The Left Is What It Once Loathed

Compare the current progressive view about civil liberties against the old liberal positions of the past.

Surveillance and spying on U.S. citizens? Remember liberal Senator Frank Church of Idaho and his 1975 post-Watergate select Senate investigative committee? It found the CIA, FBI, and NSA improperly over three decades had tapped into the phones of Americans, opened their mail, and worked with telecommunications companies to monitor the data of supposedly suspect politicians, actors, celebrities, and political activists. “Collusion” with the communists and the Russians was often the pretense to surveil American citizens.

Consider Church either a bastion of civil liberties protection or a dangerous firebrand who weakened the CIA and FBI. But the point is that the Left’s position had once mostly been that the government’s unelected deep-state intelligence officers simply had too much power to trust. 

Indeed, the ACLU was outraged at what the committee revealed. Church was deified as a liberal hero uncovering government abuse. About the worst thing a government could do, liberals reminded us, was to spy on its own citizens. 

Then we were also warned that the scandal was the result of the government, for over 30 years, targeting mostly liberals on grounds of trumped-up suspicions that they were sympathetic to Communism in general and the Soviet Union in particular. Yet in addition, the Left argued that the state had no business spying on any American at all, unless it had a certified warrant and ample criminal cause—or we found ourselves in a war with enemies at home among us.

And now?  

Russia is no longer a global Communist superpower rival. Yet the Obama Administration’s CIA, NSA, and FBI were every bit as obsessed with Vladimir Putin as had the old Right worried about Leonid Brezhnev—as if a contemporary kleptocratic thug lording over a failed and shrinking state posed the same existential dangers as a Communist dictator reigning over a huge postwar empire dedicated to destroying the free world. 

Actually, at the behest of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the U.S. earlier had reached out to Putin in a naïve, flawed “reset” appeasement that failed. So, the Obama Administration’s about-face obsession with Putin the monster always was largely a convenient gambit of wanting to destroy the Trump campaign, transition, and presidency.

No Drama? Not Exactly

Barack Obama’s 21st-century intelligence hierarchs and their minions systematically outdid Richard Nixon’s plumbers, spooks, and spies. Obama appointees and loyalists surveilled American citizens, doctored or destroyed evidence, and monitored their communications. They deceived FISA courts to justify such illegal surveillance, set perjury ambushes to snare perceived political opponents, and used informants to spy on political enemies. They leaked classified information to damage opponents, paid foreign nationals during a political campaign to gather dirt on a presidential candidate, and repeatedly either flat out lied under oath to Congress or on hundreds of occasions claimed they “could not remember” when asked factual questions.

What was the alleged justification to justify such extralegal extremism? 

The Steele dossier? 

Contemporary progressivism is an illiberal abettor of unconstitutional operations that are state-sanctioned rather than merely rogue.

It has been discredited. Now the author confesses that he destroyed evidence from his “sources” such as they ever were. Even the anti-Trump FBI fired him as a contracting source of information. No matter. Steele nevertheless was praised by the Left for speaking truth to power. If collusion is defined as hiring foreigners to work with Russians to warp a U.S. election, then Christopher Steele is your man—and Hillary Clinton your ground zero.

Steele is a British subject, who was hired by Clinton—albeit through the protective tripartite firewall of Fusion GPS, Perkins-Coie law firm, and the DNC—to use foreign and mostly Russian rumors and hearsay to find dirt on her political opponent. And after she lost the election, her fraudulent opposition research dossier was shopped about by the U.S. government, whose various agencies used it to attempt first to destroy Donald Trump’s presidential transition and then his presidency.

The hacked DNC Russian emails released by Russian operatives?

The investigation mysteriously—on the DNC prompt—was outsourced by a toadyish FBI to CrowdStrike, a firm that now confesses it never could prove Russia’s culpability for the theft. So much for the seeded ruse that CrowdStrike had stepped in to get to the bottom of Russian hackers in a way the FBI could not. 

And the Clinton email trove?  

Half of what was subpoenaed was more or less destroyed by Clinton operatives. Those who investigated her illegal use of a private server to communicate government information either were compromised by Clinton-related campaign donations or Obama’s Department of Justice directives to rebrand the whitewash as a mere inquiry rather than a serious investigation.

Illegitimate Pretexts, Outrageous Criminality

Were not the FISA warrants approved by federal justices then proof of legitimate suspicion of Russian collusion?  

The inspector general says no. He found that some documental information was altered by an FBI lawyer while the claims of the FBI and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) that the dossier was incidental and not essential to the warrants were as fraudulent as the dossier itself. Andrew McCabe testified that without the Steele dossier there would not have been warrants granted.

But did not the government have legitimate reasons to indict Michael Flynn? 

Released documents instead show the FBI and Justice Department wished to find ways either to force Flynn to resign, to be found guilty under an ossified Logan Act, or to ambush him in a perjury trap. He pleaded guilty to making false statements to federal agents only after being pressured by threats of federal prosecution of his own son, and exaggerated claims that his testimony—whose summaries were doctored by FBI operatives and then disappeared entirely—did not match the transcript of his surveilled call.

How about the 22-month Mueller investigation? 

After nearly $40 million in investigatory costs, it found no collusion and no actionable presidential obstruction of the non-crime of collusion. It did, however, fire for bias and unprofessional behavior two of its top lawyers and investigators, the FBI paramours Lisa Page and Peter Strzok—although Mueller himself deceived the media about their departures by staggering them and initially disguising their relationship. 

Mueller, remember, was the sort of congressional witness that his own committee likely would have called in to set a perjury trap, given he claimed under oath to know little of Fusion GPS and the Steele dossier, the linchpins of his own prior two years of investigation. 

But did not the heads of some of our most important government agencies tell us that Russian collusion and Trump’s role as a “Russian asset” justified such surveillance?

Hardly. Congressional testimony showed that the leadership of the FBI and some in the Justice Department were systematically claiming that they had no evidence of supposed Trump-Russian collusion, even as they hit the airwaves insisting on what they had denied when pressed under oath and for the legal record. Apparently, the FBI and Justice Department modus operandi was that lying under oath could become iffy but lying to CNN and MSNBC was simply adjusting to what such networks routinely do themselves—and pay ex-government officials to master.    

The response of the Left to all this was not to help ferret out, in Frank Church or Sam Ervin style, outrageous government criminality, but to defend it, to contextualize it, and even to applaud it. 

The Left perhaps never has been worried about government illegal monitoring, surveillance, and disruption after all—only that it had once, prior to the Obama administration, been directed against liberal targets. 

Or, the Left itself has changed and believes now that the proverbial administrative state is replete with liberals and progressives—remember Lois Lerner at the IRS, the architects of “Fast and Furious,” or the henchmen that concocted the jailed videomaker ruse as the cause of the Benghazi mess?—and thus a helpful vehicle to accelerate needed social agendas without the worry of legislative impediments. 

In other words, contemporary progressivism is an illiberal abettor of unconstitutional operations that are state-sanctioned rather than merely rogue.

The Fourth Estate, Race, and Sex?

A free watchdog press? Again, hardly. According to early liberal monitoring of presidential news coverage, roughly 93 percent of the news has been anti-Trump. The media by its own admissions—remember the editorialization from those like Jorge Ramos, Jim Rutenberg, or Christiane Amanpour?—believes it cannot be disinterested, given the alleged existential threat Donald Trump supposedly poses to America.

Race? The Left sanctions racial separatism, even to the extent of marking off racially exclusive spaces on campus or allowing students to veto roommates on the basis of their race.

Feminism and Sexual Harassment and Assault? It depends. Statutes of limitations and he said/she said evidence are of no importance if it means stopping a conservative Supreme Court judge, but they most certainly do apply if they impair a Democratic presidential candidacy.

What is the Left, then? Mostly a Jacobin party that operates ad hoc, without consistency. 

Its two guiding principles are now reduced to simple agendas.

One, nothing matters unless one has power. The means to obtain it are always after the fact justified by the supposedly noble ends they once served. 

And two, what exactly are those noble ends? Or what unites the Google and Facebook zillionaires, the full professor of English, the Washington Post senior editor, Barack Obama, George Soros, the head of a major network, Harvey Weinstein, Robert De Niro, or Don Lemon? 

It is a desire to sound off about mandated equality, but only as long as one has the resources to be unaffected by the necessary consequences of one’s loud egalitarian advocacy. As a general rule, the more one is insulated from the downside of one’s abstract progressivism, the louder and more vehemently he expresses it.

Move Nancy Pelosi’s palazzo to sit on the border, subject Bill Gates to Bernie Sanders’s wealth tax and his envisioned 70 percent income tax rate, have Dianne Feinstein or Gavin Newsom live in an inner-city neighborhood or make NBA stars follow Chinese rules of collective bargaining and state-mandated compensation, or subject Samantha Power, Bruce Ohr, John Brennan, and Andrew McCabe to federal indictments, and Barack Obama to the sort of impeachment charade we witnessed months ago, and we would not have what is now the progressive party.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004, and is the 2023 Giles O'Malley Distinguished Visiting Professor at the School of Public Policy, Pepperdine University. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush, and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson is also a farmer (growing almonds on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author of the just released New York Times best seller, The End of Everything: How Wars Descend into Annihilation, published by Basic Books on May 7, 2024, as well as the recent  The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, The Case for Trump, and The Dying Citizen.

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