A Shrill and Vituperative Critic, In Context

By | 2017-07-29T17:50:32+00:00 July 25th, 2017|
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Last week, the American Conservative published a headline that, with the addition of a little profanity, would fit right in on the bathroom wall of some Leftist dive: “Donald Trump, Treacherous Loon.” But the piece isn’t by an antifa graffiti artist seeking mainstream attention; its author is one of the site’s senior editors, Rod Dreher.

If you haven’t yet heard of Dreher or his recent book, The Benedict Option, it’s definitely not his fault. You probably never visit The American Conservative, where he’s used his perch as senior editor to write 17 posts plugging the book in the last four weeks alone. That’s on top of the thousands upon thousands of words he’s written about the book since its publication in March.

For those unfamiliar with his work, Dreher became prominent in the early 2000s as a writer for National Review. His most famous NR piece begins, “One day this summer, I told a colleague I had to leave early to pick up my weekly fresh vegetables from the organic food co-op to which my wife and I belong.”

Legions of men, in Dreher’s circumstances, have courageously told their wives that buying food labeled “organic” is a waste of both time and money; legions more have capitulated in silence. But it takes a truly self-absorbed man to publicly rationalize his capitulation into a heretofore undetected strain of conservative thought; and a hopelessly twee one to label it “crunchy conservativism.” Monetization quickly followed rationalization, and a book with a title as lengthy as it is nauseating was born: Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, Gun-Loving Organic Gardeners, Evangelical Free-Range Farmers, Hip Homeschooling Mamas, Right-Wing Nature Lovers, and Their Diverse Tribe of Countercultural Conservatives Plan to Save America (or At Least the Republican Party).

Besides sucking up to liberal elites, Dreher also showed his flair for self-promotion in his NR days. He got them to run, as lone dissenter Jonah Goldberg called it, “a blog entirely dedicated to [his book], in which most of the contributors seem committed to finding new and exciting ways to illustrate the genius of the book and the insights of its author.” The link to the blog is now dead, so Goldberg’s dissenting contributions are, unfortunately, lost to us. But his view of the book is nicely summed up by his aforementioned review’s title: “Huh?” And he deserves credit for his repeated honesty that Dreher’s thesis is as idiotic as it is insulting.

Dreher’s penchant for turning self-absorption into self-promotion reached almost artistic levels in a later essay explaining his conversion from Roman Catholicism to Eastern Orthodoxy. His reason involves the gravest of matters: disillusionment by the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandals. But, his essay reads like Dostoyevsky’s caricature of Turgenev’s account of a ship wreck:

One seemed to read between the lines: “Concentrate yourselves on me. Behold what I was like at those moments. What are the sea, the storm, the rocks, the splinters of wrecked ships to you? I have described all that sufficiently to you with my mighty pen. Why look at that drowned woman with the dead child in her dead arms? Look rather at me, see how I was unable to bear that sight and turned away from it. Here I stood with my back to it; here I was horrified and could not bring myself to look; I blinked my eyes—isn’t that interesting?

Dreher doesn’t blink his eyes, but, after telling one man’s sad story of abuse, he tells us “Even this morning, as I write this, it’s hard to recount the brokenness in that man’s voice without getting tears in my eyes.” We’re also told: “Word got back to me that Bill Bennett credited NR’s cover story [by me] on the stakes in this scandal for giving tacit permission for conservative, orthodox Catholics to discuss the matter.”

When Dreher summarizes his remarks, the actual victims of abuse get pushed aside to make room for the true subject of interest: “I have talked about how the Church itself failed me in all this . . .”  Dreher’s mania for self-promotion also manifests itself; he refers to his book twice; indeed, the very title of this allegedly serious piece about religious depravity and conversion is, almost unbelievably, “Crunchy Con’s Conversion Crisis.” He’s even so immodest as to brag of his modesty: “you won’t see me ballyhoo my conversion to Orthodoxy as I did with my conversion to Catholicism.” Nope, no ballyhooing here at all. And the above is just a taste of the unseemly narcissism exuded by Dreher’s story.

So, as you can probably tell, Dreher isn’t just a simple Christian. Christianity is an essential part of his commercial brand and, hence, the Eucharist isn’t the only kind of bread the Lord provides. Thus, his self-absorption notwithstanding, it’s surprising to hear a man who lauds the “Amish example of forgiveness and detachment from anger” call the president a treacherous loon. My first thought was that maybe hurling abuse is, like vulgar egotism, a habit for which he hasn’t yet managed to follow Christ’s example and break. So, I searched for some headlines about President Obama that were equally nasty. But, the closest I could find was “Obama Disses Chaput,” which only the most fanatical admirer of both Obama and the Archbishop would find at all offensive.

How to Generate Anti-Trump Hysteria: Method One

So, what had Donald Trump done to deserve the appellation of “treacherous loon”? Surely, he must have exceeded Obama’s many transgressions. Had Trump sold guns to Mexican drug lords? Had he used the IRS to target his enemies? Did he secretly send billions of dollars in cash to Iran? Perhaps, like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he lost track of $6 billion in government money or used a charitable organization as a pay-for-play service.

No, in fact, the president hadn’t done anything. Dreher’s crude insult had nothing to do with Trump’s actions. The fuss was, rather, about something he said; namely, that if he knew Jeff Sessions was going to recuse himself from the Russia probe, he wouldn’t have appointed him attorney general.

Now, at worst, the president’s remark is a perfect example of Michael Kinsley’s famous definition: “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth—some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.” Obviously, regardless of any guilt, the president would like the Russian matter dropped and, hence, would have preferred an attorney general whose ethical delicacy didn’t require that he recuse himself.

Trump’s remark, far from being “loony,” represented the feelings of any rational person in similar circumstances. The only difference between President Trump and his predecessors here is that he says what’s he thinks rather than what hired experts on the manipulation of public opinion tell him to say. And it says a lot about how shallow and stupid we’ve become that, to about half the country, this makes the president seem like a loon.

Nor was there any particular treachery in Trump’s remark. Sessions, unlike the president’s shrill and vituperative critics, is an adult. He managed to stay calm during his confirmation hearings, when his senate colleagues hurled the most vile and baseless accusations at him; so he can probably take a little public criticism from his boss without curling up in a corner like a dying spider.

But, the “treacherous loon” charge is even more outrageous since the Russia “scandal” is, as Brandon J. Weichert and Chris Buskirk established in their exhaustive study, a pack of “lies based on a false narrative aimed at undermining the legitimacy of the Trump victory.”

Weichert and Buskirk take you through all the gory details up to June 1, and I won’t rehearse them here. Since then, however, it’s emerged that the president’s son, Don Jr., met with a Russian lawyer offering damaging information on Hillary Clinton that allegedly came from Moscow.

Apparently nothing came of the meeting and, as leading liberal legal scholar Alan Dershowitz has pointed out, as with the previous bogus news about Russia, at worst nothing illegal occurred. But the president’s enemies, intent on distracting from their own misconduct and bringing him down by any means necessary, have gone as far as to twist the statute that governs foreign contributions to American campaigns so that the phrase “a contribution or a donation of money or other thing of value” comes out referring to opposition research.

Given the circumstances, the president would be either a loon or a coward if he didn’t do everything in his power to stop this witch hunt.

How to Generate Anti-Trump Hysteria: Methods Two and Three

Dreher has given us an example of one form baseless abuse of the president takes: hyperventilation over some harmless remark. But President Trump’s critics have two other tactics for generating hysterical abuse ex nihilo. Sometimes their hysteria revolves around damaging claims attributed to anonymous sources by media outfits with a record of pushing fake news to damage the president. At others, it involves hysterical speculation about something the president might do. And just a few days after employing method one, Dreher managed to up his score to a hat trick while discussing a Washington Post article that begins:

Some of President Trump’s lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president’s authority to grant pardons…

Where did the Post acquire this juicy information? Why, from “people familiar with the effort”! A more vacuous account of the alleged sources would literally be impossible and, by now, anyone even moderately rational and well informed should have stopped paying attention to any hit pieces that rely on anonymous sources. But Dreher, ready to abandon any pretense of Christian charity and say anything to score points abusing the president, concludes that Trump “can’t wait to pardon” himself and that, should he be unable to resist the eagerness Dreher imputes, “he will have to be impeached.” He then ends the piece by going deeper into hysteria over the president’s anonymously sourced and totally hypothetical self-pardoning behavior.

“Here’s the thing that worries me: that if President Trump decided to pardon his own family members, and even himself (what law would stop him?), a substantial minority of Americans would support him,” Dreher writes. “If so, what that would reveal about how respect for the rule of law and basic republican order in the United States had decayed would be staggering.”

But, even supposing that this isn’t more anonymously sourced fake news from the Washington Post, anyone under any kind of investigation, and especially someone suffering the constant barrage of baseless attacks the president has, would be a fool not to explore all available legal avenues. Moreover, since his hypothetical involves no illegal behavior on the president’s part, what grounds would there be for Congress to accede to Dreher’s demand to impeach him? And how would using legal means reveal a “staggering decay” in “respect for the rule of law and basic republican order,” whatever exactly the latter is? Dreher’s worry appears to be just a string of buzzwords thrown together to incite his readers, with no concern for coherence.

And as with all the mud flung at President Trump, Dreher displays no particular concern for the political context. We know from WikiLeaks that the major mainstream news organizations were in league with the Clinton campaign;  we know the Clinton Foundation took millions from the Russian nuclear industry while then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was negotiating a deal that allowed Russian interests to procure 20 percent of America’s uranium. We have President Obama on video telling Putin’s representative to relay the message that Obama will have to wait till after the election to sell out the American public. We also have him on video telling illegal aliens that they can add illegal voting to their list of crimes without fear of repercussions. Virginia Governor and Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign manager, Terry McAuliffe, gave 60,000 felons the right to vote just before the election. The defamatory narrative about the president and his supporters generated by the Democrats and their media allies has caused countless incidents of serious violence towards the president’s supporters and led directly to an assassination attempt on 13 members of Congress, one of whom, Steve Scalise, remains hospitalized more than a month later. I could go on listing grave misconduct by the Democrats and their media allies for pages. Yet, Dreher would have us believe that the rule of law and Republican order have suddenly become threatened by anonymously sourced claims concerning perfectly legal strategies Trump’s lawyers are exploring!

Moreover, the staggering volume of Democratic and media malfeasance is totally drowned out by the manufactured hysteria over Russia. So, even respectable outfits like The Federalist feel compelled to weigh the charges against the president’s son and declare in a headline that “Trump Jr.’s Meeting May Not Rise To Treason, But It’s Still Shady As Hell.”

Rationality isn’t merely a matter of dispassionately evaluating evidence. It also requires giving matters their proper place in the grand scheme of things. Someone who harangues his son for not doing his homework while the boy is being savagely attacked is more than just unreasonable; his priorities are misplaced to the point of madness. And anyone worried about the president’s honest and reasonable complaints about his attorney general or a meeting his son attended that went nowhere is, given the staggering amount of known collusion and skullduggery by the Democrats and their media allies, either woefully ignorant or out of his head.

And besides undermining the president and distracting from the staggeringly long list of Democratic and media misconduct, the hysteria over Russia also distracts from the president’s many accomplishments. He’s appointed a worthy successor to Justice Scalia. He’s convinced our NATO allies to start spending the money on their own defense that the treaty requires. He’s released the regulatory parking break his predecessors have placed on our nation’s energy production. The list of his accomplishments is, in fact, almost as long as the list of Democratic Party and media malfeasance.

But pointing out the president’s many conservative accomplishments won’t win plaudits from Dreher’s crunchy friends the way abusing the president over trivialities and ignoring the far greater crimes of his political opponents is guaranteed to do.

About the Author:

Michael Thau
Michael Thau is working on a book about the Russia collusion narrative. He can be reached at [email protected] and found on Twitter @MichaelThau .