Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
The Democrats are furiously busy with preemptive damage control of the ongoing investigation by U.S. Attorney John Durham. As well they should. This and other investigations of the origins of alleged Russian electoral interference has morphed into a criminal probe that likely will implicate members of the Obama administration’s FBI, DOJ, and CIA, and tear off the veil of misdirection that the Democrats and their lackeys in the media have draped over the dirty tricks they employed during the 2016 campaign and Trump’s first years in office. If this happens, the Democrats’ equally dicey attempts to impeach the president will crumble.
Once again, we are being subjected to progressive double standards and “projection” of their own sins onto others. But something more ancient and dangerous is going on: The links between tyranny and sophistry.
With the hoax of Trump’s collusion with Russia to wound his rival Hillary Clinton debunked by the Dems’ hand-picked special prosecutor and his team of partisan Democrats, California Democrat Representative Adam Schiff has been attacking Durham and AG William Barr. Schiff’s joint statement with Jerry Nadler (D. NY), his accomplice in the House impeachment show-trial, is a masterpiece of jaw-dropping hypocrisy:
These reports, if true, raise profound new concerns that the Department of Justice under AG Barr has lost its independence and become a vehicle for President Trump’s political revenge. If the Department of Justice may be used as a tool of political retribution, or to help the President with a political narrative for the next election, the rule of law will suffer new and irreparable damage.
The glaring double-standard––this description more accurately fits Obama’s self-described “wingman,” AG Eric Holder, more than AG Barr–– is laid out in a Wall Street Journal editorial:
Democrats know that the Hillary Clinton campaign paid Fusion GPS to dig up dirt on Mr. Trump, and Fusion hired former British spook Christopher Steele, who compiled a dossier of allegations about Mr. Trump from Russian sources that turned out to be false. Worse, Fusion funneled the dossier to the FBI, which used it to persuade the secret FISA court to issue a warrant to eavesdrop on Trump official Carter Page. Democrats now want to discredit any attempt to hold people accountable if crimes were committed as part of this extraordinary dirty trick.
Moreover, as the Journal further points out, even if the charge that Trump demanded from the Ukrainian president an investigation of Joe Biden and his son in exchange for foreign aid is true, which it isn’t, it doesn’t compare to the Democrats’ very real Russian collusion. In Trump’s alleged attempt, he failed and the aid reached Ukraine even though there was no investigation. In contrast, the Democrats succeeded: “Russian disinformation was used by America’s premier law enforcement agency to justify investigating an American presidential campaign.” That “dirty trick” makes Watergate look like a jaywalking infraction.
How do we explain this shameless behavior of the Dems? A lot of smart people are characterizing the Democrats’ behavior as “projection” which according to Psychology Today, “is most commonly used to describe defensive projection—attributing one’s own unacceptable urges to another. The concept emerged from Sigmund Freud’s work in the 1890s.” In other words, a subconscious defense mechanism for people who can’t consciously acknowledge their own bad behavior.
But there’s nothing subconscious about what the progressives are doing, and telescopic psychologizing is notoriously unreliable, not to mention it lets offenders off the hook for what they say. If speech is conscious, it’s not projection, it’s lying. The more likely explanation is that Dems are following the ancient roadmap for reducing a democracy to tyranny: using sophistical rhetoric to gull the masses into giving an elite power outside the normal political protocols.
Plato, Aristotle, and Polybius laid out the conditions by which a democracy degenerates into tyranny. An ambitious man or faction, dissatisfied with the normal political processes for obtaining and using power, will win over the masses by redistributing property from the rich to the poor. Other instrument of this process are violence and sophistical rhetoric: The public speeches made during deliberations over policy. Once in power, a tyrant will concentrate more and more power in his and his faction’s hands, bringing about a regime based on violence and injustice.
For a century we have been witnessing a slow-motion, “soft” version of this process. Starting with progressive Woodrow Wilson, the Federal government has grown ever larger and more intrusive, concentrating power in federal agencies at the expense of the states, local government, civil society, families, and individuals. Obama’s presidency was the next giant step down the road to tyranny, his policies, especially Obamacare, marking an advance in centralized, concentrated power.
The ancient tyrant used violence to consolidate his power; our “soft despots,” as de Tocqueville called them, use federal investigative agencies and the instruments of political accountability to attack their enemies. Over the last three years we watched the FBI, DOJ, and CIA manipulate and abuse their powers to engineer the appointment of a Special Prosecutor armed with investigative and subpoena powers. Their aim was to destroy politically the duly elected president. Along the way they skirted and violated the law, just as ancient tyrants ignored the city-state’s procedures and protocols for using power.
When the Mueller investigation failed and the Democrats took back the House of Representatives, they then abused their oversight committee powers to lay the foundation for bringing impeachment charges. Next the traditional protocols of impeachment established in the cases of Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton have been abandoned. Rather than the House voting for articles of impeachment, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Luca Brasi Adam Schiff have used secret hearings and engineered anonymous “whistleblower” complaints based on second-hand information and mere personal opinion. I suppose it’s a civilizational advance that today our wannabe tyrants use procedure rather than the brutal violence the tyrants of old employed.
Back then, another important tool for aggrandizing power was rhetoric. A persistent theme in Athenian literature of the fifth-century B.C. is the dangers of public speeches made by orators trained in the skills of rhetoric by sophists. The main complaint, copiously documented in philosophy and literature, is that the “art of persuasion,” as Aristotle called political oratory, “makes the worse argument the better.” Indeed, sophists had exercises called dissoi logoi that argued both sides of a question. Sophistical rhetoric, then, turns the false, the unjust, and the bad into the true, the just, and the good by manipulating the citizens’ emotions, self-interest, and factional passions. Many Athenians, especially those opposed to the democracy, warned of the dangers of sophistical oratory. For example, Euripides’ Medea, who has been abandoned by Jason for a more politically useful bride, becomes enraged when Jason to her face tries to argue that his betrayal will benefit Medea: “The plausible speaker,” she tells Jason, “who is a villain deserves the greatest punishment.”
The dangers of being “slaves to the ear,” as Thucydides’ Cleon describes those who gape at a clever speaker, have been exponentially multiplied in our times. Today we are saturated with information and images 24/7, 365; we are now “slaves to the eye” as well as “slaves to the ear,” for the opportunities for sophistical rhetoric on social media, cable news, and twitter are unlimited, their effects magnified by the power of dramatic images. This explains the pronouncements coming from the House Democrats, echoed by their factotums in the media that quote and film them.
Take their complaints, for example, about Trump’s alleged “quid pro quo” that he imposed on the Ukrainians. Yet Dems are silent about Joe Biden’s bragging on video about an actual quid pro quo: His threat to withhold foreign aid until a Ukrainian prosecutor investigating the company that was paying Biden’s son $50-80 grand a month was fired. This hypocrisy exposes perfectly the essence of sophistry, which is “the big lie,” one people believe despite its transparent falsity. And of course, the whole “Russia collusion” and “interference in our election” crimes were in fact perpetrated not by Trump and the RNC, but by Hillary Clinton and the DNC, with ample help from allegedly non-partisan federal agencies.
Meanwhile, the House’s ongoing procedures for impeachment reek of Soviet-era show-trials, in which the accused cannot confront his accusers and cross-examined them––a model pioneered during the Obama era in our colleges and universities with their star chambers that tried accused sexual assaulter. This injustice was corrected by Trump and his Secretary of Education Betsy De Voss. Does anyone think a President Warren or President Biden will not turn back the clock to that ancient judicial instrument of tyranny?
For true believers like the bipartisan NeverTrumpers, such blatant falsehoods and unjust procedures are irrelevant as long as they serve to overthrow Trump’s administration, either by a successful impeachment, or by damaging the president enough that he is defeated in 2020. In other words, regime change, the overthrow of a legally elected president, and the disenfranchising of his 63 million supporters. The more long-term cost, of course, will be a quantum leap in the century-long progressive aim of changing our Constitutional republic into a tyrannical technocracy.
If that sounds extreme, just listen to the Democrat’s proclaimed policy goals: socialized medicine, gutting the First and Second Amendments, ceding more national sovereignty to the global technocratic elite, and appropriating through ruinous taxation more of the country’s wealth to finance more redistributionist schemes for their clients. Meanwhile, they shrug off the violence and verbal attacks on Republicans by Antifa and other goons, or, like Representative Maxine Waters, they even encourage them.
If we allow this coup to happen, we will have proved de Tocqueville a prophet by creating a tyranny “more extensive and more mild [than ancient tyranny],” one that “would degrade men without tormenting him.”