Peter Beinart is a bit late to the party in excoriating “Trump’s intellectuals.” It’s not just that the theme has been done to death, months ago. It’s also that, in order to conjure up a hook for his piece, Beinart makes the preposterous claim that “more than a year after Trump announced his presidential bid, his support among intellectuals has grown.” The article never gets around to citing any evidence. Nonetheless, the hook baited, Beinart boldly plows ahead with his real point, which is that any support for Trump is ipso facto bad.
The first paragraph of his screed alone is a model of intellectually fatuous analysis. Here are the worst Trump sins Beinart could conjure—not even seven, and none of them deadly!
- “He has proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States”—actually, he has modified that to “countries compromised by terror,” but either way, it’s perfectly reasonable, and given the aggressively illiberal behavior of Muslims in the West, it’s a proposal that the exquisitely liberal Beinart ought to at least give a fair hearing. But we long ago realized that for the modern liberal, anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism trump (if you’ll pardon the pun) all. So the more Muslims the better and any objection is Hitlerism or, at the very least, “not who we are.”
- “incited violence against protesters at his rallies”—Trump’s record here is mixed. At times he has merely pointed out the double standard that lefties like Beinart trumpet—disrupting the right with violence=noble civil disobedience; the right responding with 10% intensity=the return of Ernst Rohm. But at other times (FWIW, not in several months), Trump has crossed the line to incitement, and we have a problem with that, and so find some common ground with Beinart here.
- “responded to The Washington Post’s critical coverage by warning that its owner is ‘getting away with murder’ on his taxes and ‘we can’t let him get away with it’—OK. Are Jeff Bezos’ taxes a mess of questionable legality or aren’t they? It should be rather simple to ascertain. At least it’s a factual issue that is theoretically amenable to proof or disproof. The left used to get quite upset about tax breaks and corporate welfare. Does it no longer care so long as the beneficiaries are tech oligarchs who own liberal newspapers?
- “declared a federal judge biased because he’s Mexican American”—Trump phrased this one badly, but if Beinart actually read the original Journal of American Greatness as he claims to have done, he would at least be familiar with the argument made there that Trump was simply restating the left’s three-decade-old identity politics mantra, which the left considers sacrosanct, from a point of view that—to say the least—the left does not consider sacrosanct. And that’s before we even get to “La Raza,” another thing liberals excoriate conservatives for merely mentioning. If you’re on the left, join a movement called “the race” and white liberals will lionize you. If you’re on the right, and you merely say “Hey, that’s called ‘the race’; isn’t that not who we are? What about race-blind equal treatment?’”—then liberals will call you Hitler.
- “and twice revealed his unfamiliarity with the term nuclear triad.” Quelle horreur! Trump is unfamiliar with a geeky piece of Cold War vintage Washington wonk lingo!
Yes, that’s really the best Beinart can do
Back to the core “argument.” Beinart wants to say that intellectual support for Trump has grown. But most of the names he names are people who oppose Trump. He makes the valid point that many political hacks and other job-seeking apparatchiks have cozied up to Trump, but—aside from not naming names here, either—he leaves it to the reader to figure out that, by definition, these people are not intellectuals. Did Beinart think we wouldn’t notice?
Then we get more guilt-by-association. Weren’t liberals once opposed to that, too? Not anymore apparently. At any rate, it’s hilarious that he has to go all the way to Poland to find examples of intellectuals who “came to embrace Stalinism.” Couldn’t find any examples closer to home, Peter? Hmmmm. Why do you suppose that is?
But Beinart admits that “Trumpism is not Marxism.” Generous of him! Then Beinart really sticks in the shiv with this: “Even fascism—which grew out of social Darwinism—had a richer intellectual lineage than Trumpism does.” The mendacity here is fathomless. On the one hand, Trump and his supporters are fascists, and that is very bad. On the other hand, even the fascists were smarter than Trump! If only Trump had his Schmitt or Gentile! This is one of the cheapest, oldest tricks in the leftist playbook. “You don’t even measure up to your forebears—whom, by the way, we used to denounce as the worst people in the history of the world. But now that they are useful as a cudgel with which to bash you, well—any weapon at hand!” Why does anyone fall for this? We wish we could answer that. All we can say with confidence is: we don’t.
You know what Trumpism sounds like to us? Confident, mid-20th century American liberalism. Unabashedly pro-American, even “nationalistic” (get Peter his smelling salts!). Pro-manufacturing, pro-middle class, pro-worker. Pro-safety net. Pro-citizen. In other words, most of the Democratic agenda from FDR to Humphrey. Beinart’s casually slick association of Trump and his supporters with “authoritarian movements” dooms the entire Mt. Olympus of the 20th Century Democratic and liberal pantheon to the same Hades.
He moves on to trash Peggy Noonan. We think we are not being uncharitable to her to say that it’s a stretch to call her an intellectual. Not that Beinart does that, exactly. He’s just slippery enough not to. But in a piece about Trump’s intellectuals that so far has not named names, it’s fair to assume that he intends her as one—or else can’t think of any and so shoehorns her in as a “proof point” that proves nothing. In any case, he ought to keep up with her column. Did he read the recent one in which she all but gave up on Trump as a serious agent of reform?
Beinart’s mendacity only gets deeper from there. He notes that Noonan excoriates—rightly, in our view—the conservative movement’s failure to be upset by “two unwon wars, the great recession, and the refusal of Republican and Democratic administrations to stop illegal immigration” all while managing, instead, to rouse itself into a fury over Trump’s objections to all of the above.
This makes no sense. Even if conservative elites were undisturbed by illegal immigration, the financial crisis, and the Iraq and Afghan Wars (as Noonan asserts but makes no effort to prove), why does it follow that they should accede to a presidential candidate who demands torture, a religious test for entry into the United States, and the removal of judges because of their ethnicity ? What Noonan is really suggesting is that established politicians and commentators lack the moral standing to oppose Trump, because he can’t be any worse than they are.
Really? Let’s take a look at Beinart’s litany of charges here.
What proof does Beinart require that conservative elites were undisturbed by the policies advanced by liberals like him on immigration, the economy, and (eventually) the war? Conservative elites pushed amnesty seven times since 2001; started, continued and deepened both wars; contributed to the housing bubble; and created TARP. While it is amusing to see a liberal like Beinart provide cover for conservative elites against the wrath of Peggy Noonan (or for any reason), we admit to ourselves that the reason in this case is because he agrees with every one of those policies.
The only thing close to a factual point that Beinart has in his accusatory description of Trump is when he calls Trump out on torture. Though, to his credit, Trump has walked that point back after taking thoughtful criticism. Beyond that, Trump is, if not exactly anti-war, at least the “less war” candidate.” Hillary’s policy of endless war and endless Muslim immigration will require, if not torture, at least surveillance and mass interrogation of American citizens forever. Beinart’s charge about a religious test is either lazy or dishonest, as we showed above and, finally, he ends his tirade on a flat out lie regarding Judge Curiel. The most one could say is that Trump implied, but didn’t even state, that one judge ought to be recused from one case. He said absolutely nothing about removing him from the bench.
In her column, Peggy Noonan points out the total bankruptcy of 2016 elites and further the argument saying that at least Trump has identified and campaigned on the issues that matter most to those most left behind by the agenda of the bipartisan Davos oligarchy. The plain fact is, that by any objective measure, conservatives and Republicans who have embraced Trump have done so by moving left—at least according to the old right-left dichotomy. They (we) are more liberal on a whole host of economic and social issues (though not the “social issues” that count right now; more on that in a moment). We not only get no credit for that from Beinart and the rest of the left, we get smeared.
Case in point: Beinart finally gets around to naming names on those dastardly Trump intellectuals. Except he can’t, really, because the name he wants to name were pseudonymous and their blog lasted (as Beinart admits) only four months. The authors safely out of the arena, Beinart feels comfortable farcically, and maliciously, misrepresenting their message. Our predecessor, the Journal of American Greatness, he writes, “made a highbrow case for overthrowing America’s existing political order—”
The only just conclusions one can draw are either that 1) Beinart never read the blog; 2) he “read” it the way Otto read Nietzsche; 3) he’s lying. Nowhere did JAG argue any such thing. In fact, it argued precisely the opposite. It consistently voiced support—nay, a longing reverence for—America’s Constitutional order. It also voiced a profound sadness about the deterioration, the subversion, the imminent passing of that Constitutional order.
And who is most responsible for that deterioration, that subversion, that imminent passing? Why, of course—liberals like Beinart! Liberals have been complaining about Constitutional restraints since at least the dawn of the Progressive Era more than 100 years ago. They’ve openly complained that the Constitution entails the perpetual rule of “dead white males” (slave owners to boot) and that we in the present should not be bound by the past. They’ve excoriated conservatives for their (our) adherence to originalism, equating that with “states’ rights” which they further equate with racism.
So which is it, Peter? Are we racist adherents to a racist, outdated Constitution? Or are we dangerous radicals out to overthrow the sacred Constitution? We can’t help but be reminded of the recent Democratic Convention when, for the first time since 1968, Democrats wrapped themselves in the flag, swore allegiance to the Constitution, pledged themselves unalterably opposed to Russian hegemony, and promised to outdo the Republicans in the vigorous prosecution of foreign wars. Any weapon at hand.
Let us make this even more clear. Since the Wilson administration at least, it has been the stated goal of American liberals to gut the U.S. Constitution like a fish, spill its entrails onto the dock, and twist them in your hands like ancient Roman augers. It is therefore a bit rich for Beinart to accuse Trump supporting conservatives, simply for being witnesses to and mourners of your crime—for catching you with the knife in your left hand and blood on your right—of being the “real killer.” If you don’t know you’re lying, we can only conclude that you’re insane.
This is also false: “—and replacing it with the raw, dynamic, intoxicating energy of Donald Trump.” Once again, if you’d read JAG, you’d know it was ambivalent about, and critical of, Trump himself from the beginning until the end. Trump is not the vehicle any thoughtful American, mindful of America’s problems, would have wished for. He’s got problems—which JAG was not shy about acknowledging. We at American Greatness are also cognizant of Trump’s shortcomings – just as we were of prior Republican candidates – but they pale in comparison of with those of his opponent who has a four decade record of corruption and statism.
Yet America has had the same problems, more or less, for 25 years—and Trump is the only political figure of either party to take them on squarely. Some over here have addressed this one, and some over there that one. But only within the confines of the ossified party system. So you might get a Richard Gephardt who challenges trade orthodoxy, but can’t bring himself to question the rest. Or a Ron Paul who questions the national security state but shills for open borders. Or a Tom Tancredo who understands immigration but is too trusting of the national security state’s insistence on endless war.
Trump alone, of either party, has put the whole package together and shown how the pieces fit. Has he done so imperfectly? Yes. Does he understand it himself to the extent that (say) Lincoln understood the Civil War? No. So what? If these issues do in fact constitute the crisis of our time—as we believe they do—and if Trump is the only major political figure who has put them altogether—as we believe he is—then what is the compelling reason to reject Trump?
The answer seems to come down to “temperament.” Beinart, though, does not bother to make that case. Instead, he assumes that his readers all already agree on that score, so there is no need to put forth evidence. About this, he is surely right. We would however ask: Why is Trump’s rather open, plain-spoken temperament so obviously inferior to Hillary’s icy, closed, deceitful temperament? Remember when liberals were hell-bent on bringing down EPA-wage-and-price-control Nixon over temperament? Between Trump and Hillary, whose temperament really looks more Nixonian? The one who shoots his mouth off three times a day and tweets 10 times more often than that? Or the one who deleted 33,000 emails and hasn’t had a press conference in 254 days?
Beinart dismisses JAG’s pessimism as “hyperbole,” but then faux-agrees:
Obviously, the United States is not a model liberal democracy. America is less democratic than it might be because the preferences of the ultra-wealthy often outweigh the preferences of everyone else, and because many states make voting hard. America is less liberal than it might be—it does not effectively guarantee individual rights or restrain executive power—because its national-security bureaucracy operates largely in secret, without strong judicial or congressional oversight.
We agree. But American republicanism – which Beinart conflates with “liberal democracy” – has been under a century long assault from the Progressive Left, many of whose goals have been accepted if not adopted by Republican elites. The rise of the administrative state, a central feature of Progressivism, has done much harm by systematically removing issue after issue from the reach of politics, creating a powerful, but unaccountable shadow government and alienating the people from whom government gains its legitimacy. And while it is certainly true that that the preferences of the ultra-wealthy often outweigh the preferences of everyone else, this is most often in the service of political ends supported by Beinart and his friends on the Left – especially open borders and Davos-style globalism. Sure voting is hard for illegal immigrants maybe, but for us that’s a feature, while for Beinart it’s the worst bug imaginable.
But is his last point a joke? Obama has done more in the name of “executive power” than any president in history—including George W. Bush, who was an object of Beinart’s hatred but merely repudiated and disdained by us. Obama has intensified every executive power claim that Beinart denounced Bush for and added several of his own. And Hillary promises to do even more than Obama.
The deeper argument, which Beinart wholly missed, is that all good things must come to an end. And that includes American Constitutionalism. Or does Beinart believe that the US Constitution, unique among the governments in world history, can last forever? We don’t. To acknowledge the coming or at least the inevitability of that end is not to welcome or to celebrate it—something, we repeat, liberals have been doing for 100 years. It is certainly not the same thing as being an instrument in that end. But only now, in a supreme act of projection, do Leftists like Beinart dare accuse and denounce their conservative opponents for wanting and willing into existence the exact thing that they have always longed for and we have always opposed.
Beinart further misrepresents JAG’s argument about Caesarism. Beinart’s fellow New Republic alum Andrew Sullivan wrote a long piece claiming that Trump is a tyrant and represents an “extinction level event” for American democracy. That’s nonsense, and JAG said so. Trump is no tyrant and is not even a Caesar (we give Beinart credit for at least getting the distinction right, but only because he uses direct quotes rather than paraphrasing). But he takes this line out of context: “Have we not degenerated to the point that we are ready for Caesar?” Here’s the context: if Sullivan, Beinart, and all the liberal (and conservative) critics are right about the state of an America that would elect Trump, then what does that say about us? About the American electorate? Beinart, Sullivan et al want to have it both ways: to condemn as irredeemable proto-fascists people who would even entertain voting for Trump, but also to condemn as proto-fascists anyone who suggests that the American body politic must be in in ill-health if one of its major parties could nominate Trump. Considering how anti-Trump Beinart and his fellow liberals are, you’d think they’d have some sympathy for the latter position. But you’d be wrong. Stopping Trump is paramount. Any weapon at hand.
What accounts for this implacable opposition? We can only speculate. We’ve noted above that Trump’s departures from conservative orthodoxy—an orthodoxy Beinart and his friends have spent their entire careers opposing—all tend in the liberal-left direction. Shouldn’t they therefore like or at least not hate Trump?
Think of it this way. In the past two decades, there have been four mass protest movements: anti-WTO/globalization; anti-Middle East war; Occupy Wall Street; and Black Lives Matter. On three out of four of those, Trump is nominally on the “left” side and Hillary on the “right.” But today’s “liberals”—Beinart emphatically included—hate Trump and love Hillary. Why is that?
Beinart and friends have emerged as among the staunchest defenders of “conservatism” circa 2002—open borders, endless war, and endless trade giveaways. It doesn’t take much reflection to realize that there’s nothing conservative about this agenda. Perhaps that’s why he—along with so many of his fellow liberals—supported it at the time and still support it now. That’s their real objection to Trump. Not that he’s not conservative, but because he is.