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It is in no way pleasant to register a disagreement with those I hold in high esteem, least of all those whose wonderful minds and spirit I have admired for many years. Nevertheless, intellectual honesty and critical vigor reminds us that there are times when distinctions must be drawn or, as H.L. Mencken observed, “Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” Though I hasten to add, given a recently discovered constitutional right not to be offended, that I am employing Mr. Mencken’s quote metaphorically.
Nevertheless, the sheer magnitude and groaning weight of condescension and scorn being piled on the shoulders of anyone with the effrontery to point out that Donald Trump has actually made some legitimate points is becoming increasingly difficult to take politely. Mona Charen, whose work I’ve enjoyed since Crossfire and Capital Gang days, registered her incredulity on the Trump phenomena with a recent article that began: “President Obama seems on the verge of the most abject diplomatic capitulation in American history — to Iran, our bitterest enemy — and Republicans are arguing about Donald Trump?”
To which I would reply: “Republican leaders from Mitch McConnell and John Boehner to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, are engaged in the most abject and total political capitulation in American history — to a president who is presiding over the liquidation of American Constitutional order; who ignores, alters, or invents laws at whim; and who arms mortal enemies while emasculating American defenses and antagonizing allies — and the GOP is getting the vapors over Donald Trump?”
Then there is Kevin D. Williamson, whose inestimable mind usually produces some of the most incisive commentary and analysis to be found anywhere, but who paused recently to have a meltdown at the expense of those who are positively exasperated with a Republican party that prefers fighting its own members to fighting a lawless President. “The WHINO,” writes Williamson, “is a captive of the populist Right’s master narrative which is the tragic tale of the holy, holy base the victory of which would be entirely assured if not for the machinations of the perfidious Establishment.” Listing current disasters that run the gamut from ISIS to Democrats, from economics to Vladimir Putin, Mr. Williamson goes on to belittle and mischaracterize those whose votes he presumably desires, writing, “Barack Obama? Pshaw. The real enemy is Jeb Bush.”
If Barack Obama is the real enemy, as Mr. Williamson correctly implies, perhaps he can remind Messrs McConnell and Boehner of that fact before they finish handing over what’s left of the Constitution to him. “We will use the power of the purse to push back against this overactive bureaucracy,” promised Mitch McConnell while soliciting our votes in 2014. “We’re going to fight the president tooth and nail if he continues down this path,” John Boehner defiantly assured us with respect to the president’s executive amnesty initiative. Not to be outdone, Lindsay Graham thundered (to the extent he can), “I don’t mind targeted approaches to defund the executive order.” Then, less than 24 hours after voters gave these modern-day Brave Hearts definitive control of the legislative branch and a mandate to go forth and stop the madness, Mitch McConnell unilaterally surrendered the Senate’s constitutional power of the purse to the “real enemy.”
Unsatisfied with that capitulation, the new Senate Majority Leader, fresh from beating his conservative primary challenger “like a pack of circus monkeys,” as Williamson reminds us, presided over the surrender of the Senate’s treaty power via the Corker bill, effectively reducing President Obama’s legislative hurdle from 67 votes in the Senate down to a mere 34 as he pursues accommodation with genocidal monsters in Tehran. As surely as capitulation breeds contempt, the president then responded by initiating an end-run around Congress via the United Nations. Calling this, “a breathtaking assault on American sovereignty and congressional prerogative,” Republican Senator Mark Kirk hyperventilates, “I am shocked that Secretary of State Kerry actually admitted, on the record, that he wants to create a situation where congressional disapproval of the Iran deal would make the United States in violation of the international community.”
Frankly, I’m shocked that he should be shocked, or even mildly surprised, that a lawless president would act lawlessly. And herein lies the rub for Republican leaders, for if they really want to understand the reason why Donald Trump has galvanized a significant portion of voters’ attention, they have merely to consult the nearest mirror. True enough, Trump, as Mr. Williamson and Ms. Charen and others constantly remind us, has been all over the ideological map, going so far, even, as to donate to the Clinton Foundation. It will be nearly insurmountable, for example, for Trump to explain such effusive praise as:
Throughout her nearly four-decade career as one of America’s most dedicated public servants, Secretary Clinton has continued to champion equal opportunities for women and girls in order to advance the security and prosperity of all people and nations. As the 67th Secretary of State, Clinton broke national and global barriers. She was the first First Lady to serve in a presidential Cabinet. She traveled to more countries than any other Secretary of State. She used social media to engage citizens in the workings of diplomacy, and she paid an official visit to Burma, making her the highest U.S. representative to do so in half a century. As Secretary of State, Clinton advocated for “smart power” in foreign policy, elevating diplomacy and development and repositioning them for the 21st century — with new tools, technologies, and partners, including the private sector and civil society around the world.
As I say, Trump will have a hard time answering for that one — or at least he might have had a hard time, except for the fact that the praise wasn’t his. Those remarks belong to one Jeb(!) Bush, who awarded Ms. Clinton the Liberty Medal one year after she presided over the deaths of four Americans, including a US Ambassador, in Benghazi. “Former Secretary Clinton has dedicated her life to serving and engaging people across the world in democracy,” cooed the man we are told is the person who can beat Hillary, but who could not bring himself to acknowledge the ugly fact that the only things Ms. Clinton liberated were the souls of four brave Americans from their mortal coil.
Donald Trump owes his political viability to the cowardice of Republican politicians who keep promising one thing and delivering the opposite. Voters have watched Trump speak plain truth, as opposed to the marble-mouthed equivocations and double-speak of the Republican leadership, and they’ve seen him lose valuable business as a result. They compare his resolute defiance with Republicans who won’t even risk a committee assignment or a frown from the Washington Post, and prefer the chance, however slim, that Trump has come around to their way of thinking over the certainty that Republicans will betray them yet again.
Mr. Williamson bemoans those who believed, “…that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were from the conservative point of view, interchangeable commodities,…” suggesting that they should “…be a better citizen, and maybe read a book.” I don’t recall many people who took that position in 2012, certainly not I. But I do recall those who lamented the “etch-a-sketch” approach to campaigning, and the tendency to campaign ruthlessly against Republican challengers only to pull definitive punches against Democrats. “But,” to use Williamson’s phraseology, Governor Romney and his team, “were losers.” As was McCain before him.
Luckily, I had taken up reading books long before Mr. Williamson’s kind suggestion, and I recalled something I read many years ago:
One thing we know: In the past we have temporized with collectivism and we have lost. And after the campaigns were over, we were left not with the exhilaration and pride of having done our best to restore freedom, but with the sickening humiliation of having failed to seduce the American people because we were pitted against a more glib, a more extravagant, a more experienced gigolo.
That passage, of course, came William F. Buckley Jr., Founder of the journal which publishes Mr. Williamson’s fine thoughts, and author of National Review’s Mission Statement which reads, in part:
Radical conservatives in this country have an interesting time of it, for when they are not being suppressed or mutilated by the Liberals, they are being ignored or humiliated by a great many of those of the well-fed Right, whose ignorance and amorality have never been exaggerated for the same reason that one cannot exaggerate infinity.
“Politics is a slow, maddening, incremental business,” Mr. Williamson lectures us. What exactly was slow and incremental about the metamorphosis of marriage? There was a great deal that was maddening about the president’s unilateral subversion of and rewriting of United States immigration law, but what pray tell was incremental? How slowly did the president defy his own agreement with Congress with respect to the Iranian deal when he instructed his UN Ambassador to begin circumventing Congress before the ink was dry?
To say, as Republican Governor and soon-to-be presidential candidate John Kasich did, that the repeal of Obamacare, “is not gonna happen,” and that, “I don’t think that [opposition] holds water against real flesh and blood, and real improvements in people’s lives,” is not incrementalism. It is fatalism, and it condemns free people to be led by the nose, controlled by a cadre of masterminds in Washington DC, in contravention of the principles that informed and inspired the nation’s Founders.
So spare me the lectures please. The problem isn’t that Jeb is the real enemy, or that “Mitch McConnell is a mean meany,” as Williamson simplistically scoffs, but rather the fact that these people are organically incapable of defending the nation against the progressive onslaught, let alone advancing a conservative agenda. Instead, they debase themselves and reduce their campaign promises and slogans to little more than political foreplay, designed to attract our attention and gain our acquiescence while relieving us of the last vestiges of our liberty. It is the absence of basic virtue in political leadership that allows the Trumps of the world to command attention.