I didn’t like the dog’s life of the Diaspora. We were a whipped and boneless people. What good were these brains—doctor brains, lawyer brains, accountant brains—without the muscle to protect them?
-Jeffrey Goldberg, Prisoners (2006)
In 1921, a 17-year-old Jewish boy named Eli left the village of Słopnice in Poland and traveled across the Atlantic to Brooklyn, where he settled in Flatbush, found work as a paint salesman, and married a daughter of Jewish immigrants. Between the births of their first and second sons, the Nazis invaded Poland and began systematically slaughtering the entire Jewish population of Słopnice, including Eli’s half-brother.
Eli’s children were spared this horror. Instead they grew up safely, in modest circumstances, and with ample opportunity for advancement after the war. But as the younger son, a self-proclaimed socialist, would later recall during a presidential primary debate:
Look, my father's family was wiped out by Hitler in the Holocaust. I know about what crazy and radical and extremist politics mean. I learned that lesson as a tiny, tiny child when my mother would take me shopping, and we would see people working in stores who had numbers on their arms because they were in Hitler's concentration camps. I am very proud of being Jewish, and that is an essential part of who I am as a human being.
Bernie Sanders had good reason to be defensive, because the previous year, a writer named Kevin D. Williamson had written the following about him in the National Review:
In the Bernieverse, there’s a whole lot of nationalism mixed up in the socialism. He is, in fact, leading a national-socialist movement, which is a queasy and uncomfortable thing to write about a man who is the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland and whose family was murdered in the Holocaust. But there is no other way to characterize his views and his politics.
No other way! But while Williamson’s phrasing was singularly offensive, he wasn’t the only writer to make nasty insinuations about Sanders’ background. On February 12, 2016, just weeks before Anderson Cooper asked Sanders about his Jewish heritage on CNN, the journalist Jeffrey Goldberg passive-aggressively tweeted, “Answer to various e-mails I’ve gotten: I don’t know why Sanders never mentions the fact that he would be the first Jewish president.” Then during the debate itself, Goldberg added, “Small programming note: The Holocaust should not define Jewishness. That is all.”
A few weeks later, Goldberg tweeted out an “important essay” by the writer Jamie Kirchick, in which the latter scolded Sanders for being insufficiently proud of his heritage. “[U]nlike Joe Lieberman, who was the first Jew to appear on a major party ticket in 2000, Jewishness—religious, cultural, political—is not something that Sanders likes to discuss,” wrote Kirchick, adding, “More often than not, it has been a source of awkward embarrassment, which he often tries to avoid by identifying himself as ‘Polish.’”
A month before the 2016 presidential election, Goldberg was promoted to editor in chief of The Atlantic. In March of this year, he hired Williamson. Given Williamson’s extensive history of racist, sexist, transphobic, and generally trolling comments, this prompted immediate outrage, forcing Goldberg to justify his hire in a staff memo in which he stated, “I have probably read a few hundred thousand of his words [...] I recognized the power, contrariness, wit, and smart construction of many of his pieces.” Shortly thereafter, Goldberg caved and fired Williamson after it was revealed that the latter had not only tweeted, but also been recorded endorsing the hanging of women who have had abortions.
This isn’t an essay about Bernie Sanders, but there’s a reason I led with him. Sanders is unmistakably a Jew, and every part of his persona and his life story testifies to that fact. For many of my cohort—the emerging Jewish left—Sanders’ Jewishness isn’t incidental, but a source of quiet pride. In n+1, Ari M. Brostoff has characterized a photo of Sanders from his student activist days as reflecting an archetype of mid-century Jewish male sex appeal, his hair a “Dylanesque mop”; in the Village Voice, Jesse Myerson called him “a Jew of a different era—the kind of Jew that Zionists would very much like us to forget.” For me, the fact that Sanders’ name adorns a wall of accomplished James Madison High School alums alongside Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Judge Judy, and my grandma is symbolic of his, and my, deeply Jewish identity.
More than any other mainstream journalist, Jeffrey Goldberg has repeatedly taken it upon himself to speak for the Jewish people. A 2009 article in the New York Review of Books described Goldberg as “the most influential journalist/blogger on matters related to Israel.” The journalist Mark Leibovich, in his astute 2013 chronicle of the Beltway elite, This Town, called Goldberg “a friend, a mensch, and something of a mayoral figure among Washington-area tribesmen. If in fifty years, for some reason, Jews decide to build their own airport in Bethesda, it will be named for Jeffrey Goldberg.”
Williamson labeling Bernie Sanders a Nazi is just one of his many reprehensible statements that apparently escaped Goldberg’s notice. But the oversight makes a kind of sense. For some members of the tribe, Sanders’ commitment to social justice, his family’s experience with the Holocaust, his distinctive old-Brooklyn accent, his childhood memories of stickball and Ebbets Field, and even his visits to a kibbutz are all insufficient proofs of Jewishness. Why doesn’t he belong to a synagogue? Why did he marry a Catholic? Why is he so critical of the mainstream consensus on Israel? Why isn’t he a Jew the way Goldberg wants him to be a Jew?
While Williamson has hopefully exhausted his fifteen minutes of fame, Goldberg continues to edit one of the most important magazines in the country, and is a fixture of its star-studded annual Aspen Ideas Festival. As such, he is easily one of the most powerful arbiters of elite opinion, and representative of the establishment that has led the country to the brink of ruin.
In a 2013 profile in Washingtonian, Paul Starobin described a long list of prominent Jews in Washington as friends of Jeffrey Goldberg. These included David Rothkopf, then-CEO and editor of Foreign Policy; Michael Oren, Israel’s then-ambassador to the U.S.; David Gregory, then-host of Meet the Press; Franklin Foer, then-editor of The New Republic; New York Times columnist David Brooks; former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk; and then-Atlantic Editor in Chief James Bennet (not to mention New York-based New Yorker Editor in Chief David Remnick). I myself recently spotted Goldberg at an event at the legendary DC bookstore Politics and Prose, where he was accompanied by yet another friend, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan. If you’re a Jew who matters inside the Beltway, there’s a decent chance you hang out with Goldberg.
As his many famous friends and stewardship of The Atlantic attest, Goldberg really is an informal leader of a highly influential cohort, and he really does speak for its values. In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed following his firing, Williamson recounted pointing out to Goldberg that the late Christopher Hitchens, a frequent Atlantic contributor, “routinely and gleefully gave occasion for offense—and he was one of the invaluable essayists of our time.” “Yes,” Goldberg replied, “But Hitchens was in the family. You are not.” Goldberg knows and frankly admits that there’s a family. What he has a harder time admitting is that he has more power than almost anyone to determine who belongs to it.
He gets to decide, for instance, that Peter Beinart (J Street-aligned liberal Zionists) and David Frum (respectable #NeverTrump neoconservatives) should represent the poles of acceptable Jewish discourse. Meanwhile, the emerging generation of American Jews who supported Sanders, and who in many cases feel totally alienated from Zionism, are shut out. Goldberg’s project is to define the center, both for politics in general and for Jews specifically. And as that center buckles and shifts leftward, it’s worth reevaluating the macher who for so long has set the terms of debate.
The story of Jeffrey Goldberg is one of hypermasculinity, nationalism, and careerism, a steady ascension facilitated by the right friendships and the right positions at the right times. Along the way he has drawn many harsh critics, none of whom have successfully held him back. But his disproportionate influence on the conversation and his vigorous policing of Jewish communal politics merit a closer look.
Goldberg was born in Brooklyn in 1965 and raised by lefty Jewish parents in a mostly Catholic neighborhood on Long Island, which he once described as “a wasteland of Irish pogromists.” After enduring antisemitic bullying as a suburban child, he fell in love with Israel on his first visit at age 13. “For me,” he wrote in his 2006 memoir Prisoners, “the wonder was modern Israel, the greatest wonders being Jews with guns, and not just .22s, but Uzis and M-16s and bigger guns than these, grenade-spitting guns, great barking machine guns.” At 20, he dropped out of Penn and made aliyah. As an Israel Defense Force volunteer during the First Intifada, he worked as a guard (or “prisoner counselor,” as he later insisted) at the overcrowded Ketziot prison camp, which was condemned by human rights groups at the time for violating the Geneva Conventions. There, he witnessed a fellow guard beating a Palestinian prisoner for talking back. In Goldberg’s account, he tried to stop his friend but then helped cover the incident up (“‘He fell,’ I lied”).
Ultimately, Goldberg wound up pursuing journalism back in the U.S., shuttling up and down the Acela corridor before settling in Northwest Washington, DC. He wrote or edited for the Washington Post, the Forward, Slate, and the New York Times Magazine, and by 2000 had arrived at The New Yorker, his last stop before The Atlantic. Goldberg started out as a police reporter but achieved greater renown as a national security correspondent, with dispatches from Gaza, Cairo, and Iraqi Kurdistan in the months before and after 9/11. This period is crucial to understanding Goldberg’s influence—he had already become one of the most widely read reporters on the Middle East at precisely the moment when the Washington establishment became single-mindedly focused on terrorist and extremist threats from the region. This gave him an outsized role in shaping liberal elite discourse, with outsized consequences.
If there is any justice, Goldberg’s career will be remembered primarily for a long, award-winning reported piece from Iraq that ran in The New Yorker in March 2002, at the height of the post-9/11 jingoistic fervor, which informed that magazine’s readership that Saddam Hussein had both an active WMD program and ties to Al-Qaeda. Goldberg endorsed George W. Bush’s catastrophic war of choice in an article for Slate later that year, in which he wrote, “I believe that the coming invasion of Iraq will be remembered as an act of profound morality.” He was hardly the only high-profile journalist to help launder what turned out to be false intelligence into the mainstream media, but whereas Judith Miller was pushed out by the New York Times in 2005 and has since become persona non grata in liberal elite circles, Goldberg’s status and influence have only grown. In this, he is representative of a whole cohort of centrist pundits—including The Atlantic’s Frum and Beinart, New York’s Jonathan Chait, The Washington Post’s Max Boot, and dozens of others—for whom hyping the Iraq War was a successful long-term career move.
Goldberg was initially lured from The New Yorker to The Atlantic by its then-owner David Bradley, who in 2007 brought ponies to Goldberg’s front lawn to entertain his children as part of his charm offensive. Goldberg interviewed Barack Obama four times over the course of his administration (and once before), as well as Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Fidel Castro, Benjamin Netanyahu, Henry Kissinger, Jordan’s King Abdullah, his own colleague and friend Ta-Nehisi Coates, and many other big names. Obama even spoke at Goldberg’s synagogue (Adas Israel, a Conservative congregation in Northwest DC attended by many notables mentioned in this article) the day after Goldberg interviewed him in 2015. From the bimah, he thanked Goldberg for once describing him as “the first Jewish president.”
Goldberg ascended to the top of the Atlantic masthead in October 2016, replacing James Bennet, who moved to the New York Times and began what has so far been an extremely rocky tenure running their opinion pages. For his part, Goldberg has overseen a surge in traffic and new subscriptions, driven at least in part by investments made by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs, who purchased a majority stake in the magazine in July 2017.
All told, Goldberg has had a wildly successful career. The odd human rights violation, pointless imperial war, or botched hire notwithstanding, no one can deny that he has done well for himself, and it seems likely he’ll be shaping the national conversation for years to come. But in the Jewish world, Goldberg wields perhaps even more influence than outside of it, and by patrolling its borders he defines a narrow center of opinion antithetical to dissent.
For most American Jews, this is an unhappy time. The majority of us, who are left of center, see the Trump Administration’s embrace of the emerging alt-right as a presidential endorsement of, among many other bigotries, old-fashioned antisemitism. Meanwhile, in dark irony, a conservative minority of us has accepted a faustian bargain with Trump’s white supremacist base in order to support the right-wing coalition in Israel. For anyone hoping for a just and humane outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, circumstances have never looked worse.
Jeffrey Goldberg is not a neoconservative, a Likudnik, or a Trump supporter, and while he did help Netanyahu hype a military strike on Iran in 2010, he also helped Obama sell the Iran nuclear deal in 2016. Goldberg is not part of the ascendant right. Rather, he is perhaps the single most representative figure of the liberal Zionist establishment in all of media, voicing the anxieties of a rapidly collapsing order. And with at least the passive approval of an elite network, Goldberg has spent years passing harsh, biblical judgment on both Jews and gentiles who dare to weigh in on issues related to Israel, from authors to organizations to U.S. presidents.
In 2007, Goldberg reviewed The Israel Lobby, a controversial book by the realist international relations scholars Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, for The New Republic. The book, while flawed, played a significant role in advancing into the mainstream the argument that lobbying groups such as AIPAC have a stranglehold on the national political debate over Israel. For this, it provoked widespread condemnation, though Goldberg’s piece in particular stands out. It took him over 1,000 words of his 7,000-word review to even mention the book or its authors, because first he needed to discuss Osama bin Laden, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Father Coughlin, Charles Lindbergh, Pat Buchanan, Louis Farrakhan, and David Duke. Having established that antisemitic pantheon, he then inducted Walt and Mearsheimer into it, declaring, “It is an odious tradition, and I do not see how any thoughtful or decent individual would wish to belong to it.” This was an epically sleazy hit job, commissioned by the since-disgraced Leon Wieseltier, who back then rivaled Goldberg for influence over a certain stratum of the liberal Zionist intelligentsia. But it fit in perfectly with Goldberg’s longstanding project to deny the very obvious influence of pro-Israel advocates over U.S. politics.
In May 2008, Goldberg first interviewed Barack Obama for The Atlantic. At the time, Obama’s past connections to figures like Rashid Khalidi, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and Bill Ayers, along with his partially Muslim ancestry, had engendered suspicion among certain parts of the Jewish community. Goldberg offered himself as an arbiter of whether the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee passed muster with the Jews, “particularly,” he wrote, “those in such places as–-to pull an example from the air–-Palm Beach County, Florida, whose Jewish residents tend to appreciate robust American support for Israel, and worry about whether presidential candidates feel the importance of Israel in their kishkes, or guts.”
His test of loyalty was quite explicit: “Go to the kishke question, the gut question: the idea that if Jews know that you love them, then you can say whatever you want about Israel, but if we don’t know you—Jim Baker, Zbigniew Brzezinski—then everything is suspect,” Goldberg explained to the future president, before launching into a series of questions designed to determine whether Obama adequately loved Israel. Obama successfully pandered to Goldberg, who noted, “speaking in a kind of code Jews readily understand, Obama also made sure to mention that he was fond of the writer Leon Uris, the author of [the 1958 Zionist pulp bestseller] Exodus.”
Two days after Obama won the presidency, Goldberg wrote warmly of the selection of his friend Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff, praising his “deep Israel credentials.” Obama took office just two months before Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to the prime ministership of Israel, which he has held since. Goldberg, like Obama, recognized the existential threat Netanyahu’s agenda of settlement expansion posed to a two-state solution, while at the same time insisting on support for Israel as a bedrock principle. But whereas Obama appropriately stayed out of internecine Jewish debates, Goldberg continued to hold Israel’s critics, perhaps especially its Jewish critics, in vocal contempt.
In 2009, Goldberg referred to “the rather circumscribed universe of anti-Zionists-with-Jewish parents”, neatly ostracizing Jews he disagrees with from the tribe. The following year, Goldberg blogged about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement: “Because I'm running a campaign on this blog against the cheap deployment of Nazi imagery in argument-making, I am going to resist the urge to point out that the European-centered campaign to launch an economic boycott of the world's only majority-Jewish country smacks of something historically unpleasant, except now I didn't resist the urge.” But, he added, “I do actually think it's a fair analogy, and the BDS movement, like no other anti-Israel propaganda campaign, has sent chills down the collective Jewish spine precisely because economic boycotts have been, throughout history, used to hurt Jews.”
In 2011, writing in his widely read blog for The Atlantic, Goldberg generously allowed that J Street, the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” liberal Zionist lobbying group, belonged within the tent. As if to compensate for this concession, he also wrote:
Let me be clear about something: There are many things about J Street I dislike. I think some of its members actually don't like Israel very much, and especially don't like the idea of Israel. I think many J Street supporters are cringing Diaspora Jews who are embarrassed by displays of Jewish muscularity, those displays of muscularity that are warranted as well as those displays that are unwarranted.
Also in 2011, he devoted not one, not two, but three blog posts at The Atlantic, the last including a long solicited comment from the influential Brooklyn Rabbi Andy Bachman, to attacking the Jewish writer Allison Benedikt (then a film critic for the Village Voice, now the executive editor of Slate) for writing a personal essay in The Awl about her disenchantment with Zionism. He condescendingly compared her to the wicked son in the Passover seder, and described her nuanced account of her struggle to reconcile Israel with her progressive values as “a very sad little essay that says more about the writer, who seems to have exchanged one simplistic narrative for another, than it does about Zionism or Israel.”
Later that year he wrote very warmly about then-Congressman Ron Paul, a gentile with extensive ties to neo-Confederate and white nationalist groups (and who recently retweeted an anti-Semitic cartoon), declaring him “a true Zionist, a believer in two core values of the Jewish liberation movement: Jewish independence and Jewish self-reliance.” For Goldberg and the tribe he leads, a reactionary gentile who unapologetically supports Israel is preferable to a progressive Jew who expresses hesitation, discomfort, or outrage.
Indeed, palpable distaste for Diaspora Jewry features frequently in Goldberg’s writing. Goldberg has spent most of his adult life in affluent Northwest DC, so it would be absurd for him to directly question the legitimacy of American Jews, but he has had no such reservations about European Jews, and especially the largest such community, the Jews of France. In 2015, he wrote a long reported essay in The Atlantic entitled, “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?”, accompanied by a 20-minute video conversation with Leon Wieseltier and James Bennet, in which he concluded, “I am predisposed to believe that there is no great future for the Jews in Europe, because evidence to support this belief is accumulating so quickly.”
Goldberg connected his concern for the survival of European Jewry to the increase in Europe’s Muslim population, writing, “Violence against Jews in Western Europe today, according to those who track it, appears to come mainly from Muslims, who in France, the epicenter of Europe’s Jewish crisis, outnumber Jews 10 to 1.” He scoffed at European Jews who downplayed the scope of the problem, describing them as “sad” and “debasing.” While acknowledging that not all French Jews appreciated it, he cited the Netanyahu government’s efforts to encourage emigration to Israel following terror attacks in Paris, and similar efforts following attacks in Copenhagen. The question of whether Israel itself is safe for the Jews was only briefly addressed, and the potential impact of a million new emigres from Europe on the Palestinian population was not discussed at all.
It is true that this is a grim moment for Diaspora Jews. But it’s just as grim, and maybe more so, for the Jews in Israel. So it’s no wonder that many of us would prefer to live peaceful lives in the countries we were born in, rather than being recruited into Israel’s unapologetic alliance with autocrats and extreme right-wingers worldwide.
More than ever, Jeffrey Goldberg’s gatekeeping of opinion on Israel and world Jewry is in crisis. The cataclysm of hegemonic liberal values represented by both Trump and the renewed left comes at the expense of centrists like Goldberg. Goldberg represents what, at least until recently, was an influential set of attitudes among mainstream Jewish liberals. But his approach seems exhausted, unable to respond to the scale of the disaster Jewish liberals now confront, from the ultra-orthodox, pro-settlement coalition firmly in charge of Israel to White House-approved antisemitism in the U.S. Obsessively shutting down, belittling, and discouraging genuine progressive voices has not helped contain the far-right, but instead allowed it to grow until it threatens core liberal values. Goldberg undoubtedly sees the threat, but like the rest of the liberal establishment, he has no idea how to counter it. Instead, he’s spent years squashing those on the left who might have some answers.
The Atlantic matters. With the arguable exception of The New Yorker, no American magazine plays a larger role in shaping the values, tastes, and talking points of educated liberals and centrists. Some of the most powerful people on Earth read it and take their cues from it on everything from politics to war to the most contentious cultural issues. The tone it sets— superficially curious and open-minded about big ideas, yet forever bound within a narrow establishment consensus averse to channeling any kind of populist anger—is the prevailing tone of contemporary mainstream liberalism.
When Barack Obama wants to understand conservatives, he turns to The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf (who, Goldberg recently told his staff, “should be a model for everyone”). Should any upper-middle class magazine readers question whether billionaires have too much power, The Atlantic is there to ensure they feel guilty about their own comfortable lives instead. When parents want their skepticism of their child’s professed gender identity validated, The Atlantic obliges with a cover story. For anyone who thinks #MeToo has gone too far, Caitlin Flanagan is on hand to confirm that it has. And when New York Times editor Bari Weiss wants to interview bestselling crank Jordan Peterson, the Atlantic-adjacent Aspen Ideas Festival provides a platform so Atlantic staffers can blog about it.
Where has this Atlantic-style liberalism, personified by Goldberg, led us? As Americans, it left us blindsided by Trump and the unchecked power of the far-right GOP over the entire federal government, not to mention a sprawling military empire whose growth The Atlantic has encouraged and justified. As Jews, it has bound us to a reactionary ethnostate that has abandoned any pretense of peace, of democracy, and even of serving as a homeland for Jews who aren’t comfortable with its current political drift. As young people, it has offered little in the way of fresh ideas.
All cards on the table: I grew up Jewish in the DC area, not far from where Goldberg now lives. While he and I know quite a few people in common, we’ve never met or corresponded beyond a few minor Twitter exchanges, and he’s never wronged me in any way. By most accounts he’s a funny, likable guy in person. It’s true he served in the IDF, but so have lots of people, and it’s true his reporting helped pave the way for the Iraq War, but ultimately the Bush Administration has to answer for that. He’s not the most conservative major Jewish writer by a long shot, and I’ll even cop to enjoying some of his work.
But to whatever extent my own Jewish identity has been stunted, I blame Jews like Goldberg. Of course I don’t blame him personally or exclusively, but he’s representative of, and has worked hard to reinforce, a set of attitudes that have made institutional Judaism and Jewish communal identity seem unattractive or unattainable. I’m certain I’m not alone in feeling this way. Membership in non-Orthodox synagogues is in steady decline, as is American Jews’ attachment to Israel, especially among millennials. Jewishness as defined by Goldberg is not our community’s future; it isn’t even our present.
Goldberg embodies the worst contradictions of American Zionism: on the one hand, the phony machismo, the insistence that Israel is the bedrock of a meaningful Jewish identity, and the morally bankrupt defense of Israel’s routine violence against its Arab subjects; and on the other hand, the smug, comfortable, coddled daily existence of the Beltway elite, a world I know very well. Jews like Goldberg get to have it both ways: they stand with Israel in every respect except the one that actually matters, their chosen country of residence. For this type, Zionism is at least in part a way of bullying and asserting their superiority over their fellow Diaspora Jews.
Goldberg’s vision of Diaspora Jewry, as expressed in the epigraph to this essay, draws on tropes that are virtually indistinguishable from antisemitism. As the cartoonist and Jewish Currents contributor Eli Valley explains:
Zionists embarked on reversing what they diagnosed as endemic Jewish “degeneration” brought about by the dysfunction of Diaspora. That was the starting point for state-building: eliminating what they considered the emasculated and withered image of the Jew and returning to a prelapsarian idyll in which all Jews were either Moses or Maccabees [...] What isn’t said enough is that maybe the architects of Jewish rebirth internalized more than they realized, perpetuating antisemitic perceptions and presumptions in a process they themselves might term “self-hatred.”
Living in Brooklyn, where Goldberg was born but not raised, and where my own lineage goes back over a century, has put me in touch with a strain of Jewish identity I only glancingly encountered in Washington: proudly left, proudly Jewish, proudly secular, and proudly diasporic. It’s taken me well into my thirties to grasp that there is a Jewishness to be located between the synagogue-attending, aggressively Zionist establishment that Goldberg presents to the most powerful people on Earth as definitive, and the superficial bagels-and-Seinfeld gloss on basic American whiteness that often seems like the only alternative. Jewishness can be righteous, confrontational, progressive, maybe even cool. It doesn’t have to be defined as a religion, a nationality, or a vaguely embarrassing set of quirks; it can be a way of asserting one’s humanity and moral fervor as America, Israel, and the world descend into a crude parody of fascism.
Jeffrey Goldberg may have his magazine, his gilded ideas conference, his comfortable DC bubble, and a rolodex that will guarantee him a seat on a C-130 should the apocalypse arrive earlier than expected. But he doesn’t have the next generation of American Jews, and in spite of his best efforts, he can’t tell us what to believe.