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My Farewell to Hot Air Readers

Last night I got to thinking about how many posts I’ve written for Hot Air. I’ve looked at the total before but it never sticks in my mind. Big numbers seldom do.

My guess was 15,000. The reality: 36,590. That’s six per day, every day. For 16 years.

My takes may be terrible but I make it up on volume.

This post, number 36,591, will be the last.

I’m the only member left from the team that launched this site in 2006. It’s always been owned by others, first by Michelle Malkin and then by Salem Communications, but when you’re part of a project from the jump and you invest 36,591 hours into making it work (many more than that, truthfully) you come to think of it as yours.

I have no identity as a writer apart from my site. When I wake up tomorrow, Hot Air will belong to someone else and I’ll be a different person.

Losing your identity in middle age: Not a great feeling. On the spectrum of traumatic experiences to have in your 40s, it ranks somewhere between a colonoscopy and divorce. I don’t recommend it.

But I understand why it’s happening. Somehow it feels too soon and overdue.

*

I want to say thanks.

First, to our readers. It’s been my privilege to write for you. Few are lucky enough to make a living filling up a screen with their mundane thoughts, fewer get to do so on any subject they like. On an average day here I could write about COVID, Ukraine, and the new Frankenfood from Taco Bell. Sixteen years into this job, I still can’t believe they paid me to do it. Your patronage made it possible. I can’t thank you enough.

Thank you to Jazz Shaw, John Sexton, and especially Ed Morrissey for making working at Hot Air such a pleasure. A dirty secret: I was quietly furious when Ed came aboard in 2008. What was he doing on my site? But then it became our site, and then Jazz and John joined, and now you’ll never find a more collegial team of writers. In our years together I can’t recall an instance of infighting or office politics. It borders on strange how little drama there was behind the scenes. The pain of separation is eased by knowing that this will remain in their hands.

Thank you to Michelle Malkin for having taken a chance on me when she started Hot Air so many years ago. She made my career possible. And above all, thank you to Jon Garthwaite and Townhall Media, who stuck with me even as the GOP changed and I declined to change with it. At this point I must be the only strident critic of Donald Trump serving a pro-Trump populist readership across all of conservative media. And that’s been true *for years.* Since 2020, at least.

It was possible only because of Townhall’s sufferance, a show of integrity for which they don’t get enough credit. But I think all of us knew it couldn’t last. When you hire someone to run your hot-dog stand and he starts telling the customers that hot dogs are bad for them, that relationship won’t endure. Even if he’s right about the hot dogs.

Thank you to my critics — the earnest ones, who weren’t just axe-grinding because I wouldn’t join a cult. I am not dishonest but am frequently stupid and you were right to call me on my moments of stupidity. Accountability is good. The right needs more of it from its own side, urgently. If the average populist slobberer had a few like you in their ear, we wouldn’t be in the fix we’re in.

Lastly, to those who spent the last seven years barking insults at me in the comments for not genuflecting to Trump, I’ll give you this: You’re not phonies. You believe what you say. We have that much in common. I respect honesty and paid you the respect of being honest. It would scandalize you to know how many of your heroes sound like you in public and like me in private. Audience capture has brought most of conservative media to ruin by making it predictable and shrill.

I hear Lincoln’s words in my head as I write that: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.” Let’s hope. But let’s also be real: To a certain sort of Very Online Trumpist weirdo, having the right enemies is what politics is all about. To any who insist upon having me as one, I’m okay with it. Few badges of honor shine as brightly as the scorn of authoritarians.

*

As to the state of the right.

Partisan media serves two masters, the truth and the cause. When they align, all is well. When they conflict, you choose. If you prioritize the truth, you’re a traitor; if you prioritize the cause, you’re a propagandist. One recent example of the latter is the left mocking Republicans who accepted PPP loans during the pandemic for opposing Biden’s student debt bailout. The differences between those two programs would be evident to a reasonably intelligent fourth-grader but the imperative to serve the cause by rationalizing Biden’s giveaway forced liberals to treat it as a smart own. I think some even talked themselves into believing it. Propagandists lie to others, then lie to themselves to justify propagating the original lie. Propaganda rots the brain, then the soul.

That’s one reason why, when I’ve been forced to choose, I preferred to be a traitor than a propagandist. Here’s another: What is the right’s “cause” at this point? What cause does the Republican Party presently serve? It has no meaningful policy agenda. It literally has no platform. The closest thing it has to a cause is justifying abuses of state power to own the libs and defending whatever Trump’s latest boorish or corrupt thought-fart happens to be. Imagine being a propagandist for a cause as impoverished as that. Many don’t need to imagine.

The GOP does have a cause. The cause is consolidating power. Overturn the rigged elections, purge the disloyal bureaucrats, smash the corrupt institutions that stand in the way. Give the leader a free hand. It’s plain as day to those who are willing to see where this is going, what the highest ambitions of this personality cult are. Those who support it without insisting on reform should at least stop pretending that they’re voting for anything else.

I agree with others who say that, fundamentally, the last six years have been a character test. Some conservatives became earnest converts to Trumpism, whatever that is. But too many who ditched their civic convictions did so for the most banal reasons, because there was something in it for them — profit, influence, proximity to power, the brainless tribalism required by audience capture. “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket,” Eric Hoffer wrote. We’ve all gotten to see who the racketeers are.

I would rather fail as a writer than succeed if success means being some demagogue’s footstool. To the extent my work at Hot Air has made that clear, I’m happy with it.

Never forget, it’s not the 30 percent of Trump worshipers within the party who brought the GOP to what it is. It’s the next 50 percent, the look-what-the-libs-made-me-do zombie partisans, who could have said no but didn’t. I said no. Put it on my tombstone.

*

I’m grateful to have a new job.

I was set to hoof it over to Substack and start rattling my cup for subscriptions, hoping to make enough to cover rent. But after I posted the news on Twitter that I’d be leaving Hot Air, I got a call from Steve Hayes at the Dispatch. Would you be interested in writing for us, he asked? Uh, yes, I’d be interested. I’ve enjoyed the Dispatch since it launched and was reading Steve, Jonah Goldberg, and David French for years before that. You can count on one hand the number of successful right-of-center sites willing to hold populism to account for its excesses and the Dispatch is a very distinguished member of that distinguished group. Of course I’d be interested in writing for it.

So that’s what I’m going to do. I’ll be publishing a newsletter there twice weekly plus additional commentary on a schedule yet to be determined. That probably won’t be daily, but I know the first time big news breaks I’m going to get the shakes if I can’t post an instant thousand-word hot take about it. After 36,591 posts, I have an insanely severe case of Pundit Brain. Steve and I will have to figure out how to treat it.

The newsletter will be paywalled, which means extra ice cream for those who already subscribe to the Dispatch. For those who don’t, they’re offering a 20 percent discount on an annual subscription this month to mark my arrival, which you can access right here. Sign up and help me show them that they didn’t make a mistake by hiring me. For less than seven bucks a month you’ll get me, Jonah, David, and the Dispatch’s many other newsletters plus political coverage from one of the most impressive young teams of reporters in America. That’s the equivalent of, like, six cents pre-Biden-inflation.

I … might also appear on some of their podcasts. It depends on whether I can get drunk enough to work up the courage without getting so drunk as to be incoherent. Oh, and I’ll be writing under my own name, in case that somehow sweetens the pot in deciding whether to subscribe. Since I’m losing my identity by leaving Hot Air, I might as well go back to the one I was born with.

It’s an honor to join the Dispatch and contribute to their site, even if the word “their” makes me wince a bit. I’ll probably only ever think of one site as “my” site.

But check back with me after I’ve written my first 36,000 posts over there. I may have changed my mind.

I leave you with a treat for the old-old-old-school Hot Air readers. Here’s one video, here’s another. Play whichever one suits your mood on this occasion. I’ll see you Dispatch subscribers in a few weeks. To all others: Farewell.