GZERO World S1E29: Jonah Goldberg Goes Tribal

GZERO World S1E29: Jonah Goldberg Goes Tribal

Contrary to a lot of the more hysterical people
out there, Donald Trump isn’t Hitler, right? I mean, Hitler could’ve repealed Obamacare. The Iran deal. And China-Taiwan relations. Hi, I’m Ian Bremmer. This is your GZERO World. It’s a beautiful day in midtown Manhattan. I’ve got a big interview with you in just a little bit. Jonah Goldberg, who is the author of the new
New York Times bestselling book “Suicide of the West.” Great time to talk about that. Puppet Regime brings you Mark Zuckerberg. And then, of course, your Office Hours. But first, your world this week. President Trump has withdrawn from the Iran
deal – the most significant foreign policy decision of his presidency to date. He has shown that he is a unilateralist, not
an isolationist. He’s more than happy not to listen to allies
when it suits his purposes. We saw that in the withdrawal from the
Trans-Pacific Partnership. We saw it in the withdrawal from the Paris
climate accord. But no question this decision on Iran is the
most substantial. America’s key allies in Europe – the French
president, the German chancellor, the British foreign minister – all weighed in strongly
in the past few days, saying that their top priority is keeping the Americans in the deal. Trump listened and Trump decided he was
going ahead anyway. But the bigger question is, can you trust
the United States? I mean, ultimately American leadership is
a relay race from one president to the other. You pass the baton, you want to win the race. President Trump has shown very clearly that
his interest is in ripping up things that Obama did, because he was a loser president,
Trump does the best deals. But if you’re an American ally, you really
don’t feel like you can engage with the United States with that kind of continual
stop-start presidency. One piece of good news: I don’t think it
matters at all for North Korea. They weren’t really going to denuclearize anyway. It’s not like they trusted the Americans
or the Americans trusted the North Koreans. We are going to have a meeting coming up between Trump and Kim Jong Un and both sides really want some kind of deal. In fact, Trump may want one even more now
that he got rid of the Iranian deal. Watch that space in a positive way, but on
the Iran front? All the news is going to be negative. And to China-Taiwan, where last week the Chinese
government warned 36 foreign airline companies that they could not refer to Taiwan as a
separate country or else. The White House responded and said that was
“Orwellian nonsense” that would not be tolerated. To be clear, the companies themselves will tolerate it. They do not want to get into trouble with
the Chinese government. There’s a lot of self-censorship going on
with the airliners, with hotel companies, with automotive companies, you name it. China is getting a lot bigger. They don’t have rule of law. You don’t have judicial recourse. But this is a red line for the Chinese government. They consider Taiwan a domestic policy issue,
not foreign affairs. So while there are many things the Americans
can and do hit the Chinese on – intellectual property issues, the deficit, heck, I mean,
even human rights – those are places where the Chinese government is prepared to actually
sit down and talk and sometimes even compromise with foreign governments, with the Americans. On Taiwan, not the case. If the Americans decide they’re going to continue
to pursue this issue, they’re going to see that the Chinese relationship is going to
get a hell of a lot choppier and real fast. In reality, I think it was a throwaway line
and I think the Americans will back off. U.S.-China relations have plenty else to spar
about and spar they will. That’s enough from me. Now let’s turn to you for a special Iran deal
edition of Office Hours. We’ve heard a lot about the Europeans’
reaction to pulling out of the JCPOA. I would like to know what the consequences are. Is it a win or a loss for Russia and China? For Russia it’s a win, because the Russians
just love anything that weakens American influence and also drives a wedge between the Americans
and the Europeans. Nothing does this bigger than getting out
of the Iran deal. Also the Russians, a major oil producer and exporter. Oil prices going up, they’re happy. For the Chinese, a little harder to say. They’re going to have more influence in
the region, more countries going to see that they like the Chinese as opposed to the Americans
so the petro RMB becomes more important in terms of denominating oil. But they’re unhappy with the instability,
they’re unhappy with a potential war, and they’re unhappy as a major oil consumer
with the prices going up. Presuming that our allies don’t join us
in dropping out of the deal, what concessions can we expect to exert from the Iranians by
reimposing sanctions? The Iranians are going to be concerned about
US military scenarios. Unlike North Korea, where if we hit them,
you can potentially blow up the peninsula, the Iranians don’t have nukes. The Israelis do. They’re really outgunned by the Americans
and American allies in the region. I think that they would be really reluctant
to start up an obvious nuclear weapons program with us flexing our muscles the way we are
right now, the Israelis, the Emiratis, and the Saudis. But short of that, there’s really not much we can do to convince a harder-line Iranian government – and getting harder by the day – that they
want to engage with the Americans. They already signed a deal that they were
implementing, to the letter. Trump says that they weren’t implementing
the spirit of the deal, but his own Secretary of Defense says actually, they were implementing
the spirit of the deal. And every other country out there that was
involved in the JCPOA – remember, we’re talking the Brits, the French, the Germans,
the Russians, and the Chinese – they’re all saying Iran’s in good stead here. So it’s really hard for the Americans by themselves to get anything more out of the Iranians at this point. I think this was much more about Trump showing
he was going to rip up that bad Obama deal. What do you think should be included in a
new deal acceptable to Trump? Other than nuclear and ballistic missiles,
anything else? Usually Trump just wants to be able to put
his name on something that’s a tiny bit better. That’s what we saw with the South Korea
trade deal, the Brazil trade deal. Probably what we see with NAFTA. In this case I’d say that’s not true,
partially because the demands that Trump has made himself, very clearly, are pretty strong. They’re about ballistic missile development
and miniaturization of nuclear warheads to put on top of them, so they can’t have nuclear-capable
ballistic missiles. They’re about Iran supporting terrorist
organizations, engaging in proxy warfare against American allies in the region. But the big issue is that unlike the trade
deals, where everyone around Trump really wanted to get Trump to a deal – just give
him something, give him something – here, the people around Trump mostly really want
to rip up the deal. They’re just not happy with it. That’s clearly the case with John Bolton,
National Security Adviser. That’s clearly the case with new Secretary
of State Mike Pompeo. So I think the distance from here to there,
to get to something that Trump would find acceptable, is way not bridgeable. And that is part of the reason why I’m so
pessimistic about this move. Hi folks! This week we’re tuning in live for a new
product launch at Facebook. Here at Facebook We care a lot about community. We want to help you stay informed about
your communities. To be engaged in their lives And to build more inclusive communities For your Communities. And I’m here with Jonah Goldberg, whose book “Suicide of the West” is a New York Times bestseller. Just came out. Delighted to hear it. He’s
Senior Editor at The National Review. Also with the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. But we are right now here in New York City. And I’m delighted to have him as my guest. Jonah! It’s great to be here. Good. Good to be with you. Yeah. Your energy is infectious. That’s good. We need that. You know,
video will do that. Yeah, that’s right. That’s true, that’s true. So why don’t we jump right in with this
question of tribes, right? So you said aliens looking down, coming through every 10,000 years, they would normally see all this is tribes, till this last visit. Right. So if an alien was visiting planet Earth once every 10,000 years, since we split off from the Neanderthals about 250, 300 thousand years ago, for every visit he made until – let’s say for over 250,000 years – for the first 24 visits, all he would see is semi-hairless apes forging and fighting for food. We’ve evolved in an environment where living within the tribe or the band or the troop, wherever you want to call it, small group, was everything. All of our politics were personal and
defined by the group. The world was divided between “us” and “all of them.” And that was our evolutionary adaptation that allowed us to become apex predators was our ability to cooperate with each other. Fast forward to today, the point about tribes
is that we still have the same wiring we had 10,000 or 100,000 years ago. We still naturally want to divide the world
up – our worlds up – into us versus them. What is required, what makes our civilization
special is that the West, liberal democratic capitalism, the American founding, had within it this argument that you shouldn’t see the world that way. That it wasn’t zero sum. And that is something writ large that we’re
kind of losing sight of again, is that we’re trying to retreat back into our tribal selves. How much of this gets fixed if women run things? I think you can make a pretty good case that
it would help. It would – women are better at building
consensus. There’s a lot of social science evidence to
support all of that. Whenever you get a real dislocation of men to women, society becomes a lot more violent, first of all. The Wild West was like that. And because of the gender selection abortions
that we see in India and China, I think the ability to keep young men from rising up and
embracing a more aggressive form of nationalism will be a real challenge, among other things. Do you think that in America, young men today are increasingly embracing a more violent form of nationalism? What I do think is – take violence out of
it – that there are a lot of people on the right who are embracing essentially a right-wing
version of identity politics for white people, which I think is a really dangerous and bad thing. And I think it’s in response to the rise of
identity politics in general on college campuses, which comes from the left. That doesn’t excuse it but it helps you understand
where it comes from, and that they want to create and cultivate this – not ethnic, right? It’s not Irish pride or Italian pride, but
based around this abstract category of whiteness, this white cultural affinity that creeps into
some weird Aryan stuff and I think it is a product of these guys who are deracinated,
who are looking for meaning in their lives. And they can’t find it from the traditional
outlets of civil society, they can’t find it in the economy. It’s not working for religion very well. And religion is sort of receding from a lot
of these people’s lives. So what do they hold on to? Identity politics. So if you want to take that away from them,
what should they grab on to instead? So part of me being a conservative, particularly a
small “c” conservative, is that I don’t want to nationalize politics at all, except
for the truly essential things. You know, there’s a reason why during a war, everyone drops what they’re doing and rally around the cause. The government can’t love you. It can only do a few things remotely well
and it should stick to those things and we should push as much power to the most local
level possible, to give people a sense that they have more control over their lives. So I’m wondering what it was over the course
of the past 10 years, right, in the United States that you think really hastened this
devolution into a much more pernicious, much less civic engagement for the average American citizen. I can think of a bunch of things. I mean, part of these last ten years is when
Facebook went like this, right? So I think – I thought tech would be a piece of it. There were a lot of things that radicalized
a lot of people on the right. One was this failure to deal with immigration. Promising, you know, that from Ronald Reagan’s
amnesty, saying this is the last one and never following through on it. I think that this obsession with ideological
purity that for some reason overtook a big chunk of the Republican Party – I used to
joke that the Republican primaries were like C-SPAN reenactments of the end of Spartacus,
where each candidate was like, I am Ronald Reagan! No, I am Ronald Reagan! Right? And part of the problem with that is that
when you get obsessed with principles – principles I agree with, by the way – but when you
say that’s all you believe in, you lose sight of what politics is supposed to be about. Which is persuasion, right? It’s not who’s the purest, it’s – Which ideas. It’s how do we bring people in and instead,
these guys increasingly just kept doubling down on their purity rather than doing what
Reagan did, which is tell stories that brought people in. And instead you had these focus groups sort
of think tanking primaries, that picked hot button issues and replayed the 1982 Reagan
playbook over and over and over again. And one of the beneficial things about Donald
Trump is he smashed all of that. Not – he’s not the form of the destroyer
I would have picked. I mean, he comes right after the Stay Puft
Marshmallow Man but – Good visual there, by the way. Thank you. Of Trump and the Stay Puft Man. It’s either one, you know? And then there’s the – again, this stuff
that’s way upstream of the actual politics. The Big Sort. People are tending to in their lives… Self- Self-segregate amongst people who agree with them. I think the, you know, Charles Murray writes
about this a lot in “Coming Apart” that it used to be that the corporate leadership
of a factory town lived in the town. And now – They still helicopter in. Yeah. Right. For the photo op. And then they leave, right? And so I’m not sure you could pick a single one thing. I think it is a confluence of events. Suicide of the West is a pretty bleak concept. If we’re really on that path, what’s the thing
that’s going to happen in the next few years that’s going to make you say oh my god,
we just – we are – we’re at the precipice. Yeah. So I understand why – certainly it is a
bleak-sounding title, right? But I didn’t call it the Death of the West. No. I didn’t call it the Decline of the West. Part of my argument in the book is that there
is no teleology, there is no right side of history. There is no – there’s no God who is going
to guarantee anything for us. And I’m not saying this as an atheist, I’m
just saying that we – sort of like the argument of free will versus determinism. Who gives a rat’s ass? You still got to get out of bed in the morning
which basically means you have to assume that free will is a thing, right? And suicide is a choice. And so while I understand the title is bleak,
the book actually ends with this call for instilling a sense of gratitude in what we’ve got. Ok, but let me now ask my question again,
which is so, “Suicide of the West” is a kind of bleak title. Now, what is the thing that over the course
of the next five years if you saw it, you’d go wow, I was not successful in stopping the
Americans from heading down this path. This is really a tipping point. They may not wake up. What is it? That’s a good question. Because to say suicide of the West implies
we are really thinking about, like, you know turning the keys on and staying in the garage. Yeah. What is it? The only reason the Constitution has binding
power is because we give it binding power. If one day, we just say, forget it, then all
of a sudden we are basically in a world where we just fight over which strongman or strong
group gets to run everything. And it wouldn’t take much beyond a Depression-style
economic – you know, they came out quite a bit during the Great Depression. There’s a reason why FDR was president for life. I think if we had a similar kind of Great
Depression, which I don’t think is inconceivable, I’m not sure the Constitution survives that. So right now, I mean it’s less the suicide of
the West, more like, “Hi, I’m the United States and I have a problem.” Yeah, but suicide – you know, suicidal tendencies. I mean, I could’ve called it Suicidal Tendencies
over the West. There you go. But I think the suicidal tendencies are getting stronger. And one of the things that, you know, you’re
supposed to do when you see suicidal tendencies is to treat them as the warning sign that they are. Your book’s about suicide of the West. If you wanted to get beyond the United States
and say this is a Western problem, who else would you point me to and say, hey Ian, these
guys are right there with us? You know, I remember there was a whole thing from Osama bin Laden about people respect the strong horse. There is a – to an extent, the problem that
if America falls down, there are a lot of countries that are going to start switching
to look to other strong horses. And you can see that already in places like
Hungary, where Viktor Orbán talks about how capitalism has got – maybe outlived its
utility and you need this sort of authoritarian-style market management kind of thing. I think the world that I want to live in is
going to have a really hard time if America stumbles because there’s nobody poised to fill that role. So are you and I a tribe, Jonah? I’m sorry? Are you and I a tribe? Us? Yeah, yeah. Versus them. The unwashed. I mean, you know, public intellectuals, we
dress kind of the same. Yeah… I mean, you’re bigger and hairier, but leave
that aside. I’m huge in my field. We’re a weird-looking tribe. I mean, that’s pretty clear. Glasses wearing, you know. I think…no. Not yet. I mean, I do think there is a tribe of elites,
of globalists or whatever you want to call them, that do have a shared sense of their
self-interest. If not necessarily always expressed. One of the points I always try to make is that – to policymakers – is that complexity is a subsidy, right? And there are a lot of people in the elites
who really like complexity and – Sure. Keep people out. Right. It’s a moat. And so I think we probably live in that world
but I think we also have a certain amount of sympathy to removing a lot of that moat, right? And that you actually want an innovative,
meritocratic in the Jeffersonian sense, where there are paths to the American dream. There are paths to pursuing your own happiness. It’s the best kind of tribe. It’s the tribe that “cares.” Well, I originally – for about two years, the working title of this book was the Tribe of Liberty because – Yeah! There you go. I wanted people to form a tribal attachment to liberty. I’m glad you didn’t use that title. That’s not the title that sells. That’s one of the reasons why I changed it. Jonah Goldberg, New York Times bestselling
author, Suicidal Tendencies of the West. You should buy this book. That’s the right message. Good to see you, Jonah. Thank you very much, my friend. Great. Thanks for having me. That’s your show this week. If you want to listen to the entirety of the
Big Interview, the uncut version, you can check out our podcast, GZERO World, available
at podcast stores near you. That’s right. And next week, come back. We’ve got Israeli former prime minister Ehud Barak. It’s going to be a really great show. I will see you then.

4 thoughts on “GZERO World S1E29: Jonah Goldberg Goes Tribal

  1. One of the many many things I pulled from this was that this is the closest Mr. Bremmer is going to get to Mr. Peterson. (and thats a good thing)

  2. One more thing: the Left is to blame for Identity Politics? Did the Left enslave black Africans, shit on the Irish, intern the Japanese, etc., etc.? And now you want to blame the Left for organizing around what conservatives forced onto different groups, to relieve the bigotry they've had to deal with. Seems to me like it's the conservatives that started the whole Identity Politics thing.

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