Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
As Trump enters his third year of office, some Republican NeverTrumpers have gotten control of the symptoms of Trumpophobia, and have settled for the occasional snarky asides to maintain their anti-Trump bona fides while they write about serious issues rather than Trump’s alleged crypto-fascist assault on “democratic norms.” Others, however, have become bitter-enders, still clinging to the hope that Trump will be impeached or weakened enough to lose in 2020, thus sanctifying their irrational hatred of the best and most effective champion that conservatism is likely to find these days.
But make no mistake, no matter how seemingly marginalized or absurd, the bitter-enders are still functioning as a fifth column for the progressive “resistance,” providing a “conservative” and “bipartisan” cover for the Democrats’ rush to move America farther to the left in order to change our Constitutional Republic into a socialist technocracy.
Some of these bitter-enders have retreated into a left-wing financed, online redoubt they call The Bulwark, the motto of which is “conserving conservatism.” But that sentiment is hard to square with the editors’ decision to send evangelical pro-choice blogger Molly Jong-Fast to CPAC shortly after the Democrats in New York gleefully legalized infanticide. As Jim Treacher reported, Jong-Fast in her CPAC twitter commentary mocked millennial conservative activist Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, who put her in a “rage” for speaking obvious truths like Trump had “revealed” the left’s true nature. She also targeted Glen Beck, “who thinks socialism is very bad.” But she really got miffed at the “scary” pro-life panel and a host who is “very very very very anti-choice,” and she bragged, “People are mad at me for wanting to control my own uterus.” Treacher economically sums up the problem with The Bulwark: “They’re conserving conservatism by behaving just like the people they think have ruined conservatism.”
The Bulwark also is going after writers like Victor Davis Hanson, Hugh Hewitt, Mark Thiessen, and Henry Olsen who support Trump with what editor Charles Sykes calls “sophism and trollery.” Just recently contributor Gabriel Schoenfeld reviewed for The Bulwark Victor Davis Hanson’s new book The Case for Trump. The piece is titled “Sophistry in the Service of Evil,” and like the title, it is a tissue of the question-begging assaults on Trump favored by progressives, such as “blatant racial prejudice” and “racism”; and hysterical adjectives like “demented” and “morally unfit for office.” Indeed, Hanson’s dismemberment of the progressives’ Orwellian “racist” meme is, according to Schoenfeld an example of the “gaping hole that is [Hanson’s] treatment of Trump’s odious life-long record in matters of race,” which is “worse than sophistry”–– it is “sophistry in the service of a genuine evil.”
Schoenfeld finishes with a bit of true sophistry by using an ancient rhetorical device called apophasis: bringing up something unsavory then disavowing it:
Anyone with an iota of historical awareness is familiar with the fact that intellectuals in Europe and the United States lauded Joseph Stalin even as he sent millions to the Gulag and their death. By the same token, Adolf Hitler, one of the 20th century’s other mega-mass murderers, also found his share of admirers in the academy, among them such brilliant minds as Carl Schmitt and Martin Heidegger. An entire branch of Western scholarship was devoted to the adulation of the genocidal Mao Tse-tung. Whatever Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, it is a grotesque absurdity to compare him to history’s most terrible tyrants.
Then why bring them up in an implicit comparison? To slyly justify libeling Hanson for “abasing” himself “to write what can only be called propaganda.” Any open-minded reader will recognize that Hanson’s analysis is objective and balanced, and that Schoenfeld’s review is a typical “conservative” NeverTrumper’s venting of class resentment and bitter anger that an outsider contemptuous of establishment political protocols and conventions seized the biggest prize in American politics.
From a larger perspective, The Bulwark so far looks to be just another confirmation of all the reasons why Donald Trump became president. Trump won the primaries by focusing on the bipartisan, bicoastal political elite’s neglect of and contempt for millions of voters in fly-over country. For example, he got that immigration was one issue that serially illustrated how much of the Republican establishment was in sync with Democrats. This was obvious in the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” legislation mooted in 2013, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. This law promised to be a reprise of Ronald Reagan’s misjudgment in 1986, when he signed the Simpson-Mazzoli Act that amnestied over three million illegal aliens, on the promise, never fulfilled, of increased border security and the reform of failed immigration policies. The result has been the 11-20 million, and growing, illegal aliens in the country today.
Moreover, the social and fiscal costs of illegal immigration––worsened under Obama by lax enforcement, the encouragement of “sanctuary” cities and states, and liberalizing policy via executive fiat–– were often brushed away by establishment Republicans who talked big but did nothing except propose more laws like the Gang of Eight’s. And when the concerns of people, including legal immigrants, who lived among the social disorder and crime that followed from allowing unvetted migrants into the country, were voiced, they were often dismissed as “racist” or “xenophobic” or “nativist.” Trump’s championing of people’s complaints, moreover, was caricatured as an ethno-nationalist “populism,” an irrational intolerance of the dark-skinned “other.” To the voters familiar with the very real wages of unfettered immigration, these criticisms from people who didn’t know firsthand those daily costs were seen as haughty contempt.
An example of this phenomenon that Hanson mentions in his book is Trump’s 2016 politically maladroit characterization of Judge Gonzalo Curiel as “Mexican.” Schoenfeld brings this incident up as an example of Hanson rationalizing Trump’s “racism” that “with a drumbeat of racially charged remarks emanating from the White House. . . has been setting the nation back to a darker time,” a statement that begs two questions in order to distract (or gratify) the reader with a cloud of emotionally lurid rhetoric. But Hanson simply provides a context for the remark, one that is unfamiliar to those, contrary to Hanson, who do not know from experience the mores of multi-ethnic coexistence: “Outrage,” Hanson writes, “followed over Trump’s correct but naïve identification of Curiel’s heritage as Mexican (in the sense that there was no commensurate outcry about identifying Swedish Americans as ‘Swedes’ or ‘the Irish’ for Irish Americans).”
Schoenfeld dismisses this explanation as “casuistry” for camouflaging racism–– while ignoring the implications of the judge’s belonging to an organization that called itself the California La Raza Lawyers Association–“la Raza” being a notoriously racialist term that implies a political and racial bias. As Hanson points out, “In the even-steven Trump world, an Anglo judge who had sought membership in a linguistically equivalent chapter of ‘The Race Lawyers Association’ certainly would have faced charges of bias.’”
Again, Schoenfeld’s criticism shows how much the Republican elite embraces the racialized discourse and double-standards of the multicultural left, as well as illustrating their ignorance of what it’s like to live in a multi-ethnic society comprising people from very different cultures, some of them incompatible with American social and political mores. As one who, like Hanson, has lived most of my life in the riotous diversity of the San Joaquin Valley, I know the validity of Hanson’s point. As I wrote of the Curiel affair in 2016,
House Speaker Paul Ryan [whom Schoenfeld quotes approvingly], currently the lode star of anti-Trump Republicans, called Trump’s charges that the judge might be biased toward him “the textbook definition of a racist comment.” Sure it is, if your “textbook” is the Progressive Lexicon of Orwellian Smears.
Ryan elevated his dudgeon because Trump correctly said the judge is a Mexican. The Trumpophobes all cried “Gotcha” and smugly pointed out that the judge was born in Indiana. But they are as ignorant as Ryan is about how the children of immigrants self-identity. I have lived all my life amidst people descended from immigrants from dozens of different countries, and they all call themselves “Mexican” or “Portuguese” or “Italian” or “Armenian” when asked about their ethnic heritage. Nobody thinks they mean they are citizens of those countries or were necessarily born there. Someone who calls himself “Scots-Irish” isn’t claiming dual citizenship in Scotland and Ireland. This episode reminded us once again that the “comprehensive immigration reform” Republicans who dream of flipping the Hispanic vote know very little about the daily reality of immigration in America whether legal or illegal––confirming the beliefs of Trump supporters that the Republicans can’t be trusted on immigration policy.
As bad as that was, though, calling Trump’s comment “racist” is just validating the progressives’ distortion of that word to serve their political and ideological interests. It’s as stupid as calling Trump’s ban on Muslim immigration “racist,” as though Islam is a race instead of a religion. There’s only one valid definition of “racism”: the belief that every member of a “race” is by nature immutably inferior to members of another race. . . . For Ryan to use the word [as progressives do] validates this corruption of language, and to Trump supporters it is just another example of how the Republican “establishment” is too ideologically cozy with the Democrats.
The elite Republican’s acceptance of progressive language and views on immigration and race is just one of the reasons why the brash, vulgar, blunt, braggadocios Donald Trump became president. That acceptance of progressive practice defines as well the Republican NeverTrumpers, who speak in ways that confirm for Trump’s supporters that their suspicions of their party’s leaders are true––too many of them have more in common with the other side than they do with their own voters.
Finally, Trump’s very real achievement in instituting conservative goals like deregulation of the economy, tax reform, and returning the judiciary, including two Supreme Court justices, to Constitutional principles, outweighs the flaws of his personal style––one that, by the way, for generations of Americans has been part of their American identity. But most important, if Trump hadn’t won, we would now have a President Hillary Clinton continuing Obama’s project of “fundamentally transforming America.”
The bitter-enders now housed in The Bulwark have no response to that stark fact. At this point, their peevish, snarky, snotty commentary financed by the left serves no purpose other than to give moral support to a party that has degenerated into a juvenile congeries of failed, illiberal, and dangerous policies. That’s not much of a recommendation for the NeverTrumpers’ alleged fealty to “principles,” “conservatism,” or “democratic norms” the bitter-enders claim they are defending.