Who exactly are the “Resistance,” as explored in Kim Strassel’s new book “Resistance (At All Costs): How Trump Haters are Breaking America”?
How are “Trump haters” different from “Trump critics?” How is the Resistance different from past political movements? What are the long-term implications of its activities? And how are the media involved?
And, how can the Trump “impeachment inquiry” be seen as the latest chapter of the Resistance’s efforts?
This is American Thought Leaders 🇺🇸, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Today we sit down with Kim Strassel, a member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board and a prominent political commentator. She was the recipient of the Bradley Prize in 2014, and she writes the Journal’s long-running “Potomac Watch” column.
Jan Jekielek: Kim Strassel. Really wonderful to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Kimberley Strassel: It is great to be here, Jan.
Mr. Jekielek: So Kim, “Resistance (At All Costs): How Trump Haters Are Breaking America.” Amazing book. I’ll recommend it right off the bat because it kind of paints this picture of the breadth and depth of the attacks from all different areas on president Trump. Tell me a little bit about what the genesis of this book was.
Mrs. Strassel: So I spent several years writing about everything that had happened at the FBI and the Department of Justice. And as so much of the press corps was out there writing these stories saying, Donald Trump is a menace. Donald Trump is destroying our democracy. Donald Trump is undermining our institutions. I’m writing all of these stories about how the FBI started a counter-intelligence investigation into a presidential campaign, and how they weren’t honest with the foreign intelligence surveillance court, and how they obtained surveillance warrants against American citizens.
And I’m thinking who’s doing bad things to institutions actually here? [It] strikes me that Jim Comey and Andy McCabe might be a little bit more dangerous than Donald Trump.
And when the publishers came to me and said, why don’t you write a book about the FBI and the DOJ? And I said, you know, I think actually you have to step back and ask the question, how did we get to the point where they took these actions? And that has to do with a mentality that Donald Trump is illegitimate, that he shouldn’t be president, and therefore people believe they are justified in taking whatever actions they want to remove him. And we see that across the spectrum. I said, let’s do it about all of that.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, it’s really interesting actually because some people were speaking with me while I was reading it and he said, what does she say about Trump this? What does he say about Trump? That, but actually the book Trump kind of figures peripherally into the book. It’s really about the capital, our resistance.
Mrs. Strassel: Well, we’ve got a lot of books of Donald Trump, and in fact, if you would like to see coverage of Donald Trump, just turn on any TV, open any newspaper at any given moment. It’s all about Trump.
We haven’t had hardly any focus on what I call the haters. And I use that term very specifically because lots of people are critics of Donald Trump. You know, I’m a critic of Donald Trump. Pretty much anyone who’s a thoughtful person and looks at this presidency the way they have evaluated other presidency—you say nice things when he does good stuff, and you call him out when he does bad stuff.
But the haters are something else. And they’re the folks that self-identified as the “Resistance.” And they have from the moment he was elected, believed him to be an illegitimate president, and been committed to simply removing him, and I thought it was time to put some focus on their tactics and what they’ve been doing.
Mr. Jekielek: So you focus a lot on, let’s call it unprecedented actions. They’re very different. One that just jumps to my mind is Sally Yates versus the travel ban. Tell me a little bit about how that’s unusual.
Mrs. Strassel: Well, it is. Look, Republican presidents, in particular, have always faced a bit of bureaucratic hostility, right? I think you can definitely make the argument that the federal workforce over the years has become more left-leaning. As government gets bigger, and it’s more involved in people’s lives, it tends to attract people who believe in that mission.
And we have evidence for this I cited in the book. There was some astonishing survey done of different departments and agencies, and I think they found that something like 95 percent of campaign donations in 2016 went to Hillary Clinton. So imagine being a CEO and showing up and knowing that 95 percent of your workforce despises you and doesn’t want you to be there.
And Trump has had this additional burden because they particularly don’t like him… It’s their job to implement his agenda. And yet a lot of them are part of the resistance too, and Sally Yates who was the acting attorney general, holdover from the Obama administration, she kind of really riled that bureaucratic resistance up because 10 days into the Trump administration, he issues this travel ban, and she issues this extraordinary memo saying, I refuse to defend this in court. It’s illegitimate. And I think it has constitutional issues.
Mr. Jekielek: And telling everyone who works for her.
Mrs. Strassel: That it’s okay to do something like this. It was basically a call to arms. And he fired her, which he had every reason to do. Of course, he shouldn’t have had to [do so] because what she should’ve done is honorably resigned if she felt that she could not in any way enforce this duly issued executive order. But it really kicked off what we have seen ever since then: The nearly daily leaks from the administration, the whistleblower complaints. And we’ve got one that’s obviously a big issue now, but there were many more that have come before it. And all kinds of internal foot-dragging and outright obstruction to the president’s agenda.
Mr. Jekielek: So I actually do want to talk about how impeachment. The whole discussion right now fits into what you’ve been talking about here because I see a very strong connection obviously. One of the things that you say in the book is you mention that traditionally the conservative leaders have rarely deeply challenged what you call the liberal orthodoxy, if I’m remembering correctly, but Trump actually signals something different. Why is this capital “R” Resistance so strong?
Mrs. Strassel: Yeah, I think it’s a couple of different things. I mean, first of all, there’s always a bit of hostility from the media and obviously from Democrats to any Republican president.
And then you add in this extraordinary fury that they felt after they lost in 2016 and don’t underestimate that, because they were banking on Hilary Clinton cementing Barack Obama’s legacy, building on it. That was going to be the path, permanent path in the United States to progressive nirvana. And it was the first time in decades that they were going to have the opportunity to take over the Supreme Court. So they were geared up for this. And they thought it was in the bag. Right? How could Donald Trump possibly win the election?
Mr. Jekielek: And also the polls and media talking about it. Some of them [were predicting] 100 percent, right?
Mrs. Strassel: 100 percent, and they all thought it was in the bag. So then to lose was not just infuriating for them, but to lose to him. And as you said, a man who punches back, does not fold… The media and Democrats have become very good over the years at basically mau-mauing Republican presidents into backing away from things that they don’t like. So environmental issues or things that they believe that they can really make the Republicans out to look bad.
And Donald Trump said, I don’t care. Yes, I’m pulling out of the Climate Accord in Paris. Yes, I’m getting rid of all these regulations. Yes, I’m dismantling your greenhouse gas emissions rule. And they just were astonished, and that [was] in addition to, I think, his general demeanor and his way of going about things. They despise him.
Mr. Jekielek: So one of the things that’s very interesting in the book, I think it’s one of the simplest kind of continuities explaining what we call Spygate or these efforts to basically undermine the Trump campaign and then later the administration. It’s fascinating. Can you speak a little bit to that?
Mrs. Strassel: Oh yeah, sure. I mean, one thing I try really hard to do in this book is enunciate what rules and regulations and standards were broken, what political boundaries were crossed. Because I think that that’s where we’re seeing the damage. These unprecedented acts that then cause people to lose trust in public institutions or cheapen important political tools like impeachment or other things. So I think that it’s really important to talk about what the FBI did that was so transgressive.
And you know, we have never in the history of this country had a counterintelligence investigation into a political campaign. And even they will acknowledge it was a first time thing.
And I remember talking to Devin Nunes, who was the former head of the House Intelligence Committee, and I said to him, do we have anything in our laws that says we can’t do this? You know, he had helped write a lot of these laws and he said, no, because we wouldn’t have ever conceived that somebody would use them this way. I mean, if we had, we would have outright prohibited it.
So there was the starting of the investigation, which was problematic. Their interaction, their decision to use Russian information that had been solicited by the rival campaign. I mean—
Mr. Jekielek: The dossier—
Mrs. Strassel: The dossier, this should have been the first reason you didn’t go there. And we now know that they knew very early on who was behind it and that it had a political origin. The fact that they weren’t honest with the FISA court about where they got it. They didn’t disclose that information in detail. They double-dipped on some of the information they provided to the court. And then you go forward to what I think was a bunch of chicanery on Jim Comey’s part.
I have a long-held belief that the FBI was banking that Hillary Clinton was going to win too. And so they figured nobody would ever know what they had done. And suddenly, election day, I would have loved to have seen the looks on the FBI’s faces as they realized that the guy, whose campaign they had been investigating, was now going to be president, and that this was going to come out.
And thus began a race to throw that narrative out into the public, start the Russia collusion narrative, make sure that Bob Mueller was ultimately appointed—all to kind of cover their backsides to make it look as though what they had done was legitimate
Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating stuff. Of course we’ve been reporting extensively [on this]. We’ve been following your work.
Mrs. Strassel: You guys have been amazing.
Mr. Jekielek: Thank you. [We’ve been] watching your work very carefully around this stuff. So what’s really fascinating is the historical perspective that you provide. How is this Resistance movement different from other political movements or past strong opposition.
Mrs. Strassel: Well, look, every time we have an election, someone’s a winner and someone’s a loser. Okay? It’s the nature of elections. We can’t all win. And I think up until the point at which Donald Trump was elected, what happened when political parties lost is that they would retreat, regroup, lick their wounds, talk about what they did wrong, talk about why they had not connected with the American voters.
That’s not what happened this time around. Instead, you had people who essentially said we should have won. They groused and griped about the electoral college and the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. And then they invented this somewhat … well not outright conspiracy theory, suggesting that the Russians had elected Donald Trump. They had all kinds of reasons. They weren’t honest with themselves.
I mean, there’s good reasons they lost. They had a pretty poor candidate, and she didn’t connect with a lot of voters, didn’t go to the right states. There was many, many political reasons why she lost that campaign, but they decided instead they were going to make it about how Donald Trump was illegitimate and suggest that he was occupying an office that he didn’t deserve.
I mean, think about the terms that they are using here. The Resistance. It’s a World War II term, obviously, and it was the partisan fighters in France who basically said this is an illegitimate occupying force here in France. Right? But that’s what they’re applying to Donald Trump. The mentality is that he never won. He should never be here. He’s unfairly taken this position. And therefore we are allowed to do whatever we want to get rid of him.
Mr. Jekielek: And in that vein, this is something that comes out as you read a lot of the arguments used against him, they don’t seem to me to be internally consistent. Like on one hand, you have Trump, this Machiavellian genius heading towards authoritarianism. On the other hand, they’re trying to invoke the 25th Amendment. You know, he’s mentally unfit.
Mrs. Strassel: Absolutely.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s bizarre, right?
Mrs. Strassel: No, you’re absolutely correct. It’s the same thing with the Russia hoax. I used to say to everyone, okay, he’s either the dunce you claim he is every day or he’s the most sophisticated Manchurian candidate that has the world has ever seen. You can’t have it both ways. … He’s either a dictator and an autocrat whose consolidating power around himself to rule with an iron fist or he’s the evil conservative who’s cutting regulations and appointing really thoughtful conservative justices to the bench and giving Americans more of their taxpayer dollars. You can’t be both. You can’t be a libertarian dictator.
Mr. Jekielek: Right. And one thing—which I didn’t even realize—you mentioned that at the time of writing, they had actually cut the Federal Register by a third or something like that, like 90,000 to 60,000 pages. I can’t remember the exact numbers.
Mrs. Strassel: It was astonishing. The last year of Barack Obama’s tenure, that federal register stood at above 95,000 pages. It was an all-time record, as you might imagine.
Mr. Jekielek: And that’s the rule book that has essentially all the—
Mrs. Strassel: All the rules and regulations in Washington. And by the end of Donald Trump’s first year, it was down [to around] 60,000 and whatever the number was, it was the smallest that Federal Register had been since Bill Clinton’s first year in office.
Mr. Jekielek: That itself is astonishing to me.
Mrs. Strassel: Yeah. Well also that we don’t hear about these things because our media is so obsessed with Russian collusion, Ukrainian impeachment that we don’t hear about what’s actually happening in a policy level from the administration.
Mr. Jekielek: Right. Well that’s another … the last chapter in your book, you talk about the media. It almost seems to me like the media are working in lockstep with a number of these efforts, and I find that frankly, very deeply disturbing. And I mean, even as early as 2015, it was looking like that to me.
Mrs. Strassel: Yeah. I try to point out in the book some of the damage from all of these efforts and one of them is that so many Americans have lost faith in the media in recent years, and it’s a real problem because we need a functioning media. We need them to be trusted. And we need them to be someone that tells us the truth on things with one standard, one standard for Democrats, one standard for Republicans. We haven’t seen that for three years. Like I’ve been a reporter for 25 years. And you know, I’ve always felt that the media leaned left. That wasn’t a surprise to anyone.
But what we’ve seen over the past three years is something entirely different. This is the media actively engaging on one side of a partisan warfare. It’s overt. They’ve dropped all their standards in order to do this, whether it be the use of anonymous sources, whether it be putting uncorroborated accusations into the paper, whether it’s using biased sources for information and cloaking them as neutral observers. There’s so many bad things that have happened.
And in a way I blame that for so much else that has gone wrong. Because look, the media is supposed to be our guardrails, right? When a political party transgresses a political boundary, they’re supposed to say no, that’s beyond the pale. Stop. Or they’re supposed to say, actually the FBI wiretapping American citizens in a political campaign is a bad thing. We’ve always felt that before. We’re going to say it again. Instead, they didn’t do any of that. They indulged this behavior.
I mean, it’s remarkable. Just think about this. We had a media cheerleading the FBI for meddling in American politics. Can you ever imagine a time in American history where the media would have played such a role? And so when you do that too, what you do is further encourage the bad behavior, right? I mean, would we be at impeachment right now if the media had done its job in a better way? No, because they’d probably be calling out the way that this is being done and how paltry are the accusations, etc. But they’re all in for this.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s fascinating because it’s supposed to be truth to power, but power is basically Trump or the Trump administration and nothing else,
Mrs. Strassel: Nothing else. So that’s it. If it hurts Donald Trump, they’re onboard. And I just think this is very damaging for the country, especially at a time when Americans are very polarized. You know, we want also people to be able to go to the media, the mainstream media and get a balanced and moderate view of opposing positions. But because they turn on the TV and the positions are so radical, they increasingly start to self-select their news. They only want to hear things that are comfortable for them and that’s just not a good situation.
Mr. Jekielek: What do you think are the motivations of the Resistance people? You described them as being just kind of cynical opportunists, but is that the whole story?
Mrs. Strassel: Well, look, I think some of it’s anger. I think some of it is, is indeed deep … People call it “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” I think there are people who truly can’t look at this man and think rationally. But I think a lot of it is just raw power. If you’re the Democratic Party, and you really believed the White House was yours and you’re determined at all costs to impose your vision on the country… I mean, look at the discussion that we’re having right now in the Democratic presidential primary. These are radical ideas that they are putting out there. And some of them not nearly as aggressive as we’re seeing right now, but these were some of the proposals of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama too. I mean, they also cast themselves as progressive.
Americans rejected that in the 2016 election. And you know, they also didn’t embrace it, for the record, in the 2018 election. The people who won Nancy Pelosi the gavel were centrist, moderate Democrats in key districts around the country. This is where America is. It’s a center-right country.
If you’re a progressive, and you nonetheless want to impose that, and you can’t win under the normal rules, you’ve got to change the rules. So that involves removing the president who won. That involve some of these other things that you hear them talking about now: packing the Supreme Court, getting rid of the electoral college, letting 16-year-olds vote. And I think that should be very disturbing to America because that’s what’s happening.
These are not reforms. Reforms are things that the country broadly agrees are going to help improve stuff. This is changing the rules so that you get power, and you stay in power.
Mr. Jekielek: So this is one of the things that also comes out in the book. Essentially you go chapter by chapter and you show how in all these different institutions, there’s very serious damage being done.
Mrs. Strassel: So this is a big theme of the book is that the Resistance … The mentality is we can break the rules, we can do what we want to get rid of Trump. Or we can break the rules because Trump is so bad. We need to do these things. [As a result] we’re seeing damage all across the board to really core institutions.
And this to me is the irony, right? We’ve been told for three years that Donald Trump is wrecking institutions. Now, I would agree that Donald Trump is very norm-breaking in many ways, but mostly I think in his rhetoric, his tweets, his demeanor. It’s much harder to claim that his cabinet and his policies have been harmful to institutions. It’s actually been fairly rule-bound in the way it’s gone about governing, if you actually look at on the ground policy.
But in terms of real wreckage to institutions, I mean, it’s not on Donald Trump that public faith in the FBI and the Department of Justice has precipitously fallen. That’s because of Jim Comey and Andy McCabe. It’s not on Donald Trump that the Senate confirmation process for the Supreme Court is in ashes after what happened to Brett Kavanaugh. It’s not on Donald Trump that we are turning impeachment into a partisan political tool.
And this is one of the most serious and huge powers in the Constitution. It was meant always by the founders to be reserved for truly unusual circumstances. They debated not even putting it in because they were concerned that this is what would happen.
And I keep warning my friends on the other side of the aisle. Think about the precedent you are setting here. OK? Let’s say Joe Biden wins the election next year, but let’s say the Republicans take back the House. Is the first thing they do is launch impeachment proceedings against Joe’s “corruption” problem in the Ukraine? I mean I wouldn’t necessarily use that word, but there’s a lot of Republicans who happily would. And if they thought they’d get another shot at the White House, why not?
So we can’t go there, and yet they are pushing us there. And you’ve watched Washington. I’ve watched Washington. If there’s any rule, it’s that when you set the bar low, it just keeps going lower, and that is a concern.
Mr. Jekielek: See this whole impeachment inquiry that we’re seeing right now. It could have easily been another chapter in the book if it had been written a bit later. Tell me a little bit about what you’re seeing as being outside of precedent and destructive around the impeachment process.
Mrs. Strassel: Well, obviously for starters is the fact that it’s being done behind closed doors and in secret. I mean we’ve had two modern impeachment proceedings, and both of them proceeded along the same lines. Democrats are correct that the Constitution does not tell you how you have to do it, but the people who came before them and did this understood the great importance of convincing the American public that their decision to use this tool was just and legitimate. And that they could prove the reasons behind it. And so if you look back at Watergate they had hundreds of hours of testimony broadcast over TV that people tuned into and watched. It’s one of the reasons that Richard Nixon resigned before the House ever held a final impeachment vote on him, because the public had been convinced and he knew he had to go.
So we haven’t had a vote for a formal impeachment inquiry, which is important because that is a majority of the House taking accountability for engaging in such an action. Most of the testimony happened entirely in secret, and we’re only getting leaked snippets of it here or there, no transcripts.
You’re having dueling narratives. Again, much as we did during the Russia story, no one gets to see the source documents themselves. No one gets to see the testimony. Instead you have Democrats saying, oh, this is very bad. And Republicans saying, oh, it’s not so bad at all. What are Americans supposed to think? But this comes on top of three years of what has essentially been an impeachment effort against Donald Trump.
And so I think the problem for Democrats is that if you are a Trump voter or you are a Trump supporter, now you put it in that context and you go, why should I believe this one is now real? And it’s why they haven’t convinced half of the public that this impeachment inquiry is necessary or right. And since impeachment is a political tool, the measure of its success is how much of the country have you convinced? And in that regard they have utterly failed, at least at this point.
Mr. Jekielek: There is a lot of this very deep damage being done to the institutions, and I can’t help wonder, do you think that there’s people out there who are doing this intentionally?
Mrs. Strassel: Yeah, that’s an excellent question. I mean, I think some of this is short-termism, right? When you are engaged in power struggles, you don’t always care or think about what might come down the road. It’s like I said, you know, have Democrats really considered what might happen in terms of their next democratic president? Did Harry Reid—back when he got rid of the filibuster for lower court judges—did he really stop to think about the fact that it paved the way for Republicans to get rid of the filibuster for Supreme Court judges? Not forward-thinking.
But I do believe when you look at someone like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, when you listen to Bernie Sanders talking, when you see democratic presidential candidates advocate blowing up the electoral college or packing the Supreme Court, I think they know exactly what they’re doing. And that to me is even more frightening. It’s like we were talking about earlier: they want the rules changed, so that they get in power and stay in power. And I find that deeply disturbing.
Mr. Jekielek: So you’ve been attacked yourself in the media somewhat recently, right, about your perspectives on this.
Mrs. Strassel: I think one of the other things the media has done … which is really unfortunate as we are meant to be the protectors and defenders of free speech. Instead we have seen the media actively engage in a campaign to de-legitimize anybody who has a different viewpoint than they do or who is reporting the facts and the story in a way other than they would like them to be presented.
And so, yeah, they’ve come after me. They’ve come after other outlets. They’ve come after you guys. They would love to make it sound as though none of us are worthy of writing about this story.
I mean, they do it to politicians too. I mean, I’ve been absolutely appalled to see the press attacking US Attorney John Durham. I mean, this guy has the most sterling reputation in Washington. He has brought down mobsters. He has looked into the CIA. And yet they would suggest that somehow he is engaged in a political probe or a partisan probe. It’s all designed to tarnish authority figures or tarnish people who are bringing out the real facts because guess what?
The media is going to look really silly at some point, I think, when some these facts come out about what really happened and the fact that they bought so much nonsense.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, let’s talk about that a little bit. How did all this looking into the Trump campaign begin? What actually happened? Were there things that were illegal? What are you seeing?
Mrs. Strassel: Well, we’re still waiting for Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s reports as of us talking here today. And one thing that gives me a lot of hope is that he has gone to the effort to publish two reports already. One focused on Jim Comey and his memos and the leaks to the media, and one on Andy McCabe and his lack of candor in dealing with his own leak problem or talking to the press.
So they were both incredibly harsh reports that really did speak truth to power. And if you think about it, I mean, these were two reports an inspector general leveled at the two back-to-back head and acting head of the FBI. I mean, that’s just an extraordinary thing. And so that gives me some confidence that this man is not afraid to call out bad behavior, even among the powerful.
One thing I keep warning people about and tempering expectations is that … the IG doesn’t have subpoena power, doesn’t have the ability to impanel a grand jury, and in fact, can’t even force anyone to come talk to him who doesn’t currently operate within the Department of Justice. And he was also asked to look at a very specific issue, which was the FISA Court.
So I don’t think we’re going to get the full story from Michael Horowitz. I think we’re going to get some very interesting details, but mostly about the use of the dossier in the FISA Court, the use of [Christopher] Steele as a source, maybe some the Clinton campaign’s role, etc. We’re going to have to wait for Durham to come out with the rest. And I’m hopeful that he’s going to do that too. We’ve heard recently that he’s talking to foreign countries. And we know that the origin of this rests at least somewhat in figures from other countries as well. So it seems to me that he’s on the right path.
Mr. Jekielek: Two things on my mind and I know are on the minds of a number of people that are watching this right now is, well there were these quite damning IG reports that have come out about Comey and McCabe, but the Department of Justice declined to do anything about it.
Mrs. Strassel: Yeah. Well we don’t know yet about McCabe. Apparently, I think we’re still waiting on that. But I get asked this question a lot, and I’m about to say something hugely unpopular because I almost get booed in audiences when I say this but I’m not gonna back down on this position. As someone who has spent six, eight, ten years, [or even] longer increasingly writing about a thuggish Department of Justice, which in my mind too frequently goes after people on hokey charges and abuses its powers to humble people into giving plea agreements and things. I mean in light of what we saw Bob Mueller do and his tactics against some people, I don’t necessarily applaud everyone going to jail in orange jumpsuits. Now, anyone who has broken the law, yes, I hope that they bring a charge against them. I want them to… And you should not get a pass because you were the former FBI director or the former deputy FBI director.
At the same time, if what they did was break a rule or a regulation, they shouldn’t go to jail. We don’t necessarily want a society in which you can go to jail for stepping over a regulatory line. We have criminal statutes, and then we have guidelines within bureaus and offices. And they’re two different things. I certainly wouldn’t want to go to jail because I got a fact wrong in my book, you know? I mean… I could get sued for libel if I were maliciously defaming someone that’s a different, but even that’s a civil thing. We have to be really careful.
I keep trying to remind people too that accountability also comes in the form of public disgrace. And you know what? Despite the media trying to make Jim Comey out as a hero, he’s the only FBI Director in the history [of the FBI] who has been fired and for cause. And that’s a disgrace. And you know, there is going to be a black mark by his name throughout all of history, and those reports that the IG has issued—two already, one accusing him of insubordination, another showing just how disingenuous and shifty he was in releasing these memos—that’s going to be in every history book. And whether he is held in account in a different way, he’s already been subject to some form of penalty.
Mr. Jekielek: What do you make of the Attorney General being portrayed now, not just by the media, but by others as this kind of highly partisan toady type?
Mrs. Strassel: You know, Bill Barr needed this job like he needed a hole in his head. And it says something—going back to the media—how quickly they have managed to cast him as that. I mean, Bill Barr had a sterling professional reputation throughout his entire time he’s been in Washington. He was sort of an inspired pick on Donald Trump’s part, precisely because of that. He’s a by-the-book kind of guy. He has been brought in to solve messes within these departments before.
And it’s pretty clear that he took this job because he understood that the DOJ and the FBI had potentially disgraced themselves—they’d certainly lost the trust of a lot of Americans—and that there needed to be an accounting or a reckoning. And whether that finds any wrongdoing or [if] it does find wrongdoing, the truth needs to come out. Americans need to be able to make the decision on their own for that department to ever recover. And so that’s what he’s doing. But again, there’s a lot of people—do not underestimate how many people—[who] do not want the American people to know what happened in 2016.
Mr. Jekielek: One of the things that you talk about is the “deep state.” I say that in quotes because people describe the deep state as all sorts of things from the kind of really crazy to more of the definition you use, which is kind of the definition I use. And maybe you could tell us a little bit about what that is.
Mrs. Strassel: So I try not to use that term a lot only because if you know your history and everything, it does refer to a very different scenario in a foreign country where you have an unelected group of people that are behind the scenes actually controlling the public puppet figure that is pretending. That’s not what we have in the United States obviously. And people use it in different ways.
My kind of definition of it—because I think it’s the way Donald Trump means it too when he uses the term—is that these are the vast swath of unelected officials who work in the federal bureaucracy often in the shadows, and who do have a great deal of power to slow things down, mess things up, file the whistleblower complaints, leak information, actively engage against the president’s policies. They don’t have the ability necessarily to outright stop them, but they have the ability to cause a whole lot of mayhem along the way. … Some of the drama that we constantly feel in the Trump administration is because of these nonstop resignations, and you know, the next scandal story. They’ve been a big part of that. … Not everyone, by the way. Let me be clear. There’s a lot of really good, dedicated, professional, federal employees.
But there are groups that have openly declared themselves part of the resistance. And they’ve been working with activist groups to leak information and craft stories. And that’s why we’ve seen some of the Trump cabinet heads run out of town on a rail.
Mr. Jekielek: So what is your hope with this book? What would you like people to take from it?
Mrs. Strassel: People are going to be surprised. I’d love everyone to read it, but I would particularly love people who are on the fence about Trump or who’ve been listening to this narrative about Trump and think that he really is a bad guy, [I would love for these people] just to read it and to think through what this is potentially doing to the country. You know, I fundamentally believe in Americans. And I fundamentally believe that many Americans still have as their guiding compass the Constitution. I’d love them to read this and then just try to think through how these actions can in any way be good in the long-term for the country.
I keep pointing out that Donald Trump is going to be president for at most another five years. But the actions and the destruction that’s coming with some of this could be with us for a very long time… Should anyone allow their deep disregard for one particular man to so change the structure and the fabric of the country? I think it’s a very worrisome prospect.
Mr. Jekielek: Do you see a way out?
Mrs. Strassel: Well, we just talked about Bill Barr. I think that there are some people upright people who have recognized this problem already and some of the damage and are doing what they can to try to remedy it. So that is what I believe Bill Barr is doing. He’s trying to get the information out so that he can restore the credibility of his institution. And I think that’s a start.
Some of these things, I’m not sure how we make them better… I gave the example of Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell and the filibuster. Again, I think once we lower a standard, it just goes lower. You now have Elizabeth Warren saying, we need to get rid of the filibuster altogether. Just pass everything in Washington on majority rule. That would be an enormous shift in the history of the country. Yet another radical idea out there.
So those things… I think the only way we fix these is for American citizens to become more engaged and to elect a more responsible class of politicians who understand the risks of some of this.
Mr. Jekielek: And you say this kind of starts at the local level, right? Because a lot of folks might feel, after hearing this or reading this, you feel a little bit despondent, right?
Mrs. Strassel: No, don’t be despondent. You know, it’s funny. I’m a big believer—well, I’m a conservative—so I’m a big believer that we are a republic and the founders fundamentally wanted Americans to be engaged first with their states because the federal government was never supposed to be this giant overweening power that it is now.
I get all these people who come up to me when I go and give speeches, and they go, what do we do? You know, Washington’s such a mess. And I say, do you know who’s running for your city council? Go find out. And be involved. Do you know who your state representative is? Your state senator? You know, be really picky about that person. Demand that because those are also the benches for higher office too. So if you start getting at that level, folks that are super accountable, believe in the Constitution, are upright, they might be the people that end up going to Washington in the end. And then we do have a shot at fixing things like this.
Mr. Jekielek: Kim Strassel, “Resistance (At All Costs).” I hope everyone gets a chance to read it. So wonderful to have you.
Mrs. Strassel: Thank you for having me.