America seems to be descending into chaos. Many feel this nation is coming apart at its seams.
Back in 2016, Roger Simon explained what’s going on in our culture today in his book “I Know Best: How Moral Narcissism Is Destroying Our Republic, If It Hasn’t Already.”
For many people, virtue is now defined by what you say, not what you do or how your actions might harm others. Your opinion is what defines you—and you aren’t held accountable for the consequences of your actions. As long as your intentions are good, it’s all justified. It’s moral narcissism, Simon argues. And it’s fundamentally harming America.
This is American Thought Leaders, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Jan Jekielek: Roger Simon, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Roger Simon: Terrific to be here as a newbie at The Epoch Times.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, that’s right! You’re writing three to four columns a week for us right now. I know they’re extremely popular with our readership and viewership.
Mr. Simon: Yes, I know they’re popular because I already have trolls.
Mr. Jekielek: Oh, [laughing] I see.
Mr. Simon: I used to write for PJ Media. I had a regular gang of trolls. And you always wonder whether they’re being paid for this or whether they do it just because they hate you, right? Or both. That’s a possibility. But what I do is I don’t respond to them because I think their greatest desire is that you do.
Mr. Jekielek: Yeah, I guess that’s why it’s called trolling, right?
Mr. Simon: Exactly.
Mr. Jekielek: Roger, I finally took the opportunity to read your book, and it was incredible to see how much of the material in there is extremely relevant to today. I knew a little bit about this, but of course, you are someone who kind of knows both the more left-leaning and the more right-leaning worlds. You came in viewing the world through the civil rights movement, actually. And I find this whole background very fascinating.
Mr. Simon: Well, it’s interesting. One of the things that I joke about myself is I’m the only person who’s had a favorable write-up in both Mother Jones and the National Review from different times in my life. It was more than Mother Jones’ time that I was involved with civil rights movement. Although I tend to think I’m an okay person and I’m not a racist, but back in those days, I was trying to demonstrate how much of a leftist and good guy I was.
I was exhibiting what I call moral narcissism in the book, which is—the short form of moral narcissism is that what you say and how you brag about yourself and what you think is the only thing that’s important. The results of that are unimportant. And so you’re a moral narcissist if you say, “Oh, I’m the greatest anti-racist in the world,” and then you treat people [in a] racist manner in your private life. That’s an extreme version of a moral narcissist.
I wasn’t like that, but I showed off my moral narcissism, like to the extent that when I was a young screenwriter in Hollywood and making more money than I thought I should, I showed off by becoming a financial backer of the Black Panther Party.
And I got to know the Panthers, of course. They would come to my house at night with a bunch of kids because they had one of their propaganda things, which was good, the Black Panther Breakfast Program. This was in the early 1970s. And what they did was in LA, they would take a whole lot of kids who couldn’t get a breakfast, they’d get them a breakfast. But I would write them a check, right? And they’d have the kids there with them.
And then they’d pocket the check, and whether it went to scrambled eggs or went to AK-47s, I never knew. Eventually, some of the people who I was dealing with, he got arrested for drug dealing, assault and battery, and similar things. They were not good human beings. And I drifted away from it, of course.
But, the interesting part of it is, my career in Hollywood flourished because of it. Because my agent would tell—and this was like in the ’70s and ’80s, everything was so trendy and left-wing, not really left-wing, but trendy left-wing—that my agent would tell the executive at the studio, “Oh, you know, Roger knows the Panthers,” and the executive would say, “Oh, that’s cool. Let’s bring him in for a meeting.”
I’d get a movie deal out of it. Nothing to do with the Panthers of course. But it was that bad. It’s still that bad in a different way with different language, but it essentially was a kind of fakery, a kind of moral narcissism. That’s what it was.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, there was fakery, but the civil rights movement clearly wasn’t fakery.
Mr. Simon: Not at all. Not at all. The civil rights movement was a great thing. But what has happened out of it—there’s a great book by Shelby Steele called “White Guilt” that explains some of it—but what has happened afterwards is that people have a kind of a, what I call in the book, nostalgia for racism.
When I came to write that chapter, I was very nervous because, as it happened, I was just about to write the chapter and I had an outline when those awful killings occurred at the church in Charleston. And I thought, “Oh God, if I write about nostalgia for racism when this guy was really a racist, and he was—he was also probably a psychotic—I’m going to look bad,” but I plunged ahead and did it because I think there are a lot of people out there who want racism to continue when it was going away.
And I think what happened with recent administrations and into recent times, people have plunged us back into racism when people weren’t really that racist. They were ready to let go of it. Indeed, a lot of people had let go of it. And yet now they’re saying, “No, you’re a racist no matter what. Are you breathing? Then you’re a racist.” And the term has then become useless. It’s a joke term.
But the other thing that happened is a form of nostalgia that people want to get power out of it from the good old days when everything was good and evil because that is true of the civil rights movement. That was a good and evil situation, very clearly, and an evil was gotten rid of. But today, it’s not like that.
But these people want it to be bad, like in the recent demonstration, they were comparing Trump to Bull Connor. Now I remember Bull Connor very well. I also remember George Wallace very well, who I interviewed for the Daily Door. But that was a scary, weird experience. Donald Trump, wherever he is, is not similar in the slightest to Bull Connor, who was a straight out segregationist. It’s very strange.
And we’ve come to the point, too—while I’m jabbering on about this—it’s very sad to me because the one thing I hate is racism, and I don’t want to deal with people on that level. Nobody does. Dr. King’s thing about judging people by their character and not their color was, of course 100 percent what any decent human being would want. But now, we’ve been boxed into a hole.
When Harvard University has a special graduation, as do 75 other schools, for their black students, they’re going back to segregation, whereas when I was in the South and doing my civil rights work in South Carolina, we were fighting segregation. Segregation was what we hated. But now, they seem to want segregation. I’ve got plenty of black friends. I don’t want to be segregated from them. Fortunately, the black friends I have are not like that. However, it’s a very weird and odd thing that’s happened, and it’s a very sad thing that happened.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, it’s very interesting. You talk about in the book, there’s these three pillars that support the moral narcissism, right, and you identify education, media, and entertainment, although media and entertainment seem to be ever more coalescing, so to speak. How does this work exactly? I want to talk a little bit about the sort of systemic aspect of racism as well a bit later, but let’s talk about these three pillars that you identify.
Mr. Simon: Well, it’s interesting about the three pillars because since having written this five years ago, I am of the mind that education is the most dangerous of the pillars. The reason I say that is it’s not voluntary. We’re all, young children all the way through PhD, are thrown into a system, which is extremely biased in the same direction.
Media and entertainment, not completely. There are media outlets that are even-handed—such as I think this one. There are right-wing, extreme ones. There are lots of left-wing ones, virtually the whole MSN. And entertainment, well, most of them are skewed in the same direction, too, but it’s voluntary. You can turn the dial, and you cannot turn the dial on education.
That’s why, actually, my wife and I are working very hard on a new company that’s going to deal with higher education in a unique way, but I can’t announce it yet because it’s not online, and I don’t want to be a fool. But that’s just a hint of something that I’ve been doing. But education is pretty scary.
When you’re in a situation where 90 to 95 percent of college professors are Democrats and are all kind of moral narcissists, Democrats. They’re not people who are out in the fields with the results of their work very much. They’re just regurgitating stuff that came over from Germany 50 years ago or more.
That’s one of the great roots of moral narcissism, and what our universities have become is moral narcissism machines, essentially. Because these people who are graduating from them in many fields, particularly non-STEM fields, have nothing to do but go back into the teaching profession, it’s a self-replicating situation. They go and they regurgitate the same material in every community college and high school everywhere.
Not everyone, of course. There are exceptional places like Hillsdale College, but there are not [many]. When you say there are exceptional places, remember, one of the things we learned is there are 3000 or so colleges and there are about these many [holds up one hand] that don’t adhere to the same line. So we’re in a very difficult situation in this country because of that.
Mr. Jekielek: You mentioned an ideology that came out of Germany, presumably you’re talking about the Frankfurt School here. What does this have to do with moral narcissism?
Mr. Simon: Because that is a school of thinking that brought forth all these ideas about race and culture. The thing about moral narcissism is it’s disconnected from the real world. It exists in the world of theory. “If you say this, you’re good.” So what the people from the Frankfurt School did is they told you what were the good things: cultural relativism, all these things, no belief in God, everyone is a racist, the ends justify the means, which is part of it, or by any means necessary.
All of these things are inculcated, and then the moral narcissist becomes part of the club. Everybody wants to be part of the club, of course. And in our culture, what I wrote about in my book was how our culture is very similar to the Soviet one in a very subtle way because the Soviet Union had its own elite class known as the nomenklatura, or the “name list.” I don’t have any real Russian but I know that.
Comrade Stalin was also called Comrade Filing Cabinet because he had everybody’s name in the filing cabinet at his desk—of course, now we’ve got it all out there in the cloud, but then, things had to be written down—but the people who were good were members of the nomenklatura.
And what makes you in the nomenklatura in the United States is having those certain same views, Marxist views sort of watered down enough so that people don’t know exactly what they are. But if you’re part of that, then you’re in the elite class, whether you’re in business or entertainment or whatever you are.
And essentially, for example, I’m not complaining personally but I got read out of Hollywood in a certain way, despite being an Academy Award nominee because I went a little bit to the right. I didn’t even go to the far-right, but I didn’t observe the rules. I was read out of the nomenklatura. Comrade Stalin said, “Nyet.” But I moved to Nashville. I didn’t get sent to Siberia, so everything is okay.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, I’ve seen the consequences obviously in the Soviet Union under Stalin for leaving the nomenklatura where your life was over.
Mr. Simon: Yeah. But in a way—of course it was worse there. We don’t have any gulags, etc. However, the power of career, family, all these things put together militates against people changing in our culture. You don’t know a lot of people who will change their views. I mean, you know a few.
Leo Terrell’s tearing up Fox News right now. He’s a big hit because [he changed]. I knew Leo, like the old PJTV days, we used to have Leo on as a civil rights lawyer who hated every right-winger that ever lived. And then he sort of flipped over in recent days to being pro-Trump. He’s one of the most amazing migrations I’ve ever seen, but I have no explanation.
I liked Leo. It was interesting. I always liked him as a guy, but I didn’t agree with his views. Now, I like him. I haven’t seen him that much lately, but I presumably still like him. But I largely agree with his views. But why did he flip?
I wrote about this in books, but it’s still mysterious to me why so few people change their views. And this is an interesting problem when you think about it for democracy because democracy should depend on people being able to change their views. We’re presented with the issues, and we make a decision. However, almost nobody does. They … go with the party line that they’ve grown up with probably since age six.
Mr. Jekielek: Yeah, it’s very tribal. It’s almost like—I think you describe in the book, and obviously I’ve seen this elsewhere—it’s more just like you’re going with your team. You’ve got the captain of the team, you support the captain of the team, and it’s very hard to switch teams. Obviously there’s a lot of social pressure as a starting point.
Mr. Simon: Yes, and career pressure and livelihood and family. It’s really strong. But we still don’t live in a society—years ago when I started blogging, I started to think about what we used to chant on the football field when, if you could believe it, I played football. It was, “Our team is red hot; your team is diddly squat.” Essentially, that’s our politics today. That’s the way the Republicans and Democrats regard each other. You could see that in the two conventions. The people on the other side are not humans.
Mr. Jekielek: As we were discussing a little bit earlier, I hadn’t actually come across this term “Penthouse Bolsheviks.” This is something that you discuss in your chapter on, I guess it’s Marxist nostalgia. I can’t remember the exact title. I know roughly that this sort of thing existed, but I hadn’t really thought about it. Okay, I hadn’t really thought about it.
Mr. Simon: That term. My wife and I were writing a play about this man, Walter Duranty, who was The New York Times correspondent in the ’30s in Moscow and lied about Stalin’s starvation of the Ukrainians, which is the next thing to the Holocaust. Anyway, he was like the original Mr. Fake News, I think, faking extreme. In the books about him, there was one guy who’s name that I can’t remember—Lyons, Eugene Lyons, who was a journalist of that period who was a smarter guy.
He was honest, and he wrote about what was really happening, and he came back to New York, and he was then ostracized by everybody in the penthouses, all the rich people of Park and Madison Avenue, and he is the one who coined the term “Penthouse Bolsheviks.”
And so it goes way back to the ’20s and ’30s, being what we call now a “limousine liberal” or “parlor pink” or something like that. They’re all kinds of terms for it. And that’s what I lived with in Hollywood all the time. I’ve so many stories. I won’t name names because I have enough enemies in life.
One of these guys is deceased, so I could tell the story anyway. I would be riding with him on [the plane], because I was riding with him in first class on a jet from LA to New York. And he’d be telling me how he gave the Panthers his credit card so they could buy anything they wanted but not to tell the head of the studio, ha ha ha.
Now the funny thing about it is, this guy was next named to the head of the studio. There was an era then—this was in the ’80s—they were called the baby moguls because a lot of these guys were like 26 and had risen to very high. And they all lived 100 percent lavish lifestyles. You’d be the envy of anybody. Nothing less than a Porsche or a Mercedes and houses in Malibu and the Hollywood Hills that were worth millions and millions.
And yet, all the talk was about revolution. I mean, how do you put that together? The hypocrisy, there has to be a new word for hypocrisy. I used to talk to Roger Kimball—I think you’ve interviewed about this—and he’s very literary, so he always quotes La Rochefoucauld on hypocrisy as the homage that vice pays to virtue, which is a very nice French-type phrase.
But this, there is nothing [like it]. This is beyond that. This is just obscene. And the other part of it is, what I saw—and since I’m essentially right out of Hollywood, I can talk about it, again, not naming names—is that the more successful and famous these people were and the more their public rhetoric was “power to the people” and all that, the more in their private lives, if you were in their homes, you would see them treating staff and other people like riff raff.
At first I didn’t notice it because I was a young guy and I was thinking, “Whoa, look whose house I’m in. And yo, why, they could make a contract with me. They invited me over. And this is so exciting.” Then, once that became a little less of a big deal, I started to look at [them]. And part of my political migration came out of it because I just couldn’t stand the level of hypocrisy.
I mean, it’s somewhere up on Alpha Centauri. It’s not minor league hypocrisy, and you see it now all the time on the internet. All these Hollywood stars continually attack Trump in the most vicious manner possible, but their private lives are awful. So I don’t know what they’re talking about and why they’re doing this.
The public knows it now, which is good. I don’t think having the endorsement of a Hollywood star gets you a vote. I can’t imagine anybody being that dumb. But that doesn’t stop them from going on and on and on and on about every which thing and always to the left without any thought about it.
Mr. Jekielek: Roger, but you do explain it in fact in the book, and that’s what I thought was interesting, looking at things through this lens of what you describe as moral narcissism, which is basically this detachment of what you intend or what you say you believe and the effects of that, the actual real life impact of that.
Mr. Simon: If you tell them the real life impact, they don’t hear it. It goes [past them]. We’ve all seen that in life, people who just refuse to hear anything that’s outside of what they’re thinking. They don’t want to know about it because they’ve already triumphed. The moral narcissism part is their triumph.
It’s already been out in Hollywood. They have people that they pay as employees to tell them what are the best charities to give to for my career. That’s an occupation. You would think someone could figure that out for themselves, but no, they have people who get paid probably decent salaries who do that. That’s a sideline of a moral narcissist situation.
The other thing I’ve written about is how they create mini-mes, like in the old Austin Powers film. The mini-me is the one that comes out and says, “Power to the people” and “America is unfair” and “America’s racist” and yada yada yada. There’re the mini-mes out here, right? And in their real lives, they keep going on to do whatever they want. And they call their agent and scream at them and tell them they’re not getting enough money for the next picture, and so and so got 25 million and they should get 23 million and yada yada yada. But the mini-me is doing the other work that somehow justifies the other person.
Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating. I was talking with my wife about what I had been reading in your book, and she said something very interesting. She said, “Well, basically it’s people equating virtue signaling with virtue.” And that’s fascinating.
Mr. Simon: Yes. Interestingly enough, my book came out just before the popularity of virtue signaling. I went on Dennis Prager to talk about it, and Dennis Prager said, “You’ve coined a new term, it’s great! Moral narcissism, it’s going to sweep the language.” Then virtue signaling did. There’s a slight difference. I look at it this way. Virtue signaling is what a moral narcissist does. Moral narcissism is the disease. Virtue signaling is the product of the disease.
Mr. Jekielek: I see.
Mr. Simon: I think that is essentially what your wife was saying, too.
Mr. Jekielek: Roger, before I forget, I wanted to talk about this issue of racism which you raise early in the book. You talk about your fear that racism is now increasing because of this moral narcissism. And so the way people talk and think about racism, and we’ve been learning a lot about this on the show, is through this lens of everything being systemic. It’s not about individual agency. It’s about something that’s basically broad in the system. And in some ways, depending on your category, so to speak, unchangeable.
Mr. Simon: Yes, I’ve heard that. I don’t believe it. I don’t know what it means. I know math is a system. I don’t know racism is a system. Racism is just plain out prejudice. The society was prejudiced. It was aiding prejudice. We made a lot of laws, and now it’s against the law to be a racist, a sexist, and so forth. And that’s great. And it should be against the law. I really think it comes down to morality. I spent a lot of my life as an agnostic but I’m beginning to understand I may have made a mistake. The character of human beings.
This is systemic stuff—I think the systemic stuff is part of the plot to bring racism back. That’s what it is. If you say racism is systemic and get enough people to believe you that “Racism is all around and you have to deal with it,” and it comes in industry and all those people who make fantastic amounts of money advising people how not to be racist, and 12 million diversity teachers get jobs.
If you believe it. To me, the emperor has no clothes. No one has been able to explain systemic racism. They say there’s systemic racism. What used to be systemic racism, a black guy or a Jewish guy couldn’t get into a certain country club. But that’s not true anymore, hardly true. So I don’t know. What is the system? A black guy could be president. They can get to be the senator from South Carolina. A black woman can run for vice president. We’ve already seen all this. They can be CEOs of companies. So where’s the system?
Mr. Jekielek: Roger, I think that a lot of the things that you describe through this lens of moral narcissism in your book are things that a lot of Americans are concerned about, especially with all the recent violence in the streets and so forth, deeply concerned and wondering how are we going to move forward out of this? What are your thoughts?
Mr. Simon: Well, it means a lot of engagement on the part of citizens. And this is what, of course, the Founders thought we were all going to do, although that’s the *famous quote from Franklin, a Republican, “if you can keep it.”* And I think it’s our job to keep it. I think one of the places, the most important place to keep it is the schools because that’s where it’s all happening. That’s where it’s all beginning.
As I said, Antifa, a number of them are school teachers. No one knows exactly how many, but that’s a scary thought. And we have to go in, parents have to go into the schools and keep an eye on what their students, their children, are being taught. One of the good parts of the pandemic, by the way, is that they’re seeing a lot more of what they’re being taught and can act accordingly, because parents are not going to like what their kids are being taught in school. And that’s where all of that stuff starts.
I think that that’s something we can all do because almost all of us have kids. And those that don’t, have grandkids or no kids, the schools are just a number one thing to pay attention to.
Mr. Jekielek: Roger, something that’s been commented on in various social media, at least I’ve seen recently, is this idea of this, I guess you could call it, cognitive dissonance that’s happening. So for example, you have a reporter from a mainstream media out there. There’s a building burning behind them and the chyron says, “mostly peaceful protests” or something like that. And it just doesn’t make any sense, but somehow, it’s making sense enough for this juxtaposition to be created.
Mr. Simon: I was laughing because that’s really kind of one of the purest manifestations of moral narcissism you can get. I know the clip you’re referring to has been shown a lot. The fire is going on, and the guy says, “Nothing’s happening here,” right? You expect him to get hit by a grenade at any second.
But I think one of the good things is that a lot of the public is paying attention to this, and they get it. The popularity of the media is very low for a good reason. I mean, this stuff is everywhere. The media is filled with almost uniformly moral narcissists, present company excepted, of course. However, uniformly, it is. And so that gives you [a sense].
And that guy was so extreme. I forget what the name of the reporter was. It doesn’t matter. He’s so extreme, he’s like a poster boy for moral narcissism because his ideas are the right ideas, even if a bomb goes off. He reminds me, back in the ’90s, there was a cartoon in the LA Weekly of a Hollywood, very hard-driven, female movie executive with the phone on her ear, done in a Lichtenstein pointillist style. And her dialogue is, “Nuclear war? There goes my career.” But that guy was so—I think he must regret because it’s been played so many times, that particular clip.
Mr. Jekielek: Roger, I want to quote something I read in the book that I thought was very prescient, and so I’ll read this and you tell me what you were thinking or expound on this for me, if you don’t mind.
Mr. Simon: Five years back, okay.
Mr. Jekielek: You wrote, “When the public starts to rebel against elites, the focus almost always shifts to a new crisis, providing a deliberate distraction and preserving the ruling class. The role of moral narcissism in manufacturing these crises is crucial.” How does that work? What are you saying here? Because I think we’re seeing some of what you wrote here. How does moral narcissism fit in?
Mr. Simon: Moral narcissism, as we’ve already discussed, are certain sets of ideas that are received by the nomenklatura as the right stuff at the right moment. So what that means is you can come up with something new every time there’s trouble. The trouble might be an extreme example that the moral narcissists were wrong and what they were saying was the right thing creates violence in the streets of Kenosha, right. So then, it becomes the right thing to say, as Biden did, that this is a bad thing.
Moral narcissism sets up a moving target because moral narcissism isn’t about real morality. It’s really a form of narcissism. If you’re looking for real morality, go to the Ten Commandments. That’s morality. This is pseudo-morality that they can change at any moment for convenience, and for changing times because it’s a power trip and it’s a way of maintaining control and creating what I call the American nomenklatura, being part of the in-crowd, is what we used to call it when we were back in high school.
Mr. Jekielek: So how does the issue of power fit into this exactly?
Mr. Simon: Well, if you go to a nomenklatura, that’s all about power. Of course, there was a Comrade Stalin sitting at the top. In our culture, we haven’t quite had that. We’re still democratic, but the power is the power of the elite group that goes on and on. And there’s a great relationship [to the deep state].
Interestingly, when I wrote the book, all the talk about the deep state wasn’t as prevalent as it has been the last two to three years. But the deep state exists as a moral narcissist entity, essentially. Moral narcissism works to preserve the deep state. So it can change its opinion because its real interest, its basic interest, is the maintenance of power. And, obviously, the interest of the thing is the maintenance of power. They don’t really care about their policies. They care about their positions.
Mr. Jekielek: When you say deep state, you’re talking about the unelected officials that are in the government?
Mr. Simon: Yes, I’m talking about the government bureaucracy, of course. Their work is commonly called the deep state in a lot of the parlance these days. But it expands from that. If there’s an American nomenklatura, it’s very widespread, just as the Russian one must have been because people [are] doing a million things from the military to building dams to owning restaurants. A society is composed of a million things. So in this sense, the deep state, I brought it up because it suddenly occurred to me, being on your show right now. I hadn’t thought about it because people weren’t talking about the deep state when I wrote this book.
Mr. Jekielek: I see.
Mr. Simon: And now they are all the time. And yes, obviously the deep state is just another word for the entrenched government bureaucracy that, like most bureaucracies, self-preservation is their number one interest.
Mr. Jekielek: So, this is really interesting. It actually makes me think of your chapter on the media. You describe a few scenarios. One is this Rolling Stone article about a specific campus rape situation that got walked back. And I thought you had some very interesting observations about how that was responded to. I’m wondering if you could expound on that a little bit.
Mr. Simon: Actually, the funny part about Rolling Stone is I used to write for them, way back. But the moral narcissism of this is that they give themselves permission to write about things as they’re supposed to be in their morally narcissistic view. The view of the Rolling Stone reporter was that men are sexist dogs on campus, right? Investigating the truth of the situation was not necessary because the view was correct.
Now, the walking back of it—as I remember having written about it—is done by people who have that kind of view. They’re trying to walk back slowly and cover for themselves, right. When they cover for themselves, they’re primarily trying not to disrupt their psyches. I see that pervasively in our politics too.
People, when they walk back on something, as a human instinct—I do it too, a little bit—when you say you’re wrong, you don’t want to say you’re that wrong because then you’re going to have to really examine yourself. Is it, “Oh, we just made an error” [or is it deeper?] The Rolling Stone view in that instance was, “Oh, we made an error in this instance, but by the way, our heart was in the right place.” They don’t want to disrupt that vision of campuses being havens for male rapists.
Mr. Jekielek: Right. What was really interesting in that description that you had was talking about how I think the Columbia Journalism Review looked at this and The Washington Post looked at this and found this was false, simply. And eventually, they had to retract the story. But then there were others, I think it was in the New Republic, there were other journalists which were basically saying, “Well, the narrative was true,” essentially.
Mr. Simon: Exactly.
Mr. Jekielek: Right?
Mr. Simon: Yes. Well, that is spot-on to what moral narcissism is. Moral narcissism is that the narrative is more important than what was true, or the narrative is more important than what happened out of this idea. Both of them are like corollaries. And that’s exactly what happened in the case of, yes, in the New Republic. I remember now because I had forgotten that. They made an apologia, essentially, because they didn’t want to disrupt their narrative is what people call it.
The facts are not important. The narrative is important. … And the narrative can change because it’s the moral narcissism and the power that supports it. The narrative is at the surface of that. The narrative works for a certain amount of time. Then if something happens, then, “Whoops. Well, we didn’t really say that,” and then move on to something else.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, what struck me as really interesting about that whole scenario is that I was thinking about Russiagate, as it was called, which turned out to be highly unsubstantiated. It’s something we’ve been writing about, of course, a lot at The Epoch Times. But this idea that there was some kind of Trump campaign and later Trump presidency collusion with Russia, and multiple investigations found, of course, this wasn’t the case, as many of us know.
However, there was a lot of reporting done by numerous high-profile media, including The Washington Post in this case, who haven’t walked back their reporting to this day. I thought it was interesting. The Washington Post did this reporting. They found that this counter-narrative reality was in fact true. They reported on that.
Today, with something like Russiagate being false and a whole other scandal like we would call it, Spygate, being true, so to speak, there isn’t any walking back. In fact, I think The New York Times won a Pulitzer for their work around this so-called Russiagate. And frankly, to that point, Walter Duranty won a Pulitzer for The New York Times back in the ’30s, didn’t he?
Mr. Simon: Yup, and it’s still on the wall of The New York Times. They have a wall of their Pulitzer winners. And at some point, they wanted to pull it down because the Ukrainians were up in arms. But Sulzberger blocked it. I mean, the editor at the time said, “Fine, it was bad reporting. Take it down.” But they didn’t do it.
Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating. Roger, one of the things I find particularly disturbing about the culture in America and even in the West in general is this idea—I keep hearing it, it keeps coming up, and there’s a lot of criticism around it, of course—this idea that somehow Western society is fundamentally bad. You describe it as an original sin in the book. There’s some kind of original sin that Western society is responsible for. And therefore [it] can claim no moral high ground against anybody else, even dictators and so forth. I wonder if you could speak to that, again through this lens of moral narcissism that you use.
Mr. Simon: Well, I think we see this going on now everywhere because the domestic terrorism and rioting that’s going on is essentially a tearing down of Western culture. They’ve taken Edward Said’s ideas—well, although I would wager maybe [no] more than 500 of them have heard of Edward Said—but those ideas are not complicated. They’re just, “the West is evil.”
And of course, that’s a different form of moral narcissism of a certain kind. They are different from the moral narcissists of our media and so forth, who don’t really want to destroy Western culture. They just want to run it. These people do want to destroy Western culture.
I keep always thinking about my trip to China in 1979, just after the Cultural Revolution because what we’re on the brink of in our society is a cultural revolution of the Chinese type. We haven’t gone over into it quite yet, people are not quite yet asked to wear dunce caps, but they’re close.
That’s a locked-in belief system that’s a moral narcissism which has already flipped over into a totalitarian belief system. These people are essentially totalitarian. That’s all they are. Antifa and, I regret to say, Black Lives Matter in its leadership and what they’re saying are all totalitarian. They don’t want to have any kind of discussion of anything.
So, in morally narcissistic terms, they’re the extreme of it because that’s where it goes if it succeeds to the nth degree. The common moral narcissism of our society just allows Hollywood stars to be rapacious in their real lives while parading their great virtue in public. That’s relatively harmless, I guess, although not attractive, but this could be much worse.
Mr. Jekielek: I’m going to run this clip, actually, that I was again thinking about. I recently saw [it], and while I was reading your book, I was thinking about it. It’s this clip where a young woman at a restaurant in DC is kind of surrounded by a mob that’s demanding she raise her fist. She doesn’t want to do it. A Washington Post reporter is reporting on this and notes that she kind of supports the movement of Black Lives Matter, but she feels like she’s being forced to do this somehow, and she doesn’t feel it’s appropriate. How is this movement totalitarian, and what do scenes like this tell us about it?
Mr. Simon: Well, roll back to just what I said two minutes ago about the Cultural Revolution. This is a straight out Cultural Revolution ploy. Being silent is like wearing a dunce cap. This woman’s got a dunce cap on, whatever she believes, and I don’t know what she believes.
But an adult would have a complicated view of Black Lives Matter, the complicated view being, yes, there are police that need reform. On the other hand, this may not be the way to get it. And then the real intentions of the leadership may not be police reform at all. It may be changing society in a way that’s unrecognizable. So, it’s a complicated thing going on, but this is straight out of totalitarianism. This is, “You get no vote, lady.” This is like Stalin wins 95 to 1.
Mr. Jekielek: Based on what you know and what you’ve learned, Roger, what do you expect will happen with the violent protesting, let’s say, that’s out there right now?
Mr. Simon: You’re asking me to be Nostradamus and I have to tell you that I did a little research on Nostradamus once and he was no Nostradamus. He made many, many, many errors, but somehow we think of him as this person who always got it right. But I think we’re in for a rocky time no matter who wins the election or what, because these people who are leading these demonstrations are not going to be satisfied.
They’re certainly not going to be satisfied by a Republican victory but they’re not historically going to be satisfied by a Democratic Party victory either. It’s not what they have in mind. I think back, I was there at that time, an actual friend of Abbie Hoffman, in the days of the [1968 DNC] Chicago Convention, and remember, that was a Democratic convention.
The Chicago Convention was lightweight compared to these people because it was not as violent as this. It really wasn’t. It didn’t go on for anywhere near the amount of time, and it was just localized in Chicago, basically. I mean, there were other places, but basically, that was it. But this is all over the United States, and how many cities, at least a dozen and maybe more.
So this is serious stuff. I’m sorry to say it. I think it’s really sad, and the fact that there are, I will add, so many teachers that have been uncovered as members of Antifa, it’s one of the most depressing thoughts of all because those are the people who in their day jobs, they’re teaching our kids. Think about that one, what they’re saying in the classroom.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, I am noticing that the idea that there are violent protests in the streets is actually getting some broader media coverage now and that it’s being condemned more broadly after many, many, many days or months, actually. Another thing, just to quickly comment on, and this kind of strikes me as bizarre, but maybe you can offer your thoughts. On the one hand, I think on the same day that I saw a letter from I believe it’s Ted Wheeler? The mayor of Portland, his name’s Ted Wheeler. Is that right?
Mr. Simon: Yes, I saw that letter too. I think it was on Twitter.
Mr. Jekielek: Yes. On the same day that the mayor of Portland, Ted Wheeler, basically refused federal assistance in helping deal with these violent protests in Portland which have been going on for a very long time, on the same day, the protesters are actually besieging his home, if I’m not mistaken. So it’s odd, or it’s just maybe not even what you would expect, or maybe it is what you would expect. What are your thoughts?
Mr. Simon: Well, to be mean, I think that mayor might be a more extreme moral narcissist than even the mayor of Seattle or the mayor of Chicago, both of whom sort of reacted when their homes were under attack. It’s interesting that they’re always attacking these mayors after the mayors pussyfoot around for like, a month, or in the case of Portland, maybe two and a half months. And then suddenly, they go after [them].
But this guy, to me, it’s unexplainable. I have to say. When I saw that letter, I thought, “This is beyond the beyond.” If I were a citizen of Portland, I would be so outraged. Or I’d do the other thing, I’d be moving. [That’s what] I think the situation now is. I have many friends in New York and LA because I spent most of my life in both cities, and a lot of people are talking about, “How do we get out?” So tragic. It’s so sad. Those are great places. They’ve offered more than maybe any cities in the world and now the mismanagement is destroying them.
Mr. Jekielek: Roger, I really want to recommend the book to everyone. Again, it’s “I Know Best: How Moral Narcissism Is Destroying Our Republic.” Do you have any final thoughts before we finish up?
Mr. Simon: No, except that I don’t mean to be so gloomy because in personality, I’m not a gloomy person, I don’t think, and I’m an optimist at heart. And I think that we should all know about what’s going on, fear what’s going on, attack what’s going on, but be optimistic and be American because this country is a fantastic place. And we have to all fight to preserve it. We really do.
Mr. Jekielek: Roger, it’s been such a pleasure to have you on, and I really look forward to seeing your column this coming week.
Mr. Simon: I have to say, I really had a ball writing them, so thanks to you guys for publishing them.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, wonderful to have you on.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.