I’m taking a break from Twitter and Facebook this month for reasons I may blog about later. Normally, I would share an article I found interesting on Twitter (I don’t do politics on Facebook) but today I thought I would go old school and blog it here.
Anyone reading this who knows me will know that I am a fan of Jonah Goldberg. I have been reading him for decades and he got me my start in online opinion writing at National Review Online. His G-File this week is both classic Goldberg and well worth reading. If you haven’t signed up for his new project, The Dispatch, I highly recommend it.
Part of the newsletter is a riff based in part on Yuval Levin’s new book A Time To Build, which I have just started and which I also highly recommend. He notes how celebrity and social media come not from character formation that are the function of institutions but the using of those institutions for our own needs and wants – as a platform:
Once you start looking around, the list of people who use their institutions like cultural ATMs—staking out credibility that isn’t theirs to buy celebrity and authority they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford or deserve—starts to seem infinitely long. Ricky Gervais is now a right-wing hate figure for simply pointing out that Hollywood A-listers use award shows as literal platforms for virtue signaling about causes they often know very little about.
One of Yuval’s most important points is how social media erases formality. We say things to and about strangers we would never say to their faces. The anonymity of social media untethers us from the constraints of institutions and good manners. And even when we’re not anonymous social media allows us to cash in on the reputational capital of our institutions for our own agendas.
This is one of the reasons I am so disconnected and disenchanted about national politics these days. It is platform building, virtue signaling and tribalism everywhere you look it seems.
Jonah then ties this together with a rant on Trump and Mitt Romney:
Has Romney at times been calculating? Of course. He’s a politician. But the suggestion that he is not an honest or decent man because he was “disloyal” to such a profoundly dishonest and indecent man is an exercise in mobbish immorality and the madness of crowds … If you honestly would prefer your children grow up to be more like Donald Trump than Mitt Romney, I don’t know that there’s anything left to talk about. Watch his actual speech on the floor. I have no problem with people who disagree with his reasoning. But to come away thinking he’s anything other than a man molded by charactering-building institutions (his family, his church, the Senate itself) who is trying to do right by them strikes me as a kind of Trump-personality-cult derangement.
To which I say: