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Taking Summer Seriously
See you after the break.
It’s that time of year again when the Dish — Daily and Weekly — takes a real break for the year. By “real break,” I mean the next couple of weeks of late August, returning after Labor Day. I sometimes feel a bit guilty about this, especially when there’s some breaking news, but I’ve stuck to it — on the grounds that doing nothing is a good thing from time to time, that rest is important and that “reculer pour mieux sauter” are words to live by. By far the most common reason we get from readers for letting their subscription lapse is that there just isn’t enough time to read and absorb everything. So let’s take a break.
It’s also a Dish tradition to share news of the enterprise with our readers. So here goes. We’ve just passed our second anniversary on Substack and we have 19,000 + paid subscribers among 118,000 total subscribers. With each annual renewal, we shed some expiring credit cards (hence the two August slumps a year apart), but our traffic is remarkably steady and slowly growing:
The stat we’re proudest of is the “open-rate” of Dish newsletters, which is around 73 percent for paid subscribers. That’s extraordinary engagement. We also get a 53 percent open rate for unpaid subscribers, which is also off the charts. We’d love to get to a solid 20,000 paid subs — subscribe here! — and to 120,000 total, but we’re patient. Here’s a quick note from a reader who unsubscribed in early August but just had a change of heart:
Truly, there are so many blogs in my inbox that it’s impossible to sift through all of them for substantive absorption, but the latest issue of the Dish has reenergized me! I do value hearing different opinions with no obvious rancor or bullying pulpit. It’s the only way to ferret out my opinions in an informed way. SO, I’m going back to your page to resubscribe. It’s completely worth $50 for a year of pithy, smart musings. Thanks so much, and I’m sorry I made you turn off my auto-renew, but it is SO refreshing to communicate with a person and not a bot!
It’s been a journey since the Dish was founded in 2000, attached itself to mainstream media from 2006 to 2012, became the first independent blog to introduce a paywall in 2013, and now, with this wonderful community reconstituted at Substack, thrives as a truly independent, reader-supported site. You all made it possible. And the current Dish is far more sustainable than the frenetic blog version that broke me after 15 years of daily posting.
A new addition to the Dish two years ago, The Dishcast, continues to be a big hit — with 4.4 million total downloads and an average audience of the smartest 45,000 listeners online. Some episodes have reached far more: my chats with Jon Haidt and John McWhorter, for example, both have 80,000 downloads. And I’m proud to host the kind of pod that will get close to 75,000 listeners to both Anne Applebaum and John Mearsheimer on the war in Ukraine. You also won’t often find a detrans woman and trans man in the same episode, or views ranging from Cornel West’s to Ann Coulter’s. Browse the entire archive for an episode you might enjoy.
And on the core mission of the Dish — creating a space for truly open debate — I feel proud to have made some progress — in podcasts with people I disagree with and in Dissents sections full of robust pushback. None of this would be possible without my colleague and co-founder Chris Bodenner, whose guardianship of Dishness is indispensable to everything we do, including the popular Window View contest.
It’s the same collection of pieces as in the hardback, but with “What Happened To You?” added as a final essay. Money quote:
Liberalism leaves you alone. The successor ideology will never let go of you. Liberalism is only concerned with your actions. The successor ideology is concerned with your mind, your psyche, and the deepest recesses of your soul. Liberalism will let you do your job, and let you keep your politics private. S.I. will force you into a struggle session as a condition for employment.
What happened to me? You know what I want to know: What on earth has happened to you?
I have exactly the same principles and support most of the same policies I did under Barack Obama. In fact, I’ve moved left on economic and foreign policy since then. It’s Democrats who have taken a sudden, giant swerve away from their recent past.
Some reviews for Out On A Limb:
“[These] essays don’t just communicate his thoughts, they communicate his heart. . . . Even his most passionate arguments are thoughtfully delivered, deeply rooted in his philosophy and faith. . . . When I reached the end of his book, I felt a sense of gratitude. . . . For 32 years a thoughtful man has demonstrated the courage of his convictions and challenged his readers time and again. . . . Read Out on a Limb for the snapshots of recent history. Read it to better understand the many journeys of one of America’s most important public intellectuals. But most of all read this book to see what it looks like when a thoughtful man tries his best to tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may,” - David French, New York Times
“A thrilling intellectual romp through the last 30 years of political and cultural debate . . . [Sullivan] is a writer in the tradition of Samuel Johnson, bringing all available faculties — intellectual, emotional, moral, and spiritual — to bear in his work,” - American Conservative
“The most important writer during the Trump era,” - Joe Scarborough
“I hear echoes of arguments that Andrew Sullivan, and often Andrew Sullivan alone, was making thirty years ago in almost every conversation and argument I’ve had about gay marriage in the last ten years. There’s no other issue and no other writer where the connection between things I read as a teenager and lines I hear today is as clear and direct and obvious. And if that isn’t evidence of distinctive, far-reaching influence then I don’t know what is,” - Ross Douthat, The New York Times
It’s a fun beach read. Have at it.
Before I go, a couple of brief bloggy points on a couple of issues:
The Law and Mr Trump
Like many people, I’ve been wrestling with the question of whether it’s essential or counter-productive to prosecute former president Trump for various and sundry alleged crimes. There are four sprawling investigations, with the most incendiary right now Trump’s alleged violation of the Espionage Act, because he brought a bunch of classified documents from the White House to Mar-A-Lago, and wouldn’t give them back.
I urge you to read Damon Linker’s honest vent, Jack Goldsmith’s two ruminations on the topic and Josh Marshall’s intervention. My answer: it’s complicated, and we know too little to make a judgment on the breach of the Espionage Act — because we don’t know how serious the violation was and about what exactly. If there’s proof he was trying to sell nuclear secrets to our enemies, then obviously we’re in new territory. But we have zero evidence for anything that grave. And the provable evidence is everything. The thing with Trump is that he behaves like a criminal even when he isn’t one. When you’re dealing with someone this psychologically disturbed, the usual rules of inference for normal people — including normal crooks — are unreliable.
But the essential and broader question is about prosecutorial discretion. The rule of law is not abolished if some violations of the law are not always prosecuted in every case. This happens all the time — and has to, for purely practical reasons. And the issue with presidential law-breaking in particular is that, in the end, it’s the political, rather than legal, system that has to bring him to account. And it has — up to a point. Two impeachments and one clearly lost election is not exactly zero-accountability.
The danger is deploying the full armory of the legal system against a former and possible future president with the knee-jerk political opposition of a good 35 - 40 percent of the country — because that could actually add one more spiral to the delegitimization of democracy. Trump will never concede fault or responsibility on anything because he is mentally ill. We have also learned how the GOP will defend and champion him under any circumstances — even when he orchestrated a violent attack on the peaceful transfer of power. And so we have to weigh the consequences of a showdown to the truly bitter end.
Is it worth it? In a healthy republic, it would be. In our deeply sick polity, I worry that it could empower Trump, bring him back to center-stage, consume all of us in his loopy mendacity again, and allow him to escape one more time — perhaps into the presidency itself. His entire campaign is one of victimization and revenge. Why give him the perfect platform to wage it?
If we run the risk of prosecution, then it seems to me it must be because of an alleged crime far worse than being a criminal corporate con-artist, a giant tax fraud, or holding onto official documents because “they’re mine!” Is there proof of ill-intent? How vital are these documents to national security? You need a truly overwhelming case of negligence and criminality to proceed — and I’m not sure Garland has one. Remember Mueller.
And look: I do not discount the risk of doing nothing about the crimes of an ex-president. His continued iron grip on one political party, the depth of the broader national polarization, and Trump’s clear threat to use the White House for a series of future, vengeful prosecutions of his enemies are all signs of grave Constitutional danger. But this is where we are already. It may not make things better to press them to a conclusion that may not even be a conclusion.
In the end, Trump has to be beaten politically, not legally. We all know now what and who he is. If Americans want to empower that some more by voting for him again, they can, and no law can or should stop them. No republic can be stronger than its citizens. If a clear majority of citizens no longer believe in the rule of law or the institutions that guarantee it, and want a caudillo outside the law to rule them by whim, and take vengeance on their domestic enemies, no attorney general can stop them.
The Bodies Of Children
I should know better than to throw a provocation into the Twitter sewer, but this musing prompted a bit of a shit-storm this week:
Some obvious clarifications. No, I’m not saying that cutting off part of an infant boy’s dick is equivalent to stopping his puberty before it arrives, flushing him with female hormones and then turning his baby-dick into an open vagina-like cavity unable to reproduce or provide an orgasm. The latter is far, far more drastic.
But it does seem to me that a genuine worry about cutting parts of children’s bodies off without their meaningful consent should be vaguely consistent. By which I mean that it’s odd to be passionately opposed to child sex changes while being actually enthusiastic about circumcision. An infant has even less ability to consent to irreversible change than a ten-year-old. Circumcision has trivial health benefits, if any, and measurable trauma for a child. While some children do see some benefit to a sex change, no infant ever feels psychological or physical relief after being bloodied in the privates. They just scream in pain.
More obviously, we now know that there are at least hundreds of child sex changes in America, but hundreds of thousands of circumcisions. The scale counts for something. And it seems to me that making infant male genital mutilation truly elective rather than routine in most hospitals is hardly that big a deal — and would save countless infants from trauma and countless male adults from having their most intimate part surgically altered without their consent. People are deeply irrational on this subject — a mixture of defensiveness, embarrassment and misplaced religious sensitivity. That doesn’t make them right.
Let me also note that it if you are going to argue — as the alphabet people now do — that there are no sex change surgeries for minors in America, and that this is another piece of “disinformation,” then you should have to account for the mounds of evidence that they do, including Boston Children’s Hospital making promotional ads for them.
And if those ads provoke shock and outrage, it is not the responsibility of those pointing out those videos, but of those who made them.
Which is to say: beyond urgent medical needs, leave healthy children’s bodies alone. It’s a decent rule to go by.
The View From Your Window Contest
Where do you think it’s located? Email your guess to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject line. Proximity counts if no one gets the exact spot. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two annual Dish subscriptions. If you are not a subscriber, please indicate that status in your entry and we will give you a free month subscription if we select your entry for the contest results. Happy sleuthing!
The results for last week’s window are coming in a separate email to paid subscribers later today.
We hope you a lovely late summer.
Andrew and Chris (and Bowie — chilling below)