Bruce Bawer is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
If you’d told me a couple of decades ago that leading conservative commentators would one day be celebrating an openly gay man as an American hero, I’d never have believed it. But that’s exactly what’s happening now. The man in question, of course, is Richard Grenell, currently serving both as the U.S. Ambassador to Germany and as the Acting Director of National Intelligence, and hence a member of the Cabinet.
It was under intense pressure from Grenell that the House Intelligence Committee, on May 7, released the transcripts of 53 interviews conducted privately in connection with the probe into President Trump’s alleged Russian ties. In those interviews, former members of the Obama Administration – several of whom had publicly insisted, on cable news shows and elsewhere, that there was firm evidence of collusion between Trump and the Kremlin – swore under oath that they were unaware of any such evidence.
And it was Grenell who, four days later, declassified the list of Obama Administration officials who, in the interval between the 2016 election and the Trump inaugural, requested the “unmasking” of Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s choice for National Security Advisor, so they could listen in on his phone calls. When Grenell made that list public two days later, he immeasurably aided the effort to get to the bottom of the plot against Trump now known as Obamagate.
“It was a brilliant move,” wrote Stephen Kruiser about Grenell’s decision to release the list. “Grenell ain’t playing. It’s a thing of beauty the way he’s handling the Left….Not all heroes wear capes.” On his podcast, Dan Bongino, author of two definitive books about Obamagate – which he has dubbed “Spygate” – called Grenell “terrific.” On Sebastian Gorka’s radio show, Victoria Toensing, also an expert on Obama Administration perfidy, said, “Thank God for Ric Grenell!” Gorka, who briefly served in the Trump White House, replied: “Bless him, he’s working hard to get the truth out!”
No, it doesn’t matter that Richard Grenell is gay. But at the same time it does. Partly because a few people still need to learn that not all gays are pedophile socialist drag queens, but mostly because the fact that a gay man plays a key role in the Trump Administration drives the left absolutely nuts.
Which results in such laughable excuses for journalism as the lengthy profile of Grenell by Erik Kirschbaum that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on February 25. It focused largely on Grenell’s activities in Berlin, where he’s called on German firms to stop commerce with Iran and pushed Angela Merkel’s government to spend more on defense, take back an old Nazi from the U.S., and ban Hezbollah.
The thrust of the story was that Grenell’s tough posture on these and other issues had ruffled German feathers, which Kirschbaum characterized as unwise because “Germans have long held the United States and U.S. Embassy in high regard.” Ha! You could hardly come up with a more bald-faced lie. Anyone remotely familiar with the situation knows that Germany has long been the most anti-American country in Western Europe; a few months ago, a survey showed that only 35% of Germans view the U.S. positively and that “Germans now have more trust in China than in the United States.” Are we supposed to believe that Kirschbaum doesn’t know this?
To bolster his mendacious point, Kirschbaum quoted fellow hack Christiane Hoffmann as saying that “Grenell hasn’t accomplished a thing with his blustering approach” and “rude attacks.” Where does Hoffmann work? At the newsmagazine Der Spiegel. And what is Der Spiegel famous for? For, to quote James Kirchick, “peddl[ing] crude and sensational anti-Americanism” and, specifically, for being busted in 2018 for publishing over a dozen pieces of fabricated reportage whose purpose, as Kirchick put it, was “to reveal America’s brutality.” Not that Kirschbaum mentioned any of this.
As for Hoffmann’s claim that Grenell hasn’t accomplished a thing in Germany, the inconvenient truth is that he’s been winning on one front after another: German firms did cut ties with Iran; Merkel’s government did hike its defense budget; she took that old Nazi off our hands; and, yes, Hezbollah got banned. Kirschbaum actually admits all this, but not until well into his article – it’s called burying the lede – after having spent his opening paragraphs sounding the alarm about Grenell’s feather-ruffling and trying to sell the preposterous fantasy that U.S.-German relations had been harmonious before he came along.
The salient point about Grenell’s stint in Germany is that he’s exactly what the German-American relationship has needed for a long time. Germans, or at least German elites, have always looked down on Americans as rubes and boors; after we crushed their evil empire in 1945, they kept a low profile for a couple of decades, whereupon the War in Vietnam gave them an excuse to climb back on their high horse. After that, the contempt ran deeper than ever, because, whatever their pretensions, they knew we were a superpower and they weren’t, and that was, for them, an unbearable thought. Their chronic lust for power was satiated by the transformation of the Common Market into the EU, which gave German leaders the vast continental empire they always wanted.
While consolidating power over that empire, the Germans have treated their sometime conqueror and longtime protector, the U.S. with increasing disrespect, welshing on NATO debt and ignoring U.S. concerns about their dealings with Iran and Russia. More than any American envoy before him, Grenell, with Trump’s backing, has called them on the carpet for this, put them in their place, knocked them off their perches. (As Victor Davis Hanson has put it, “Trump did not create the wound with Germany. He simply tore off the scab, exposed, and poked at what was long festering beneath.”) They can’t stand it, but they have to take it, because they know what’s what and who’s who. It’s good for them. It’s good for the world. As we learned in 1939, you can’t appease these people.
Oh, and another detail omitted from Kirschbaum’s profile, and from other articles depicting Grenell as a bull in a china shop: in 2015 WikiLeaks released documents showing that the Obama Administration had tapped Merkel’s cell phone, unleashing a now apparently forgotten diplomatic squabble. Funny how the leftist media treat Grenell’s pushiness as worse than Obama’s spying. And what about the barely veiled digs at Trump in Merkel’s Harvard commencement address on May 30 of last year? Just imagine the furor, suggested Hanson shortly afterwards, if Trump had gone to Germany and held a speech attacking Merkel’s “disastrous solar and wind energy policies, disastrous open-borders immigration dictates, disastrous subversion of NATO by her deliberate reneging on past promises on defense investments — and then, without saying the word ‘Merkel,’ calling her an abject liar for breaking her promises.” Why is it OK for Merkel to slam Trump with impunity in his own country but outrageous for Grenell to make reasonable demands that her government live up to its obligations?
So much for Kirchbaum’s funhouse portrait of Grenell. On March 4 it was the turn of Elizabeth Williamson and Kenneth P. Vogel of the New York Times to kick him around. Suffice it to say that their profile was of a piece with Kirchbaum’s, although with an extra touch: featured prominently in it were comments by an Obama official calling Grenell “dishonest.” Which Obama official? Why, none other than Susan E. Rice, one of that select group whose closed-door House testimony about Trump and Russia turns out to have flatly contradicted what they told the media.
Then there’s former Times foreign reporter David A. Andelman, who, on February 20, after Trump named Grenell to the intelligence post, wrote at CNN’s website: “Please, Mr. President, re-think this one.” Grenell, insisted Andelman, “is a catastrophe-in-waiting who will be in a position he is totally unqualified to hold, one that is central to America’s national security.” Well, he’s certainly proving to be a catastrophe for the corrupt Deep Staters who’ve used their power in the U.S. intelligence community to try to destroy their political enemies.
Appearing on the same day as Andelman’s diatribe was a report in the Advocate, the gay newsmagazine, about Grenell’s intelligence appointment. Instead of cheering it as a step forward for gay Americans and as yet another sign that the supposedly antigay Trump is nothing of the kind, Neal Broverman took the angle that Grenell, although gay, is “not necessary popular with LGBTQ people.” Well, put it this way: Grenell probably isn’t admired by the tiny minority of gays who call themselves “LGBTQ people.”
The left-wingers who control the gay press have long considered it their prerogative to decide who is and isn’t properly gay. In 2016, after PayPal billionaire Peter Thiel gave a rousing pro-Trump speech at the GOP convention, the Advocate’s Jim Downs wrote a widely cited article in which he pronounced that Thiel, because of his politics, couldn’t rightly be called gay. Grenell has gotten the same treatment.
They know that as a Trump man, Grenell needs to be savaged. But for what, specifically? On this question, they haven’t done a great job of coordinating their stories. On March 9, the Advocate’s Trudy Ring loftily dismissed Grenell’s assertion that, in her paraphrase, “liberal U.S. LGBTQ groups don’t care about the global situation [for gay people] and indeed, are reluctant to get involved because they’ll be accused of imposing American values.” But if Ring had consulted the February 19 issue of the other major U.S. gay glossy, Out, she’d have found an impassioned (if idiotic) piece by Mathew Rodriguez taking precisely the kind of ideologically rigid and morally bankrupt stand to which Grenell had referred. By pressuring other countries not to imprison, torture, and execute gays, charged Rodriguez, Trump, Grenell, and their U.S. and European partners in this initiative weren’t being humanitarians; rather, since the countries they were targeting are “mostly concentrated in the Middle East, Africa, and the Caribbean,” they were being racist, colonialist, and paternalistic. Twisted? Yes. Reprehensible? Yes. But this is precisely how academic postmodernists have taught the woke left to think about such matters.
If the gay media actually reflected the views of most ordinary gay Americans, they’d cheer Trump’s appointment of the nation’s first-ever openly gay Cabinet member. But that’s not the way these things work. The fact that Trump supported same-sex marriage long before Obama and Hillary did (and that those two didn’t climb onboard until it was obvious which way the wind was blowing) is dropped down the memory hole. Indeed, Trump is routinely, and reprehensibly, described in these publications as “anti-LGBT” – not because of anything he’s done to harm gays, but chiefly because he’s supported a ban on transsexuals in the military (a ban that makes sense for a number of medical and psychological reasons, and that has nothing whatsoever to do with gay people). As for Grenell’s campaign to decriminalize homosexuality worldwide, these periodicals systematically minimize it, treat it with cynicism or suspicion, shift focus to the trans issue, and/or insist that, whatever the Trump Administration may do, Obama’s gay-rights record remains more spectacular.
Fortunately, these gay magazines are growing less influential by the day. A few years ago, they could at least pretend to be the flagship publications of the American gay-rights movement. But same-sex marriage, by crowning that movement with success, put an effective end to it. Once that had happened, these writers and editors whose entire professional identity is wrapped up in their sexual orientation could have shifted their focus to advocating, as Grenell does, for gay rights in the Muslim world and elsewhere – but, as Mathew Rodriguez will tell you, that would be racist, colonialist, and paternalistic. Instead, they’ve embraced the radical trans agenda, pretending that the determination of a few deranged parents to get sex-change operations for their prepubescent children has something to do with the basic human rights of gay people.
Appalled and alienated by this and other leftist ideological imperatives, more and more gay Americans – think of Brandon Straka, founder of the WalkAway campaign, or Dave Rubin, of podcast fame – are leaving the left. Paradoxical though it may sound, it’s important that Richard Grenell is gay precisely because he doesn’t place much weight on it. By doing so, he negates the leftist obsession with group identity; and by serving his country, his president, and the cause of justice so spectacularly well, he provides a stellar role model for other gay Americans who don’t want to be defined by their sexual orientation but by the content of their character and the value of their contribution to the common good. Long may he thrive.