by Victor Davis Hanson
Donald Trump on occasion can talk recklessly. He is certainly trying to “fundamentally transform” the United States in exactly the opposite direction from which Barack Obama promised to do the same sort of massive recalibration. According to polls (such as they are), half the country fears Trump. The media despises him. Yet Trump poses no threat to the U.S. Constitution. Those who since 2016 have tried to destroy his candidacy and then his presidency most certainly do.
When, and if, we ever lose our freedoms, it will not likely be due to a boisterous Donald Trump, damning “fake news” at popular rallies, or even by being greeted with jarring “lock her up” chants—Trump, whom the popular culture loves to hate and whose every gesture and, indeed, every inch of his body, is now analyzed, critiqued, caricatured, and damned on the national news.
In general, free societies more often become unfree with a whimper, not a bang—and usually due to self-righteous pious movements that always claim the higher moral ground, and justify their extreme means by their self-sacrificing struggle for supposedly noble ends of social justice, equality, and fairness.
Media darlings, not media ogres, receive a veritable free pass to ignore constitutional norms. Champions of bipartisan consensus, “the people,” and the power of big government to do the “right” thing and advance social justice are the more dangerous to watch, not those championing the rights of the individual, and small and less intrusive government. Hillary Clinton, with a $1 billion war chest, a court media, and an array of highly paid pros, not the fly-by-night, improvised Trump campaign, was the expression of big media, big politics, big government, and big money eager to have one of their compliant own in the White House.
Philip II and his idea of Greek ecumenicalism, followed by his son Alexander and his “brotherhood of man,” ended the free Greek polis. The “healer” and consensus builder Augustus did away with the Roman Republic. Hitler claimed he was the good kind of socialist and only wished total power to redress the injustices of Versailles, and, besides, he was an environmentalist, vegetarian, non-smoker, animal lover, and opera buff to boot. Lenin promised an end to czarist oppression and asked only enough force to bring fairness for the little guy. Mao Zedong claimed he only wished to have the clout to end foreign contamination, landed oppression, and Mandarism and selflessly would do it all for the proverbial people. All of these revolutionaries believed in violating past norms of accepted lawful custom and practice to “save” the country.
Today’s most destructive totalitarians in Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, and Venezuela are adored by a toady press and are said to do their all for “the people.” Such revolutionaries do not oppose the power of the permanent administrative state, but seek to weaponize and collude with it.
The point is not that Trump is a saint, or that Obama, for example, a sinner. Rather, when the media become unctuous and complicit with those whom they are supposed to audit and cross-examine, then politicians and political movements—especially those voicing utopian bromides—grow ever more emboldened, empowered and occasionally quite dangerous. No mainstream media talking head has yet declared Trump a “God” or praised his pant creases. For all Trump’s bluster and ego, he has not reacted in kind promising, as some sort of deity, to reduce the planet’s temperature and lower its seas.
Try a thought experiment. What if Donald Trump tomorrow was caught ordering Attorney General Jeff Sessions to monitor the electronic footprints of Associated Press reporters, or to surveille CNN’s Jim Acosta and his grandparents?
What if Trump had just jailed a videomaker on trumped up charges of violating parole for making a left-wing internet video that he found an obstacle to his fabricated government version of a disaster overseas?
What exactly would the New York Times do if it were found out that George Soros and the Steyer brothers were being hounded by a right-wing version of Lois Lerner and a politicized ring at the IRS?
What would our media—92 percent negative in its current coverage of Trump—say if the Trump FBI, Justice Department, and CIA, were collectively actively working with the Trump 2020 campaign to monitor (as in the notion of “insurance”) rumors that a Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, or Elizabeth Warren was allegedly colluding with the Iranians, Chinese, or other foreign nationals to alter the upcoming election—or so they would allege?
Imagine a Trump-supporting Justice Department official meeting with a Trump-supporting FBI agent to craft strategies for how to spread a Trump-financed opposition-research smear dossier on Harris, with help of a Trump-supporting CIA head and Trump-supporting State Department. What exactly then would the New York Times or NBC News do—claim that Trump was only legitimately acting preemptively on “legitimate” worries that Harris was working with the Iranians or the Chinese to get an edge in the 2020 election?
Would the New York Times have printed the anti-Obama op-ed of a “resistance” member, who vowed that he/she and scores of others were actively at work inside the Obama White House, in apparent illegal fashion, to subvert Obama’s administration, on the rationale that he was dangerous both to the country and Democratic Party values? More likely, a Times editor would have turned over any such deep-state, self-confessed obstructionist of Obama to the FBI, and then boasted of the paper’s loyalty to the administration.
During Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, we saw just how fragile a 231-year-long American institution of due process actually was when it was seen as an obstacle to social justice, the anti-Trump forces, the #MeToo movement, and the general progressive agenda.
We recently came within a few hours of establishing a dangerous precedent that the hallowed U.S. Senate could destroy a nominee for high government service on hearsay reports of assault 36 years in his past, without requiring a shred of physical evidence, without a single witness, without one collaborating testimony, without a sole detail of where and when and how the alleged crime took place. Instead, a sympathetic media redefined right thinking and empathy as believability and, with it, credibility. The resulting fact-free “credibility,” of course, then equated to Kavanaugh’s guilt and the frenzied psychodramas to follow.
The Senate just about established a precedent that the motive of the accuser should not be questioned because it was a priori noble, at least if the ideology and sex of the accuser fit predetermined approved categories. In the most disturbing downturn of the entire Kavanaugh circus, the media and Senate Democrats lauded Christine Blasey Ford as courageous and brave for at first sending an anonymous letter with all sorts of unsubstantiated charges and quite misleading accusations—as if that act was any more ethical than at least coming forward to try to pursue her efforts to destroy Brett Kavanaugh.
In 2009, the blue wall was praised as the good ole Electoral College bulwark of Obama and his new Democrats against the forces of Republican illiberalism. We were lectured that Republicans had “lost” the Electoral College for good, when there was certainty that big electoral-vote states like California, Illinois, and New York were already forfeited before Election Day.
In 2009, the Senate’s Democratic supermajority was also a fine and noble thing, and came about because correct-thinking senators from tiny states, like Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reid of Rhode Island, were given the power to more than offset odious right-wing big-state Texas senators.
It was also considered a good thing that since 1869 law, custom, and precedent had settled on a nine-justice Supreme Court. The Earl Warren years proved that reality well enough, which had withstood the anger of indignant conservatives whining that the court was making rather than interpreting laws. Indeed, in the liberal mindset, even when a Republican president picked conservative jurists, if they were at least intelligent—a Justice Blackmun, Brennan, Kennedy, O’Connor, Souter, Stevens, Stewart—they would inevitably embrace the truth, drift leftward, and do the right thing.
Yet in a second, our sober and judicious politicos and elites, many of them with Ivy league law degrees and years of government service, are now dreaming of abolishing the Electoral College, to amend the Constitution to turn the Senate into something akin to the popular House of Representatives, and to pack the Supreme Court in the manner that a demagogic Franklin Roosevelt had sought but failed to do—and all because the institutions reflect current and always volatile political trends that are not especially pro-progressive in the present age.
The tactics of the grassroots mobs now are articulated and amplified by progressives in government and the media. Senator Cory Booker is now channeling Barack Obama, calling openly for progressive shock troops to get into the faces of his opponents.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) wants the mob to hunt down the anti-progressives in restaurants and gas stations. Hillary Clinton claims that her party can only be civil when back in power. Former Attorney General Eric Holder talks of metaphorically (?) kicking his opponents.
The concrete manifestation of such advocacy is something like downtown Portland where Antifa mobs storm intersections to hound drivers suspected of being counterrevolutionaries, or getting in the faces of Senators in elevators and on the way to work or scratching at the locked doors of the Supreme Court. Apparently, the rhetoricians of hate have assumed that James Hodkinson, the Bernie Sanders volunteer who shot down Rep. Steve Scalise, and tried to kill many more Republican representatives, had never existed. If any celebrity, has-been or not, had voiced the sort of violent hatred toward Obama that a Johnny Depp, Robert De Niro, Kathy Griffin, Madonna, Peter Fonda, or Snoop Dogg has expressed toward Trump, they would be on a FBI watchlist.
So as a general rule, beware of any political movement that is in rank collusion with the media, that talks seriously about altering the ancient Constitution to achieve current political advantage, that enlists as an ally, and thus weaponizes and warps, the permanent bureaucracy of government to ignore the law, if it just hounds the right people, that both contextualizes and in turn is empowered by mob tactics, and that assumes its superior moral agendas and sophisticated and enlightened thinking should justify any means necessary to achieve its ends—and thereby save humanity from its deplorable and irredeemable self.
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Victor Davis Hanson is an American military historian, columnist, former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He was a professor of classics at California State University, Fresno, and is currently the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush. Hanson is also a farmer (growing raisin grapes on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author most recently of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict was Fought and Won (Basic Books).