Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
They Said It:
Michael: I’m working for my father now. He’s been sick, very sick.
Kay: But you’re not like him, Michael. I thought you weren’t going to become a man like your father. That’s what you told me.
Michael: My father’s no different than any other powerful man (Kay laughs), any man who’s responsible for other people. Like a senator or a president.
Kay: You know how naive you sound?
Kay: Senators and presidents don’t have men killed.
Michael: Oh, who’s being naive, Kay? Kay, my father’s way of doing things is over, it’s finished. Even he knows that. I mean in five years, the Corleone Family is going to be completely legitimate. Trust me. That’s all I can tell you about my business.
“The Godfather,” 1972.
HILLARY AND THE TRUMP-IN-THE-BACK.
Every election, it seems, is the “most important election in our lifetimes!” There is always something critically important that MUST be done NOW! Or MUST be stopped NOW! Or MUST be changed, or changed back, or fixed, or broken, or . . . something. Moreover, the choice between the candidates is always the MOST IMPORTANT and MOST clear-cut EVER! One candidate will lead us to the promised land, to national healing, economic growth, and social reconciliation; the other, by contrast, will be the worst president in living memory, if not the history of the country, or God help us all, in the history of ALL countries!
Or so we’re told.
This is partly due, we suppose, to that which C.S. Lewis described as “chronological snobbery,” that being the notion that anything that has ever happened in the past is inferior to the present simply by virtue of “temporal priority.” But whatever the case, we tend to see this election as extremely important. Yes, even possibly the most important one in our lifetimes, and that includes the Lincoln-Douglas race that Mark covered as a young analyst in Washington when he wasn’t shooting buffalo of the back of train in Nebraska.
The strange thing about this contest, though, is that we’re not entirely sure it matters which of the two candidate wins. To put this another way, we think a case can be made that this election represents a significant moment in the development of our nation no matter the outcome. Moreover, we think that this moment will all but certainly be tragic.
In an article for PJMedia this week, Andy McCarthy, the former federal prosecutor who took on the pre-Al Qaeda Islamists, made a similar argument. “I do not hesitate to say that the upcoming presidential election is the most alarming in American history,” McCarthy wrote. “The reason this is such a frightening election is that the Constitution’s mechanisms for reining in or ousting a rogue president are in tatters.”
In McCarthy’s view, the real problem here is the Congress, which is unable or unwilling to do what is necessary to rein in a “rogue” executive. Congress is unwilling to deny funding to rogue presidents and their unconstitutional power-grabs. Likewise, it is unwilling to impeach those presidents who ignore the people’s wishes, as expressed by the very same Congress. Thus, the power of the executive continues to grow, without anything to stop it or even slow it down. And regardless of whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump wins next month, this process is going to continue over the next four years, likely at an increased speed.
We get where McCarthy is coming from, and, for the most part, we agree with him. Yes, Congress is weak and treacherous. Yes, the Constitution was designed specifically to prevent the type of power-grabs that the last several presidents have made and the next one will also make. In this circumstance, that means that the republic is careening badly of course, further and further from its constitutional design. Still, it strikes us that there is something else going on here, something more profound and likewise more troubling.
We have been in this business a long time. Indeed, we’ll forgive most of you for not sending congratulatory notes or gifts, but last month marked the 20th year of our collaboration. And one of us (Mark, obviously), was in the business for nearly a quarter century before that. All of which is to say that we’ve seen a lot of things in Washington, and by now, very little rattles us.
But that changed recently when we came face-to-face with an example of the negative and deleterious trends in the Western political and social realms about which we have been writing for years but never really expected to see in such stark outline.
You see, we have always expected that American’s decline would follow a path similar to that of Rome. A few bad years, followed by a few good years, followed by a would-be tyrant or two, followed by a mini-restoration with a few good leaders, and so on. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and nor was it destroyed in a day. It took many years, decades, even centuries for Rome to go from the lone global superpower and just society to a broken and nearly forgotten civilization. All good things must come to an end. But no one said that end had to be abrupt. American decline will be, we’d always assumed, incremental.
A few weeks ago, however, we read an article that made us wonder if that will really be the case. Many of you have likely read the same article, if for no other reason than the fact that we quoted it in these pages two weeks ago. The article in question is our old friend Angelo Codevilla’s “After the Republic.” And the thought-provoking, alarm-inducing quote in question was his concluding paragraph, which, you may recall, read as follows:
We have stepped over the threshold of a revolution. It is difficult to imagine how we might step back, and futile to speculate where it will end. Our ruling class’s malfeasance, combined with insult, brought it about. Donald Trump did not cause it and is by no means its ultimate manifestation. Regardless of who wins in 2016, this revolution’s sentiments will grow in volume and intensity, and are sure to empower politicians likely to make Americans nostalgic for Donald Trump’s moderation.
For the record, we do not wish to say that there would be no difference between a Clinton restoration and a Trump presidency. Indeed, there would be significant differences on tax policy, regulatory policy, immigration policy, foreign policy, and judicial appointments. And every one of those is important.
At the same time, it is highly unlikely that Donald Trump has the character, the knowledge, or the self-discipline to achieve the type of change that would be necessary to salvage our republic and thus to deflate the revolutionary fervor that brought him to political prominence in the first place. Actually, let us rephrase that: we know for a fact that Donald Trump does not have the character, knowledge, or self-discipline to save the republic from the revolutionary forces that his candidacy has exposed. Indeed, if there are three things Trump lacks, they are character, knowledge, and self-discipline.
Given this; given the now-overwhelming likelihood that Hillary Clinton will be the 45th President of the United States; and given the fact that we wish to focus here on the most likely scenarios; we will proceed with this essay under the assumption that Hillary Clinton will win the presidency next month. If somehow Trump manages a miracle, the following conclusions still pertain, although they will likely develop in a somewhat different manner.
Way back in the summer of 2012, when he was running for re-election, Barack Obama told reporters and supporters (like there’s any difference, right?) that he was confident that he and the GOP could work together to advance HIS priorities after the election. “In this election,” the President opined, “the Republican Party has moved in a fundamentally different direction. The center of gravity for their party has shifted,” but “I believe that if we are successful in this election, when we are successful in this election, that the fever may break.”
Not long after these comments were made and just a few weeks before the election, we told a somewhat stunned audience of investment professionals that the President was nuts, that there was no way that the “fever” would break. Indeed, we said, it was far likelier that the GOP would move in precisely the opposite direction, that it would ramp up its opposition to his agenda, rather than soften to it.
What we understood, but which the President apparently did not, was the fact that the GOP opposition to his policies wasn’t really about him. Rather, it was about the Tea Party movement, or, if you will, the country class. Obama thought that once he had been returned to the White House and would never again be on the ballot, the GOP would come around and cooperate. But the GOP didn’t care about him; it cared about its own self-preservation. And it knew that if it gave in to Obama, the forces unleashed by the Tea Party would come for it in turn. In short, the revolution within the GOP had begun, and the Party’s leaders didn’t dare aggravate the mutineers openly.
As it turned out, the Republican Congress was right not to aggravate the revolutionaries by openly and cordially working with Obama. But they missed the point. As Andy McCarthy suggested above, the Tea Party folks actually wanted Congress to do something substantive, to make an effort to restore something like balance to the political order. The people wanted their representative in Washington to fight back, not to sit in their tents and pout like Achilles.
The problem, unfortunately, was, and is, that this Congress, like Trump, lacks the character, the knowledge, and the self-discipline to restore the republic. In fairness, many individual members of Congress can and do possess those characteristics, some in spades. But as a collective, the GOP Congress is no better than was the Democratic Congress before it. It enjoys the perquisites of power, but it lacks the will to trade that power for real responsibility. Congress may have thwarted Obama on some matters, but it did nothing to satiate the revolutionaries. It did nothing to change “business as usual.” And that, in turn, merely aggravated the country class.
What this tells us is that Americans are not going to be placated by the election results next month. No matter what happens, nothing serious is going to change in Washington. Moreover, the proverbial fever isn’t going to break; it’s actually going to get worse. The Democrats and the media seem to be operating under the illusion that Donald Trump and his campaign are dispositive. Once the Trump phenomenon is dispatched, everything can go back to normal. Like Barack Obama before them, these people are nuts. If the pre-Tea Party status quo is what they all think of as “normal,” then nothing will ever be normal again. Those days are gone, never to return.
The evidence for all of this, we think, can be found in the recent and ongoing document dump targeting the Democratic Party in general and the Hillary Clinton campaign apparatus in particular. While it is true that the documents thus far released (mostly by Wikileaks) contained no real bombshells, they do contain enough information about the way the Democratic Party and the Clinton Crime Family operate today to ensure that the political conditions in this country are going to grow more, not less, chaotic and choleric after the election.
Among other things we have learned over the last several weeks that the Democratic Party conspired not only to undermine the effectiveness of the Bernie Sanders campaign, but, essentially, to disenfranchise his voters, to turn the primary campaign into a coronation, rather than an election. We have learned that the Clinton Foundation corruption was far greater and far more specific than even we had thought. We have learned that the Clinton campaign and the mainstream media were more than cozy, often doing favors for one another, sharing all sorts of information. We have learned that the FBI truly and unabashedly compromised itself in its investigation of Clinton’s private emails server, even going so far as to consider an explicit offer of “quid pro quo” with respect to the question of the classification of some emails. We have learned that Hillary Clinton believes in and told audiences that she hopes to see entirely “open borders” and a “hemispheric common market.” We have learned that Hillary believes that it is both necessary and advisable to lie to voters about what she really believes, that it is essential to have a “public” and a “private” position on issues. And the list goes on . . . and on . . . and on.
What all of these things have in common, of course, is that they confirm what Trump voters, Sanders voters, and other Americans frustrated with the status quo have long believed. This is what they – and we – have long thought about Hillary. But now they have proof. She hates them (you). She hates their (your) values. She believes that she is entitled to the position by virtue of her “public service” and thinks that those who disagree with her are, by definition, not just wrong, but immoral.
Many conservatives, including the aforementioned Angelo Codevilla, fear that the Clinton administration will race full-speed ahead to consolidate the “progress” made in the Obama administration and to continue to destroy the constitutional provisions that were intended to safeguard the people’s Creator-endowed liberties. We agree, wholeheartedly. That is a great risk – and a prophecy that will all but certainly be fulfilled.
At the same time, though, we know that the bigger and yet less visible problem of the administrative state and its corruption of the republic’s values will continue to distort the people’s expectations of their government. Among the things we learned from the document dump, but not related specifically to Hillary Clinton, is the extent to which our government has been thoroughly corrupted by its collusive relationship with Big Business. In perhaps the only worthwhile article to be published by The New Republic since Marty Peretz four years ago, David Daden noted the following, which irrefutably establishes the relationship between the purveyors of Big Government and those of Big Business:
The most important revelation in the WikiLeaks dump of John Podesta’s emails has nothing to do with Hillary Clinton. The messages go all the way back to 2008, when Podesta served as co-chair of President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team. And a month before the election, the key staffing for that future administration was almost entirely in place, revealing that some of the most crucial decisions an administration can make occur well before a vote has been cast.
Michael Froman, who is now U.S. trade representative but at the time was an executive at Citigroup, wrote an email to Podesta on October 6, 2008, with the subject “Lists.” Froman used a Citigroup email address. He attached three documents: a list of women for top administration jobs, a list of non-white candidates, and a sample outline of 31 cabinet-level positions and who would fill them. “The lists will continue to grow,” Froman wrote to Podesta, “but these are the names to date that seem to be coming up as recommended by various sources for senior level jobs.”
The cabinet list ended up being almost entirely on the money . . .
This was October 6. The election was November 4. And yet Froman, an executive at Citigroup, which would ultimately become the recipient of the largest bailout from the federal government during the financial crisis, had mapped out virtually the entire Obama cabinet, a month before votes were counted. . . .
Many already suspected that Froman, a longtime Obama consigliere, did the key economic policy hiring while part of the transition team. We didn’t know he had so much influence that he could lock in key staff that early, without fanfare, while everyone was busy trying to get Obama elected. The WikiLeaks emails show even earlier planning; by September the transition was getting pre-clearance to assist nominees with financial disclosure forms.
Daden goes on to argue that this time, it can be different, that people like Elizabeth Warren can ensure that President-elect Clinton doesn’t do what Obama did. He underestimates the Clinton Machine. The corporatism is already baked into the economic policy. If the transition team gives some plum jobs to Non-Rubin outsiders, they will do so for leverage purposes only. The Clintons will get what they want, which is to say that Goldman and Citi will get they want as well.
And that brings us, at long last, to undoubtedly the most important and likely most enduring aspect of the Wikileaks business, namely the fact that no one really knows much about it. We know of course. And most you, gentle readers, know. And the people who watch Sean Hannity’s show probably know as well. But beyond that, we’d guess that most Americans, even most politically engaged Americans, don’t have the foggiest idea what’s been revealed about Hillary Clinton and the Democrats over the last several weeks. Above, we said that the document dumps contain no real bombshells, and that’s true. But taken together, they paint a picture of a massively corrupt organization, headed by a massively corrupt elite, trying desperately to return a massively corrupt couple to the halls of power. And yet . . . the whole business is, at best, an afterthought to the mainstream press, which is far more preoccupied with what Donald Trump said back when George Bush was in the White House. In another essay for PJMedia, Roger Kimball summed up this jarring disconnect as follows:
Here we are just a few weeks away from election day. What is everyone talking about? Two things: A secretly recorded video of Donald Trump saying louche things about women a decade ago and unsubstantiated allegations by a few women that Donald Trump made unwanted sexual advances towards them years ago.
That seems to be the provender on offer by the media. There wasn’t any “locker-room talk” in the locker room of my local gym yesterday. As I was getting ready for my workout, the commentary on the always-on television was devoted entirely to the Trump “scandals.” Clip of Trump. Female talking head tut-tutting to male talking head, who also tutted. The entire eight or ten minutes it took me to change into the running shorts and gym shoes were given over to rehearsing Trump’s alleged torts and their likely effect on women voters. As I left the locker room, the talking heads were shaking their heads and retailing Trump’s poll numbers, which looked bad, bad.
Forty-five minutes later, I returned to the locker room sweaty and aglow, and guess what? They were still at it. Different talking heads — two females and a male — but the same show: Donald Trump said lewd things about women a decade ago! And not only that, a couple of women had come forward to accuse him of sexual harassment at some point in the dim and distant past. That took us through my shower and three-quarters of the way through my changing back into my street clothes. The talking heads then devoted twenty or thirty seconds to the latest WikiLeaks email dump before getting back to Donald and the dames. What was that WikiLeaks thing about? Oh, right, that was the cache of emails that revealed Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta emailing Clinton confidante Cheryl Mills about secret emails exchanged over Clinton’s homebrew server with President Obama when she was secretary of State.
Think about that. The president, using an alias, communicated over a private, non-secure server with his secretary of State.
In order to grasp the significance of all this, we think you have to look at it from a couple of different perspectives. First, just from an objective point of view, this is tiresome, to say the very least. The vast majority of Americans detest the mainstream media. The media constantly remind us just how much the people dislike Congress, and yet poll after poll after poll show that respondents actually respect Congress more than that same media. If you want to know why many Americans are more cynical about politics than ever before, a big part of the explanation has to involve the media and their ongoing betrayal of their self-professed role as the arbiters of truth. The mainstream media are biased. Mainstream outlets are populated with know-nothing hacks. They are obsessed with ratings and with “clicks.” They are a rolling mass of clichés and demagoguery. The people’s loathing is well earned.
But it gets worse. In this particular political atmosphere, the media’s biases and sensationalistic proclivities simply add fuel to the proverbial fire. As you may know, Donald Trump has been out on the stump over the last several weeks complaining that the whole system is “rigged,” that all of the powers that be – the entire ruling class, more or less – are conspiring to defeat him and to elect his opponent. Many longtime political observers, including a fair number of conservatives, have labeled his language and themes “irresponsible.” He is undermining the legitimacy of the entire republican apparatus, they say, damaging the people’s respect for the institutions of this great nation.
For our part, we’re a little more ambivalent about Trump’s role in “undermining” the institutions. After eight years of George W. Bush being called “selected no elected,” and after twelve years of John Kerry running around the globe telling anyone who will listen that Karl Rove and Diebold “stole” Ohio and the presidency from him, we’re not all that convinced that Donald Trump is the problem here.
That said, Trump is indeed exacerbating the sentiments already harbored by many of his supporters, which could prove problematic, in the long term. Late last week, Paul Farhi, a media reporter for the Washington Post, noted that Trump rallies have, of late, become enemy territory for reporters:
Donald Trump’s rallies have never been the friendliest places for reporters. But lately, as Trump has come under increasing fire, an unwelcoming atmosphere for the press has turned into outright hostility. Reporters who cover Trump on the campaign trail say his supporters have become more surly and abusive in the past week, egged on by a candidate who has made demonizing journalists part of his stump speech.
Trump’s traveling press contingent of about 20 has been met with boos, shouts and obscenities as it entered — as a single group — the venues where Trump has spoken this week. One reporter who is part of the traveling group described it as “a mob mentality,” particularly at larger rally sites.
“We’ve been on the receiving end of that throughout the election, so we’ve largely become numb to it,” he said. “But in the last few days it’s just been so much louder, so much angrier. The people who are shouting look at us like we’re their immediate enemies, not as like . . . primarily late-20-to-early-30-somethings there to do a job.”
At Trump’s rally in Cincinnati on Thursday, the crowd chanted, “Tell the truth!” as reporters trooped into the designated pen that the campaign has long used to corral reporters. Another recurring chant this week: “CNN sucks!”
On the one hand, it’s hard to feel sorry for these reporters. The media as a collective has made this bed, and now these folks have to lie on it. Cry us a river.
On the other hand, this is the type of thing that makes us uneasy about the paragraph we quoted above from Angelo Codevilla. As any schoolboy knows, one of the most effective rhetorical tools employed by totalitarians is what is known as the “stab-in-back” myth. The totalitarian explains to his people how they were undermined and betrayed by an internal enemy, and uses the people’s pre-existing hostility to that enemy to consolidate power and advance the goals of the regime. In so doing, the would-be totalitarian does two things: first, he explains away a defeat as a conspiracy rather than an actual loss; and second, he gives his followers an enemy on whom to focus their anger.
The most famous example of the stab-in-the-back myth, of course, was the Nazis’ use of it to implicate Germany’s Jews in a host of the nation’s traumas, most especially its loss in World War I. The Nazis insisted that they lost the war and were forced to sign an unfair peace treaty for no other reason than a betrayal on the home front effected by the Jews and the Bolsheviks. This is and always was completely and utterly false, but the Nazis nevertheless used it to advance their cause and to foment domestic hostility to the Jews.
Now, far be it from us to fall into the Leftists’ intellectual trap and compare Trump to Hitler. Such comparisons are both lazy and hysterical. Let us be clear: no one but Hitler was Hitler, and any pretense to the contrary diminishes the horrors that the Nazis inflicted on the Jews.
Nevertheless, we are not talking about Trump here and the one needn’t be Hitler to employ the stab-in-the-back myth. Recall that we are talking about “politicians likely to make Americans nostalgic for Donald Trump’s moderation,” which is to say demagogues the likes of which we can’t yet contemplate.
Hannah Arendt long insisted that totalitarianism was no real risk in America, largely because it has the constitutional institutions necessary to dispel and defeat totalitarian impulses. Arendt has been dead for 40 years, however, which is to say that she wasn’t witness to the damage inflicted on those institutions over the last four decades by America’s feckless ruling class.
We have long believed that the one thing that could save America’s institutions from the depravity of the ruling class would be the election of someone like Donald Trump, i.e. universally loathed by the elites, but, more or less harmless. The media, the courts, the Congress, and the rest would, we believe, take their jobs as checks on the power of the executive more seriously, if they felt that the executive was a real threat. Democrats and the media love executive overreach when Barack Obama is doing it, but they’d be apoplectic if Trump tried. And good for them.
As things stand, however, they’re not going to get this chance to redeem themselves. Rather, they’re going to get another like-minded demagogue whose values they share and whose overreach they will undoubtedly support. Given that the revolutionary mindset of the country class is going to be exacerbated after this election; given Trump’s blatant, if unwitting creation of a stab-in-the-back myth to exacerbate this revolutionary restlessness; and given the fact that Hillary will continue to move the country and its institutions in a direction many of the country class abhor; we feel rather unconfident about the future. We always figured that we would never live to see the nation’s slide into post-super power irrelevance and corruption. Now we’re no longer sure.
Thanks for that, Angelo.