From an Angry Reader:
I have long been a reader of your essays. I am befuddled by your steady defense – or at least by your stayed hand of criticism – of Donald Trump.
I sense – and share – your glee about the comeuppance that the Democrats received in this past election.
But the rotted and soulless character of Donald Trump concerns me far, far more than any feelings of schadenfreude I feel about the Democrats. His degree of intellectual incuriosity is alarming.
Your kid-glove approach to Trump (especially when those gloves are actually petting him) is surprising and disappointing.
Victor Davis Hanson’s Reply:
Dear Angry (Sort of) Reader Loren Thacker,
Donald Trump was not my favorite in the primaries; but once he was likely to win the nomination (April 2016), I simply went to his website and collated his positions with Hillary Clinton’s on sanctuary cities, illegal immigration, defense, foreign policy, taxes, regulation, energy development, the EPA, the 2nd Amendment, the wall, school choice, and a host of other issues. The comparison supported my suspicions that he was more conservative and would not lose the Supreme Court for a generation to progressive massaging of the law, which was inevitable under Hillary Clinton. I think his appointments, Supreme Court pick, and executive orders have supported that belief that he is far more conservative than Hillary Clinton’s agendas. Oh, I came to another conclusion: I initially thought Trump might be the only nominee who would lose to Hillary Clinton; soon, however, I began to believe that he might be the only one who could beat her, given he was the first Republican to campaign in the Lee Atwater-style of 1988 and actually fought back against the WikiLeaks nexus of the media and Democratic Party.
As for his sometimes reckless tweets and outbursts, I calibrated three variables:
1) Were they any different from past presidents’? In fact, they were—but not to a degree that I thought his behavior endangered the republic. For all his antics at rallies, he did not yet say “punish our enemies” or urge his supporters to take a gun to a knife fight or to get in “their faces.” His silliness was similar to Joe Biden’s (“put you all in chains,” or his belief that FDR went on TV to the nation in 1929). Yes, I wish Trump was more sober and judicious, but then again we have had very unsober presidents and vice presidents in the past (LBJ showed the nation his surgery scars and reportedly exposed himself during a meeting). FDR carried on an affair while president. No need to mention JFK’s nocturnal romps. So far Trump is not using the Oval Office bathroom for trysts with subordinate interns. Much of Trump’s oafishness is media created and reflects a bit of class disdain. We all need, however, to watch every president and call out crudity when it occurs. (I am still not happy with the strained explanations of his jerky movements as not an affront to a disabled person.)
2) Did the media play a role in the demonization of Trump? I think it did. In the last few weeks we were told falsely that his lawyer went to Prague to cut a deal with the Russians, that he removed the bust of Martin Luther King from the Oval Office, and that he engaged in sexual debaucheries in Moscow—all absolutely not true. Who would trust the media after all that?
So much of the hysteria is driven by a furious media that was not so furious when Obama signed executive orders circumventing the law or the Clintons ran a veritable shake-down operation (where is it now?) at the Clinton Foundation. Not wanting to take refugees from Australia that had sent back to sea arriving migrants and had them deposited them in camps in nearby islands is not exactly an extreme position (by liberal standards, Australia is the illiberal actor, not Trump).
3) Do Trump’s episodic outbursts threaten his agendas? I don’t know, but the media will ensure that they will, if he is not more circumspect. So far he is by design creating chaos and has befuddled his opponents, but I think in the long run he must limit his exposure to gratuitous attacks by curbing his tweets—and I have written just that in the past. Trump’s agenda is fine; his pushback against an unhinged Left and biased media is healthy, but he must economize his outbursts given that the strategy of his opponents is to nick him daily in hopes of an aggregate bleed. We have four more years and he needs to conserve his strength and stamina and not get sidelined with spats with Merle Streep or Arnold at the Apprentice.
Remember, Obama was the revolution that sought to remake the country; the reaction to it is pushing the country back to the center—which appears now revolutionary. Trump’s stances on energy development, immigration, and foreign policy are not that much different from Bill Clinton’s or George H.W. Bush’s. They seem revolutionary because again he is correcting a revolution. Who had ever dreamed in 1995 of a sanctuary city, emulating the nullification policies of the Old Confederacy?
I appreciate your concern.
Victor Davis Hanson