Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center
The latest in a series of “scandals” that supposedly will finally banish President Trump from the White House has provoked the latest in a series of outbursts from NeverTrump obsessives. Allegations that the president, during a phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, abused his power, violated campaign finance laws, or sullied an upcoming American election by inviting foreign interference, precipitated the latest dudgeon-fest. No one seemed to care that the release of the conversation’s transcript, and the exculpatory protestations of Ukraine’s president have already deflated the “scandal” like a stomped soufflé.
We still have to hear homilies from the Church of NeverTrump, once again trying to turn the president’s blunt, take-no-prisoners, what-you-see-is-what-you-get style into a Constitutional crisis. In fact, Trump was elected because enough voters rejected the vision of politics as the purview of technocratic elites who define “democratic norms,” “presidential decorum,” and “political normality” in terms that happen to suit their tastes, interests, and prejudices.
For them, Trump’s discussion with Zelensky with its alleged implied quid-pro-quo was outrageously out of bounds and unprecedented. So let’s see, the Constitution gives the president wide authority to conduct foreign policy, including interactions with other heads of state. It does not specify by what rules of manners and diplomacy he do so. His only job is to see to the national interests and security of the United States, using whatever tools––except for undeclared war––he finds will achieve those aims.
That is a necessarily broad remit, because interactions with foreign governments involve all manner of leaders, from totalitarian to democratic, and all manner of personalities. Sometimes a carrot is useful, other times a stick. One carrot the U.S. possesses, especially as the world’s most consequential and necessary power, is foreign aid, grants, and loans. There is nothing wrong with leveraging this money and encouraging a foreign leader to reciprocate by proving a service that is deemed necessary for the president to protect our security and interests.
Trump’s critics, of course, will claim that he corrupted this authority to suit his personal political interests, offering Zelensky foreign aid for investigating Joe Biden’s son Hunter. Marc A. Thiessen has set that record straight:
Keep in mind, when this story broke, The Washington Post reported that “two former U.S. officials” said “Trump’s interaction with the foreign leader included a ‘promise’ that was regarded as so troubling that it prompted an official in the U.S. intelligence community to file a formal whistleblower complaint” . . . .Well, it turns out Trump makes no “promise” anywhere in the transcript. He makes no threats, either. Indeed, it was Zelensky who raised the issue of investigating corruption, not Trump.
Moreover, as Thiessen continues:
NBC’s Katy Tur claimed that the transcript shows Trump said, “Will you do me a favor and investigate Vice President Biden’s son?” No, he didn’t. When Trump asked Zelensky to “do us a favor,” it had nothing to do with Biden. According to the transcript, he was asking Zelensky to cooperate with an official Justice Department investigation into the origins of the Mueller probe that is being led by U.S. Attorney John Durham, a career prosecutor. A Justice Department spokesman says Durham is “exploring the extent to which a number of countries, including Ukraine, played a role in the counterintelligence investigation directed at the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.”
In other words, Trump was doing his job, asking his Ukrainian counterpart to help a country that gives it aid get to the bottom of the electoral malfeasance and interference that went on in 2016. You remember, the same pretext for the soft coup waged for three years by the Obama administration and our national security, justice, and police agencies in order to serve rank partisan ends. Nor does the claim that Trump was trying to hamstring a 2020 election opponent pass the laugh-test. I think Trump knows that Biden’s gaffe-a-thon campaign doesn’t need any help in self-destructing.
Speaking of Biden, let’s compare Trump’s supposedly unprecedented violation of “presidential norms” for conducting foreign affairs, with Biden’s apparent strong-arming of the Ukrainian government officials to fire a prosecutor who was investigating a company that paid his underqualified, underexperienced son $50,000 a month. Here, if things are as they seem, is an explicit act of extortion, not a subliminal quid-pro-quo that has been claimed in Trump’s case, but that in fact didn’t happen.
Of course Trump mentioned Biden’s actions during the general discussion of corruption in intergovernmental business, and he was right to do so. We can’t have our public officials who are conducting foreign policy exploiting public contacts and leverage for private gain, not when the security and interests of the U.S. are involved. And these days, the equality of all before the law, something Dems now consider a relic like whale-bone corsets, desperately needs some reinforcing.
And remember, Biden at the time was still Vice President, conducting foreign policy as the president’s surrogate. His leveraging of aid was not the problem. We should expect reciprocity for our help and foreign aid. What’s unseemly is doing so to benefit financially a family member under the guise of rooting out corruption [sic!]. Worse, when he was challenged about not having the authority to withhold the $1 billion loan guarantee, Biden dared the officials to call the president. They caved, and Obama never said a thing indicating that Biden had talked out turn and wasn’t speaking for the president, thus implicating him. Last year Biden even crowed on camera about the fact that he had bullied Ukrainian officials into doing what he wanted. But for the progressive media, the story elicited a big “meh.”
Like Joe’s efforts in Ukraine, Hunter Biden’s travels with Pop to China, and returning home with a fat contract are mere coincidences––similar to the coincidence that his international business took off only after Biden became the vice president. (It’s interesting, though, that Biden rival Elizabeth Warren hurried to develop conflict-of-interests policies to stop such coincidences). Or maybe these are instances of public corruption as old as the Republic itself. Nor can I, at least, swear definitively one way or the other that all of Hunter Biden’s international business is untainted by nepotistic corruption. The big point here is that the Caesar’s Wife standard that Trump critics employ is considerably more elastic when it comes to progressives, who are always given the benefit of the doubt despite how unsavory the optics, or how abundant the circumstantial evidence.
With Trump, however, it’s not just that he seldom, if ever, is given the presumption of innocence, but that the “evidence” of his alleged transgressions is frequently manipulated, distorted, or invented out of whole cloth. We saw it happen in this latest media fiasco, when the fabricated evidence was publicized as the predicate for an impeachment investigation, and within a few days the transcript of the phone call and the so-called whistleblower’s complaint became available for all to see, making it obvious that the whole affair was full of sound and fury but signified nothing.
That NeverTrumpers continually validate this double-standard, along with their self-righteous blather about “norms” and “decorum,” is what infuriates Trump’s base who are not denizens of the Acela Corridor combine. Indeed, some NeverTrumpers have become unhinged on the topic. Mona Charen, writing about the latest hit on Trump, ends her screed: “But if Trump is twisted and occasionally delusional, partisans who cloak him with excuses and sympathy are exactly what Trump thinks everybody is — corrupt.” There you have it: question-begging personal insults followed by the condemnation of millions of ordinary voters who don’t practice standards of decorum that schoolmarms like Mona Charen preach, but in their own writing serially violate.
Given that Trump didn’t commit a crime or Constitutional violation during the conversation with Zelensky, when someone like Charen speaks that way, or pundit Yuval Levin says Trump’s explanation of the conversation can be believed only if we “don’t think too hard about what our presidents are supposed to be and do,” millions of Trump supporters are going to hear the snarky disdain for them on the part of political mandarins who think only their political class’s manners and decorum are crucial for what “presidents are supposed to be and do.” Trump may not have their manners, but so far, he has governed far better than Barack Obama, who had the bipartisan, technocratic, insider patter down pat, but pursued policies that weakened our country both domestically and internationally.
Forget the impeachment farce and the ginned-up scandals. The decision we will be facing in a bit more than a year is simple: do you want someone who loves this country, believes it is exceptional, wants it to be great, and has proven it by restoring our international prestige and revitalizing our economy? Or do you want a self-anointed technocrat who disdains our country, obsesses over its alleged crimes, thinks it should be diminished to just one nation among many, will bankrupt it with utopian policies, and wants to surrender its sovereignty to an international cabal of elites just like them?
The choice is stark: either America, or Anti-America.