The NeverTrumpers’ fundamental error.
Three years after outsider Donald Trump blew up the political world with his implausible victory over the consummate insider, Hillary Clinton, many establishment Republicans still don’t get it. From their elite cocoon, they continue to indulge the hauteur that put off ordinary voters who had grown tired of a fossilized political class that serially ignored their interests, and seemed more concerned with their own insider perks and privilege, rather than in repairing the damage that decades of bipartisan progressive technocracy had inflicted on the Constitutional order.
The grande dame of the disgruntled NeverTrump Republicans has been the Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan, whose columns on Trump usually sound like a mash-up of the prescriptions of Emily Post and a snobbery redolent of Lady Violet Crawley from Downton Abbey.
Noonan’s latest is an attack on the Republicans’ behavior during the House impeachment hearings, coupled with a scolding of the anonymous author of the anti-Trump book A Warning. We should credit her takedown of “anonymous” as “self-valorous and creepy.” But her comments about the Republicans reveal the underlying grounds for NeverTrump hatred: the resentment against those who don’t accept the progressive assumptions that politics is the business of a self-proclaimed guild possessing knowledge, techniques, and professional manners and decorum that the voting masses don’t have.
As typical of a Noonan column, she starts with some sly preening of her insider-status as a wise political guru: “A young foreign-affairs professional asked last week if the coming impeachment didn’t feel like Watergate.” Unlike hoi polloi, Noonan knows “foreign-affairs professionals,” and they seek her out for her wisdom. She then proceeds to contrast the “dignity and professionalism of the career diplomats” whom the Democrats––“disciplined in their questioning and not bullying and theatrical”––called on to testify, with the Republicans’ “interruptions and chaos-strewing” that she compares to “some of what the Democrats did during the Kavanaugh hearings.”
We see here the NeverTrumper’s fundamental error: prizing sizzle over steak, words over deeds, appearance over reality. And, as usual with NeverTrumpers, she indulges an egregiously false comparison. The Kavanaugh hearings were a contrived political stunt constructed from preposterous charges from long ago, with no direct corroborating evidence to support them, but an abundance of evidence casting them in doubt. The current House hearings are yet another Democrat political stunt, made up of witnesses who are recycling office gossip with varying degrees of separation from the originals, the contents of which are mainly subjective opinions or feelings that have no relevance for establishing facts.
Consider this example from the testimony of acting ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor–– which the mainstream press hyped as a “bombshell,” and whom Noon praises as an exemplar of professionalism––as summarized by David Marcus in the New York Post: “He said David Holmes, a counselor for political affairs at the US embassy in Kiev, told him that he had overheard a phone conversation between Ambassador Gordon Sondland and President Trump.” In what courtroom other than the old Soviet Union or Cuba today would this twice-removed hearsay be admitted?
Likewise in the Kavanaugh hearings, the Democrats were contriving specious charges to derail a confirmation they had no plausible merit-based arguments for rejecting. In the current hearings, the Democrats are again contriving specious charges for impeaching a president against whom three years of a Special Prosecutor’s investigation have not produced credible charges that rise to the “high crimes and misdemeanors” Constitutional standard. That’s why the Dems have dropped the “quid pro quo” and are attempting call the legal and obligatory conditions for giving a country foreign aid “bribery” and “extortion,” using the same Orwellian corruption of words that turns a mutually consensual but later regretted sexual encounter into “sexual assault.”
After three years of Dem calumny and dirty tricks, can we blame the Republicans for forgoing the usual preemptive cringe and vigorously contesting this blatantly partisan attack?
Noonan’s focus on her subjective disapproval of the Republicans’ unmannerly response to what is in effect an illiberal political show trial, replete with secret hearings, leaks to the press, and pre-coaching of witnesses, ignores the substantive consistency of the Democrats’ despicable and desperate attempts to invalidate the results of an election and disenfranchise 63 million American voters.
Noonan goes on to expand on her elevation of “professionalism” by giving us the res gestae of acting ambassador William Taylor, consisting mainly of his military record. She also singled out George P. Kent, highlighting his degrees from Johns Hopkins and Harvard, and his 27 years in foreign service. Again, the NeverTrump preference for sizzle over steak, evident in Noonan’s “They seemed [N.B.] to have capability and integrity.” Why? The right credentials––military service and Ivy League degrees–– are assumed to bespeak achievements benefitting the American people, just as a polished delivery suggests “integrity.” Maybe these gentlemen have such achievements and virtue, but reading off their CVs and praising their demeanor are not dispositive, and say nothing about the veracity or worth of their testimony.
Indeed, when it comes to foreign affairs, generations of highly credentialed foreign policy mandarins have not compiled a record that would suggest those credentials contribute to success. The two most consequential failures include misreading the Iranian Revolution as an anticolonial bid for freedom and popular sovereignty, rather than a religious revolution aimed at creating an Islamic theocracy; and failing to foresee and thus prepare for the collapse of the Soviet Union, something that was unthinkable to the big brains of our foreign policy establishment.
Moreover, the great foreign policy success in the postwar period was victory in the Cold War, which was the accomplishment of an ex-actor and foreign policy amateur looked down on by the government agency “professionals.” They contemptuously dismissed Reagan’s common-sense wisdom like “we win, they lose,” “evil empire,” and “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” The latter iconic phrase, by the way, was argued against by the State Department and National Security Council because it was too provocative and naïve.
The simple truth that people like Noonan miss is that credentials, including military service, no matter how sterling or impressive, do not necessarily bespeak wisdom or future achievement, any more than exquisite manners, as Jane Austen has taught us, bespeak a true gentleman. They represent instead a promise that is broken more often than kept. What infuriates them about Trump, aside from his affrontery of getting elected over the highly credentialed Hillary Clinton, is that though lacking such credentials, and contemptuous of the political decorum of the ruling caste and their advice, he has been remarkably successful both at home and abroad.
Moreover, the government agencies Noonan extolls are large, hierarchically organized, public-funded bureaucracies. This means they are riddled with group-think, received ideas, and outmoded paradigms that determine advancement. And being funded by taxpayers and protected by a union and civil-service regulations, they are unaccountable to the voters, and so can fail for years without any consequences. Worse yet, mediocrity and politicization flourish in such environments, and those who think beyond the ruling paradigm find it difficult to make changes. In short, they are the “deep state” that Noonan claims doesn’t exist.
Finally, like most NeverTrumpers, Noonan seems to think she can read Trump’s mind and discover his unsavory motives: “They know what this story is, and I believe they absolutely know the president muscled an ally, holding public money over its head to get a personal political favor.” Talk about a big begged question to go along with her other fallacies like the false analogy and argument from authority. (It would be mean to bring up this mixed metaphor describing the Democrats: “brick by brick they gave their testimony and painted a picture that supports the charge that yes, Donald Trump muscled Ukraine.” I didn’t know you could paint pictures with bricks.)
Of course, all the public evidence makes her claim false. It’s hard to believe Trump “muscled” or “extorted” or “bribed” the Ukrainians when they didn’t even know the aid Trump allegedly withheld had been delayed. By the way, wasn’t it Trump, not the credentialed Obama, who sent Ukraine the Javelin anti-tank missiles that Obama withheld? Instead, Obama sent them blankets, no doubt worrying over the “reset” with Russia and keeping his promise to Vladimir of more foreign policy “flexibility.” And how exactly does Noonan know what Trump was thinking, or whether he was so worried about the self-imploding Joe Biden? You want to see some “muscling” and quid pro quo, watch the video of Biden bragging about holding up a billion dollars in aid if Ukraine didn’t quash an investigation of the dodgy Ukrainian company Burisma, which was paying his son $50-80,000 a month.
So it has been since the day Trump became a candidate. The bipartisan ruling caste closed ranks and started fighting off the barbarian invader. Yet in focusing so much on Trump’s manner, lack of dubious credentials, and dearth of time served holding office, they diverted attention from Clinton’s lack of character, her off-putting personality, her venomous ambition, and her manifest violations of her oath to uphold the Constitution. Fortunately, they unwittingly validated Trump’s message and helped put him in office.
So keep it up, NeverTrumpers. All you accomplish is reminding voters why they voted for Donald Trump in the first place.