Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

The Ancient Laws of Unintended Consequences

by Victor Davis Hanson// National Review

Eight years of a fawning press have made the Left reckless.

The classical idea of a divine Nemesis (“reckoning” or “downfall”) that brings unforeseen retribution for hubris (insolence and arrogance) was a recognition that there are certain laws of the universe that operated independently of human concerns.

Call Nemesis a goddess. But it was also simply an empirical observation about collective and predictable human behavior: Excess invites unexpected correction.

Something like hubris incurring Nemesis is now following the frenzied progressive effort to nullify the Trump presidency.

Fake News

“Fake news” was a term the Left invented to describe the ancient practice of propaganda (updated in the Internet age to drive Web traffic). They applied it to the supposed Russian habit of planting international news stories to affect Western elections, and in particular Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency and his tendencies to exaggerate and massage the truth.

But once the term caught on in our faddish age, who were the more appropriate media fakers? Fake news now serves as a sort of linguistic canary to remind the public that it is customarily saturated with a lethal gas of media disinformation.

Thus “fake news” seemed a proper if belated summation and clarification of years of liberal bias in the media that were supposed to be our custodian of the truth.

Were NBC anchor Brian Williams’s fantasies fake news?Were Dan Rather’s “fake but accurate” Rathergate memos? How about the party line circulated in JournoList or the Washington and New York reporters who colluded to massage the news to favor the Clinton campaign, as revealed in the Podesta WikiLeaks trove? Was jailing a video maker part of an Obama-administration fake-news attempt to blame Benghazi deaths on a spontaneous riot? Was the Iran Deal’s “echo chamber,” about which Ben Rhodes later bragged, the epitome of fake news?

Thank the Left, because suddenly the term “fake news” is becoming a common description of the media’s effort to suggest that Trump once went to Moscow to frolic with prostitutes, that his lawyer met Russians in Prague, that he removed Martin Luther King’s bust from the Oval Office, that he was going to employ “100,000” guardsmen to enforce immigration law, or that he wished to invade Mexico.

The once liberal invention of the term “fake news” now mostly refers to media efforts by leftists to warp the Trump presidency; to progressive media celebrities who have been caught lying, colluding, or plagiarizing; and to the cohort of unapologetically left-wing journalists who, in the words of Obama White House operative Ben Rhodes, “know nothing” and thus are easily manipulated by their progressive political puppeteers.

Fake Crimes?

Is “fake news” also the proper description for nonfactual accounts of “hate crimes,” an increasingly percentage of which prove to be pure inventions (at the University of Louisiana, in North Carolina, in Santa Monica, etc.) fabricated to accord the “victim” media attention, compensation, or sympathy?

Or does “fake news” define the supposed epidemic of campus sexual assault, which in all too many cases involves the university’s suspension of due process and constitutional guarantees for the male accused — who is sometimes accused because he engaged in consensual sexual relations with a female student and then socially rejected her, or because he failed to stay monogamous? In other words, “sexual assault” is now redefined down to the crime of unenjoyable sexual congress, or of males proving post facto to be insincere lotharios or unreceptive cads.

Illegal Immigration Really Is Illegality

Illegal immigration offers another Nemesis moment. Media outrage now surrounds almost every effort by ICE authorities to detain an illegal alien on deportation lists compiled during the Obama administration. Activists, Democratic politicians, and Mexico itself allege that the Trump administration is hounding the blameless, as if there were neither immigration law nor a concept of deportation for violations of it.

But usually in every media report of a victimized illegal alien, one also finds buried incidental information showing that the detainee had previously been convicted for such crimes as drunk driving, or had engaged in voting fraud, or had committed identity theft or falsified a government document, or had failed to show up for a prior deportation hearing.

All that the progressive frenzy over deportation seems to be doing is drawing attention to the quite surprising number of foreign guests who continue to live here illegally even though they have prior criminal convictions. How odd that the public is now learning that the Left apparently sees identity theft as a minor matter for illegal aliens, though a serious one for citizens. And how strange to witness entitled guests showing outrage at the possibility that they might not be allowed to enter and reside in the U.S. illegally and then commit crimes without having to worry about endangering their already illegal-resident status.

The Russian Can of Worms

In the latter months of the 2016 campaign, the Clinton team floated the narrative that Trump was colluding with Russian president Vladimir Putin, who in turn was engineering leaks to increase Trump’s unlikely chance of becoming president.

At first, alleging Russian collusion with Trump was a strange strategy, given that Hillary Clinton herself, as the primary agent for the Obama-administration outreach to Putin, had pushed the red Russian reset button in Geneva. And it was quite an outreach: the shelving of long-established plans to build missile-defense shields in Eastern Europe, the open-mic promise by Obama to be more flexible with Putin after Obama’s reelection, the anemic response to the de facto annexation of the Crimea and eastern Ukraine, the constant trashing of the Bush administration as too harsh on Russia, and the ridicule showered on Mitt Romney for his supposed naïveté in naming Russia as America’s “Number One geopolitical foe.”

In addition, the Trump plans of encouraging domestic oil production, updating strategic weapons, and beefing up the defense budget were not agendas conducive to Russian interests. Their Obama antitheses were. In addition, while the media and progressives were floating the Trump-Russian connection, it was also clear that there were all sorts of shady elements to the story that would not appear favorable to either Clinton or Obama — from the Uranium One mess, which saw concessions given by Hillary Clinton’s State Department to Russian companies buying North American uranium, to Clinton operative John Podesta’s own investments in Russian oil concerns.

Worse, the subject of election-time courting of Russia suddenly reopened the question of past Democratic electioneering gymnastics with foreign powers, such as Ted Kennedy’s efforts in 1984 to have the Russians’ help in undermining Ronald Reagan’s reelection chances, or Bill Clinton’s 1996 campaign-finance connections with China, or the Obama-designated officials’ contact, before they assumed office in 2009, with their foreign counterparts.

But Nemesis was not done. It is now reported that the Obama administration during the campaign went to a FISA court to tap the communications of Trump-campaign officials and unofficial supporters. FISA applications are almost never rejected (and never leaked), but the court rebuffed this one in June 2016, ostensibly for insufficient cause. Ostensibly it is also unprecedented for a sitting president’s administration to order surveillance of campaign personnel of an opposite party before an upcoming election — a fact suggesting that Obama-administration officials may have assumed that a grateful shoo-in successor Clinton Justice Department would not worry greatly about such interference.

News reports further suggested that a frustrated Obama administration may have tried again as the campaign heated up in October 2016, may have found a more sympathetic judge, and may on the second try have begun widely tapping Trump-campaign officials.

In addition, the Obama administration after eight years in power suddenly and deliberately expanded the number of people granted access to such surveillance, apparently in the hope (which soon proved correct) that greater dissemination would increase the likelihood of illegal leaks that in turn would embarrass Trump.

Perhaps from such intelligence leaks, the media reported that Jeff Sessions, Trump’s attorney general, had met in his office with the Russian ambassador, a supposed contradiction of his Senate testimony.

But then Nemesis again appeared. It turned out that almost everyone in Washington — especially Sessions’s Democratic accusers — had met with the Russians (most commonly Democratic senators and representatives in the spirit of the Obama-reset age).

Indeed, Sergey Kislyak was on every Democratic powerbroker’s A list and traveled throughout the United States to meetings and conferences — as part of accustomed outreach. Journalists had apparently forgotten that Russian officials were frequent guests at the Obama White House, a logical consequence of the then-current media narrative that cowboy George Bush had provoked Putin’s Russia, which in turn required a sober and judicious Barack Obama to calm down the class cut-up Putin and educate the macho former KGB officer about why American and Russia were in fact friends rather than enemies.

Finally, after Democrats, Obama officials, and the media massaged the leaks from surveillance of Team Trump, in Samson-like fashion, Trump pulled down the temple on everyone — by tweeting groundbreaking but unsupported accusations that a sitting president of the United States and his team were the catalysts for such unlawful tapping. Apparently, he reckoned that the liberal conversation would therefore turn defensive rather than accusatory. If the progressive media and intelligence agencies were hand-in-glove leaking damaging rumors about Trump, and if none were yet substantiated, then the issue reversed and turned instead on a new question: How were they trafficking in confidential intelligence information if not from skullduggery of some sort? No wonder that some smarter observers backtracked from the Russian-Trump collusion charges of the past six months, given that the leaks were less likely to be credible than they were criminal. The accusers have become the accused. And who would police the police?

The media and the anti-Trump Republicans decried Trump’s reckless and juvenile antics as unbefitting a president. Perhaps, but they may have forgotten Trump’s animal cunning and instincts: Each time Trump impulsively raises controversial issues in sloppy fashion — some illegal aliens harm American citizens as they enjoy sanctuary-city status, NATO European partners welch on their promised defense contributions, Sweden is a powder-keg of unvetted and unassimilated immigrants from the war-torn Middle East — the news cycle follows and confirms the essence of Trump’s otherwise rash warnings. We are learning that Trump is inexact and clumsy but often prescient; his opponents, usually deliberate and precise but disingenuous.


Where are we now?

Obama officials have written contorted denials that by their very Byzantine wording suggest there is some truth to the thrust of Trump’s accusations. (Jon Favreau, a former speechwriter for Obama, tweeted a warning: “I’d be careful about reporting that Obama said there was no wiretapping. Statement just said that neither he nor the WH ordered it.”) At best, the public is learning that intelligence agencies and the Obama Justice Department deliberately monitored Trump’s campaign effort (and leaked its findings), acts that fit a larger pattern of seeking to oppose his 2016 campaign.

Maybe there is a divine goddess Nemesis, or maybe humans inevitably become arrogant when not checked, as a reflection of their primeval genetic code.

Or just maybe over the last eight years, the Obama administration so relied on media collusion (and Hillary Clinton’s all but sure progressive continuum) that it felt it could do things politically and culturally — monitoring reporters’ communications, politicizing the IRS, using the Justice Department to redistribute banking fines to left-wing activist groups — that otherwise no sane administration would even dare.

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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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