The Narrative is partly like quicksand. If you fall into it, struggling will hasten your envelopment and death. Best to relax, take some deep breaths, and half float, half swim out of danger.
I know there are some people whispering that advice into Donald Trump’s ear. Don’t struggle! Stay calm. And above all, do not tweet.
There is something to that.
The problem is, the Narrative is not only like quicksand. It is also like the hydra that Hercules encountered in his labors for Eurystheus: a multi-headed, self-regenerating, venomous beast. CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, MSNBC, Vox, Salon, The Huffington Post, The Daily News, the whole fetid midden of festering mendacity. Lop off a head by refuting a particular lie and another lie blossoms forth in toxic profusion. The only way to deal with the beast is to follow refutation immediately with cauterization. The question is, how to do this?
There is no single answer. In the case of really egregious, around-the-bend malefactors like CNN, the Gawker Media Expedient might be the best solution. You remember Gawker. That was the disgusting purveyor of malicious gossip that finally got sued out of existence. Whenever it is challenged, CNN, like Gawker, wraps itself in its “public’s-right-to-know” flag: news, a free press, honest journalism, etc. It would be funny were it not so transparently cynical and self serving. Nothing-new-under-the-sun bulletin, courtesy Stanley Baldwin, 1931: “The newspapers attacking me are not newspapers in the ordinary sense,” Baldwin said in response to scurrilous attacks on him on the run-up to an election (which he won).
They are engines of propaganda for the constantly changing policies, desires, personal vices, personal likes and dislikes of [hostile press barons Rothermere and Beaverbrook]. What are their methods? Their methods are direct falsehoods, misrepresentation, half-truths, the alteration of the speaker’s meaning by publishing a sentence apart from the context. . . . What the proprietorship of these papers is aiming at is power, and power without responsibility—the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.
Whores like CNN run to the famous 1964 case The New York Times Co. v. Sullivan when attacked: if you’re a public figure, I can say anything I want about you. Go suck eggs.
Well, not quite. That decision (mistaken in my view) does have a threshold beyond which one may not legally trespass: “actual malice.” It’s difficult to prove, to be sure, but I’d like to see an enterprising attorney step up to the plate and try. He might start with the current production of Julius Caesar, funded by CNN’s parent company Time Warner, which portrays Caesar as Trump and delights in the sanguinary spectacle (“brutally realistic”) of his murder on stage. Evidence of “actual malice”? Someone should ask John Nolte, who wrote about the rodeo clown whom CNN got fired for wearing an Obama mask in one of his performances.
Anyway, I think it would be a good thing were CNN humiliated and sued out of existence. It performs no journalistic function, merely a destructively partisan one.
But lawsuits are only one expedient available to a modern-day Hercules charged with dispatching the hydra that is the malignant anti-Trump Narrative. I happen to have been chatting with a well-placed and politically astute friend last night who outlined a procedure that Ronald Reagan’s aides employed with considerable success. In essence, it boils down to the advice given the world by Johnny Mercer in 1944: “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive.”
- Every day, someone in Trump’s cabinet should go public with some positive initiative the administration is pursuing: the regulations that have been eased, the unemployment that has been cut, the jobs that have been added, the judges that have been appointed, the deals that have been made.
- Every day, Trump’s team should call attention to his association with some aspect of traditional American life: the Boy Scouts, various sports teams, a small town that just became home to a new Ford plant, and so on.
- Your Latin teacher was right: repetitio mater memoriae: repetition is the mother of memory. The Left understands this. They repeat the same falsehoods over and over and over. The President’s friends need to respond by relentlessly broadcasting his achievements: every day, the news emanating from the White House should revolve around a different accomplishment. Do not be shy about repeating yourself. Do not worry about boring your audience.
In his Discourses on the first 10 books of Livy’s history of Rome, Machiavelli distinguishes between public “accusation” (la accuse), which he thinks is a healthy thing for a free republic, and “calumny” (la calunnie), which he castigates in the harshest terms.
The difference between the two turns on the above-board and public nature of the former, in contrast to the rumored-filled innuendo and envy that fuel the latter. “Accusation,” that is to to say, is based on witnesses and publicly available evidence, “calumny” on lies, half truths, and gossip. “[C]alumnies,” Machiavelli wrote, “have need neither of witnesses nor of any other specific corroboration to prove them, so that everyone can be calumniated by everyone.”
“Accusation” in Machiavelli’s sense is healthy because it acts as a check against corruption in a republic. It helps keep public officials honest. “Smith pilfered money from the public fisc. Jones and Sterling saw him do it.”
Calumny is destructive partly because it operates behind the backs of those it attacks, partly because it has in mind not the good of the republic but the advancement of those fomenting the attacks. Hence calumniators should be “punished harshly.” “How detestable calumnies are in free cities,” Machiavelli wrote: “to repress them one should not spare any order that may suit the purpose.”
The extraordinary performance of James Comey before the U.S. Senate last week reminded me how pertinent Machiavelli’s schema is to our contemporary political consternations.
As is becoming increasingly, almost embarrassingly clear, a large portion of the anti-Trump brigade is engaged in what Machiavelli called “calumny,” essentially baseless attacks against his character and behavior whose end is not the good of the republic but the destruction of Donald Trump, on the one hand, and the advancement of his attackers, on the other. The good of the republic, though sometimes appealed to as a pretext, is actually nowhere in sight.
One frequent sign that the attacks against Trump are not public “accusations” in Machiavelli’s sense but rather “calumny” is the locution “Sources say . . .” Sometimes this is emended to “Sources in the White House” [or State Department, Department of Justice, etc.], but the source is never named.
The entire “Trump-has-ties-to-Russia” meme was a fabrication of this sort. As has been endlessly rehearsed by critics of the anti-Trump phalanx, the whole story was built around anonymously sourced leaks that have been shown to be nothing but a tissue of desperate fantasy. Just one example: back on March 3, Democratic Senator Chris Coons excitedly announced that there were “transcripts” suggesting that “Russian intelligence and Senior Russian leaders, including Vladimir Putin . . . were colluding with the Trump campaign at the highest levels to influence our election.” “Collusion at the highest levels,” Kemo Sabe! Two days later, Coons was walking that back: “I have no hard evidence of collusion,” he admitted. “No hard evidence”: that is wretched weenie speak for “I have no evidence at all, I just repeated a salacious rumor because it was damaging to someone I loathe and because it might help me in my grubby effort to clamber up the political ladder.”
You saw the same pattern everywhere on the Left. Screaming mendacity followed by half-hearted, mumbling semi-correction. The vertiginous nature of the exercise was partly amusing, partly disorienting. In February, The New York Times helped stir the “Trump-has-ties-to-Russia” pot by publishing a story that began:
Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.
“Phone records and intercepted calls,” eh? How’d they come by those?
Then Donald Trump tweeted to complain that the Obama administration had “wiretapped” Trump Tower. Horrors! Unsubstantiated rumor!
But didn’t the Times just acknowledge that there were “intercepted calls”?
This is where James Comey’s June 8 testimony comes in. I know it’s been endlessly picked over, but here are what I think are the chief take-aways:
- The New York Times reporting on the Trump/Russia wheeze was “almost entirely wrong.”
- Donald Trump was not under criminal investigation.
- Trump told Comey that “if some of my satellites did something wrong, it’d be good to find that out.”
- When asked point blank whether Donald Trump or anyone from his administration had asked him to stop the Russia investigation, Comey responded “No.”
- Loretta Lynch, Attorney General under Barack Obama, ordered Comey to refer to the ongoing criminal investigation in Hillary Clinton’s homebrew email server as a “matter” not an “investigation.”
- Comey himself, who had made memoranda of his conversations with President Trump because he was “honestly concerned he [Trump] might lie” about their conversations, decided to leak a memo to a friend who would in turn leak it to the press in order to “prompt the appointment of a special counsel.”
You might be wondering how it is that Loretta Lynch gets away with her interference in an on-going FBI investigation or why it is that James Comey can leak FBI property with (as it seems now) impunity. After all, on Comey’s leak, as the legal commentator Jonathan Turley points out, “the standard FBI employment agreement bars the unauthorized disclosure of information ‘contained in the files, electronic or paper, of the FBI’” without written permission of the FBI. But then, how is it that Hillary Clinton committed multiple felonies and is still staggering around Chappaqua, Chardonnay in tow?
But what about Trump’s Henry II moment? Not “who will rid me of this turbulent priest?” but Mike Flynn is a “good guy” and “I hope” you can let the investigation into his alleged ties with Russia go. What about that?
The Democratic legal scholar Alan Dershowitz had the last word on that episode. In our system of government, the Justice Department and the FBI work for the President and “he may order them to do what he wishes,” including to investigate a particular individual or group or to stop investigating a particular individual or group. “[O]ur history shows,” Dershowitz notes, “that many presidents—from Adams to Jefferson, to Lincoln, to Roosevelt, to Kennedy, to Bush 1, and to Obama—have directed the Justice Department with regard to ongoing investigations.”
The history is clear, the precedents are clear, the constitutional structure is clear, and common sense is clear.
Yet virtually every Democratic pundit, in their haste to “get” President Trump, has willfully ignored these realities. In doing so they have endangered our civil liberties and constitutional rights.
Indeed. Which is another reason it is so important for the President to Trump the Narrative. The wholesale disregard of what this unremitting attack on Trump might do to the country is breathtaking. Trump’s enemies—including his former Democratic opponent—fancy themselves part of a “resistance.” Leave aside the nauseating presumption of that rubric, as if they were freedom fighters struggling against a totalitarian threat. In truth, what they are “resisting” is the result of a free and open democratic election and the rule of law—what Dershowitz rightly calls “our civil liberties and constitutional rights.”
I thought that James Comey’s performance on June 8 was mostly pathetic: a whiney, grandstanding effort at self-exoneration. For most people listening, I suspect, the effort failed. Comey stood exposed as a coward for not standing up to Loretta Lynch and a selfish careerist by leaning on a friend to leak possibly classified information to the press in order to burnish his own image. Donald Trump bruised his amour propre, so he lashed out at him. The net result of his performance was twofold: it diminished James Comey in the public eye and served to exonerate Donald Trump. As Machiavelli noted elsewhere in his Discourses, “However Deceived in Generalities, Men Are Not Deceived in Particulars.”