and the FDA.
You know, I think a lot of the things he has done, we would have gotten from any other Republican. But one of the things I think he deserves extraordinary credit for is moving the capital of Jerusalem — I mean, the capital of Israel to Jerusalem. I’m not sure any other Republican would have done that. I’m not sure any other Republican would have touched Anwar quite yet.
So I think there are some things that he has done that are great. And —
GLENN: It’s hard for people to — it’s so funny. Because if you say, well, you know what, I would like to live a little more sustainable life. You know, I think recycling is important. You’re immediately a, you know, global warming crackpot to some. And if you, you know — you know, go you don’t believe in that, then all of a sudden, I don’t believe in man made global warming, or I don’t believe the solutions that we’re saying, that will work, will actually work.
Well, all of a sudden, now you’re a crackpot on the other side.
And there’s no middle ground. There’s no way for people to say, you know what, I really like Donald Trump. And I have to give him real high praise on these things. But I’m really kind of disappointed or disgusted by these things. We can’t play that middle ground anymore. It’s all or nothing on both sides.
JONAH: No. Look, I mean, that’s a huge frustration of mine. And I think there are a lot of reasons for it. I really don’t like this kind of binary tribal thinking, where everyone has a coalition. And we all must agree with members of our coalition. That our enemy coalition isn’t our opponents. It’s our enemies.
You know, the Democrats are an existential threat and all that.
I don’t like that kind of thinking.
But I think one of the reasons why we have it so much with Donald Trump is that, you know — take — take the various sex scandal allegations that roll out with Donald Trump, the latest one being this thing with Stormy Daniels. It’s not enough — you know, I don’t — I have no problem with voters doing a cost-benefit analysis and saying, you know, look, on net, he’s been better for me and better for the country. He’s doing things I like. But I really just can’t stand some of that personal stuff or the tweeting or whatever.
You see people like Jerry Falwell Jr. and Tony Perkins from the Family Research Council just going way out there to offer, as Perkins called it, a mulligan to Trump and basically minimize or dismiss his personal character stuff. And I think that’s really problematic for people who pretend to be — or claim to be leading moral authorities.
And, you know, Jerry Falwell Jr. took over the mantle of basically his dad’s empire, which tried to push Christian morality as deep into politics as they could get it. And I defended them for it for years. But I think one of the reasons why you get this binary thing is that because of Donald Trump’s vanity and his narcissism and because of the defensiveness that so many of his biggest supporters have, you can’t criticize X, while supporting Y. Because all Donald Trump wants to hear from anybody is flattery. And he needs flattery. And that forces you to either stay silent on things you cannot flatter him on, or to actually flatter him about things that he shouldn’t be flattered on. And it’s a bad psychological component.
GLENN: So, Jonah, what are you expecting from the State of the Union tonight that actually is meaningful?
I mean, I hate these things. Because it’s nothing, but a gift list and an introduction of children without faces.
JONAH: Honestly, I think this is monarchist swill. And that we would be much better off if the president, like in the old days, just sent his letter to Congress.
JONAH: Or if we had the State of the Union acted out by mimes. And anyone who — whoever did the worst by a voice vote, was fed to wolves. I mean, I think that would be better.
GLENN: I think so too.
JONAH: But that — so stipulated, I don’t know.
Look, I think — you know, his first address, the joint session of Congress, technically wasn’t the State of the Union. Everyone is calling this his first State of the Union fine. But he did very well on that first one.
And it was one of the first examples. Because it was right at the beginning of his presidency, of everyone restarting the — you know, the countdown. You know, it’s like, there’s a construction site sign outside of the White House that says, X-number of days since an unpresidential action by the president. Right? And that one was, all this stuff about how Donald Trump became president tonight.
Even Van Jones said it was a very forceful and good presentation. And I don’t remember what (inaudible) did, but it was a matter of days, if not hours, that a tweet or some other thing that came out that just sort of took the chips off the table.
So, again, I think — I think he’ll probably give a good job. He’ll try to make this immigration reform thing, which my magazine supports. I haven’t made up my mind. Into a bipartisan overture to the Democrats. He’ll try to sound magnanimous. He’ll certainly brag about beating ISIS, which I think he should. He’ll brag about the effects of the tax cut. And that’s all fine and good. I just don’t that know it has much lasting power. And I think part of the problem — one of the surprises I had about the Trump administration was that he didn’t immediately go cut deals with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi much earlier on.
JONAH: Or didn’t try to. And I think one of the reasons why, I think he personally would love to do that. I think he personally emotionally likes this idea of cutting deals, when working with Democrats. He knows those guys better. He grew up around those guys. He used to be one of those guys until fairly recently. But part of the problem was he listened way too much to Steve Bannon at the outset. And it’s an unfair and an old joke. But, you know, that inaugural address probably sounded better in the original German.
And this was sort of blood of patriots, you know, Trieste belongs to the Italians kind of talk. And that was Bannon doing that. And he fueled all of that. And the problem was that Trump spent maybe the first six months of his presidency, and continues to this day doing and saying things that culturally and politically make working with Trump radioactive for Democrats, particularly the base.
And that is — and that is one of the things that has made it is he very difficult for him to go across the aisle. I don’t think that was Bannon’s plan. I think Bannon actually believed his own BS. And thought this was the beginning of this vast nationalist protectionist movement. And it wasn’t.
But Trump has politically painted himself in a corner. And makes it very difficult for Democrats to work with him. And very difficult for him to work with Democrats.
GLENN: We’re with Jonah Goldberg. Senior editor of the National Review. I want to ask you, Jonah — if you don’t mind, I’m going to take a quick break. And then I want to come back and talk to you a little bit about tariffs. My kids ask me about tariffs. And why is this bad, Dad? And how does this work?
He has started to move into tariffs, which anybody who is free market really doesn’t like. And a $1.7 trillion stimulus package. We’ll get into that in a second.
STU: We should also get an update from Jonah about his new book coming out in a couple months. Suicide of the west: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy.
GLENN: It’s going to be really good. Wow.
GLENN: Jonah Goldberg, from the National Review. A deep thinker. And a guy who just knows what he believes and his principles and keeps marching forward. A guy you can trust to have in battle with you.
Jonah, let’s talk a little bit about the washing machines in America and why this makes a difference that there’s now a tariff on it.
JONAH: Yeah. I mean — look, I’m a free trader. And I think that free trade — that protectionism being cast as a populist issue has always been a mistake, right?
The idea that — what protectionism does, is it puts bureaucrats or businesspeople or politicians between the consumer and the products that they want to buy. It is elites saying, oh, no, these will cost you more. You can’t get those. You have to buy this instead.
That’s not populism. That’s not democracy. That’s elitism. That’s statism. That’s whatever you want to call it.
It is — you know, Adam Smith recognized this in the Wealth of Nations in 1776, that businessmen are always trying to get an advantage over the public by conspiring to raise prices. And those kinds of conspiracies are almost impossible to stop.
But — but they can only be effective and really damaging if the government gets involved. And, you know, I wrote, as you know, I wrote this book called liberal fascism, which got into fascist economics, and so much of that is about the government betting in between the producers and the consumers and deciding — and picking winners and losers.
And that’s what protectionism is. And so I get, you know, there are — there are at the margins good arguments for the government, you know, retaliating against governments that are betraying trade deals, right?
I mean, you don’t have to be 1,000 percent purist. My colleague Kevin Williams said in National Review — just basically says, we should have a constitutional amendment that says, there shall be no tariffs or — or limits on trade of any kind.
I’m not sure that I am there. You can make some arguments for national security stuff and all the rest. But as a general principle, protectionism boils down to the government picking winners and losers among a certain set of producers of — or certain manufacturers, of certain goods and saying, we’re going to help you out and conspire against the public to set prices higher than what they should be.
And I think it also — if left to run rampant, always leads to a terrible place.
STU: Jonah, isn’t it something too, because we as conservatives have talked for many years about opposing the redistribution of wealth. And if you follow the line of what a tariff purports to do, with the washing machines, for example, we’re going to charge, you know, an extra 50 or $100 on every washing machine. It’s going to cost people more money. And that money is somehow going to be filtered through the system and eventually get to create a certain amount of jobs. So you’re essentially taking 50 or $100 from the average person buying a washing machine. And you’re funneling that money to some worker in some city, who is going to make $50,000 or $60,000 on all those little groupings of $50. I know it’s not that pure. But that is essentially just redistribution of wealth, which is something we’re supposed to be opposed to.
JASON: No. That’s exactly right. And it sort of gets to why I honestly and truly believe there should be a 0 percent corporate tax rate. Because no — economists cannot for the life of them come to a consensus on who pays it. You know, on corporate taxes.
But one thing they’re sure is that the consumer pays most of it. Right?
It’s not like JE pays the — you know, takes the corporate tax rate — corporate tax payments out of some special kitty that — some bad cat process, right?
It comes at the price of the widgets they sell. And same thing with Coca-Cola or any of these companies. So the idea that — and the same thing goes with protectionism. There’s this idea that somehow the government knows better how to organize a society.
For a couple dragging steelmakers to basically take over the issue of steel trade — steel imports in this country. And what always gets left out of this is that there are a lot of manufacturers in the United States that need cheap steel to make the other stuff that we want to be manufacturing here.
GLENN: Yeah. It’s really amazing, how much we’re repeating from the Great Depression on letting these giant companies steer the policy of the United States, which will hurt all of the smaller companies.
I mean, it’s a direct repeat, in many ways, from the 1930s.
JONAH: Yeah. Every big — one of my greatest pet peeves is this mythology that these big corporations are, quote, unquote, right-wing. Right? We know that they aren’t cultural issues. You know, big Fortune 500 companies were way ahead of the curve on things like gay marriage and all sorts of other things. I’m not criticizing them for it. I’m just saying that they’re not these sort of Thomas Nast cartoons, bastions of like reaction or anything. That Marxist stuff is over.
And when it comes to economic conservatism, they’re for every regulation that hurts their competitors and helps them. They’re for free trade for me. But not for the — or the other way around. They look at their bottom lines as sort of rent-seeking entities from the government. Go ahead.
GLENN: I just need to stop you. Because we’re getting to a break. And I want to take you to another place. It was announced today that Amazon is partnering with Warren Buffett and JP Morgan Chase to go into the health care insurance business. But how Warren Buffett described it is astounding. We’ll get to that, next, with Jonah Goldberg.
GLENN: So earlier today, in fact, it sent some health care stocks tumbling before the opening of the stock market today, Amazon, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase announced that they are exploring the option of getting into the health care business, the health insurance business.
Warren Buffett said, the ballooning costs of the Healthcare Act is a hungry tapeworm on the American economy.
We share the belief that putting our collective resources behind a company’s best talent can in time check the rise of health care costs, while concurrently enhancing patient satisfaction and outcomes.
Here’s the strange line in this: The company will be free from profit-making incentives and constraints, end quote.
Jonah Goldberg from the National Review. What kind of — how does that work? I don’t — I don’t know how that works.
JONAH: I don’t really see it really clearly either. To me, and I haven’t studied up on it, but it sounds to me, sort of the equivalent of what Google does. Where did provides, you know, free dry cleaning and, you know, free cafeteria. Free food and all that kind of stuff. And it’s all heavily subsidized and doesn’t make an enormous — it doesn’t make a profit of any kind. But it retains talent.
And so maybe this is just an effort to create something that, you know, isn’t necessarily seen as a profit center, but it’s seen as a very useful sort of retention center. Because health costs are eating up a lot of big businesses.
And, you know —
GLENN: So could it be —
JONAH: Reducing cost isn’t the same as reducing profits. But in a certain kind of accounting way, it kind of is, right?
GLENN: Right. But I’m trying to — do you have to be a member of the bank and do everything with Amazon?
I don’t —
JONAH: I don’t know. I don’t quite get it either. I think what they want — first of all, I think part of the problem is — and Warren Buffett is very good at this stuff, and so is Jeff Bezos. And so is Jamie Dimon. They want to sound as altruistic as possible.
GLENN: Yes. Yes.
JONAH: And so, you know, it’s sort of like the old cliche about how, if someone says it’s not about the money, it’s about the money. If these guys are saying — I don’t trust these guys to say, it’s not really about the profits. You can’t be two of the three richest people on the planet and not have some concern about profit.
GLENN: Well, you’ve also left out the nation’s largest bank.
JONAH: Well, that too. Except for that, Mrs. Lincoln.
JONAH: So it’s a weird thing. And I’m not saying it’s impossible for them to be altruistic. You drive around this country and you look at all the libraries named after Getty’s and Mellon and those guys. There’s a lot of those possibilities. But that doesn’t sound like this. This sounds like a very clever PR spin on maybe something that’s very smart that will undermine CVS and United Health and some of these other tech — medical health care giants. And, frankly, they all need to be disrupted and undermined. Because the health care sector just stinks.
GLENN: It just doesn’t work.
Yeah. All right. Let me change subjects. Because we have the president’s State of the Union address. And I have a feeling he’s going to be announcing his $1.7 trillion dollar stimulus package. Conservatives freaked out at 780 — I mean, I can remember. $787 billion. We thought that was outrageous.
Now it’s somewhere between 1.5 and 1.7 on a stimulus package. That comes the same week that someone advised the president that we should be building — the government should be building the 5G network. Thank God for Ajit Pai from the FCC. And the other, both Republicans and Democrats on the FCC said, no, we don’t have any place doing that.
Who — who is advising the president right now on some of these things? And do you see us being able to effect this out-of-control spending and kind of, you know, adoption of, let the state take this business on attitude?
JONAH: Well. This is not going to make me popular with anybody. But I think one of the things that has been remarkable about the Trump presidency so far is how well under incredibly trying circumstances the institutions, particularly, you know, the House and the Senate and the establishment, generally, including in his own administration, has been able to manage and direct the Trump presidency from some of Trump’s worst instincts. And, you know, I think Trump probably wanted to do infrastructure, day one. He wanted tariffs, day one. You know, he wanted all sorts of things day one that Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell said no to. Or sort of engineered the system to make it impossible.
And the problem is, is all they were really doing is kicking the can down the road. There are very few things that constitute core ideological beliefs of Donald Trump. One of them is protectionism. Another one is this infrastructure stuff. And he still has this belief, which Bannon had too, that spending hugely on infrastructure can buy Democratic support.
I don’t think that’s necessarily true anymore. I think it would have been true at the beginning of his presidency. But he didn’t go that way.
In terms of the more dismaying, you know, sort of ideological corruption of the G.O.P., to supporting this stuff, I find it repugnant.
You know, if you honestly believe in protectionism and if you honestly believe in massive, you know, Keynesian economic spending, where you just give the economy this huge sugar rush and all that kind of stuff. If you believe that stuff, you have — is there a reason for you to go out there and advocate for it?
But there are so many people, I know, personally, who don’t believe this stuff. And who have suddenly changed to endorsing it. Or didn’t believe this stuff. But suddenly endorse it because Donald Trump likes it.
Now, it is possible that some of these politicians in closed rooms have been ensorcelled by Donald Trump’s Aristotelian gift for persuasion and rhetoric and explaining to them that protectionism is better.
But I don’t think that’s really the case. I think this is purely an example of power corrupting people. Of people sucking up to power. Of bending and jettisoning their principles in order to be in the good graces of the ruler. And it’s very, very sad. And the G.O.P. to the extent that it’s going to be a conservative party, free market party going into the future, is going to spend decades cleaning up this mess.
GLENN: Jonah, could I ask you to come back at some point and just tell me what it was like growing up in your home?
GLENN: I mean, your dad — you just released one of your dad’s writings. Your dad wrote for the Wall Street Journal. So he was — you know, you grew up around a guy who was in — in and around these circles and monitoring them. You know, since you were little. Your mother was the one who told Monica Lewinsky, save the dress. And make a tape.
Not Monica Lewinsky. But Linda Tripp.
I can’t even imagine — I know my experience of — of, you know, just that one event, I can’t imagine that my mother was involved in any way or not, how — how this just affected you.
JONAH: Well, you forget that when my mom — when I was a little, little kid, my mom was in a scandal with the Nixon administration, which we can get into some other time.
But, yeah, you know, look, I had a strange childhood. And, you know, I’m not — I’m not your typical pseudointellectual demi Jew from the upper West Side of Manhattan.
And it’s — you know, but I’m very grateful to my parents to the sort of weird, goofy, strange upbringing that they gave me. You know, my dad’s idea of — my dad was your classic sort of Jewish intellectual. And his idea of a vacation was either going to the other side of the couch to read a different magazine, or book. Or going to Europe and looking at museums. Or going on long walks with his sons to explain to them why Stalin was really, really bad.
And, you know, that was sort of my — you know, I got most of my education from my dad.
GLENN: Did you ever kind of roll your eyes — because every child goes through a period where they’re like, oh, jeez, they’re going through this stuff again.
Did you ever roll your eyes on that Stalin stuff, or did you buy it the whole time?
JONAH: Well, it was — a lot of it was sort of like the karate kid, where Ralph Macchio doesn’t know why he’s waxing on and waxing off. And paint the fence up and down and up and down. And then all of a sudden, sort of my late teens, I kind of discovered, holy crap, I know a lot more about this stuff than everybody else in this room.
And to me, it was just my dad talking. And, you know, I used to tell people that, you know, one of my earlier memories is of my dad pushing me on a swing, explaining how the Yugoslavian black hand was the first modern character.
And one time, I wrote about this in the eulogy I wrote to my dad, where we’re walking down the street, going to get bagels on a Sunday morning. I couldn’t have been older than seven, maybe eight.
And all of a sudden, my dad stopped dead in the middle of the sidewalk. Squeezed my hand really hard. And said to me, totally straight face. Jonah, if you are ever pulled over in a South American country, tell the officer I’m so sorry, is there any way I can pay the fine right here? You don’t want to go down to the jail.
And then we went back to walking. And I thought, okay. Daddy. You know, I mean.
So he was a strange — he was a peculiar duck, as you would like to say.
GLENN: Who did you get your sense of humor from? Mom or dad?
JONAH: The dry stuff I get from my dad, the more Gonzo crazy stuff I get from my mom.
GLENN: Yeah. So the more dry stuff — you’re implying that there is a shot that maybe your dad was joking about the, you know, South American police officers?
JONAH: Unclear. He just thought that kind of stuff — it amused him to say it. But he almost never broke character.
I’ll give you another example. Again, I wrote about it in the eulogy. When I was a teenager, long story short, I accidentally rubbed some hot sauce in my eye. And I went running into the bathroom to wash out my eye. And I’m like tearing up. And it stinks. Whatever.
My dad walks by. Bathroom door is open. He walks in, and he says, what happened? And I’m like, blubbering. Oh, I got hot sauce in my eye. I was eating cheese and crackers. And he just dead-panned said, “Damn it. I wish I had told you not to rub hot sauce in your eye.” And just walked out of the room.
GLENN: Jonah Goldberg, you can follow him at the National Review Online. I follow his Twitter page.
STU: Yeah. @JonahNRL. I’m very now concerned that I’m doing a terrible job as a parent. I have not told my kids to not put hot sauce in their eyes or what to do when they get arrested in a South American country. But I got a couple years to get that. A couple things from Jonah.
GLENN: We have to talk to him about this too. We have so much stuff to talk about. Is Jonah still on the line?
Jonah, can you give us a highlight of your new book. When does it come out?
JONAH: It doesn’t come out until April. For some people I try to explain it, it’s kind of like a prequel to liberal fascism. And it explains where our — where the greatness of western civilization and where the greatness of America comes from. And how our decline is a choice. And the greatest threat to America and the West is the pervasive ingratitude to how good we have it and how we got here.
The table starts about 250,000 years ago and goes through the invention — how we got capitalism, how we got democracy, all the way up to the present day. So it’s a big book.
And I’m pretty proud of it. So…
GLENN: And the name of it? Suicide of the western —
JONAH: The Suicide of the West. Which is somewhat of an homage to a famous conservative intellectual named James Burnham who wrote a book by the same name in I think 1964, I want to say. And it covers some of that ground, but gets into a lot of economic theory. And I think is pretty readable. And even if you disagree with some of my points, there’s just a lot of interesting, fun stuff in there. So…
GLENN: Yeah. Jonah, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
JONAH: Hey, thank you, guys.
GLENN: You bet. Buh-bye. He doesn’t sound like he’s like his dad at all, in going to the other side of the couch for a book.
STU: No. Not at all. Not at all.
GLENN: He’s always, it starts 25,000 years ago.
Oh, okay. So it’s simple. So all right. Good.
STU: That’s the good thing about — because liberal fascism is not a simple topic at all. But it’s so readable. That’s why I love Jonah’s stuff.
GLENN: He’s funny. He finds a way to distill it.
How big is that book? Three hundred pages? Three hundred fifty pages? It’s not a long — and it covers everything. It’s really good.