Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

From and Angry Reader:

Dear Professor Hanson,

Evidently you are a supporter of Donald Trump. If I read your essay on this subject correctly, you seem to be implying that, unlike the false elitism of the Washington Beltway, Hollywood, and Silicon Valley, we should look to the real basis of brilliance and repute in a “demonstrable record of moral and intellectual excellence.”

Do you seriously mean to say that Donald Trump’s life has such a “demonstrable record”?  A man who cavalierly treats women as objects for his sexual pleasure and lies at the drop of a hat we are to believe is a man of high moral character?  Or one who has trouble constructing a sentence using a vocabulary of more than 100 words (everything is just “fantastic”) demonstrates intellectual excellence?

The problem with Trump is not so much his policies, about which reasonable people may disagree, but his character flaws.  As David Brook recently commented, Trump is “ripe to be played” by foreign leaders like Putin who are smarter and more wily than he is. But Trump has such a fragile ego that he is likely to react to being played in his typically childish, immature way by lashing out at everyone and anyone he thinks is disrespecting him. He never takes responsibility for anything, always blaming others for his own mistakes, and he does not know how to accept and deal with criticism in a rational way.  He also suffers from what, as you classicists know, the Greeks called hubris.  And you know what hubris leads to: tragedy.

Let’s just hope that the tragedy ends up being his personally and not ours collectively. With such a man having access to the nuclear trigger, we should all be hoping that we somehow manage to survive these next four years without a tragedy of monumental proportions.

Sincerely,
Sanford G. Thatcher’

P.S. I attach a short bio so that you know my background.

Sanford G. Thatcher
Frisco, TX  75034-5514
https://scholarsphere.psu.edu

“If a book is worth reading, it is worth buying.”-John Ruskin (1865)

“The reason why so few good books are written is that so few people who can write know anything.”-Walter Bagehot (1853)

“Logic, n. The art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with the limitations and incapacities of the human misunderstanding.”-Ambrose Bierce (1906)
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Victor Davis Hanson’s Reply:

Dear Angry Reader Sanford Thatcher,

There is no need to attach your biography in our new age of populism; the persuasiveness of your argument should stand or fall by what you have written rather than the authority of your CV.

As you know, I certainly did not equate Trump with proof of non-elite moral excellence; rather I explained his election through the widespread anger at political and media elites that was aired through his populist candidacy.

I voted for Donald Trump when there was a binary between his agenda and that of Hillary Clinton.

There is some truth in what you have written about Trump’s rhetorical crudity and his past behavior, but, of course, the Clintons were a virtual crime syndicate—she using her office to leverage cash for the Foundation (a sinecure for unemployable Team Clinton politicos between campaigns) and Bill’s speaking career. Of course, when she lost and is now permanently out of federal office, she can do no connivers any good and so the money dried up and the Foundation is reeling—proof of sorts that the entire operation was a pay-for-play enterprise of the sort that earns most people an indictment.

Actually hubris is a result of Koros (instability and excess resulting from power and wealth) that leads to leads to Hubris (overweening arrogance) to Ate (madness and self-inflicted destruction) and ends in Nemesis (divine and fated retribution), which is all the stuff of tragedy, given that the sequence is usually associated initially with people of talent and good intentions.

All this may certainly apply to Trump’s earlier business implosions, and it fits Bill Clinton perfectly, and Obama may end up the same way.

My point is that in 2016 the choice was not between two characters as much as two agendas: I preferred a foreign policy of deterrence backed by military strength as a better way of preventing wars and interventions, an end to doubling the debt, zero interest rates, and record low GDP growth, a stop to illegal immigration and racial polarization, a restoration of the health care system, and efforts at tax and regulatory reform to restart the economy, as well as renewed energy production—all as a mechanism to help the so-called forgotten man, the middle classes who were the losers under globalization.

I saw far greater hope that Trump might enact such an agenda, and no hope that Hillary Clinton would.

As far as character flaws, pick your poison. His I thought were mostly rhetorical (as you note with your unease about his limited vocabulary) and in the private sphere; hers were concrete and at the public expense, from her cattle futures fraud, to her Wikileaks scandals to the Clinton foundation criminality to her callousness and lying about Benghazi. Hillary as you know is a serial liar, from the mundane (her landing in the Balkans under sniper fire) to the existential (lying to the families of the Benghazi dead).

You might have noted that we survived Bill Clinton committing sex acts in the Oval Office bathroom with a subordinate intern less than half his age (the sort of thing that gets a professor fired summarily), and then lying about it under oath, resulting in his disbarment—the sort of crudity I think you are implying disqualifies one for high office?

Obama, remember, tapped the communications of AP reporters, monitored the communications of James Rosen of Fox News, droned US citizens, bombed Libya without congressional approval, granted amnesties of the sort that he had once warned were unconstitutional, lied about the ACA, and simply chose not to enforce various federal laws he found at odds with his progressive agenda.

If you are arguing that Trump is a Frankenstein monster, then the Dr. Frankenstein creator is surely Barack Obama whose executive orders, partisan rhetoric, nullification of federal laws, and abject ruination of the Democratic Party at the state, congressional, and presidential level all empowered Trump.

So far job growth and the stock market are up; Trump’s appointments in the national security sphere are centrist and heralded. His selections from the business and military fields are a welcome change from the tired retreads from academia and government. And his illegal immigration initiatives and energy agendas are overdue.

As far as hubris, self-reflect: in the last 90 days liberal commentators and pundits have variously called for Trump’s murder, his immediate removal for health reasons, his impeachment, and his resignation.

His phone calls to foreign leaders and communications have been illegally tapped (and so note that the media is now backing away from their Russian collusion charges that proved so far groundless, as they worry more that intelligence agencies’ tapping and the leaking may be exposed as the felonious acts they were); his wife has been accused falsely of prostitution and immigration fraud. Trump himself has been falsely accused (in print) of urophilia and suffering from neurosyphilis.

One New York Times columnist has begged the IRS to commit a felony and send him the Trump tax returns; another compared his election to the mass deaths of Pearl Harbor and 9/11. Is not all that indicative of classical madness that will surely lead to an accounting? Trump, the supposed buffoon, polls higher in the public’s estimation of veracity than does the highbrow media).

On the larger topic of the “elite,” I think we could say that those in Bakersfield or Des Moines did not give us record debt, serial corruption in the IRS, VA, GSA, or EPA, and a world in free fall abroad. Here in California the best and brightest managed to deliver the highest basket of income, sales, and gas taxes in the nation resulting in infrastructure and schools rated near the very bottom in state-to-state comparisons. The Orville dam is a metaphor of elite indifference to existential problems while it pursued transgendered restrooms and bobcat health.

Sincerely,

Victor Davis Hanson

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About victorhanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture. He recently published an historical novel The End of Sparta (2012), a realistic retelling of Epaminondas invasion and liberation of Spartan-control Messenia. In The Father of Us All (2011), he collected earlier essays on warfare ancient and modern. His upcoming history The Savior Generals(2013) analyzes how five generals in the history of the West changed the course of battles against all odds. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin. Hanson has been a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California (1992-93), a visiting professor of classics at Stanford University (1991-92), a recipient of the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002), an Alexander Onassis Fellow (2001), and was named alumnus of the year of the University of California, Santa Cruz (2002). He was also the visiting Shifrin Professor of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland (2002-3). He received the Manhattan Institute’s Wriston Lectureship in 2004, and the 2006 Nimitz Lectureship in Military History at UC Berkeley in 2006. Hanson is the author of hundreds of articles, book reviews, scholarly papers, and newspaper editorials on matters ranging from ancient Greek, agrarian and military history to foreign affairs, domestic politics, and contemporary culture. He has written or edited 17 books, including Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece (1983; paperback ed. University of California Press, 1998); The Western Way of War (Alfred Knopf, 1989; 2d paperback ed. University of California Press, 2000); Hoplites: The Ancient Greek Battle Experience (Routledge, 1991; paperback., 1992); The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization(Free Press, 1995; 2nd paperback ed., University of California Press, 2000);Fields without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea (Free Press, 1996; paperback, Touchstone, 1997; The Bay Area Book reviewers Non-fiction winner for 1996); The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer (Free Press, 2000; a Los Angeles Times Notable book of the year); The Wars of the Ancient Greeks (Cassell, 1999; paperback, 2001); The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999, paperback, Anchor/Vintage, 2000); Carnage and Culture (Doubleday, 2001; Anchor/Vintage, 2002; a New York Times bestseller); An Autumn of War (Anchor/Vintage, 2002); Mexifornia: A State of Becoming (Encounter, 2003),Ripples of Battle (Doubleday, 2003), and Between War and Peace (Random House, 2004). A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, was published by Random House in October 2005. It was named one of the New York Times Notable 100 Books of 2006. Hanson coauthored, with John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (Free Press, 1998; paperback, Encounter Press, 2000); with Bruce Thornton and John Heath, Bonfire of the Humanities (ISI Books, 2001); and with Heather MacDonald, and Steven Malanga, The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s (Ivan Dee 2007). He edited a collection of essays on ancient warfare, Makers of Ancient Strategy (Princeton University Press, 2010). Hanson has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, New York Post, National Review, Washington Times, Commentary, The Washington Post, Claremont Review of Books, American Heritage, New Criterion, Policy Review, Wilson Quarterly, Weekly Standard, Daily Telegraph, and has been interviewed often on National Public Radio, PBS Newshour, Fox News, CNN, and C-Span’s Book TV and In-Depth. He serves on the editorial board of the Military History Quarterly, and City Journal. Since 2001, Hanson has written a weekly column for National Review Online, and in 2004, began his weekly syndicated column for Tribune Media Services. In 2006, he also began thrice-weekly blog for Pajamas Media, Works and Days. Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz (BA, Classics, 1975, ‘highest honors’ Classics, ‘college honors’, Cowell College), the American School of Classical Studies, Athens (regular member, 1978-79) and received his Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University in 1980. He divides his time between his forty-acre tree and vine farm near Selma, California, where he was born in 1953, and the Stanford campus.

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