Posted tagged ‘Victor Davis Hanson’

Beware of narratives and misinformation

September 7, 2017

Beware of narratives and misinformation, Washington Times, , September 6, 2017

Illustration on government agency deception by Linas Garsys/The Washington Times

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

There is not much left to the media myth of James Comey as dutiful FBI director, unjustly fired by a partisan and vindictive President Trump. A closer look suggests that Mr. Comey may have been the most politicized, duplicitous and out-of-control FBI director since J. Edgar Hoover.

There is also a media fantasy about the Antifa street protesters. Few have criticized their systematic use of violence. But when in history have youths running through the streets decked out in black with masks, clubs and shields acted nonviolently?

Antifa rioters in Charlottesville were praised by progressives for violently confronting a few-dozen creepy white supremacists, Klansmen and neo-Nazis. The supremacists were pathetic losers without any public or political support for their odious views, and they were condemned by both political parties. Yet Antifa’s use of violence was compared perversely by some progressives to American soldiers storming the beaches on D-Day.

Doubts about official narratives of the DNC leaks and the errant behavior of James Comey, and misinformation about the violent extremists of Antifa, illustrate media bias — not to mention entrenched government bureaucracies that are either incompetent, ethically compromised or completely politicized.

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U.S. intelligence agencies said Russia was responsible for hacking Democratic National Committee (DNC) email accounts, leading to the publication of about 20,000 stolen emails on WikiLeaks.

But that finding was reportedly based largely on the DNC’s strange outsourcing of the investigation to a private cybersecurity firm. Rarely does the victim of a crime first hire a private investigator whose findings later form the basis of government conclusions.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is many things. But so far he has not been caught lying about the origin of the leaked documents that came into his hands. He has insisted for well over a year that the Russians did not provide him with the DNC emails.

When it was discovered that the emails had been compromised, then-DNC Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz weirdly refused to allow forensic detectives from the FBI to examine the DNC server to probe the evidence of the theft. Why did the FBI accept that refusal?

That strange behavior was not as bizarre as Mrs. Wasserman Schultz’s later frenzied efforts to protect her information technology specialist, Imran Awan, from Capitol Police and FBI investigations. Both agencies were hot on Mr. Awan’s trail for unlawfully transferring secure data from government computers, and also for bank and federal procurement fraud.

So far, the story of the DNC hack is not fully known, but it may eventually be revealed that it involves other actors beyond just the Russians.

There is not much left to the media myth of James Comey as dutiful FBI director, unjustly fired by a partisan and vindictive President Trump. A closer look suggests that Mr. Comey may have been the most politicized, duplicitous and out-of-control FBI director since J. Edgar Hoover.

During the 2016 election, Mr. Comey, quite improperly, was put into the role of prosecutor, judge and jury in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. That proved a disaster. Mr. Comey has admitted under oath to deliberately leaking his own notes — which were likely government property — to the media to prompt the appointment of a special counsel. That ploy worked like clockwork, and by a strange coincidence it soon resulted in the selection of his friend, former FBI Director Robert Mueller.

Mr. Comey earlier had assured the public that his investigation of Mrs. Clinton had shown no prosecutable wrongdoing (a judgment that in normal times would not be the FBI’s to make). It has since been disclosed that Mr. Comey offered that conclusion before he had even interviewed Mrs. Clinton.

That inversion suggests that Mr. Comey had assumed that whatever he found out about Mrs. Clinton would not change the reality that the Obama administration would probably drop the inquiry anyway — so Mr. Comey made the necessary ethical adjustments.

Mr. Comey was also less than truthful when he testified that there had been no internal FBI communications concerning the infamous meeting between Mrs. Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch on an airport tarmac. In fact, there was a trail of FBI discussion about that supposedly secret rendezvous.

Before he fired Mr. Comey, Mr. Trump drafted a letter outlining the source of his anger. But it seemed to have little to do with the obstruction of justice.

Instead, Mr. Trump’s anguished letter complained about Mr. Comey’s private assurances that the president was not under FBI investigation, which were offered at about the same time a winking-and-nodding Mr. Comey would not confirm that reality to the press, thus leaving the apparently deliberate impression that a compromised president was in legal jeopardy.

There is also a media fantasy about the Antifa street protesters. Few have criticized their systematic use of violence. But when in history have youths running through the streets decked out in black with masks, clubs and shields acted nonviolently?

Antifa rioters in Charlottesville were praised by progressives for violently confronting a few-dozen creepy white supremacists, Klansmen and neo-Nazis. The supremacists were pathetic losers without any public or political support for their odious views, and they were condemned by both political parties. Yet Antifa’s use of violence was compared perversely by some progressives to American soldiers storming the beaches on D-Day.

Later, Antifa thuggery in Boston and Berkeley against free speech and against conservative groups without ties to white supremacists confirmed that the movement was fascistic in nature.

It was recently disclosed that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security had warned the Obama administration in 2016 that Antifa was a domestic terrorist organization that aimed to incite violence during street protests. That stark assessment and Antifa’s subsequent violence make the recent nonchalance of local police departments with regard to Antifa thuggery seem like an abject dereliction of duty.

Doubts about official narratives of the DNC leaks and the errant behavior of James Comey, and misinformation about the violent extremists of Antifa, illustrate media bias — not to mention entrenched government bureaucracies that are either incompetent, ethically compromised or completely politicized.

Potemkin universities

May 4, 2017

Potemkin universities, Washington Times

(Are we doomed? — DM)

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

College campuses still appear superficially to be quiet, well-landscaped refuges from the bustle of real life.

But increasingly, their spires, quads and ivy-covered walls are facades. They are now no more about free inquiry and unfettered learning than were the proverbial Potemkin fake buildings put up to convince the traveling Russian czarina Catherine II that her impoverished provinces were prosperous.

The university faces crises almost everywhere of student debt, university finances, free expression, and the very quality and value of a university education.

Take free speech. Without freedom of expression, there can be no university.

But if the recent examples at Berkeley, Claremont, Middlebury and Yale are any indication, there is nothing much left to the idea of a free and civilized exchange of different ideas.

At most universities, if a scheduled campus lecturer expressed scholarly doubt about the severity of man-caused global warming and the efficacy of its government remedies, or questioned the strategies of the Black Lives Matter movement, or suggested that sex is biologically determined rather than socially constructed, she likely would either be disinvited or have her speech physically disrupted. Campuses often now mimic the political street violence of the late Roman Republic.

Campus radicals have achieved what nuclear strategists call deterrence: Faculty and students now know precisely which speech will endanger their careers and which will earn them rewards.

The terrified campus community makes the necessary adjustments. As with the German universities of the 1930s, faculty keep quiet or offer politically correct speech through euphemisms. Toadies thrive; mavericks are hounded.

Shortchanged students collectively owe more than $1 trillion in student-loan debt — a sum that cannot be paid back by ill-prepared and often unemployed graduates.

Test scores have plummeted. Too many college students were never taught the basic referents of liberal education. Most supposedly aware, hip and politically engaged students can’t identify the Battle of Gettysburg or the Parthenon, or explain the idea of compounded interest.

Many students simply cannot do the work that was routinely assigned in the past. In response, as proverbially delicate “snowflakes,” they insist that they are traumatized and can only find remedy in laxer standards, gut courses and faculty deference.

“Studies” activist courses too often are therapeutic. They are neither inductive nor Socratic, and they rarely teach facts, methods and means of learning without insisting on predesignated conclusions. Instead, the student should leave the class with proper group-think and ideological race/class/gender fervor of the professor — a supposed new recruit for the larger progressive project.

Universities talk loudly of exploitation in America — in the abstract. But to address societal inequality, university communities need only look at how their own campuses operate. Part-time faculty with doctorates are paid far less than tenured full professors for often teaching the same classes — and thus subsidize top-heavy administrations.

Graduate teaching assistantships, internships and mentorships are designed to use inexpensive or free labor under the protocols of the medieval guild.

One reason that tuition is sky-high is because behind the facade of “trigger warnings,” “safe spaces” and “culture appropriation” are costly legions of deputy associate provosts, special assistants to the dean, and race/class/gender “senior strategists” and facilitators (usually former faculty who no longer teach).

Few admit that a vastly expanding and politically correct administrative industry reflects a massive shift of resources away from physics, humanities or biology — precisely the courses that nontraditional students need to become competitive.

One of the great mysteries of American life is nontransparent university admissions. No one knows quite how alumni legacies, deference to college athletics, or poorly defined affirmative action and haphazard diversity criteria actually operate.

At the California State University system — the nation’s largest — nearly 40 percent of incoming students need remediation in math and English after failing basic competency tests. Universities are now scrambling to offer university credit for what are, in truth, remedial high school courses, apparently to prevent eager (but entirely unprepared) students from hurt feelings when they butt up against the reality of college classes.

Careerist university administrators more often make the university change to accommodate the student rather than asking the incoming student to prepare to accommodate the time-honored university.

The results are watered-down classes, grade inflation — and student frustration and anger upon learning that entering college is not quite the same as graduating from college.

The way to ensure student confidence and self-reliance is not through identity-politics courses that emphasize racial, sexual and religious fault lines. Instead, only classes ensuring that students are well trained in writing, speaking, computing and inductive thinking will give assuredness of achievement — and, with it, self-confidence.

Apart from the sciences and the professional schools, campuses are a bubble of unearned self-congratulation — clueless that they have broken faith with a once-noble legacy of free inquiry and have lost the respect of most Americans.

The now melodramatic university has become a classical tragedy.

It’s No Revelation That Intelligence Agencies Are Politicized

January 19, 2017

It’s No Revelation That Intelligence Agencies Are Politicized, Town HallVictor Davis Hanson, January 19, 2017

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Furor has arisen over President-elect Donald Trump’s charges that our intelligence agencies are politicized.

Spare us the outrage. For decades, directors of intelligence agencies have often quite inappropriately massaged their assessments to fit administration agendas.

Careerists at these agencies naturally want to continue working from one administration to the next in “the king is dead; long live the king!” style. So they make the necessary political adjustments, which are sometimes quite at odds with their own agency’s findings and to the detriment of national security. The result is often confusion — and misinformation passed off as authoritative intelligence.

After Barack Obama won the 2008 election, George W. Bush intelligence adviser John Brennan stayed on as Obama’s homeland security adviser. He is currently the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Under Obama, Brennan loudly criticized the use of enhanced interrogation techniques under the Bush administration. Brennan praised his new boss for his superior approach to combating terrorism.

Brennan, who had served a year as the director of the National Counterterrorism Center under Bush, later assured the nation that enhanced interrogation techniques had helped “save lives” and were an important tool in combating terrorism.

In 2010, Brennan inexplicably declared that jihad was “a legitimate tenet of Islam, meaning to purify oneself or one’s community,” rather than the use of force against non-Muslims to promote the spread of Islam, as it is commonly defined in the Middle East.

Brennan assured the nation that the Obama administration’s drone assassination program had not resulted in “a single collateral death” — a claim widely disbelieved even by administration supporters.

Compare the similar odyssey of James Clapper, former undersecretary of defense for intelligence under George W. Bush.

During his Bush tenure, Clapper had declared that weapons of mass destruction in Iraq indeed had existed but were “unquestionably” sent to Syria shortly before the war began — a hypothesis perhaps favorable to the Bush administration but unsupported by his own intelligence officers.

Clapper also stayed on in the intelligence community under President Obama and eventually was promoted to director of national intelligence — and soon made the necessary transformations to adapt to an entirely new approach to radical Islamic terrorism.

Clapper asserted in congressional testimony that the National Security Agency under the Obama administration did not collect intelligence on Americans. Later, he confessed that such an inaccurate response was “the least untruthful” way of answering.

Few were convinced when Clapper insisted that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was “largely secular” — although that declaration fit well enough the themes voiced by Obama in his earlier Cairo speech.

Clapper was also faulted by military intelligence officers at CENTCOM for purportedly pressuring Pentagon officials to issue rosy reports about the supposed decline of the Islamic State — not accurate, but an administration talking point.

Former CIA Director George Tenet stayed on from the Bill Clinton administration to serve under George W. Bush. He soon became a chief proponent of the claim that Saddam Hussein had inventories on hand of weapons of mass destruction.

Tenet assured the president that WMD in Iraq was a “slam dunk” case — a conclusion that turned out not to be based on solid intelligence but was certainly welcomed by the administration.

Few believed early intelligence talking points that the American deaths in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012 were the result of a spontaneous riot caused by a right-wing filmmaker residing in the U.S.

But that implausible intelligence narrative dovetailed with the Obama re-election themes of an al-Qaida on the run and the dangers of Islamophobia in America. The false Benghazi hypothesis fueled then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s false claims on Sunday-morning talk shows that the Benghazi deaths were not caused by al-Qaida affiliates.

Such politicized assessments are not uncommon. The 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate ludicrously declared that Iran had halted work on nuclear enrichment in 2003. It was likely a politically driven pushback to the flawed 2002 intelligence on Iraqi WMD.

The media should spare its current outrage at any suggestion that politics affects the administration of some 16 major intelligence agencies. Journalists should instead listen to Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, who cynically warned Trump that intelligence agencies “have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.”

Careerism and ideology at the top sometimes undermine the work of patriotic and gifted case officers in the rank and file. The integrity of intelligence depends on the probity of individual intelligence chiefs — and the degree to which administration operatives are kept away from intelligence directors.

Reform requires honesty rather than the present self-righteous hypocrisy.

There are far too many separate intelligence agencies and thus too many agendas. Directors should have term limits. They should not reinvent themselves to bounce between various directorships from administration to administration.

Issuing absurd politically driven hypotheses should be grounds for dismissal — and giving false testimony to Congress should earn perjury charges.

Trump and the American Divide

January 15, 2017

Trump and the American Divide, City JournalVictor Davis Hanson, Winter 2017

In sum, Donald Trump captured the twenty-first-century malaise of a rural America left behind by globalized coastal elites and largely ignored by the establishments of both political parties. Central to Trump’s electoral success, too, were age-old rural habits and values that tend to make the interior broadly conservative. That a New York billionaire almost alone grasped how red-state America truly thought, talked, and acted, and adjusted his message and style accordingly, will remain one of the astonishing ironies of American political history.

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At 7 AM in California’s rural Central Valley, not long before the recent presidential election, I stopped to talk with an elderly irrigator on the shared border alleyway of my farm. His face was a wrinkled latticework, his false teeth yellow. His truck smelled of cigarettes, its cab overflowing with flotsam and jetsam: butts, scribbled notes, drip-irrigation parts, and empty soda cans. He rolled down the window and muttered something about the plunging water-table level and whether a weak front would bring any rain. And then, this dinosaur put one finger up on the wheel as a salutation and drove off in a dust cloud.

Five hours later, and just 180 miles distant, I bought a coffee at a Starbucks on University Avenue in Palo Alto, the heart of Silicon Valley, the spawn of Stanford University. Two young men sat at the table next to me, tight “high-water” pants rising above their ankles, coat cuffs drawn up their forearms, and shirts buttoned all the way to the top, in retro-nerd style. Their voices were nasal, their conversation rapid-fire— politics, cars, houses, vacations, fashion, and restaurants all came up. They were speaking English, but of a very different kind from the irrigator’s, accentuating a sense of being on the move and upbeat about the booming reality surrounding them.

I hadn’t just left one part of America to visit another, it seemed, but instead blasted off from one solar system to enter another cosmos, light-years distant. And to make the contrast even more radical, the man in the truck in Fresno County was Mexican-American and said that he was voting for Trump, while the two in Palo Alto were white, clearly affluent—and seemed enthused about Hillary Clinton’s sure win to come.

The postelection map of Republican and Democratic counties mirrored my geographical disconnect. The Donald Trump nation of conservative red spanned the country, to within a few miles of the two coasts, covering 85 percent of the nation’s land area. Yet Clinton won the popular vote, drawing most of her support in razor-thin, densely populated blue ribbons up and down the East and West Coast corridors and in the Great Lakes nexus. As disgruntled liberal commentator Henry Grabar summed up the election result: “We now have a rural party and an urban party. The rural party won.” This time around, anyway.

The urban party has been getting beat up a lot, even before Trump’s surprising victory. Not only have the Democrats surrendered Congress; they now control just 13 state legislatures and 15 governorships—far below where they were pre–Barack Obama. Over the past decade, more than 1,000 elected Democratic state lawmakers have lost their jobs, with most of the hemorrhaging taking place outside the cities. As political analyst Ron Brownstein puts it, “Of all the overlapping generational, racial, and educational divides that explained Trump’s stunning upset over Hillary Clinton . . . none proved more powerful than the distance between the Democrats’ continued dominance of the largest metropolitan areas, and the stampede toward the GOP almost everywhere else.”

“Everywhere else” basically means anywhere but the two coasts. After the election, in liberal, urban America, one often heard Trump’s win described as the revenge of the yahoos in flyover country, fueled by their angry “isms” and “ias”: racism, anti-Semitism, nativism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and so on. Many liberals consoled themselves that Trump’s victory was the last hurrah of bigoted, Republican white America, soon to be swept away by vast forces beyond its control, such as global migration and the cultural transformation of America into something far from the Founders’ vision.

As insurance, though, furious progressives also renewed calls to abolish the Electoral College, advocating for a constitutional amendment that would turn presidential elections into national plebiscites. Direct presidential voting would shift power to heavily urbanized areas—why waste time trying to reach more dispersed voters in less populated rural states?—and thus institutionalize the greater economic and cultural clout of the metropolitan blue-chip universities, the big banks, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, New York–Washington media, and Hollywood, Democrat-voting all.

Barack Obama’s two electoral victories deluded the Democrats into thinking that it was politically wise to jettison their old blue-collar appeal to the working classes, mostly living outside the cities these days, in favor of an identity politics of a new multicultural, urban America. Yet Trump’s success represented more than simply a triumph of rural whites over multiracial urbanites. More ominously for liberals, it also suggested that a growing minority of blacks and Hispanics might be sympathetic with a “country” mind-set that rejects urban progressive elitism. For some minorities, sincerity and directness might be preferable to sloganeering by wealthy white urban progressives, who often seem more worried about assuaging their own guilt than about genuinely understanding people of different colors.

Trump’s election underscored two other liberal miscalculations. First, Obama’s progressive agenda and cultural elitism prevailed not because of their ideological merits, as liberals believed, but because of his great appeal to urban minorities in 2008 and 2012, who voted in solidarity for the youthful first African-American president in numbers never seen before. That fealty wasn’t automatically transferable to liberal white candidates, including the multimillionaire 69-year-old Hillary Clinton. Obama had previously lost most of America’s red counties, but not by enough to keep him from winning two presidential elections, with sizable urban populations in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania turning out to vote for the most left-wing presidential candidate since George McGovern.

Second, rural America hadn’t fully raised its electoral head in anger in 2008 and 2012 because it didn’t see the Republican antidotes to Obama’s progressive internationalism as much better than the original malady. Socially moderate establishmentarians like the open-borders-supporting John McCain or wealthy businessman Mitt Romney didn’t resonate with the spirit of rural America—at least not enough to persuade millions to come to the polls instead of sitting the elections out. Trump connected with these rural voters with far greater success than liberals anticipated. Urban minorities failed in 2016 to vote en bloc, in their Obama-level numbers; and rural Americans, enthused by Trump, increased their turnout, so that even a shrinking American countryside still had enough clout to win.

What is insufficiently understood is why a hurting rural America favored the urban, superrich Trump in 2016 and, more generally, tends to vote more conservative than liberal. Ostensibly, the answer is clear: an embittered red-state America has found itself left behind by elite-driven globalization, battered by unfettered trade and high-tech dislocations in the economy. In some of the most despairing counties, rural life has become a mirror image of the inner city, ravaged by drug use, criminality, and hopelessness.

Yet if muscular work has seen a decline in its relative monetary worth, it has not necessarily lost its importance. After all, the elite in Washington and Menlo Park appreciate the fresh grapes and arugula that they purchase at Whole Foods. Someone mined the granite used in their expensive kitchen counters and cut the timber for their hardwood floors. The fuel in their hybrid cars continues to come from refined oil. The city remains as dependent on this elemental stuff—typically produced outside the suburbs and cities—as it always was. The two Palo Altoans at Starbucks might have forgotten that their overpriced homes included two-by-fours, circuit breakers, and four-inch sewer pipes, but somebody somewhere made those things and brought them into their world.

In the twenty-first century, though, the exploitation of natural resources and the manufacturing of products are more easily outsourced than are the arts of finance, insurance, investments, higher education, entertainment, popular culture, and high technology, immaterial sectors typically pursued within metropolitan contexts and supercharged by the demands of increasingly affluent global consumers. A vast government sector, mostly urban, is likewise largely impervious to the leveling effects of a globalized economy, even as its exorbitant cost and extended regulatory reach make the outsourcing of material production more likely. Asian steel may have devastated Youngstown, but Chinese dumping had no immediate effect on the flourishing government enclaves in Washington, Maryland, and Virginia, filled with well-paid knowledge workers. Globalization, big government, and metastasizing regulations have enriched the American coasts, in other words, while damaging much of the nation’s interior.

Few major political leaders before Trump seemed to care. He hammered home the point that elites rarely experienced the negative consequences of their own ideologies. New York Times columnists celebrating a “flat” world have yet to find themselves flattened by Chinese writers willing to write for a fraction of their per-word rate. Tenured Harvard professors hymning praise to global progressive culture don’t suddenly discover their positions drawn and quartered into four part-time lecturer positions. And senators and bureaucrats in Washington face no risk of having their roles usurped by low-wage Vietnamese politicians. Trump quickly discovered that millions of Americans were irate that the costs and benefits of our new economic reality were so unevenly distributed.

As the nation became more urban and its wealth soared, the old Democratic commitment from the Roosevelt era to much of rural America—construction of water projects, rail, highways, land banks, and universities; deference to traditional values; and Grapes of Wrath–like empathy—has largely been forgotten. A confident, upbeat urban America promoted its ever more radical culture without worrying much about its effects on a mostly distant and silent small-town other. In 2008, gay marriage and women in combat were opposed, at least rhetorically, by both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in their respective presidential campaigns. By 2016, mere skepticism on these issues was viewed by urban elites as reactionary ignorance. In other words, it was bad enough that rural America was getting left behind economically; adding insult to injury, elite America (which is Democrat America) openly caricatured rural citizens’ traditional views and tried to force its own values on them. Lena Dunham’s loud sexual politics and Beyoncé’s uncritical evocation of the Black Panthers resonated in blue cities and on the coasts, not in the heartland. Only in today’s bifurcated America could billion-dollar sports conglomerates fail to sense that second-string San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protests of the national anthem would turn off a sizable percentage of the National Football League’s viewing audience, which is disproportionately conservative and middle American. These cultural themes, too, Trump addressed forcefully.

Is there something about the land itself that promotes conservatism? The answer is as old as Western civilization. For the classical Greeks, the asteios(“astute”; astu: city) was the sophisticated “city-like” man, while the agroikos(“agrarian”; agros: farm/field) was synonymous with roughness. And yet there was ambiguity as well in the Greek city/country dichotomy: city folk were also laughed at in the comedies of Aristophanes as too impractical and too clever for their own good, while the unpolished often displayed a more grounded sensibility. In the Roman world, the urbanus (“urbane”; urbs: city) was sometimes too sophisticated, while the rusticus (“rustic”; rus: countryside) was often balanced and pragmatic.

Country people in the Western tradition lived in a shame culture. Family reputation hinged on close-knit assessments of personal behavior only possible in small communities of the like-minded and tribal. The rural ethos could not afford radical changes in lifestyles when the narrow margins of farming safety rested on what had worked in the past. By contrast, self-reinvention and social experimentation were possible only in large cities of anonymous souls and varieties of income and enrichment. Rural people, that is, don’t honor tradition and habit because they’re somehow better human beings than their urban counterparts; a face-to-face, rooted society offers practical reinforcement for doing so.

In classical literature, patriotism and civic militarism were always closely linked with farming and country life. In the twenty-first century, this is still true. The incubator of the U.S. officer corps is red-state America. “Make America Great Again” reverberated in the pro-military countryside because it emphasized an exceptionalism at odds with the Left’s embrace of global values. Residents in Indiana and Wisconsin were unimpressed with the Democrats’ growing embrace of European-style “soft power,” socialism, and statism—all the more so in an age of European constitutional, financial, and immigration sclerosis. Trump’s slogan unabashedly expressed American individualism; Clinton’s “Stronger Together” gave off a whiff of European socialist solidarity.

Farming, animal husbandry, mining, logging—these traditional bodily tasks were often praised in the past as epitomes of the proper balance between physical and mental, nature and culture, fact and theory. In classical pastoral and Georgic poetry, the city-bound often romanticized the countryside, even if, on arrival, they found the flies and dirt of Arcadia bothersome. Theocritus and Virgil reflected that, in the trade-offs imposed by transforming classical societies, the earthiness lost by city dwellers was more grievous to their souls than the absence of erudition and sophistication was to the souls of simpler farmers and shepherds.

Trump, the billionaire Manhattanite wheeler-dealer, made an unlikely agrarian, true; but he came across during his presidential run as a clear advocate of old-style material jobs, praising vocational training and clearly enjoying his encounters with middle-American homemakers, welders, and carpenters. Trump talked more on the campaign about those who built his hotels than those who financed them. He could point to the fact that he made stuff, unlike Clinton, who got rich without any obvious profession other than leveraging her office.

Give the thrice-married, orange-tanned, and dyed-haired Trump credit for his political savvy in promising to restore to the dispossessed of the Rust Belt their old jobs and to give back to farmers their diverted irrigation water, and for assuring small towns that arriving new Americans henceforth would be legal—and that, over time, they would become similar to their hosts in language, custom, and behavior.

27_1-vdh2Hillary Clinton, speaking here at a Silicon Valley conference, drew strong support from technocratic elites. (JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES)

Changes come more slowly to rural interior areas, given that the sea, the historical importer of strange people and weird ideas, is far away. Maritime Athens was liberal, democratic, and cosmopolitan; its antithesis, landlocked Sparta, was oligarchic, provincial, and tradition-bound. In the same way, rural upstate New York isn’t Manhattan, and Provo isn’t Portland. Rural people rarely meet—and tend not to wish to meet—the traders, foreigners, and importers who arrive at ports with their foreign money and exotic customs.

The “Old Oligarch”—a name given to the author of a treatise by an anonymous right-wing grouch of fifth-century BC Athens—described the subversive hustle and the cornucopia of imported goods evident every day at the port of Piraeus. If one wished to destroy the purity of rural, conservative society, his odd rant went, then the Athens of Pericles would be just about the best model to follow. Ironically, part of Trump’s attraction for red-state America was his posture as a coastal-elite insider—but now enlisted on the side of the rustics. A guy who had built hotels all over the world, and understood how much money was made and lost through foreign investment, offered to put such expertise in the service of the heartland—against the supposed currency devaluers, trade cheats, and freeloaders of Europe, China, and Japan.

Language is also different in the countryside. Rural speech serves, by its very brevity and directness, as an enhancement to action. Verbosity and rhetoric, associated with urbanites, were always rural targets in classical literature, precisely because they were seen as ways to disguise reality so as to advance impractical or subversive political agendas. Thucydides, nearly 2,500 years before George Orwell’s warnings about linguistic distortion, feared how, in times of strife, words changed their meanings, with the more polished and urbane subverting the truth by masking it in rhetoric that didn’t reflect reality. In the countryside, by contrast, crops either grow or wither; olive trees either yield or remain barren; rain either arrives or is scarce. Words can’t change these existential facts, upon which living even one more day often depends. For the rural mind, language must convey what is seen and heard; it is less likely to indulge adornment.

Today’s rural-minded Americans are little different. Trump’s appeal to the interior had partly to do with his politically incorrect forthrightness. Each time Trump supposedly blundered in attacking a sacred cow—sloppily deprecating national hero John McCain’s wartime captivity or nastily attacking Fox superstar Megyn Kelly for her supposed unfairness—the coastal media wrote him off as a vulgar loser. Not Trump’s base. Seventy-five percent of his supporters polled that his crude pronouncements didn’t bother them. As one grape farmer told me after the Access Hollywood hot-mike recordings of Trump making sexually vulgar remarks had come to light, “Who cares? I’d take Trump on his worst day better than Hillary on her best.” Apparently red-state America was so sick of empty word-mongering that it appreciated Trump’s candor, even when it was sometimes inaccurate, crude, or cruel. Outside California and New York City and other elite blue areas, for example, foreigners who sneak into the country and reside here illegally are still “illegal aliens,” not “undocumented migrants,” a blue-state term that masks the truth of their actions. Trump’s Queens accent and frequent use of superlatives—“tremendous,” “fantastic,” “awesome”—weren’t viewed by red-state America as a sign of an impoverished vocabulary but proof that a few blunt words can capture reality.

To the rural mind, verbal gymnastics reveal dishonest politicians, biased journalists, and conniving bureaucrats, who must hide what they really do and who they really are. Think of the arrogant condescension of Jonathan Gruber, one of the architects of the disastrous Obamacare law, who admitted that the bill was written deliberately in a “tortured way” to mislead the “stupid” American voter. To paraphrase Cicero on his preference for the direct Plato over the obscure Pythagoreans, rural Americans would have preferred to be wrong with the blunt-talking Trump than to be right with the mush-mouthed Hillary Clinton. One reason that Trump may have outperformed both McCain and Romney with minority voters was that they appreciated how much the way he spoke rankled condescending white urban liberals.

Poorer, less cosmopolitan, rural people can also experience a sense of inferiority when they venture into the city, unlike smug urbanites visiting red-state America. The rural folk expect to be seen as deplorables, irredeemables, and clingers by city folk. My countryside neighbors do not wish to hear anything about Stanford University, where I work—except if by chance I note that Stanford people tend to be condescending and pompous, confirming my neighbors’ suspicions about city dwellers. And just as the urban poor have always had their tribunes, so, too, have rural residents flocked to an Andrew Jackson or a William Jennings Bryan, politicians who enjoyed getting back at the urban classes for perceived slights. The more Trump drew the hatred of PBS, NPR, ABC, NBC, CBS, the elite press, the universities, the foundations, and Hollywood, the more he triumphed in red-state America.

Indeed, one irony of the 2016 election is that identity politics became a lethal boomerang for progressives. After years of seeing America reduced to a binary universe, with culpable white Christian males encircled by ascendant noble minorities, gays, feminists, and atheists—usually led by courageous white-male progressive crusaders—red-state America decided that two could play the identity-politics game. In 2016, rural folk did silently in the voting booth what urban America had done to them so publicly in countless sitcoms, movies, and political campaigns.

In sum, Donald Trump captured the twenty-first-century malaise of a rural America left behind by globalized coastal elites and largely ignored by the establishments of both political parties. Central to Trump’s electoral success, too, were age-old rural habits and values that tend to make the interior broadly conservative. That a New York billionaire almost alone grasped how red-state America truly thought, talked, and acted, and adjusted his message and style accordingly, will remain one of the astonishing ironies of American political history.

The Nine Lives of Donald J. Trump

August 23, 2016

The Nine Lives of Donald J. Trump, National Review, Victor Davis Hanson, August 23, 2016

Whatever his faults, a Trump victory is preferable for the Republic.

Seasoned Republican political handlers serially attack Donald Trump and his campaign as amateurish, incompetent, and incoherent. The media somehow outdid their propaganda work for Barack Obama and have signed on as unapologetic auxiliaries to the Hillary Clinton campaign — and openly brag that, in Trump’s case, the duty of a journalist is to be biased. We have devolved to the point that a Harvard Law professor teases about unethically releasing his old confidential notes of his lawyer/client relationship with Trump.

Conservative columnists and analysts are so turned off by Trump that they resort to sophisticated metaphors to express their distaste — like “abortion,” “ape,” “bastard,” “bitch,” “cancer,” “caudillo,” “dog crap,” “filth,” “idiot,” “ignoramus,” and “moron.” Some of them variously talk of putting a bullet through his head given that he resembles, or is worse than, Caesar, Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin. Derangement Syndrome is a more apt clinical diagnosis for the Right’s hatred of Trump than it was for the Left’s loathing of Bush. Had such venom been directed at leftists or minorities, the commentators likely would have lost their venues.

Trump’s political obituary over the last 14 months has been rewritten about every three weeks. During the primaries, each time he won a state we were told that that victory was his last. Now, in the general-election campaign, his crude ego is supposedly driving the Republican ticket into oblivion. The media have discovered that what gets Trump’s goat is not denouncing his coarseness, but lampooning his lack of cash and poor polling: broke and being a loser is supposedly far worse for Trump’s ego than being obnoxious and cruel. So far, he is behind in most of the polls most of the time.

But not so fast!

Mysteriously, each time he hits rock bottom, Trump — even before his recent “pivot” — begins a two-week chrysalis cycle of inching back in the polls to within 2 or 3 points of Clinton. Apparently Trump represents something well beyond Trump per se. He appears to be a vessel of, rather than a catalyst for, popular furor at “elites” — not so much the rich, but the media/political/academic/celebrity global establishment that derides the ethos of the middle class as backward and regressive, mostly as a means for enjoying their own apartheid status and sense of exalted moral self, without guilt over their generational influence and privilege.

Given the surprise of Brexit and Trump’s unexpected dominance of the primaries, pollsters seem to fear that his populist support is underreported by 2 or 3 percentage points. Some voters who do not openly profess that they plan to vote for Trump might do just that in the privacy of the polling booth — even as they might later deny that fact to others.

His latest pivot may be too late, but it certainly hit the right notes by presenting his populist themes — unwise trade deals, defense cuts, inner-city violence, attacks against police, illegal immigration, the war on coal, big-government regulations, and boutique environmentalism — as symptomatic of elite neglect not just of the white working class but of minorities as well, upon whom liberal policy falls most heavily. By curbing his personal invective and focusing on Obama’s incompetence and Clinton’s corruption, Trump may succeed in allowing 4 or 5 percent of the missing Republicans and independents to return and vote for him without incurring social disdain.

The news cycle favors any outsider — certainly including Trump.

About every three weeks, terrorists butcher innocents in one or another Western country, usually screaming “Allahu Akbar” during their victims’ death throes. These terrorists have often been watched but otherwise left alone by intelligence agencies. Liberal pieties follow, along with warnings to the public about their prejudices, rather than admonitions to radical Islamists to stop their killing.

The ensuing public backlash does not mesh with the Obama–Clinton narrative that the killings were mere workplace violence, a generic form of “violent extremism,” or had “nothing to do with Islam.” Like Jimmy Carter, with his infamous inability to frame the Iranian hostage crisis, so too the latest manifestation of Hillary Clinton is simply unable to identify the origin, nature, and extent of the terrorist threat — much less offer a solution.

When the president upgrades the ISIS threat from a jayvee classification to something analogous to a fall in the bathroom, the public is not reassured that his former secretary of state understands radical Islamic terrorism.

In the same vein, with 11 million illegal aliens in the U.S., almost daily we hear a news report of yet another illegal-alien felony, or a new sanctuary city, or an effort by the “undocumented” to get the vote out — none of which enhances open-borders Hillary.

Many of us have been saying for a year now that the last six months of the Obama administration will likely be the most dangerous interlude since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 or the Carter meltdown of 1980. Restive aggressors abroad have long concluded that Obama is conflicted about American morality, power, and responsibility. After his faux deadlines, redlines, and step-over lines, his apologies, his mythographical speeches, and his deer-in-the-headlights reactions to overseas challenges, he appears to foreign opportunists to be indifferent to the consequences of American laxity and lead-from-behind withdrawal.

Putin is now massing troops near Ukraine. Iran is absorbing Iraq and Syria. China has carved out a thalassocracy in the South China Sea. Tensions will only rise in these areas in the next 90 days, to the point of either outright war or more insidious and humiliating withdrawals from U.S. interests and allies. Either scenario favors Trump’s Jacksonian bluster.

When a black police officer in Milwaukee fatally shoots a fleeing armed suspect — who had a lengthy arrest record and had turned to fire with his stolen automatic pistol — and anti-police riots follow, then it is hard to conceive under what conditions of legitimate police self defense that riots would not ensue. While there is plenty of public sympathy for refocusing on the general conditions in the inner city that may foster a high crime rate, there is none for focusing on their riotous manifestations.

After “hands up, don’t shoot” in Ferguson, the police acquittals in Baltimore, and now Milwaukee, the inevitable next riot will further hurt Hillary Clinton, who has mortgaged her campaign soul to Obama’s electoral calculus of 2008/2012. Meanwhile the daily carnage in Obama’s hometown of Chicago continues, out of sight and out of mind to the Democratic party. Hillary

Clinton has lied about her e-mails, her personal server, and the supposed firewall between her and the Clinton Foundation. She has lied about almost every detail of her tenure as secretary of state, from the killings in Benghazi to her knowledge of sending and receiving classified material. We are back to the cattle-future lying of 1979, when  Hillary was said to have had a 31-trillion-to-one chance of telling the truth about her hundred-fold profit.

The problem with chronic lying is that finally the liar reaches a combustible state, one in which she cannot lie any more without contradicting a particular prior lie and yet cannot tell the truth without contradicting all prior lies. To keep them straight, one needs an amoral photographic memory. Hillary Clinton has the requisite shamelessness, but (unlike Bill) not the animal cunning to pull off such serial prevarication. In her latest fabrication that has begrudgingly come to light, Hillary had blamed Colin Powell (who never set up a private server as secretary of state) as the supposed felonious model that prompted her to break the law.

So expect more lies about hacked e-mail from the Clinton Foundation, Hillary’s deleted e-mail accounts, the DNC records, or some as yet unknown private communication about every 48 hours until November. If Trump’s fantasies are the bluster, narcissism, and adolescence of a real-estate and show-biz wheeler-dealer, Clinton’s lies are the steely-eyed and deliberate work of a long-time sociopathic prevaricator who destroys all those around her who weave the webs of her deceit.

Barack Obama is not necessarily a plus for Clinton. The president does well in the polls while he is off golfing with celebrities and sports stars, and is thus not heard or seen much in the world outside Martha’s Vineyard — the world in which coffins float about in flood-ravaged Louisiana, the Putin military build-up near Ukraine continues, or the Obamacare disaster grows. But whenever Obama reemerges to campaign for Hillary, he inevitably winds up in his characteristic condescending rambles and rants — the most recent his ridiculous lying about the Iranian ransom/“leverage” payment.

Clinton will win the election if she (and Trump’s own alter ego) can continue to convince the public that Trump is dangerous, repulsive, and unfit to a degree not seen before in politics — and thus every new day is devoted to Trump’s mouth and not Hillary’s high crimes and misdemeanors. But if Trump can pivot to focus on policy, about which he sometimes proves to be a skilled speaker and clever antagonist, then media attention will shift from Trump to the issues and the daily news. And all that fare is innately damaging to Hillary.

Trump has two enemies: money and Trump himself. In his peculiar way, Trump is able to work the teleprompter as effectively as Obama, and when disciplined is far better in unscripted repartee. All that explains why Trump has not yet quite killed Trump off, and why in any given ten-day recovery period he has the potential to creep within 2 or 3 points of Hillary, which this year may mean a dead-even race.

Yet Trump so far can get close to Clinton, but not 3 to 4 points ahead. To do that would require continued zeal, but also a complete end to his personal invective against irrelevant third parties — and an ability to raise a lot of money quickly and get his message out in a multimedia campaign.

Trump will also have to show reluctant conservative big-money donors that he is serious about the presidency, perhaps with the dramatic gesture of selling off a building or two to infuse his campaign with millions of dollars of good-faith money. That signal might be the sort of financial sacrifice that would encourage traditional donors to give to a common effort and cease talk that Trump was never seriously in the race before being surprised by his unexpected resonance. If he can pick up an additional 4 to 5 percent of Republicans, or win a quarter of the Latino vote, or 10 percent of the black vote, he likely will win the election — big ifs, of course.

For now, openly siding with Trump is still not “done” in the New York–Washington corridor. But if Trump were to pull even and stay that way for a week, and curb his bombast, he might be able to assemble a team of advisors and possible cabinet members whom he could reference in the matter of possible Supreme Court picks, lending further legitimacy to his candidacy.

There is a herd-like mentality in Washington and New York, where the gospel is not professed politics, but unspoken allegiance to a perceived winner. Momentum is the deity. If Trump were to creep out ahead, one should not be surprised about the resulting silence in the Never Trump camp, or about those who would suddenly “be willing” to join a Team Trump. Epithets like “ape” and “Hitler” would mysteriously disappear. For those worried about a satanic President Trump, they should at least concede that Republican elites sign letters of dissent against their own nominee, whom the media seek to destroy at every turn; in contrast, there will be no Democratic establishment cries of outrage over Hillary Clinton’s past and future crimes and sins — and the media will abet, not censure, her excesses.

What is forgotten in the Trump pessimism is that even with less than three months until Election Day, the Republican nominee — after the worst imaginable self-inflicted wounds, and with a complete absence of serious fundraising, an ad campaign, or a ground game — still is within striking distance of winning the election. If he were to do so, for the first time in a generation, the Republican party would likely control both houses of Congress, the presidency, and the future of the Supreme Court — with a public on record in support of radical change and without need to pacify its old establishment. Certainly, an attorney general like Rudy Giuliani would be preferable to Loretta Lynch, just as a John Bolton at State would not run the department in the fashion that Clinton herself did during Obama’s first term.

Such is the unrelenting popular furor at political correctness, the political and media aristocracy, the Obama record, and the immorality of Hillary Clinton that a candidate with no political experience, little campaign cash, and serious character problems may overturn a century of conventional wisdom. The choice of winning or losing the election is now mostly Trump’s own.

Where Is Obama’s ‘Broad Coalition’?

September 21, 2014

Where Is Obama’s ‘Broad Coalition’? National Review Online, Victor Davis Hanson, September 18, 2014

The OnePresident Obama addresses servicemembers at MacDill Air Force Base. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The so-called Islamic State has left destruction everywhere that it has gained ground. But as in the case of the tribal Scythians, Vandals, Huns, or Mongols of the past, sowing chaos in its wake does not mean that the Islamic State won’t continue to seek new targets for its devastation.

If unchecked, the Islamic State will turn what is left of the nations of the Middle East into a huge Mogadishu-like tribal wasteland, from the Syrian Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf. And they will happily call the resulting mess a caliphate.

It is critical for United States to put together some sort of alliance of friendly Middle East governments and European states to stop the Islamic State before it becomes a permanent base for terrorist operations against the U.S. and its allies. Unfortunately, it appears unlikely that the U.S. will line up a muscular alliance — at least until the Islamic State reaches the gates of Baghdad or plows on through to Saudi Arabia and forces millions of Arabs either to fight or submit.

Why the reluctance for allies to join the U.S.?

Most in the Middle East and Europe do not believe the Obama administration knows much about the Islamic State, much less what to do about it. The president has dismissed it in the past as a jayvee team that could be managed, contradicting the more dire assessments of his own secretary of defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

When Obama finally promised to destroy the Islamic State, Secretary of State John Kerry almost immediately backtracked that idea of a full-blown war. Current CIA director John Brennan once dismissed as absurd any idea of Islamic terrorists seeking a modern caliphate. It may be absurd, but it is now also all too real.

Such confusion sadly is not new. The president hinges our hopes on the ground on the Free Syrian Army — which he chose not to help when it once may have been viable. And not long ago he dismissed it as an inexperienced group of doctors and farmers whose utility was mostly a “fantasy.”

No ally is quite sure of what Obama wants to do about Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom he once threatened to bomb for using chemical weapons before backing off.

Potential allies also feel that the Obama administration will get them involved in an operation only to either lose interest or leave them hanging. When Obama entered office in 2009, Iraq was mostly quiet. Both the president and Vice President Joe Biden soon announced it was secure and stable. Then they simply pulled out all U.S. troops, bragged during their re-election campaign that they had ended the war, and let our Iraqi and Kurdish allies fend for themselves against suddenly emboldened Islamic terrorists.

In Libya, the administration followed the British and French lead in bombing the Moammar Gadhafi regime out of power — but then failed to help dissidents fight opportunistic Islamists. The result was the Benghazi disaster, a caricature of a strategy dubbed “leading from behind,” and an Afghanistan-like failed state facing Europe across the Mediterranean.

Now, the president claims authorization to bomb the Islamic State based on a 13-year-old joint resolution — a Bush administration-sponsored effort that Obama himself had often criticized. If the president cannot make a new case to Congress and the American people for bombing the Islamic State, then allies will assume that he cannot build an effective coalition either.

Finally, potential allies doubt that the United States wants to be engaged abroad. They are watching China flex its muscles in the South China Sea. They have not yet seen a viable strategy to stop the serial aggression of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Iran seems to consider U.S. deadlines to stop nuclear enrichment in the same manner that Assad scoffed at administration red lines. With Egypt, the administration seemed confused about whether to support the tottering Hosni Mubarak government, the radical Muslim Brotherhood, or the junta of General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi — only at times to oppose all three.

Obama himself seems disengaged, if not bored, with foreign affairs. After publicly deploring the beheading of American journalist James Foley, Obama hit the golf course. When the media reported the disconnect, he scoffed that it was just bad “optics.”

There is a legitimate debate about the degree to which the United States should conduct a preemptive war to stop the Islamic State before it gobbles up any more nations. But so far the president has not entered that debate, much less won it.

No wonder, then, that potential allies do not quite know what the U.S. is doing, how long America will fight, and what will happen to U.S. allies when we likely get tired, quit, and leave.

For now, most allies are sitting tight and waiting for preemptive, unilateral U.S. action. If we begin defeating the Islamic State, they may eventually join in on the kill; if not, they won’t.

That is a terrible way to wage coalition warfare, but we are reaping what we have sown.