Victor Davis Hanson
The Left, the NeverTrump Right, and many independents are tiring of Donald Trump’s recitations of prior, however justified, grievances at the hands of the media, the Democratic Party, the administrative state, and hard-core Left.
The conventional wisdom runs that Trump’s whines and victimization recitations reveal deep paranoias, and increasingly to an obsessive degree. We are told that his near neurotic obsessions with the unfairness of his critics are alienating the independent voter, who finds Trump’s strolls down 2020-21 memory lane the same-old, same-old ad nauseam.
True, Trump’s occasional recklessness contributed to many of his misadventures. At least at some point, friendly critics suggest, he might have realized that his nationalist/populist agenda, his orphaned outsider status, his lack of prior political experience, and his estrangement from the Republican political hierarchy, bipartisan Washington, D.C. media and government fixtures gave him no margin of error—despite what prior presidents and our current commander-in-chief have been accorded.
The haters would have hated Trump regardless, But his tweets and ad hominem retorts served to disguise their peremptory venom while instead highlighting his own retaliatory crudity.
“Fact-checkers” doted on every Trump statement, nitpicking them to find some exaggeration, or untruth. Fine. But then these same hypercritics simply went comatose during the Biden Administration, with little care that Biden spins fantasies daily, from a son lost in the Iraq War to insulting claims that he passed his student loan amnesty in the Congress by a close vote, and on and on. With Trump, voters got real achievement with coarseness, with Biden utter failure with near senility.
The media lied about supposed felonious behavior of the two Trump sons during the Russian collusion mania. The same reporters snoozed when Hunter Biden all but served up a guilty writ of felonious behavior on his laptop. Yet Hunter and the Biden accomplices were given de facto exemption by the Department of Justice and “50 former intelligence officials” who were willing to lie about the laptop’s authenticity rather than risk the chance of seeing Trump reelected.
What, then, are we to make of Trump’s endless tales of maltreatment? Is he a genuine victim or a “victimized” near-neurotic, or neither, or both? The question again is apart from what he accomplished and what now is in Trump’s self-interest. Clearly it would be more advantageous for him to move on, speak of his plans for a second term, contrast his own past record with the Biden catastrophe, and refer to balloting only in terms of reform to increase greater scrutiny and audit—but not replay the injustices done to him in 2020.
Yet the truth is that Trump was a victim, no matter how much or how tiresome it is that he recites the endless script of injustices. And his victimizers have far more to answer for than their victimized target.
The record is clear: no president in U.S. history has ever been impeached twice. None has ever been impeached and then tried as a private citizen out of office.
Remember, in both rush-to-judgment politicized efforts, there was no special counsel’s report, and no lengthy cross-examination of witnesses. The first impeachment writ was based on a clumsy phone call in which Trump suspended aid to an often compromised Ukrainian government until it investigated the Biden family’s corruption and collusion with members of the Kyiv apparat and state-related corporations.
Trump did not cancel the approved aid in quid pro quo fashion, but eventually greenlighted a package that included offensive weapons, ironically vetoed by the prior Biden Administration.
His allegations of Biden family illegality were not just part of partisan pressure, but prescient given what we know of the Biden family syndicate from Hunter’s former associates and his own self-incriminating laptop.
Trump’s Justice Department certainly did not go after candidate Joe Biden, much less raid his home, or otherwise harass a potential rival to his reelection. By such impeachment standards, Joe Biden would be in the danger zone by railing at American ally Saudi Arabia, and radically altering long-standing U.S. foreign policy, because he was angry the kingdom would not flood the world with cheap oil before the midterm election. Ditto his pre-midterm selfish efforts to beg enemies like Venezuela and Iran to help assuage his unpopular and self-created energy crisis.
Trump was certainly reckless in cheering on volatile demonstrations on January 6, 2021. But he did not plan or condone the violence. The act of unarmed but often violent buffoons trashing the Capitol building was sordid, but they were clowns, not insurrectionists. There has been so much misinformation and disinformation about that riot that we will have to await a disinterested investigation. In the meantime, recall that Officer Brian Sicknick did not die by the hands of violent protestors as is still alleged by Joe Biden and many members of the media.
The name and identity of the officer who shot and killed an unarmed Ashli Babbitt were suppressed for months. Reporters and leakers alike attest that numerous FBI informants were ubiquitous among the protestors. And the January 6 committee deliberately banned questions about lax security. Ditto communications between Capitol security and Nancy Pelosi’s office.
In any case, the day’s violence did not compare with the still uninvestigated 120 days of largely non-stop looting, arson, assault, and death, all orchestrated by BLM and Antifa that were often contextualized and excused by Democratic mayors, governors, and congressional officials. And there were plenty of iconic targets such as the torching of a federal courthouse, a police precinct, and an historic church across from the White House.
Storming the Capitol is a mortal sin, but so is attempting to rush the White House grounds to injure a president and his family. That failed leftwing mob effort was cheered on by the New York Times, with its snarky headline “Trump Shrinks Back.”
For 22 months the media cheered on leaks from Robert Mueller’s special counsel dream team. House Intelligence prevaricator, Representative Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) habitually offered outright lies concerning the culpability of the president, without a single retraction or apology when they were exposed as utterly untrue.
Collusion was better defined as either the Obama-Clinton disastrous reset policy that appeased a thuggish Putin, or Hillary Clinton’s efforts to destroy the Trump campaign, transition, and presidency with the false charge of Putin partnership.
No one in retrospect can seriously argue that Trump colluded with the Russian government to corrupt an election. In fact, the truth was far worse than that false allegation. His projectionist accuser Clinton most certainly did collude through Christopher Steele’s use of Russians, or Russian-based sources that fed him a litany of lies he then turned around and built upon with his own concoctions. In a just world, Clinton would be indicted for hiring foreign nationals to work for her campaign, by using stealth DNC funds to hire opposition contractors to frame the innocent, and for lying about her own role in forging such a conspiracy.
In this entire sordid process, the obsessed FBI disgraced itself through doctoring writs, losing subpoenaed records, and leaking to a toady press. Its dream team included the amorous members Peter Strzok and Lisa Page who were either fired or resigned from the team in disgrace. Mueller himself proved either non compos mentis or untruthful in his final testimony before Congress. His lieutenant Andrew Weissmann confirmed right-wing allegations that he was a rank partisan out to get Trump.
No Speaker of the House has ever torn up a president’s State-of-the Union Address on national television as did Nancy Pelosi in an act of historical disgrace. CNN ruined its reputation and was rendered inert by its fixations with Trump that were nightly manifested through exaggeration, hearsay, smears, rumors, and lies.
Do we remember not just “Anonymous,” but the deification of this unnamed and self-described member of the “resistance” who bragged on the pages of the New York Times that he was deliberately trying to undermine the Trump Administration’s duties to execute the laws? He was hardly a “senior official” as reported, but one Miles Taylor, a minor bit player at the Department of Homeland Security, who after his media role as useful pawn, faded back into deserved obscurity.
Before Trump took office, there was an organized effort to destroy his designated administration, by calls for his impending impeachment in Congress, by an influential essay calling for a possible military coup to remove him from office, by FBI efforts to ambush his national security advisor designate, and by the continuance of campaign lies of Russian collusion.
Before he even had established a record to oppose, leftist iconic denialists like Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Jimmy Carter had pronounced the elected president illegitimate.
A Confederacy of Connivers
We forget that far before 2020, the original election deniers were led by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic hierarchy. The former urged Joe Biden never to concede in 2022 should he lose the popular vote. Leftist journalists have outlined how the voting process was warped by changing voting laws, vast infusions of dark money to absorb state responsibilities in key precincts, and modulating the street protests of Antifa and BLM to wax or wane depending on Joe Biden’s electoral fortunes.
Major U.S. institutions were corrupted by their obsessive loathing. James Comey and Andrew McCabe, FBI directors, disgraced themselves by either lying under oath or feigning amnesia. Their bookends, Robert Mueller and Christopher Wray, reminded the nation that Comey and McCabe were emblematic of deeper FBI pathologies. Retired four-star military officers systematically violated codes of military conduct in comparing their commander-in-chief to Nazis and fascists.
Trump’s lieutenants such as Vice President Mike Pence, Attorney General Bill Barr, or former National Security Advisor John Bolton, along with a host of others have sometimes leveled legitimate worries and grievances about Donald Trump. Some rightly point out that his personal excesses often weakened implementation of and support for his otherwise cogent and necessary policies.
But sometimes lost in their frequent book tours and media appearances is that Trump not only had a singular record of accomplishment, but that he brought them either out of retirement or career stagnation and gave them opportunities that ultimately explain their current ubiquitous profiles.
That fact does not mean their criticisms, warnings, and worries are necessarily inaccurate or even should be ignored. But their current prominence does demand some perspective. A president of supposedly such dubious character nevertheless resurrected former officials like themselves to re-enter government service at the highest levels and achieve successful records working with Trump, when it was most likely that their trajectories were over, and they would not or could not serve under subsequent Republican presidents.
The point is not that Trump was not a wounded fawn, obsessed with his own hurt and wallowing in his victimization. But he was also a genuine victim of a despicable effort of permanent government officials, the media, and the Left to destroy a presidency before it had even begun. Again, much of Trump’s crudity was retaliatory rather than preemptory.
Trump’s political future now hinges on his ability to forget all that, to move ahead, to unite his party, to win back independents, to get out the vote and to advance a concrete agenda for America. But if he often cannot do that, it may well be because he is understandably all too human.
Trump Was What?
All sort of fictional characters come to mind in understanding the enigma of Donald Trump, from Rodney Dangerfield’s role as the boisterous, uncouth but talented and underappreciated Al Czervik in “Caddyshack” or the archetypical ostracized Western gunslinger whose one-dimensional methods eventually alienate the vulnerable homesteader community that called upon and benefited from his unorthodoxy. I’ve noted in the past that Trump is a combination of John Ford’s tragic hero and a stubborn, flawed, but unyielding and competent character on the Sophoclean stage.
Yet perhaps another referent is found in Herman Wouk’s 1951 prize-winning novel The Caine Mutiny (far more complex than even its superb film treatment). The book charts the wartime neurotic, flawed career of an old Navy captain (with less talent than, and without the record of achievement, of Trump) serving mostly in the backwaters of World War II. The martinet Captain Queeg’s self-assured subordinate officers focus solely on his character shortcomings and insecurities, rather than either ignoring them or helping him address them for the good of the ship and crew—if for no other reason than to unite to defeat the enemy.
Instead, the NeverQueegers grow consumed by their hatred of the erratic Queeg. And they finally succeed in extremis in relieving the paranoid and often lapsing Queeg—but at what cost and for what in exchange?
Wouk offers the dilemma of whether the blemished Queeg, who once dutifully served in the underfunded and forgotten peacetime Navy when most others would not, might not have been so phobic had his officers only navigated Queeg’s shortcomings, rather than been consumed by them.
Later in court, the conspirators find ostensible justification, as their astute lawyer Barney Greenwald (played brilliantly in the film version by José Ferrer) mercilessly dissects Queeg’s neuroses to the point that the shattered captain implodes on the stand into catatonia.
Queeg ends up as a disgraced captain as the mutineers go free. Case closed?
Not quite. Wouk offers the warning that such self-righteous denigrators may be the true nihilists. In their clubby, black-and-white fixations on their commander’s obvious frailties, they miss the totality of a man and the importance of seeking to aid their captain rather than destroy him in a time of war.
As the novel closes, the promoted and chief NeverQueeger proves no better in battle and on rough seas, but perhaps even worse. And in a final twist while Queeg’s career is destroyed, he is eventually exonerated by the Navy. Most of the mutineers fare badly in their circular firing squad. Wouk reminds us that for all their self-righteous rhetoric about patriotism, legality, and duty, they nevertheless did a great disservice to themselves—and to their country.