When the Founders designed the basic architecture of the American system, they bore in mind among other antecedents the Roman republic. Their heirs are fascinated by a rather different model of social organization: the junior-high cafeteria.
“Nobody should be friends with George W. Bush” reads the headline over Sarah Jones’s essay in New York magazine, that purported bastion of urbanity. The article addresses the scandalization of American progressives by the private life of talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres, whose circle of friends is wide enough to encompass many people with whom she disagrees politically, including the former president.
There is much to criticize in Jones’s piece—the insipid prose, the intellectually dishonest mischaracterization of the casus belliin Iraq—but what is most relevant here is Jones’s thinking about second-best outcomes. She writes: “In a superior reality”—she means “a better world”—“the Hague”—the U.N. court seated there—“would be sorting out whether he is guilty of war crimes. Since our international institutions have failed to punish, or even censure him, surely the only moral response from civil society should [sic] be to shun him. But here is Ellen DeGeneres hanging out with him at a Cowboys game.”
That’s quite a spread: Ideally, Bush would be strung up by the heels, but, short of that, at least he should be snubbed by that nice lady who dances merrily on television while wearing the better part of $1 million on her wrist. (DeGeneres is a serious wristwatch fiend, and anybody with that many Rolexes is at least a little bit Republican.) DeGeneres’s offense, in Jones’s telling, is engaging in “the grossest form of class solidarity.” This seems to be a sensitive point for Jones, who notes a tweet from Chris Cillizza, and then writes: “There’s almost no point to rebutting anything that Chris Cillizza writes. Whatever he says is inevitably dumb and wrong, and then I get angry while I think about how much money he gets to be dumb and wrong on a professional basis.” I assume the money is pretty good at CNN, where Cillizza works, but I have never been under the impression that New York is a salt mine. Sarah Jones should be grateful for the opportunity to be dumb and wrong on a professional basis there.
Jones is fairly typical in indicting Bush for his purported failure on the question of “basic human rights for LGBT people” without addressing the question of whether we should also shun, say, Barack Obama, who ran as a presidential candidate opposed to gay marriage. Nor does she consider that maybe Ellen DeGeneres doesn’t need lessons on how to lesbian from New York magazine.
Jones makes a sophomoric effort to dress the question up, but this is the eternal politics of cooties. Say that headline out loud—“Nobody should be friends with George W. Bush”—and you can practically hear Cher Horowitz chiming in that his cowboy boots are “so five minutes ago.”
The urban sophisticates at New York are not the only practitioners of the politics of cooties. When the news got out that Mark Zuckerberg has been having occasional conversations with conservative writers and thinkers (including me), the usual little pissant brigade of Caitlyns on Twitter lost it: #DeleteFacebook even trended for a minute. The Caitlyn-in-Chief, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, was livid, demanding to know what was discussed during the Facebook founder’s “ongoing dinner parties with far-right figures.” If she had asked him which table he sat at during lunch in eighth grade, she couldn’t have been any less serious. Congressional Republicans may be as useless as teats on a boar hog, but they should thank whatever higher power they believe in for such opposition as that.
April Glaser, writing in Slate, insisted that it should “register as shocking” that Zuckerberg met with Tucker Carlson. She never makes an argument for why that should be shocking; she assumes that it is self-evident. Cooties. Everywhere.
This comes from the Right, too. Every now and then I’ll have an article in the Washington Post or appear on MSNBC, and I’ll get 11,000 emails and rage-monkey tweets demanding: “Why would you want to work with those people? Huh? They aren’t your friends!” I don’t know, Bubba, because a lot of people read the Washington Post who don’t read National Review, and they ain’t ever going to hear it if we don’t bring it to them? And maybe the folks at the Washington Post aren’t my people, but then neither is y’all, Bubba.
But we’re all in this together.
(For our sins, Bubba.)
“We are not enemies, but friends,” Abraham Lincoln said in his first inaugural address. It would be more difficult to say a few years later, when Americans had become one another’s enemies on the battlefields of the Civil War. We throw around the word “treason” irresponsibly in our time. But when Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia were forced to surrender at Appomattox Court House, they had been engaged in genuine treason—“treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them”—on a massive scale. But Lincoln’s better angels carried the day. Lee and his men were given the most generous terms imaginable. Ulysses. S. Grant, saddened and embarrassed by the occasion, spent the first part of the meeting reminiscing with Lee about their service together in the Mexican War. The rebels were not even humiliated, when justice would have countenanced hanging them. And then in one of this nation’s great moments of republican virtue, Grant had his men salute Lee and his ragged, defeated rebels as they turned to ride home, in safety and with dignity.
Abraham Lincoln did not have the likes of Sarah Jones around to advise him. Thank God for that.