I wrote the following in December, 2020. I post it now as a follow-up and precursor to Darryl Cooper’s essay that was the subject of my previous two pieces.
Lost amid the Sturm und Drang of the presidential election has been, predictably, the big picture. Come late January, Donald Trump will ride off into his electoral sunset, but the sentiments that elected him will remain, made stronger, fiercer, more entrenched by the last four years. And rightly so. The big picture is what that portends for the future. Pro-status quo/anti-Trump forces have very unwisely assumed that removing him from power was the end-game, that neutering him neutered his supporters. That assumption was dangerously false and short-sighted.
Donald Trump, always an unlikely president, was elected by voters who believe that the existing political system - Democratic and Republican governments, the administrative state, armies of lobbyists, the news media, all of which remain much the same from one decade to the next - doesn’t represent them. They feel in their bones that Washington neither knows nor cares about them, that the usually absurd squabbles between the two parties are merely window dressing designed to bemuse the rubes.
They are not wrong. As Charles Murray so effectively elucidated in his book “Coming Apart,” political, academic, financial, business and press elites have become, over the past 60 years, ever more isolated from the rest of us, ever more associating solely with each other, ever more assuming that their values are our values, ever more astonished to learn that they’re not.
Trump was elected because (a) he was an outsider, not part of that political status quo and (b) voters believed that he would be an agent of change, that he would “drain the swamp.” Whether they were right or not, for the first time in decades, those voters believed they had a candidate who listened to them, understood and agreed.
But the “swamp” had no intention of bending to a single president. On the contrary, from the very beginning, it reflexively set out to reject the Trump presidency, like a body rejecting an organ transplant. What followed was the four-year orgy of undisguised dishonesty, hypocrisy and occasional bouts of insanity that’s come to be known as Trump Derangement Syndrome. Before he was ever inaugurated, the possibility was raised that the Electoral College could simply defy the will of the voters and existing law and hand the election to Clinton. That failed. Next came the happy thought that Trump could be removed from office as mentally unfit. That too proved a non-starter, so out wheeled bigger guns. Just four months into Trump’s presidency, Robert Mueller was hired to locate collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians who’d tried and failed to influence the election. Alas for the status quo, Mueller’s two-year effort came to naught.
So, as night follows day, it was on to impeachment, arguably the most bizarre effort yet to thwart the electoral process. Amazingly, the two articles of impeachment drummed up by House Democrats failed even to allege any crime by the president. A suggestion by Trump that the president of Ukraine should investigate possibly shady dealings involving Hunter Biden was Article One. Never mind that (a) Trump was well within his power to request such an investigation, (b) he never did so, (c) no investigation was ever conducted and (d) the foreign aid that was supposedly the “quo” for the investigation’s “quid” was delivered in full and on time. This, according to “the swamp,” was grounds for removal from office of a duly-elected president.
The second article was even worse. A House committee had demanded that the Trump Administration turn over certain documents to it. Trump refused, resulting in a not-unusual contretemps between the Legislative and Executive branches. As everyone knew, the resolution of the matter lay in federal court, much the same process as had occurred in U.S. vs. Nixon.
But a funny thing happened on the way to that judicial resolution - the Democratic plaintiffs withdrew their suit. Seemingly, they’d never wanted the documents in the first place. The whole purpose of the charade was to elicit Trump’s resistance that in turn would produce their justification for impeachment. How else to explain Rep. Schiff’s statement on the floor of the Senate that the litigation might have gone on “too long?” Too long for what? If the documents had truly been the committee’s goal, a court order requiring their production would have been effective whether or not Trump was elected to a second term. The committee never wanted the documents; they wanted Trump’s scalp. N.B.: after impeachment failed, the committee never refiled its lawsuit.
Coursing through all the political chicanery was news media reporting that abandoned even the pretense of balance, fairness and at times basic honesty. For four years, no opinion was too bizarre to be leveled against Trump. Once-sensible journalists routinely made the wildest, bug-eyed accusations: Trump is Hitler (Adam Gopnik, the New Yorker), Trump is the end of Western democracy (George Packer, the New Yorker), Trump is the end of the rule of law and the end of democracy (Tom Steyer, Wall Street Journal op-ed), etc.
To the press, those accusations and countless others, however nutty, proved immune to contradictory facts. When Trump press secretary Kayleigh McEnany listed 19 separate times that Trump had abjured white supremacist dogma, the press essentially ignored her, preferring the narrative that, in some way, he’d never really rejected white supremacy, that his many statements to that effect weren’t sufficiently clear.
Meanwhile, Trump was the first president in decades to keep the U.S. out of any additional wars, despite multiple opportunities (Syria, Libya, Yemen) to do so. The Never Trump narrative had always been that he would start World War III, so the president’s actual policy remained almost entirely unmentioned. Even extreme lefties like journalist Glenn Greenwald noticed the rather astonishing hypocrisy. As Greenwald points out here, the Bush/Cheney administration was far more lawless and dangerous than Trump’s, but received nothing like his unhinged treatment by the fourth estate.
So what explains the non-stop press hysteria? Put simply, the political establishment was terrified by Trump, yes, but more so by what he represents. An outsider who invaded the GOP, who’d never before sought public office, who ran on a promise to attack the Washington establishment and had the gall to win the nomination, was too much to countenance. Worse still, Trump defeated the quintessential insider and beltway favorite, Hillary Clinton.
In doing all that, Trump threw the scare of a lifetime into the entire system that comfortably assumes the fix to be in, that whoever wins the presidency will be acceptable to the status quo, will never challenge “swamp” assumptions and that business will continue as usual. What had to be done, then, was take him down at any cost. All those efforts failed until November 3rd when Joe Biden, with a lot of help from his friends, squeaked out a win.
Day in and day out, the virulent anti-Trump/pro-Biden stance of the press was a phenomenon not seen before in modern times. From start to finish, Biden was scrupulously never asked a tough question, not called on his sometimes-blatant lies.
Consider: As recently as 2019, Biden’s former chief of staff, Ron Klain, spoke publicly on the Obama/Biden handling of the H1N1 virus.
We did every possible thing wrong. Sixty million Americans got H1N1 in that period of time, and it is just purely a fortuity that this isn’t one of the great mass-casualty events in American history. [It] had nothing to do with us doing anything right; just had to do with luck. If anyone thinks that can’t happen again, they don’t have to go back to 1918. Just go back to 2009, 2010. Imagine a virus with a different lethality, and you can just do the math.
Doing that math, we learn that, had H1N1 been as lethal as COVID-19, some two million Americans would have died, most of them children. And yet one of Biden’s signature issues during the 2020 campaign was Trump’s handling of the latest pandemic. Entirely absent from the news media’s coverage was the slightest scrutiny of Biden’s claim or information about his all-too-pertinent and very recent past.
Consider: The New York Post reported that Hunter Biden had dealings with a Chinese company that promised to pay him and his uncle, Jim Biden, large sums of money, less for work done than for influence. The company went bankrupt and so never paid, but emails verified as legitimate showed the Biden name as the only reason Hunter was to be hired and that his father both knew about the deal and stood to benefit financially too. But Twitter and Facebook spiked that reporting, refusing to re-post it and suspending the Post’s accounts. Biden’s claim that the entire thing consisted solely of “Russian disinformation” was unquestioningly reported as true despite there being zero evidence for the proposition. True and accurate reporting was sidelined in favor of Biden’s self-serving and almost certainly false narrative.
Consider: Nine days before Election Day, CBS’s 60 Minutes devoted 17 minutes of Sunday evening prime time to the Lincoln Project, an organization doggedly devoted to getting Donald Trump out of office. Friendly interviews with Lincoln Project principals trashing Trump went entirely unbalanced by a single positive reference to the President, a single negative reference to his opponent or the slightest criticism of the Lincoln Project itself. A more blatant Biden campaign ad could scarcely be imagined and it was all free, courtesy of CBS.
In short, the press did its job as a paid-up member of the political establishment – embracing the insider and marginalizing the outsider, the voice of dissent from the status quo.
It worked. The “swamp” used every weapon in its arsenal to get rid of Trump and eventually, it did.
None of that was lost on Trump supporters. The battle was against Trump, but the war was and is against those voters who see themselves as ignored, uncared about by the political system. And, while Trump will soon be gone, those voters aren’t going anywhere. Indeed, the shenanigans of the press and the political establishment served only to further prove what they already suspected – that the system will do pretty much anything to maintain its power at their expense.
Those Trump voters aren’t wrong and the last four years have made them angrier than ever. Sometime in the future, circumstances will be worse and a more effective leader will show up to carry their hopes and dreams, someone who’s less easy to attack, more knowledgeable about power and more ruthless in its use. When and who that will be are anyone’s guess. But the people who cling to the strange delusion that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth are watching and waiting.