Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Trump’s Strategic Foresight Is Being Put to the Test

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

The ancient Greeks believed that true leadership in a crisis came down to what they called pronoia — the Greek word for “strategic foresight.”

Some statesmen, such as Pericles and Themistocles, had it. Most others, such as the often brilliant and charismatic but impulsive Alcibiades, usually did not.

“Foresight” in crisis means sizing up a nation’s assets and debits, then maximizing advantages and minimizing liabilities. The leader with foresight, especially in times of irrational despair, then charts a rational pathway to victory.

Such crisis leaders do not fall into panic and depression when the media shout “Catastrophe!” Nor do they preen when the same chorus screams “Genius!” in times of success.

The English poet Rudyard Kipling would have defined such a gift as: “If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,” or “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster / And treat those two impostors just the same.”

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The Virus is Not Invincible, But It’s Exposing Who’s Irreplaceable

Victor Davis Hanson // American Greatness

In all the gloom and doom, and media-driven nihilism, there is actually an array of good news. As many predicted, as testing spreads, and we get a better idea of the actual number and nature of cases, the death rate from coronavirus slowly but also seems to steadily decline.

Early estimates from the World Health Organization and the modeling of pessimists of a constant 4 percent death rate for those infected with the virus are for now proving exaggerated for the United States. More likely, as testing spreads, our fatality rates could descend to near 1 percent.

There is some evidence from Germany and to a lesser extent South Korea, that it may be possible to see the fatality rate dip below 1 percent. And with the breathing space from the lockdown, better hygiene (the degree of constant and near-obsessive cleaning at businesses that are still open is quite amazing), more knowledge and data, better medical protocols, the use of some efficacious drugs, warmer weather, and experience with the disease will, in perfect-storm fashion, begin to mitigate the effects of the virus.

Should we get the lethality rate down to German levels (currently two to three in 1,000), then we can cautiously assume that those who predicted that the coronavirus could eventually be contextualized as a bad, H1N1-like flu will no longer be demonized as nuts, and life can resume with reasonable precautions and focused quarantines and isolation.

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Questions about the Coronavirus

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

More data is critical in understanding the virus in general and in particular its transmission in particular countries. Anyone who looks at rates of morality and lethality of influenza and related pneumonia, especially in the elderly and infirm, can be shocked at the wide variances between particular countries.  52

Reliable data alone should drive proper policy, especially given that any decision made henceforth in the present landscape of bad and worse choices can involve on the one hand greater viral death and morbidity, and on the other economic catastrophe with its own particular role in ensuring non-viral morbidity and death.

So, what we would like to know, it seems, are a few of numbers of which we are not often apprised:

  • What is the percentage of negatives of all those tested?
  • What are the percentages of those who request, or are given tests, who are showing some symptoms of illness or at least feel that they are in some way ill?

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The Logic of Pottersville

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

In director Frank Capra’s 1946 holiday classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life, an initial bank panic sweeps the small town of Bedford Falls. Small passbook account holders rush to George Bailey’s family-owned Bailey Building and Loan to demand the right to cash out all of their deposits — a sudden run that would destroy the lending cooperative and its ability to issue mortgages or preserve the savings accounts of the small town.

The villain of the story, Henry F. Potter, who is a cash-laden, though miserly rival banker, played brilliantly by Lionel Barrymore, offers to buy up the depositors’ shares in the Building and Loan — but at a steep 50 percent discount.

Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) tries to explain to his panicked cooperative depositors the logic of their frenzy, with the exclamation, “Potter isn’t sellingPotter’s buying! And why? Because we’re panicky, and he’s not.”

Capra’s post–Depression era movie, even in its black-and-white morality, reminds us that, in crisis, the majority has limited liquidity and cash. And sooner rather than later they must sell assets — property, stocks, shares, and household goods — to operate their businesses or keep their homes until things pick up. In a real depression, those with the least cash fail first and in great numbers.

And the minority who do have cash are always willing to buy, even in a depression, albeit at their price, which is usually steeply discounted. Panic, not logic, eventually takes over the collective mind, as we now see with the downward spiral of the current stock market and the hoarding of goods otherwise in plentiful supply.

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The Psychology of Viral Paradoxes

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

There are a lot of known unknowns and paradoxes in these times of uncertainty. Here are a few.

1) Trump is criticized as both “racist” and “xenophobic” in his condemnations of the “Chinese” virus, while he’s also criticized for “appeasing” President Xi when he makes friendly references to their coronavirus chats. How can Trump be both?

Is he merely erratic? Perhaps any smart president at this moment would prefer both to galvanize Americans about the threat of Chinese near monopolies of industries key to the U.S. in extremis (such as medical supplies, pharmaceuticals, and rare earths) and  yet to not to so offend our  only importer that it cuts off a vulnerable U.S. in the middle of a crisis.

2) The media hype the increased number of cases (the denominator) without much attention to the number of deaths (the numerator) caused by, or perhaps mostly by, the virus. The numerator, however, is not increasing daily at a rate that’s commensurate with the denominator, despite a number of important other extenuating criteria:

a) Those seeking tests are mostly those with some sort of malaise or exposure, and yet they test overwhelmingly (so far) negative, perhaps at rates, depending on locale, of 80 percent to 90 percent negative (an increasingly not widely reported fact), and thus they may underrepresent percentages of the infected in the general population.

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Trump the Uniter?

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

Editor’s Note: The following is the second excerpt from the revised and updated edition of The Case for Trump, out Tuesday from Basic Books. You can read the first excerpt here.

So what had happened to the Democrats’ predicted blue wave that supposedly would rack up huge House majorities and win back the entire Congress? And why did not $1 billion in campaign spending and a 13–1 negative to positive ratio of NBC/MSNBC and CNN media coverage of the presidency neuter Trump or his party after two years of governance? Why did Mueller’s 22-month investigation — and its epigones from the invocation of the 25th Amendment and the Emoluments clauses to the various circuses of Stormy Daniels, Michael Cohen, and Michael Avenatti — all fail to derail the Trump presidency?

The answers to those questions are thematic throughout this book. Aside from popular anguish over the way that Democratic senators had savaged Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and worries over another larger immigration caravan of asylum seekers inching toward the southern border, voters in November 2018 and would-be voters in 2020 were and still are uncomfortable with progressive politics and happy with the Trump economic boom. In statewide races of 2018, almost all hard progressive gubernatorial and senatorial candidates, from Florida to Texas, lost, if often narrowly so.

First, Trump’s economic and foreign-policy initiatives since 2017, if examined dispassionately, have been largely those of the centrist conservative agendas that have worked in the past, and have continued to do so in the present. Unlike other past flash-in-the-pan mavericks, such as former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger or Minnesota’s recent governor, Jesse Ventura, Trump adopted traditional conservative issues and learned, if belatedly, to work with the Republican Congress to enact them. In counterintuitive fashion, the provocative and often off-putting Trump proved to be a far more effective uniter of his party than had any prior elected populist maverick.

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The Mysterious Rise, Fall, and Rise of Joe Biden

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

For most of early 2019, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden — the declared custodian of liberalism who would continue the Obama glory years — seemed unstoppable.

He led all other rivals for months. Biden seemed above the fray. Many Democrats saw the pre-debate and pre-election race for the nomination as more of a Biden coronation than a contest.

In the summer and fall debates of 2019, Biden was occasionally confused about dates, places, names, and facts. In public appearances, he often seemed grouchy or dazed.

Biden was once faulted for being too handsy in his interactions with women; now he was being criticized for losing his temper and insulting people during campaign stops.

Biden dived in the polls.

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The 2018 Blue Wave That Wasn’t, Really

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

Editor’s Note: The following is the first of two excerpts from the revised and updated edition of The Case for Trump, out Tuesday from Basic Books.

Throughout the summer and early autumn of 2018, election experts had often predicted a massive blue wave of radical progressive pushback against Trump in the 2018 midterms: the long-awaited negative referendum on both his agenda and behavior, and thus at last an overdue reckoning for his entire Twitter-fueled presidency.  TOP ARTICLES2/5READ MOREChopin’s Heart, Poland’s Spirit

The Democratic tsunami against the incumbent president was promised to be analogous to the wipeout suffered by President Bill Clinton after his first two years (53 House, eight Senate seats lost), or Barack Obama’s even more disastrous 2010 loss (63 House, six Senate seats). The nonstop media attacks on Trump, still consistent with the 90 percent negative news coverage of his first few months in office, had certainly seemed to energize Democrats.

Indeed, by election eve, Democrats, in the preponderant manner of the 2016 campaign, had raised a record $1 billion for state, House, and Senate midterm races, with hundreds of millions more garnered by the progressive political-action committees. Turnout in some states set records for any president’s first midterm election. Democrats ran a number of centrists and military veterans in congressional districts that Trump had won, campaigning on Trump as the destroyer of Everyman’s right to health care. Democrats promoted voter harvesting and massive registration drives to expand the electorate in districts that had previously been lost to Republicans. Yet the subsequent radical themes of the 2020 presidential election were rarely to be heard in 2018; instead, they were manifested stealthily on the ground.

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China Boomeranging

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

Sometime in late November the Chinese Communist Party apparat was aware that the ingredients of some sort of an epidemic were brewing in Wuhan. Soon after, it was also clear to them that a new type of coronavirus was on the loose, a threat they might have taken more seriously given the similar Chinese origins of the prior toxic SARS coronavirus and the resources of a Level 4 virology lab nearby.

Yet the government initially hid all that knowledge from its own people in particular and in general from the world at large. Translated into American terms, that disingenuousness ensured that over 10,000 Chinese nationals and foreigners living in China flew every day on direct flights into the United States (Washington and California especially) from late November to the beginning of February, until the Trump travel ban of January 31.

All this laxity was also known to the Communist apparat in Beijing, which must have been amused when Trump was roundly damned by his liberal critics as a xenophobe and racist for finally daring to stop the influx on January 31 — the first major leader to enact such a total ban.

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Remembering Who Is Keeping Us Alive

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

I tried an experiment yesterday. I went to four large supermarkets in Fresno County, the nation’s largest and most diverse food-producing county, and looked at both checkouts and shelf space. The two big sellers seemed to be cleansers of all sorts (bleach wipes were all sold out, for example) and staples such as canned soup, pasta, and canned fish and preserved meat.

Then I drove in about a 50-mile circumference to look at local farms — vineyards, orchards, row crops, dairy, etc. — and packinghouses and processors. There seemed absolutely no interruption at all. Farmers and workers were on tractors, packing houses were bringing in late citrus for cold storage, and lots of people were harvesting winter vegetables in the field. Machines were fertilizing, spraying, and cultivating.

The point is that in our age of necessary shutdowns and staying home, one thing we must do is eat — and eat well to stay healthy. And that means lots of people have to go to work and produce food and transport it to the major cities, and not always in isolation on the south 40.

Farmers do a lot more than just drop a seed in the ground and then by rote watch it sprout into a corn stalk, as one of our nation’s richest and most influential figures lectured us not all that long ago. For millions to subsist at home, to force the virus to sputter out, they must eat, as well as have power, running water, law enforcement, and sanitation. And that means millions of Americans must go to work as usual and sustain the elementals and existential forces of American life for 330 million, usually out of sight and out of mind, as we concentrate on the required quarantining of universities, offices, bureaus, sporting events, etc.

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