by Victor Davis Hanson
One of the strangest things about the series of psychodramas that surround the ongoing effort to remove President Trump before the 2020 election is progressive schizophrenia. In teenage fashion, one moment a player in the Trump removal intrigue is deemed by the media-progressive nexus a demigod. The next moment, he’s a devil. It depends solely on his perceived sense of utility.
Robert Mueller, Saint to Sinner
When Robert Mueller was appointed in May 2017 as special counsel to investigate alleged Trump campaign “collusion” with Russia following the firing of FBI Director James Comey, he was practically canonized as a secular saint. The media was giddy over his “all stars” and “dream team” of almost all liberal lawyers who shortly would prove the supposedly obvious: sure winner Hillary Clinton lost only because the vile Trump conspired with Vladimir Putin to sabotage her campaign by leaking John Podesta’s emails.
As the Mueller investigation lumbered along over the last 22 months, the media periodically announced that their newfound hero had inside information, privileged but unnamed sources, and high-ranking anonymous officials who confirmed “the noose was tightening,” the “walls were closing in,” and “a bombshell” was about to go off. It was as if pre-teenagers had group-talked themselves into seeing witches and goblins.
Mueller was just about to ensure Trump’s impeachment, indictment, or voluntary exile. More direct leaks apprised us that Mueller supposedly was sealing Trump’s fate by flipping the alleged sell-out Michael Flynn. Or was it the dastardly Carter Page? Or perhaps the supposed wannabe George Papadopoulos was Trump’s true nemesis. Or again, maybe the deified Mueller had so leveraged Stormy Daniels, or Michael Cohen, or Roger Stone, or Jerome Corsi that Trump would all but confess and slink off into infamous oblivion.
How even to digest such a cornucopia of conspiracy fruit! We saw Mueller’s SWAT teams and perp walks, and worshiped new heroes like Michael Avenatti and Andrew Weissmann who would all frog march Trump out of the White House. Fossils from our Watergate past, like Carl Bernstein and John Dean, creaked back into the limelight to furrow their brows and grimace what Mueller would do to Trump soon in comparison would make Nixon’s scandals look like minor misdemeanors.
And then no collusion. Nada. After 400 pages, 22 months and $34 million, Trump, Mueller found, did not collude with the Russians.
Oh, Mueller in his “Volume II” threw every bit of gossip, hearsay, anti-Trump testimony, and innuendo to sort of, kind of, and maybe suggest that in theory or in the abstract Trump could have been indicted for obstruction (of a non-crime), but then he could have not been as well.
The result? Now the media ambushes Mueller at Easter church services, sticking a mike in his once-consecrated Lincolnesque face as he leaves church. Progressives mutter that he let them down, that he did not let pit bull Andrew Weissmann off his leash, that the dream team was too dreamy—in other words, that Mueller was a Republican after all, a sell-out, a Trump puppet. In other words, in the world of the 13-year-old, the once cool Mueller is now in the out-crowd.
Michael Avenatti, Street Fighter to Felon?
If suing in three states to overturn the election, if trying to warp electors in December 2016, if invoking the Logan Act, the Emoluments Clause, and the 25th Amendment, and if unleashing Mueller did not abort the Trump presidency, perhaps the problem was that progressives were not crass and crude enough.
So up stepped sleazy ambulance chaser Michael Avenatti, attorney for porn star Stormy Daniels. To keep Stormy from blabbing about a 2006 “encounter,” candidate Trump had paid her to sign a “non-disclosure” payment. Translated, that means when an embarrassment out of a politician’s distant past emerges, the first remedy is to pay off the blackmailer.
But the check of $130,000 to Stormy transpired when candidate Trump supposedly had no chance of ever being elected president. So after the election, she reemerged wanting far more publicity and money, now guided by the disreputable Avenatti to make wild charges and all sorts of conspiratorial threats.
Soon, her would-be Svengali—or was it rather a Rasputin?—was on cable news nonstop, promising to “take down” Trump with “explosive” charges from Stormy that were the keys to unlocking Trump’s supposedly corrupt empire—all a precursor for Avenatti’s presidential bid.
This nonsense was devoured by progressive media. Of course, this hubris only brought nemesis to the fly-by-night Avenatti. The same modus operandi he used to use Stormy had elsewhere been used to shake down corporations and defraud clients. Now the one-time cable news heartthrob faces several felony charges and is not just persona non grata in the progressive world but also has simply been deplatformed in the full Leon Trotsky airbrushing mode.
In short, for adolescent left-wingers, Avenatti is now so boring.
Brennan-Clapper, the No-Longer-Dynamic Duo
Former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper became a beloved progressive duo to the extent that their names almost became a compound noun. And no wonder given their recent careers were joined at the hip.
Their past respective lying under oath to Congress, their previous incarnation as Bush-era “conservatives,” tough-guy, anti-terrorism fighters, and their dubious employment in the suspect intelligence services were all forgotten. Then, after leaving the Obama Administration, in which Brennan-Clapper had in deep-state fashion reinvented themselves from erstwhile pro-Bush, enhanced interrogation, anti-terrorism fighters into anti-Bush, pro-Obama multiculturalists and deep thinkers, they reappeared in a third manifestation as CNN and MSNBC bona fide Trump haters.
Daily we heard from the duo (who had once respectively assured us that jihad was essentially a personal growth odyssey and that Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood was largely secular) that Trump was a Russian asset and a veritable traitor.
By monetizing their security clearances and prior employment at the highest levels of the U.S. Intelligence Community, they fortified gossip and fantasies with an imprimatur of televised seriousness. Neither was shy about talking about “sources” and “inside” knowledge as they prognosticated Trump’s imminent downfall.
Then the Mueller report came out that there was no proof of the collusion that both Clapper and Brennan had insisted would soon be proved. Worse, information leaked that both had likely once again not been truthful in sworn testimony before Congress. Both seemed to have a lot of legal exposure concerning foreign informants, seeding the bogus Steele dossier, leaking classified information, and monitoring the Trump campaign.
Suddenly, no progressive laps up the latest speculation from John Brennan; no leftist cares what a desperate James Clapper spins next. They were not long ago both useful idiots predicting, with side glances and studied grimaces, the “bombshells” to come—as long as the charge of collusion was viable. When it dissipated, so did Clapper and Brennan.
Now each awaits possible criminal referrals, or at least months of further testimonies to congress and federal investigators about what did they know and when did they know it. For the Left, both are once again old Bush white guys, soon to be without a job or a platform. In sum, in teen-aged progressive-ese they are now very much not “woke” In fact, they’re even lame.
James Comey, Hero, Villain, Hero – Tiresome
James Comey as FBI director was once sanctified by progressives. While he dwelt a bit too much on Hillary Clinton’s unethical antics, he nonetheless exonerated candidate Clinton before he even interviewed her, and bowed to a “recused” attorney general’s directives of exemption.
Case closed: Comey was a hero who resisted right-wing hit teams.
Or did he? The unstable, triple-guessing careerist suddenly in the days before the election, replayed his Hamlet role by “reopening” the case against Hillary’s sloppy use of confidential State Department emails.
Comey was in, then out! The Left roared that Comey was a monster, a fake, and a fraud who, hand-in-glove with Trump and the Russians, was sandbagging Hillary’s campaign. Case once again closed?
But not quite. In 2017, the finger-in-the-air Comey had reinvented himself still again into “higher loyalty” Comey. The Left held its breath as Comey finagled to get into a position of destroying Trump.
When word leaked that Comey had investigated Trump, trafficked in the Steele dossier, and misled a FISA court, the Left recalibrated him as valuable asset. And when he was fired, then leaked to the press confidential and classified memos of conversations with Trump, and had been instrumental in staging the platform for Mueller’s appointment, the Left began to adore Comey. He was now the sacrificial victim of Trump’s dastardly venom—and no doubt would start producing smoking guns from the files of the FBI.
Better yet, Comey defiantly claimed amnesia when testifying to Congress. He lied nobly in saying the Steele dossier was not really the evidence that swayed the FISA court to grant surveillance of Carter Page. He gave interviews about the toxic, dangerous, obscene, crude, duplicitous, and conniving Trump who was destroying, obliterating and undermining his beloved FBI and indeed the country itself.
Was not James Comey talking truth to power? His bestselling book and tour seemed to suggest just that, as the last boy scout peddled A Higher Loyalty, an argument that administrative careerists like himself were above politics and, in high-minded fashion, serve only the American people. If the Left first saw the refashioned Comey now as beneficial, they soon would come to love his vitriol and claim him as downright adorable.
Or so it seemed. But soon Comey started to wear thin. There was no collusion. But there were lots of stories about Comey’s upcoming legal problems, concerning possible lying under oath, deluding a FISA judge, and improper use of federal surveillance. But most importantly, Comey was now fired and gone. His accusations had only a brief shelf-life and were already fading. Like his former deputy Andrew McCabe, Comey became just another fired apparatchik, bitter at the president who had dismissed him, and those responsible for taking him from the press conference spotlights.
So the Left no longer had a use for Comey in his retirement, as he descended into tweeting out shop-worn aphorisms and adages, illustrated by Thoreau-like nature snapshots. For the Left Comey turned out not so much a street-fighting leftist Buddha as an irrelevant blabbering Yoda.
The common denominator in progressive fluidity is not traditional worry about government surveillance of American citizens, unchecked government power, or the use of informants to spy on American citizens, but whether a bureaucrat can prove a temporarily useful idiot in the grand design of removing Donald J. Trump before the 2020 election.
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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.