Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

The Trump Nuclear Bomb

Other public figures won’t admit they agree with him — but they often quietly adopt his ideas.

By Victor Davis Hanson // National Review Online

Donald Trump has a frightening habit of uttering things that many people apparently think, but would never express. And he blusters in such an off-putting and sloppy fashion that he alienates those who otherwise might agree with many of his critiques of political correctness.

Nonetheless, when the dust settles, we often see that Trump’s megatonnage strikes a chord — and, with it, sometimes has effected change. In an odd way, the more personally unpopular he becomes for raising taboo issues, the more resonant become the more refined variants of his proposals for addressing these festering problems.

For the last several months, anti-Trump demonstrators have sought to disrupt his rallies; they attack his supporters and wave offensive anti-American and often overtly racist placards, while burning American and waving Mexican flags — often with a nonchalant police force looking on.

Trump shouts back that their antics are only further proof of his general point: Illegal immigration and an open border have subverted our immigration laws and created a paradoxical movement that is as illogical as it is ungracious. After fleeing Mexico, entering the U.S. illegally, and being treated with respect (try doing the same in any Latin American country), some foreign nationals have been waving the flag of the country they do not wish to return to, while scorning the flag of the country that they demand to stay in. But apparently they are not fond of Trump’s larger point, disguised by his barroom rhetoric, which is that the old melting-pot protocols of rapid assimilation, integration, and intermarriage have been sabotaged — and now the American people can at last see the wages of that disaster on national TV.

In response to the general public disapproval that focused on the violent demonstrations, anti-Trump protestors recently have announced that they will ban Mexican flags from their future rallies. They probably will not, but why did they even play-act that they would? Are illegal-immigration activists suddenly turned off by Mexico and appreciative of the United States? Be that as it may, it would surely be a good thing if immigrants to the U.S. and their supporters stopped attacking the icons of the country that they have chosen to reside in.

For that matter, why suddenly during the past six months did 16 Republican primary candidates begin talking about enforcing immigration laws, avoid the very mention of “comprehensive immigration reform,” and promise to finish the southern border fence? While they all deplored Trump’s mean-spirited rhetoric, they all more or less channeled his themes. Until the approach of the Trump battering ram, outrageous developments like the neo-Confederate concept of sanctuary cities being exempt from federal law were off limits to serious criticism — even from the Republican congressional establishment.

Trump dismissively characterized Judge Gonzalo Curiel as a “Mexican” (the absence of hyphenation could be charitably interpreted as following the slang convention in which Americans are routinely called “Irish,” “Swedish,” “Greek,” or “Portuguese,” with these words used simply as abbreviated identifiers rather than as pejoratives). Trump’s point was that Curiel could not grant Trump a fair trial, given Trump’s well-publicized closed-borders advocacy.

Most of America was understandably outraged: Trump had belittled a sitting federal judge. Trump had impugned his Mexican ancestry. Trump had offered a dangerous vision of jurisprudence in which ethnic ancestry necessarily manifests itself in chauvinism and prejudice against the Other.

Trump was certainly crude, but on closer analysis of his disparagements he had blundered into at least a few legitimate issues. Was it not the Left that had always made Trump’s point about ethnicity being inseparable from ideology (most infamously Justice Sotomayor in her ruminations about how a “wise Latina” would reach better conclusions than intrinsically less capable white males, and how ethnic heritage necessarily must affect the vantage point of jurists — racialist themes Sotomayor returned to this week in her Utah v. Strieff dissent, which has been characterized as a “Black Lives Matter” manifesto)? Had not Barack Obama himself apologized (“Yeah, he’s a white guy . . . sorry.”) for nominating a white male judge to the Supreme Court, as if Merrick Garland’s appearance were something logically inseparable from his thought?

What exactly was the otherwise apparently sober and judicious Judge Curiel doing in publicizing his membership in a group known as the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association? Raza — a term that will likely soon disappear from American parlance once belated public attention focuses on its 1960s separatist origins and its deeper racist Francoist and Mussolinian roots — is by intent racially charged. Certainly, an illegal-immigration advocate could not expect a fair trial from any federal judge who belonged to a group commensurately designated “the San Diego Race Lawyers Association.” From this tawdry incident, we will remember Trump, the racial incendiary — but perhaps in the aftermath we will also question why any organization with Raza in its name should earn a pass from charges of polarizing racial chauvinism. The present tribalism is unsustainable in a pluralistic society. I wish the antidote for “typical white person,” “punish our enemies,” “my people,” (only) Black Lives Matter, and “la Raza” were not Donald Trump, but let us be clear on the fact that his is a crude reaction to a smooth and unquestioned racialism that, in bankrupt fashion, has been tolerated by the establishments of both parties.

For seven years, Barack Obama has not deigned to explain to the American people why he abhors terms like radical Islam, Islamic terrorism, and Islamist, unlike European leaders and most Americans. Obama certainly in the past has had no problem with using far more sweeping and generic categories — for example, dressing down millions of Pennsylvanians as know-nothing clingers, or Christians in general for their purported centuries of “high-horse” sins. His administration has stereotyped and provoked plenty of groups, from supposedly parasitic entrepreneurs who did not build their own businesses to a nation of supposedly cowardly non-minorities.

In one area alone, Obama and his administration have created a vacuous and dangerous vocabulary of euphemisms — violent extremism, man-caused disasters, overseas contingency operations, a largely “secular” Muslim Brotherhood, and so on. Such nomenclature only confuses Americans about the dangers that they face from radical Islam while emboldening Islamists, who can suspect that if we are afraid to call them what they are, then we may also be defensive about their bogus grievances against the West. Neither ISIS and al-Qaeda nor the relatives of Omar Mateen and Rizwan Farook, the San Bernardino killer, have shown any gratitude to the U.S. for its politically correct tiptoeing around who is blowing up, beheading, and shooting whom — and why. Most recently, the administration, in disturbing 1984 style, edited out the Orlando terrorist’s explicit praise of and statement of solidarity with ISIS from the released transcript of his call to 911 — in an apparent effort to reinvent him as a generic rather than Islamic terrorist.

So why have polished politicians such as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton suddenly decided that the American people needed explanations about, or changes in, their longstanding vocabulary?

Trump in blunderbuss fashion has questioned the premises of the seven-decade-old NATO alliance. Observers on both sides of the Atlantic derided his simplistic critique of paltry European contributions to the defense of the West as a sort of know-nothing nativism. It may well have been. But then strangely, European governments — Germany’s especially — quietly began issuing statements that, in fact, they were planning to up their defense budgets. Why now such acknowledgments, if Trump were a mere buffoon? And how did it happen that Europe (in aggregate perhaps the largest economy in the world) has still relied on far greater U.S. defense expenditures 70 years after the end of World War II?

Two examples of Trump’s most controversial and in some sense reprehensible invective are his suggestions that we should temporarily bar Muslim immigration into the United States, and that we should hold the families of terrorists accountable for their silence. Critics rightly decry both suggestions as unworkable, creepy, and contrary to the American sense of decency, while privately perhaps acknowledging that something is wrong with current immigration from the war-torn Middle East, a problem by now spanning two generations.

Collate the profiles of the Boston, Fort Hood, Chattanooga, UC Merced, San Bernardino, and Orlando attackers, and four themes emerge: (1) the parents, spouses, girlfriends, or siblings of the killers had plenty of occasions to discover that something was wrong with the person in question, but chose to remain silent and not contact authorities; (2) many second-generation Americans of Middle Eastern heritage feel no gratitude to the U.S. for taking in their parents, much less for their own good luck of being born in the U.S. rather than in their parents’ war-ravaged hellholes; (3) even on the occasions when state or federal authorities did look into reports that, for example, the Boston or Orlando killers were jihadist extremists, agents did little proactively, perhaps out of worry that they might be pegged as Islamophobic or as unduly profiling those of Middle Eastern descent; and (4) the U.S., like Europe, has no mechanism for screening the hundreds of thousands of immigrants that are flowing across its borders, and thus no way of knowing whether terrorist cells are infiltrating the country.

The reaction to Trump’s rants was understandable. A chorus denounced him for his racism, nativism, and xenophobia. Yet, quietly, authorities now say that they may well bring up Omar Mateen’s wife and others on charges of conspiracy or accessory to terrorism, in a muscular fashion that we have not witnessed before in other terrorism cases, especially the outrageous exemption given the conniving girlfriend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev. If there is a precedent set that remaining silent while a relative plots mass death means a long prison sentence, then such deterrence may save lives in the future.

Meanwhile, lots of politicians are now either calling for a temporary cessation of immigration from the Middle East or confessing that they have no idea who is entering the United States. They channel Trump’s outrage that unchecked entry from countries like Iraq, Syria, or Yemen is suicidal, but they clean up his invective by predicating possible future limitations based on the country of origin rather than on religious affiliation.

So what are we to make of these sometimes resonant messages from our often reviled messenger?

Is Trump an Ajaxian tragic figure who takes it upon himself to raise issues for the benefit of public debate — in overheated fashion garnering public attention with the full knowledge that his advocacy will earn him only hatred and ostracism?


A better metaphor is Trump as a loose nuclear weapon. Once he is dropped onto an issue, no one quite knows exactly the parameters of the ensuing explosion — only that it is going to blow up lots of things, and foremost Trump himself. In the subsequent charred landscape, no one emerges unscathed from the fallout, and many suspect that they should have adopted proactive solutions well before they were nuked by Trump.

A final irony?

Would far more sober and judicious candidates like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, had they run again in 2016, have brought up these issues? If so, could they have called commensurate public and presidential attention to them? Is losing politely in a fairly close race always preferable to the risk of losing loudly by a large margin?

So we always return to the central truth of 2016: Trump is a symptom, not a catalyst. He was created by the hyperpartisan unconstitutional overreach of Barack Obama, and by the appeasement of much of the Republican establishment, who wished to be liked and admired for their restraint and Beltway moderation rather than feared for their insistence on adherence to the Constitution and the protection of the individual from an always growing and encroaching government.

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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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