The Narcissism of Small Differences

Mona Charen answers Jonah Goldberg

I defer to my colleague Mona Charen this morning. She writes more in sorrow than anger in today’s Bulwark: “Jonah Goldberg’s Narcissism of Small Differences.”

Back in 2016, when formerly distinguished conservatives were suddenly lining up to issue glassy-eyed endorsements of a half-mad reality-TV figure, Jonah Goldberg wrote a brilliant column comparing the experience to Invasion of the Body Snatchers. He captured the sense so many of us had that nearly an entire party and, eventually, nearly an entire intellectual movement, had been lobotomized. “People would go to sleep violently opposed to Trump and everything he represented,” he recapped for Vanity Fair, “but by morning they’d start telling me how under comrade Trump, we were going to have the greatest harvest we’ve ever seen.” If Goldberg does nothing else in his career, I will always cherish him for his indomitability when others, with less to lose, crumpled.

So it’s disappointing to see him falling for the narcissism of small differences. As Sigmund Freud wrote, “It is precisely the minor differences in people who are otherwise alike that form the basis of feelings of hostility between them.”

Celebrating the two-year anniversary of the Dispatch, Goldberg, apparently feeling the need to do some product differentiation, tossed off a gratuitous swipe at The Bulwark. Both publications are redoubts of Trumpism-defying conservatives, and thus, you might think, allies? Compadres? Friends? I was a charter subscriber to The Dispatch. As Ronald Reagan is purported to have said, “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally—not a 20 percent traitor.” Or, as National Review editor William F. Buckley responded in 1995 when Bill Kristol founded the somewhat-competing conservative journal, The Weekly Standard, “Come on in, the water’s fine!”

Goldberg isn’t conveying that spirit. Regarding The Bulwark, he said, “If you wake up every morning trying to argue about why Trump is bad and the people who like Trump are evil, you’re just as obsessed with him as the people who wake up every morning wanting to prove that Trump is a glorious statesman and everything he does is great.” Never Trump and pro-Trump publications, he continued, are “two sides of the same Trump-obsessed coin.”

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