In this interview for the American Thought Leaders series, Epoch Times senior editor Jan Jekielek talks with Victor Davis Hanson, a historian and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, about the impeachment push against President Donald Trump, the so-called deep state, and how Trump is dismantling what Hanson describes as “the progressive project.”
Jan Jekielek: Victor Davis Hanson, excellent to have you back on American Thought Leaders.
Victor Davis Hanson: Thank you for having me.
Mr. Jekielek: In April when we spoke last time, I think it was actually on the day that the Mueller report was coming out, and we were talking a little bit about expectations. As it happens today, the IG report, the Horowitz report on FISA abuse, is coming out. So I think we have to start by basically doing the same thing. There’s been wildly different accounts based on leaks mostly and just theories people have on what will be in there. What are your expectations?
Mr. Hanson: They’re pretty much the same as his report on the email investigation of Hillary and the leaks by FBI officials in which he had two criminal referrals, I think three against Andrew McCabe and even one against James Comey. And so I think in some sense, if you believe that he’s going to have 10 or 12 criminal referrals, these are just suggestions that a prosecutor should take up that information for a formal indictment of Clapper or anybody like Brennan or Comey. I don’t think that’s going to happen. And it’s narrowed to the FISA. And it’s in the news constantly how narrow his range of investigatory powers and authority is. He can’t go overseas. He can only interview people who are currently working at the DOJ.
But that being said, I think we’re going to learn that the FISA warrant process was abused and that people who signed those warrants are going to be shown that they didn’t reveal all the information they knew about. In one case, there were probably altered documents, and there may be some criminal referrals, but I think we’re suffering from increased expectations. And by that, I mean if you came from Mars three years ago, and you said the entire DC hierarchy would be now fired, reassigned, retired, or voluntarily quit—and by that I mean James Baker, [inaudible], Lisa Page, Peter Strzok, Andrew McCabe, James Comey, etc. Nobody would have believed it. But we’re so inured now to scandal that our expectations have to keep going higher and higher, that we have to get a big scalp or there was no wrongdoing. So I think it’s going to be between those two extremes.
Mr. Jekielek: A big question on my mind, and I tweeted about this morning, is will the Nunes memo findings be reflected? Do you think that?
Mr. Hanson: I think the Nunes memo by now, everybody agrees with the content of it, essentially that Hillary Clinton paid through three firewalls for opposition research to damage the campaign of Donald Trump. And by three, I mean there were Russian sources, there was GPS, that was Perkins Coie, and there was the DNC. But if you take that onion, and you undo the layers as Nunes did, it was something that we still can’t grasp. You mean a sitting democratic administration under Barack Obama, the people who worked at the highest levels of the intelligence and investigatory agencies, essentially hand in glove worked with Hillary Clinton to release information to damage her opponent.
When you get that part of the memo, then everything in the process of projection makes sense. And by that, I mean everybody thought Hilary would win the election. So they took extra risk and exposures they otherwise wouldn’t have. I’m talking now about Nellie Ohr and Bruce Ohr and Comey and Clapper and Brennan because they thought that that behavior would be rewarded by president Hillary Clinton. They would go in and say, we knew you were going to win, but we just wanted to make sure that everybody knew who Trump really was. And their wildest imagination of what wouldn’t happen did happen. And then they were scrambling. And then we got Russian collusion and obstruction and then Ukraine, a lot of that is sort of a psychological projected preemption if you will, to cover their own culpability. And that’s going to take a long time to peel that back and see what the actual wrongdoing is.
Mr. Jekielek: So that’s interesting. You’re not expecting a whole whack of criminal referrals, which a lot of people would certainly like to see. But you are expecting there will be accountability.
Mr. Hanson: Well the reason is remember, there’s about six things going on. There were informants, and there was the unmasking and leaking of names. And then there was email. But we’re just talking about the FISA abuse mostly. And we’re really talking about the people who signed the FISA writs on the part of the government, Sally Yates, James Comey, Andrew McCabe, and the people who prepared the material for them. And I think there’s going to be no question that the material that was submitted to the FISA court was either incomplete, knowingly incomplete, or knowingly fraudulent and misleading. And then the question is, I think, a James Comey or an Andrew McCabe, or a Sally Yates or Rod Rosenstein is going to say, we do this so often and we get all of this material. I had no idea that this subordinate altered an email. I had no idea that this subordinate didn’t tell me that Hilary Clinton paid for this. And I think that’s going to be very hard to prove, given that they no longer work for these agencies. They’re out of office. So the IG can’t go out to Denver, Colorado, or London and investigate.
Mr. Jekielek: Interesting. You know, there’s this tweet came out as we were talking a little bit earlier from Shimon Prokupecz, it said, this is going to be interesting today. Christopher Steele was told yesterday that information on him—[which] he has not reviewed and was expected to be redacted—was declassified and will now be included in the IG report. What do you make of this?
Mr. Hanson: I think people… Remember the official position of the impeachment committees and Adam Schiff’s intelligence committee is that Christopher Steele’s material is still viable. It’s still accurate. And nobody, I think, in the American intelligence community or the British intelligence community believes that anymore. And almost every fact that he’s said, whether it’s about Michael Cohen’s father-in-law or where Michael Cohen was, or a Russian consulate in Miami is false. Even the most mundane facts.
And so what we’re seeing now are efforts to distance themselves from Christopher Steele. And I think when you’re done with the whole process of the IG report and what Durham is going to give us in a few months, you’ll see that he was basically a disgraced, retired British intelligence officer, wanted to make a quick buck, and dreamed up this memo.
And if you read it, it’s got this sort of James Bond format to it, capital letters, and it has all of the lingo, but you read it, and it’s absolutely insane. I mean the idea that Carter Page is going to go over to Russia and come back with maybe a billion dollars in commissions, and he has no really influence in Russia. … And the idea that we would trust or give currency to this document because it supposedly confirmed our preexisting prejudices against Trump.
So I think what we’re going to see now is a gradual distancing from Christopher Steele, and people on the left saying, we had no idea that he was doing this. And just because he did it didn’t mean that all the evidence elsewhere is suspect. But the fact that Christopher Steele was a bad actor doesn’t have anything to do with the idea that Trump did things that were nefarious. I think that’s what we’re going to see.
Jan Jekielek: On my mind lately has been this idea of the deep state.
People are saying, “The deep state is this conspiracy theory. What are you talking about?” There are other people that are happy that a deep state exists and is presumably protecting Americans. And there’s some people who even identify themselves as being members of it.
Victor Davis Hanson: Ex-CIA John McLaughlin, the interim director, and John Brennan both praised it: “Thank God for the deep state.”
Mr. Jekielek: What does “deep state” really even mean? Does it exist?
Mr. Hanson: It does exist. And the classic definition is “a state within a state.” By that, they mean that the permanent bureaucracies at the highest levels that have the levers of power, the ability to do damage to you or me—the IRS, the NSA, the FBI, the CIA, some of the top cabinet officials—they are people who transcend elections. They’re not elected. Or if they are, they participate in an administration, they revolve back and forth. They go from the State Department to the Council on Foreign Relations to the Treasury Department to high office in the CIA. But the point about it all is they have a particular loyalty as if they’re an organic entity … And they feel that when an administration comes in, they step up.
… And they never say to themselves, “I’m not elected.” The constitution says an elected president sets foreign policy. Period. So there’s this sense that they, as credential experts, have a value system, and the value system is they have an inordinate respect for an Ivy League degree or a particular alphabetic combination after their name: a J.D., a Ph.D., an MBA, or a particular resume. I worked at the NSC, then I transferred over to the NSA, and then, I went into the State Department. And we saw that in really vivid examples during the Adam Schiff impeachment inquiries, where a series of State Department people, before they could even talk, [they] said, “I’m the third generation to serve in my family. This is my resume. This is where I went to school. This is where I was posted.” And in the case of Adam Schiff, we saw these law professors, who had gone in and out of government, and they had these academic billets.
And to condense all that, it could be distilled by saying the deep state makes arguments by authority: “I’m an authority, and I have credentials, and therefore, ipse dixit, what I say matters.” And they don’t want to be cross-examined, they don’t want to have their argument in the arena of ideas and cross-examination. They think it deserves authority, and they have contempt—and I mean that literally—contempt for elected officials. [They think:] “These are buffoons in private enterprise. They are the CEO in some company; they’re some local Rotary Club member. They get elected to Congress, and then we have to school them on the international order or the rules-based order.” They have a certain lingo, a proper, sober, and judicious comportment.
So you can imagine that Donald Trump—to take a metaphor, Rodney Dangerfield out of Caddyshack—comes in as this, what they would say, stereotype buffoon and starts screaming and yelling. And he looks different. He talks different. And he has no respect for these people at all. Maybe that’s a little extreme that he doesn’t, but he surely doesn’t. And that frightens them. And then they coalesce. And I’m being literal now. Remember the anonymous Sept. 5, 2018, op-ed writer who said, “I’m here actively trying to oppose Donald Trump.” He actually said that he wanted him to leave office. Then, Admiral [William] McRaven said, “the sooner, the better.” This is a four-star admiral, retired. [He] says a year before the election … Trump should leave: “the sooner, the better.” That’s a pretty frightening idea. And when you have Mark Zaid, the lawyer for the whistleblower and also the lawyer for some of the other people involved in this—I think it’s a conspiracy—saying that one coup leads to another. … People are talking about a coup, then we have to take them at their own word.
Mr. Jekielek: You said that the greatest irony is that Trump was falsely accused by people who were actually colluding. And by pursuing largely innocent people, the special counsel team basically provided a model for the people who are actually guilty of collusion to be prosecuted?
Mr. Hanson: They did. We saw that specifically with [retired Lt. Gen.] Michael Flynn, who was picked up supposedly on an excerpt, a surveillance excerpt, targeting the Russian ambassador. But it was actually reverse-targeting him. And then he was interviewed by [former FBI agent] Peter Strzok, who felt that he was veracious. And then notes of that interview were altered by none other than [former FBI lawyer] Lisa Page. And then that was transmogrified into an indictment of him. That was sort of a projection because they had a lot of culpability. And what was that culpability? It was people like [former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations] Samantha Power requesting 260 names to be leaked. It was [former FBI Director] James Comey going right outside of a confidential presidential conversation, writing a memo on an FBI machine, and then later using that as insurance and leaking it and then, subject to criminal exposure. Except post facto, somebody in the FBI decided, well, we have to classify those memos, whether they were just confidential or secret. If they’re secret, he committed a felony.
But who were those people who post facto adjudicated the classification? Lisa Page and Peter Strzok and a couple of others. So it was pretty damning, I think. And [it’s] the same thing we’re seeing in Ukraine. It’s the same modus operandi. [Former Vice President] Joe Biden brags to everybody … of all places, the Council on Foreign Relations, that he’s gone over there and said, “… six hours, I’m going to cut $1 billion in aid [to Ukraine].” Now, we’re not talking about lethal aid, because it didn’t exist. The Obama administration would not give Javelin missiles. They would not help Ukraine in its hour of need. That’s very important to remember that because that’s the accusation against Trump—thinking about cutting lethal aid, which had been given in their hour of need, as a felony or impeachable offense. But never even giving it is OK. But what he said is, “I’m going to cut non-lethal aid, which would be humanitarian aid, all aid, everything, unless you fire [Prosecutor General of Ukraine Viktor] Shokin.”
And now, the fired prosecutor has gone to an Austrian court and now he’s giving more filmed interviews, in which he says, “I was investigating Hunter Biden [Joe Biden’s son]. And I was going to cut off all resources for Burisma, and Joe Biden knew that and was sent over to get me fired.” I don’t know if that’s veracious or not, but that’s a quid pro quo. And instead of investigating that, we have this strange doctrine that because Joe Biden is now running for president, that provides him with legal immunity from even discussing what he did as a vice president. We’ve flipped it all around. We’re saying because he’s a candidate, Donald Trump tried to quid pro quo U.S. security interests for his own personal campaign. Donald Trump’s not the nominee of the Republican party [since the primaries haven’t taken place yet]. Joe Biden is not the nominee of the Democratic Party in 2020. We don’t know what the race is going to be like, but the idea that we have to give him an exemption from suspect behavior, because now, two years later, three years later, he’s running for president is absurd. And again, it’s part of this projection mentality that the best defense is an offense.
Mr. Jekielek: You have given this historical perspective you have on these sorts of scenarios, that this is what hubris and nemesis are all about. I’m wondering if you could take that same lens and put it onto impeachment? You’ve already started doing that.
Mr. Hanson: Joe Biden didn’t have to do any of that. He didn’t have to tell us at the Council on Foreign Relations that he had basically squashed an independent Ukrainian investigation by threatening to withhold aid. But his ego and his sense of self-importance and his desire to run for president in the future thought that this would be another “Corn Pop” or all these moments he has, where he brags about his masculinity and his toughness. OK. But the way nemesis works is that creates this narrative so that when people accused Donald Trump of that, they say, well, we’re basically looking at Donald Trump’s thought crime, that he considered cutting aid that he gave—that Obama did not give, lethal aid—and he delayed it. He thought about it, and then he maybe, at the worst, he thought about talking about an investigator who was never relieved.
But here’s Joe Biden, who really did do that. And he’s bragging about it, because he’s arrogant and nemesis is starting to take its toll. And the same thing was true of the Mueller investigation. Remember they said, well, [Trump] obstructed justice, we think, we sort of believe, he kind of did, but it’s not actionable because he thought about it almost in a Murder-in-the-Cathedral style. Who will relieve me of Mueller? You know, he didn’t say “go fire Mueller.” And, of course, he had the ability to do so under the Constitution. But he didn’t. He didn’t do what Richard Nixon did and fire Archibald Cox. But it was the idea that he thought about it, the idea that he thought about certain things with Ukraine, when we have other examples of people [who] actually did that. And that’s where nemesis [comes in], because they’re so emboldened.
And a good example of hubris and nemesis is Adam Schiff. So Adam Schiff gets away with leaking these lies throughout the Mueller investigation. “I know what’s going on. It’s a bombshell. You can’t believe it. Everyone is wrong.” And then he says, “I or my staff have never met with the whistleblower.” We know that was a lie. It’s a demonstrable lie. Then, he reads a caricature of the actual transcript of the phone call with Trump and the Ukrainian president. And it’s completely fantastic. It’s not factual. Then when he’s caught, he said, “Oh, that was just a parody.” So he’s becoming hubristic to a point where the ultimate nemesis is waiting for him at the opportune moment.
And the opportune moment was, next thing we know, he’s so emboldened that he starts, for the first time in the history of the U.S. Congress, to surveil the metadata of phone calls of his own ranking minority member, Devin Nunes, [and] of the president’s own lawyer and other people. And then he not only does this stealthily, but he’s so arrogant, he puts it in his report because he thinks he can get away with it. And I think nemesis is going to catch him. … You know, the wheels of the gods grind slowly, but they do grind finally. So I think finally we’re going to learn.
Mr. Jekielek: So I get the sense that you don’t think that the president is being treated very fairly in these impeachment proceedings?
Mr. Hanson: I think that people feel that for a variety of reasons—cultural, social, political—that Trump is not deserving of the respect that most presidents receive, and therefore any means necessary to get rid of him are justified. And for some, it’s the idea that he’s had neither political or military prior experience. For others, it’s his outlandish appearance, his Queens accent, as I said, his Rodney Dangerfield presence. And for others—I think this is really underestimated—he is systematically undoing the progressive agenda of Barack Obama, which remember, was supposed to be not just an eight-year regnum, but 16 years with Hillary Clinton. That would’ve reformed the court. It would have shut down fossil fuel exploration, pipelines, more regulations—well, pretty much what Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are talking about right now. That was going to happen. And so for a lot of people, they think, “Wow, if Donald Trump is elected in 2020”—and he will be, according to the fears of Representatives Al Green or [Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez or Nancy Pelosi; remember, they keep saying this impeachment is about the 2020 [election]—“we’ve got to ensure the integrity.” That’s what Nadler said today.
But if Trump is elected, that would mean eventually in five more years, [we’d have a] 7–2 Supreme Court, 75 percent of the federal judiciary [would be] conservative and traditional and constructionist. … We are the world’s largest oil and gas producer and exporter, but we probably would be even bigger. And when you look at a lot of issues, such as abortion, or identity politics, or the securing of the border, or the nature of the economy or foreign policy, they think America as we know it will be—to use a phrase from Barack Obama—“fundamentally transformed.” So that’s the subtext of it. Stop this man right now before he destroys the whole progressive project—and with it, the reputation of the media. Because the media saw this happening and they said, “You know what?”—as Jim Rutenberg in the New York Times or Christiane Amanpour have said—“… you really don’t need to be disinterested.”
Trump is beyond the pale, so it’s OK to editorialize in your news coverage. And so the Shorenstein Center has reported that 90 percent of all news coverage [of Trump] is negative. So they’ve thrown their hat in the ring and said, we’re going to be part of the Democratic progressive agenda to destroy this president. But if they fail, then their reputation goes down with the progressive project. And that’s happening now. CNN is at all-time low ratings, at least the last four years. And the network news is losing audiences, and most of the major newspapers are, as well. So there’s a lot of high stakes here. And if Donald Trump survives and were to be reelected, I don’t know what would happen on the left. It would make the 2016 reaction look tame in comparison.
Mr. Jekielek: Can you outline in a broader sense what the progressive project is?
Mr. Hanson: Yeah, because I want to be clear about what I meant and not just throw out terms. So the progressive project started in the 19th century. And it took hold with Woodrow Wilson in the early ’20s, and its basic belief was that the U.S. Constitution erred on the side of liberty rather than equality. We should have been like the French Revolution, more of a fluid concept that would change with the times and use the power of government not to ensure equality of opportunity but to mandate equality of result. And therefore, there were certain things in the Constitution that prevented that project.
And we’ve changed a lot of them. We now have senators elected by direct vote and not appointed by the legislatures. The states cannot have property qualifications. Some of these were justified as archaic in the 18th-century sense.
But given those reforms, we’re still not to where we want to be. And what do I mean by that? The Supreme Court can be an obstacle. And so we need to pack the court. Now, Democratic candidates no longer see the 1937 FDR effort to pack the court as disreputable, but an honorable attempt. So they’re all endorsing [this idea of] let’s pack the court and make 15 judges, if we can’t get our guys on the court. Let’s abolish the Electoral College and all the arguments that these people with powdered wigs in the 18th century came up with. Let’s just have a direct vote and let California and New York and the Great Lakes, big cities [like] Chicago, determine the election. And why do you have to go out in a place like Wyoming or Utah? And let’s get rid of this archaic idea of two senators from Utah or from Wyoming having as much clout as two senators in California. And here, we’re speaking in California. My senator represents 20 million people. A senator in Wyoming represents 250,000. One man, one vote. Let’s get rid of it, even though it’s in the Constitution.
What I am getting at is they want to streamline the Constitution continually in an effort to make a country of radical equality; that requires certain things like this impeachment or to prune the Second Amendment. Or to say that the First Amendment does not apply here at Stanford University, because we can say, “That’s hate speech, what he said. He has no right to say hate speech. I declare that ‘hate speech,’ therefore, don’t speak.” And so the First Amendment, the Second Amendment are being pruned. Due process on college campuses … If I say that I was sexually assaulted by that person over there … I don’t have to come forward to identify myself. That person is not given constitutional rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments as he would in a criminal trial off-campus. The ACLU, they used to be the champion of free speech, is now a grassroots organizer, it says, political organizer. You don’t see any ACLU outrage [that] Adam Schiff is now going into the phone records of members of Congress, even though when the U.S. government looked in the phone records of terrorists in 2001 after 9/11, the ACLU said that was a violation of residents’ rights—not U.S. citizens, but residents.
So what I’m getting at is that the progressive project is a multifaceted effort by intellectuals, academics, foundations, progressive members of the Democratic Party to change, formally, the Constitution and to change the mindset of the American people, so that we can make people all the same by the powers of government. We see what’s going on. We’ve seen it in Cuba, we’ve seen it in Russia, we’ve seen it in Venezuela, we’ve seen it in China. And we’ve seen a soft benign form in Europe.
And the United States is really the only major country in the world that says, “You know what, that process inevitably leads to an Orwellian totalitarian state, and it crushes liberty and individual freedom, and we’re not going to do it here.” That’s why we have a Bill of Rights and a Constitution.
Mr. Jekielek: So the countries that you mentioned are all you know, communist of course, aside from the soft benign version that you described. So this is cultural Marxism taking form or actual Marxism taking form? How do you see that?
Mr. Hanson: Well, when Angela Merkel says that she’s going to restrict rights of free speech in Germany because of hate speech—
Mr. Jekielek: I was astounded by this.
Mr. Hanson: Yeah, I was too, that’s not all that much different than what people are saying in China about Hong Kong, that the people who are protesting in it for their freedom and liberty and to honor the accords that were, when Hong Kong was freed from British control, don’t really matter anymore. It’s the same idea that the state has superior wisdom and can adjudicate to individuals how they should think, how they should behave, and how they should reflect the agendas of the state. And the only difference is that when people object in Germany, they’re not shot as they are in Hong Kong. At least not yet.
But what worries me about the EU, the soft despotism, is that whether it’s matters of immigration with Eastern Europe, or matters of financial control with Greece and Italy and Spain, or matters of Brexit with Britain, or matters of NATO obligations with us, the position of Germany and the position of France and the position of the Northern European countries is we don’t really trust grassroots people. We don’t trust these Southern Europeans, Eastern Europeans, these crazy Anglo-Americans.
We have superior knowledge. We have the power of the EU state. And we’re going to, from a top-down fashion, tell you what to think. This is a banana because it’s five inches long. That’s not a banana. Whatever you think, that’s not a banana. Or this beach has six pieces of trash, every four cubic or every square meters. Therefore it’s not an EU beach. It’s the idea that the all-knowing panopticon octopus can go into every local landscape and adjudicate what people are going to think and do. Sometimes it’s good, but most of the time it’s scary.
Mr. Jekielek: What strikes me right now is that with the advent, even in just the last 10 years, of new technologies, those technologies enable enacting this system that you’re describing that was just unimaginable before. And we see that happening in places like Xinjiang in China. A lot of companies are developing this. The question I’ve been asking myself is, with these technologies existing, isn’t it almost inevitable that they’re going to be used in this way?
Mr. Hanson: Yes. What’s worrisome about it, again, all of these developments in this age of high-tech seem to substantiate the singular genius of George Orwell. He’s thinking far beyond his own landscape when he said that technology was going to be married with authoritarianism to monitor your daily activity. So what China is doing is the ultimate expression of Silicon Valley. They would like to do it. They do it with marketing.
And I’ll give you an example of what I meant. Yesterday I went on to Amazon and order a back brace to work on my farm. Today, all of these ads are popping up about back pills, back creams, everything, from different companies. So they have mined that and they’re doing that. But China has taken that to the political level. So there’s two issues here. One is intrusiveness and one is alteration of reality. China is intruding into not just people’s behaviors, but their thoughts.
What did you say to a friend on the phone? What did you imagine? Where did you go to shop? As you were riding your bike, did you look at a Uyghur reeducation camp? Could we see you looking in a particular [way]? So it’s a thought crime, sort of analogous to Donald Trump being guilty of thinking about suspending aid or thinking about firing Robert Mueller. But then now they have the technology to monitor your facial recognitions. When somebody in a conversation talked about the premier of China, did you have a scowl on your face? If so, did that reflect counter-revolutionary sentiment?
The other thing that’s scary is the alteration of reality, with these sophisticated technologies. I’ll give you an example of a high-profile case that was scary: George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. So George Zimmerman is beaten to a pulp, and yet when we see his picture on CNN, it’s been Photoshopped to downplay the severity of his wounds. He [made a 911 phone call] right in real-time when he saw Trayvon Martin. If you read the entire transcript, he did not single him out because he was black. That became an answer to a question. When you saw the CNN tape, they edit it in such a way that he was a raving racist on the lookout for black people.
And then the New York Times created new vocabulary. They called him a white Hispanic. He was half Peruvian. According to the rules of identity politics, if you’re not completely white, then you’re a minority. So George Zimmerman’s mother was named Mesa from Peru. What if he had Hispanicized his name? He could have been Jorge Mesa. Jorge Mesa and Trayvon Martin is a non-story. But if he’s recalibrated into a white person using his father’s dramatic name, you have George Zimmerman, almost as if he’s this dramatic white racist.
And so the New York Times has a dilemma because they know he’s Hispanic. According to their own rules, he has to be Hispanic. So they call him, they make up a new term, white Hispanic. And that alteration of reality, both linguistic and technological is very scary. And we saw it with CNN and the reporting of the Trump so-called collusion, where James Comey is just about to give a statement in which he said [that] he didn’t say that Trump was not under investigation. [It] was completely false. Donald Trump knew about Trump tower. And then the technological side, there was a ping and a machine in the Trump tower that was telling everybody, communicating with the alpha bank in Russia, the use of this technology in a very perverted way. And so that’s what I’m scared about is that, you can be so intrusive that you can convict people for thinking things, and then you can use these technologies to alter visual imagery, Photoshop, change, edit, text, voice synthetization to make up things. And both of those are occurring right now.
The only thing that saves us from being like China or the EU is the US Constitution. So I take [it] very seriously when people say, “The founders really didn’t mean what you think they said with the First Amendment. They really didn’t mean what they said with the Second Amendment… When we amended the presidential succession, the 25th Amendment really didn’t mean what it says. It means if you think this president is a little weird, then you can get a group of people and try to remove him like McCabe and Rosenstein discuss.”
So that’s what’s scary because that’s the only thing saving us… That’s why [the Founders] created it. And they were far brighter than we were. Hamilton and Madison and Jefferson. And they knew all of these problems because they were so much better read from Greece and Rome and the Enlightenment.
And they really fought. And as the Federalist papers show, they really fought with each other, and they tried to show the system would be superior to other similar systems in Europe. And it has been, but it does have one weakness. It has one vulnerability. If you’re on the left, you see it as an impediment to this anointed group of overseers crafting equality of result, socialist equality, egalitarian utopia. So when they look at the American Revolution, it says, give me liberty or give me death, and they don’t see the word fraternity in there, egalitarianism, like the French revolution—that’s our fatal flaw and they’re hell bent on rectifying it.
Mr. Jekielek: You mentioned identity politics, which is kind of central to the progressive project. I find it difficult to understand how one could use this system and say the people who don’t subscribe to it who are racist. How does this work?
Mr. Hanson: Well, to define our terms, identity politics refers to the idea that your superficial appearance, gender or race is essential, not incidental to who you are. And that should be the touchstone of all of your ideological thinking and your political affiliations. And the reason that people believe this is that they understand that most people, by the time they get to be 30 to 40 to 50, have certain traditional and conservative experiences. They get married, they have children, they buy a home, they pay taxes, they buy a car, and those experiences tend to make them more traditional and more conservative. And they follow certain tenets of human nature. They understand human nature pretty well, by the time you’re 40, what people are capable of. And that is not synonymous or even helpful to the progressive project. And so they say to themselves, how can we alter that. Well if there’s an economic collapse, obviously in the Great Depression we had the New Deal, or we saw what happened after World War One, the Soviet Union … but barring a natural catastrophe, they have to do certain things and one of them is they have to change the demographic.
And by changing the demographic, they can do it in two ways. One is they take the existing demographic and they look at the melting pot and they say intermarriage, assimilation, integration. Then we’re all becoming just people, and then we’re all subject to political ideas irrespective of where we came from or how we look and that’s not good. So they’re actually taking the one 16th drop of the old Confederacy and saying, if you are one-eighth Chinese, if you are one-fourth native American, if you’re one-sixteenth black, then that defines who you are. And they do it to such an extent now that as I said with George Zimmerman—you can’t tell because we’re an intermarried society. We can’t tell who’s who. And the reason that Elizabeth Warren got away with it, saying that she was native American when she had no native American blood essentially, and she didn’t look anywhere near like the so-called stereotype native American was that we’re in a mindset that you can construct your identity as you construct your gender, and there are career advantages to doing so. Okay. That’s one way we do it.
And the other is that we actually not just alter the ideologies of people within the United States and make them think in racial terms, gender terms, religious affiliation terms, well we import people. So we have right now, 50 million to 60 million people, we don’t know the exact number, who were not born in the United States. In the state of California in which we’re speaking, 27% of the population—it’s an all-time high—were not born in the United States. We have about, according to the Yale-MIT study, 15 to 20 million people living here illegally from south of the border. And the message to all of those people is you are a new wave of immigration. You’re not European, you’re not wealthy, you don’t have degrees, you didn’t come with skills. And so you’re a victim of a white establishment, a capitalist system.
And the only way you can make it in America is start identifying with the black caucus, the Latino caucus, the Asian caucus, the gay caucus, the transgender community. And we’re going to bundle all of you together and form a 51% along with the people who are here who have been woke. And we’re going to have a majority. And the majority will then have a paternalistic state that will dish out entitlements to you in exchange for your fealty. And once you set this system up, very predictable things follow. Who would you hate the most of all? You would hate somebody who was African-American who doesn’t identify as African-American. So you would hate a Tom Sowell or my colleague Shelby Steele. Or if you were Muslim, you would hate Ayaan Hirsi Ali who says Islam is incidental. The fact that I’m women, I’m female and black is incidental to who I am.
Or you would look at the Hong Kong protesters, and they’re saying, it doesn’t really matter that I’m Chinese or not Chinese. I believe in particular freedoms. The United States is more of a free country than my ethnic affiliated China. And … we look in the Latino community where I live, and when I see people in their 50s who voted for Donald Trump or who did not vote for Hillary Clinton, they’re considered sellouts because what they have done is they’ve transcended their superficial appearance and their background.
And that’s what this term projective identity politics despise. Because those people are subversive because they say, you know what? The United States is the first multiracial society that’s worked in the history of civilization. That it really doesn’t matter what you look like as an American. You can look like anything, but you have to have certain views. You have to live in a physical space. You have to have borders, you have to have honor for the traditions. Shakespeare is just as much yours as it is some sixth-generation white person. Lincoln’s Gettysburg address [belongs] as much [to] a Polish immigrant or a Taiwanese immigrant as it [does to a] white [immigrant]. That is a very subversive idea, and that’s why the left despises it.
Mr. Jekielek: Victor, I’ll tell you why all this is on my mind. You had a column some weeks ago about essentially Trump hate, and you made this observation about Trump dismantling the progressive project that we discussed. I suspect there’s a lot of us out there who have friends, family who are seeing these alternate versions of reality.
Mr. Hanson: Well, Trump enjoys 90 percent support among Republicans and probably 55, 45 [percent] at most times among independents. And that’s not because people are infatuated with his looks or his persona necessarily. It’s for two reasons. One, he’s adopted most of the Republican traditional agenda, conservative judges, skepticism about radical abortion on demand, secure borders, and strong defense, low taxes. That’s what Republicans are always for. The difference is he added a couple of little tweaks to it that got him nominated and elected. He also said that the industrialized center of the country was hollowed out, and that was because of globalization and Chinese nefarious commercialism and mercantilism. And that was a taboo subject among Republican investing [inaudible.] They said creative destruction adjudicates where industry goes. The opioid epidemic probably caused people to leave or whatever they thought. So he appealed to populists as well. But mostly it was in the confines of a Republican [agenda].
Had Trump come out for abortion on demand like the left, or had he shut down the Keystone pipeline or had he shut down ANWR, then he wouldn’t have had 90 percent.
So it wasn’t a cult. It was an empirical decision why people who did not support him … And remember the majority of Republicans did not support him in the primaries. He was the largest vote-getter, but he never got a 51 percent majority of all of the votes that were cast. So people came to Trump not because of his personality or his cult of personality, but because of his agenda.
But there was another final reason that people gravitated toward him. When they looked at John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney, they felt that they had played by what I had called in the Trump book, the Marquess of Queensberry rules, that there was a war room in the Obama campaign or that Mitt Romney was rendered to be a hazer at 16 or a torturer of animals when he put a cage on his car or he was married to a woman who was an equestrian, and he was guilty of all of these crimes against the working class or people of color. And he didn’t fight back. He didn’t say to Candy Crawley, you don’t interrupt in the debate and join my opponent. That’s unethical. I’m not going to stand for it. He just took it in the second debate.
John McCain said, we’re not going to mention Reverend Wright. Why? Reverend Wright was an anti-Semite, a racist, the personal pastor of Barack Obama. And Obama actually entitled his second book, “The Audacity of Hope,” after a phrase from Reverend Wright, that was his trademark.
So the point I’m getting at is Trump comes along and says, you know what, I’m not going to win nobly. I’m going to win ugly. I don’t want to lose nobly anymore. And for a certain segment of the population, they said, you know what, we need a pit bull, cut the leash, and turn him loose. And that has scared the left. And so they’ve decided now that he has a cult, but if that’s a cult, I’ve never seen so many people criticize Trump, that vote for him.
I pick up the paper every day, and I hear people say, I like what he’s doing. I just wish he wouldn’t tweet or I like those rallies. I just wish they last 45 minutes and not an hour and a half. So I don’t see any lockstep Trump society.
Where I saw a cult, was very scary, was during the Obama administration. I saw people, a little girl, videos of little girls with scarves on singing Obama songs, or I saw people calling phones, Obama phones, that he’d given free people on public assistance. There was a cult. I saw a certain nomenclature that Obama used. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for or using Latin phrases. Vero possumus. Yes, we can. Or Greek colonnades. It was really a cult, I thought, that Obama was some kind of savior. I think Evan Thomas phrased it best, he’s now become some kind of God, I’m quoting directly.
And so that was something that the left knows a great deal about: cult. But I haven’t seen it with Trump. I’ve seen a person who said, “You know what? I got to a certain point in my life where if I didn’t fight back, the progressive project would sort of encompass my entire existence. Whether it was the NFL with Colin Kaepernick or whether it was Hollywood movies, or whether it was Soros foundations or whether it was transgendered restrooms, or whether it was the media. I was surrounded by a particular worldview and nobody was pushing back and saying, late-term abortion is evil. That we have a border. It’s not racist to say we should, we should have a defined space in the United States. And you know what, we need energy. And you know what, global warming, if it does exist, we can deal with it in a graduated fashion.”
Nobody was saying that. And so it was an idea that people were angry and they had nowhere to turn to. So they said, “you know what, I just want somebody to go out there and give us our point of view.” And that’s what Trump did in a brilliant fashion. He was a diagnostician. He understood the symptoms. He came up with a diagnosis, and he offered a remedy and prognosis.
Mr. Jekielek: I think a question on a lot of people’s minds is how can they get through this idea that they’re bigots and have serious problems?
Mr. Hanson: At this late day, passive defense does not work. And by that, I mean, if you sit there—and I have family that disagree with me myself, my siblings are Bernie and Clinton supporters—and wait for all of these accusations to be made against you, and then you think that in sober and judicious terms, you’re going to refute them, it’s not going to work. So what you have to do is, when somebody—you can be reactive in the sense that you don’t want to go out and force altercations or unpleasant moments—but when somebody starts in on that, you don’t want to say, “I’m not a racist.” You want to say, “Anytime that you adjudicate what a person thinks, or you categorize a person by his color or his religion or her gender, that is racist and it’s sexist, and we’re not. I’m not going to take it anymore.”
I don’t want to suggest that if a person is dark or white or Chinese or whatever term it is, I don’t want to live like that. And you do and you’re projecting your own racism upon me because you have a real problem. You can’t be empirical. Or when somebody talks about, “Well, you want to build a wall, you’re a nativist.” You say to them, “I don’t have a wall around my house. You have a wall around your house.” Barbra Streisand has a wall around her house. Mark Zuckerberg has a wall around his house. My children are in public schools; where are Elizabeth Warren’s children? They’re not in public schools. So this whole progressive idea in some ways is projection: “I want to live around elite people. I want to make a lot of money. I want to live in a nice neighborhood. I want to have a lot of servants, and I feel real guilty. So then, I project racism, homophobic, nativism, protectionism, all of these ‘-isms’ on you.”
And I’m not going to take it anymore. And so that’s what I try to do. When people talk to me in this area, especially, because we’re in Silicon Valley, I always say to them, “Did you put your children in public schools?” I put all three of mine in public schools. “Do you live in a racially diverse neighborhood?” Ninety percent of my neighbors are Hispanic. “Do you have a sanctuary around you? Do you have private guards? Do you have bodyguards?” I don’t. “Do you have a large bank account?” All of these things that you suggest are toxic actually are a psychological mechanism to protect [yourself]. And I’m not exaggerating. Just look at … the Democratic Party [field] right now. Elizabeth Warren wrote a book about how to flip houses and profit. She put her kids in private school. She lives in one of the most tony neighborhoods in Boston: Cambridge. She’s a multimillionaire. And she parlayed a fake ethnic identity in the most cynical fashion to take a spot from somebody else to become a Harvard law professor. Without that Native American identity, she wouldn’t have been a Harvard professor. Bernie Sanders owns three homes. He’s a multimillionaire. Joe Biden is a multimillionaire …
[Senator] Cory Booker is now saying you guys are all racist because no black people are on the [debate] stage. And then what are the white people saying? They’re saying, “Well, wait a minute. It was a free poll and fundraising is free. And if you really like Kamala Harris and Cory Booker … black people and white people should vote for them to get higher in the polls. Our only crime is we’re beating them.” And then we, watching this, said, “No, no, no. You’re guilty under your own ideologies of disparate impact.” Because, according to your own philosophy, if the proportions of a particular profession are not reflective of the actual numbers in the population, and even if racism doesn’t exist, it does exist. It’s implicit. Therefore, there’s six people on that stage, they’re all white, [then] somebody is racist. Why do we know that? Because you told us that.
And that’s what happens in these revolutionary movements. Yesterday’s revolutionary is today’s counterrevolutionary, and tomorrow’s enemy of the people. And they get into that Jacobin phase and that’s what happened to the Democratic Party. Now, nobody can be pure enough. And what happened? They’re all white, elite, wealthy people on this stage, and they stand convicted by the hypocrisies of their own ideologies that they impose on all the rest of us. And we get to watch it. It’s theater to see this in action.
Mr. Jekielek: So Victor, you’ve written “The Case for Trump,” which we talked about last time we spoke that Trump is this tragic figure. Is he going to survive impeachment? Where are things going to go from here?
Mr. Hanson: Sort of. And in the book I mentioned Sophoclean heroes like Oedipus or Ajax or Antigone, and then how that theme was manifested in John Ford’s “Westerns,” “The Searchers,” or “The Magnificent Seven,” or “Shane,” or “High Noon,” or with American military figures like George Patton or Curtis LeMay. And the theme was that certain people come along to an ossified society that is in trouble. And they have certain uncouth skillsets that allow them to do things that bring results. But in the process of bringing results and bringing progress and security to the proverbial town, they also offend the people the more secure they get. And they think, why? Wow, why did I ever bring in George Patton into the US Army. Or wow, Curtis LeMay was Dr. Strangelove in 1958 or 62 but he wasn’t in 1945 when the Japanese were threatening us. Or I don’t like Oedipus. He’s kind of crazy. But wow. When we had a plague at Thebes, he had the answers.
So what I’m getting at is that Trump is getting very successful. We have 3.5 [percent] unemployment as we speak. Stock market is at a record high. We have no wars abroad. And people are starting to say, wow, we’ve never had an economy like this. Real wages up 3 percent per year after stagnating for 10 years. And now we’re going to having the luxury of thinking, but he’s so crude. But look at him, he has this orange skin. Look at these rallies. Why does he have to have a rally? Look at that tweet the other day. He went after Kellyanne Conway’s husband. That’s so unpresidential. So what I’m getting at is I think he’s going to be very successful, and I think he will be reelected, but is he going to get the type of praise that Barack Obama does for his mediocre record now? No, he’s not. And that seems to be realized by Trump himself.
So like all tragic heroes, he’s angry that he doesn’t get praised commiserate with his actual benefactions. And so I think he’s going to proverbially ride off into some sunset. I think he’ll be wounded in the election, but survive. He’ll do a lot of good in the next five years. But he’s not going to be considered by historians or the media as a positive character. And ultimately he will be, I hope, like a tragic figure that we recognize what he did.
I’ll just finish by saying it’s central to every tragic hero that they are petty. Oedipus was petty. “The Magnificent Seven” in that classic remake “Seven Samurai” say, you know, we never win. We always lose. That sort of self-pitying, and pity’s a better word than petty. And I think by that I mean that Trump is always trying to tweet out, look what I did. Look at the unemployment, look at black unemployment, look at Hispanic … look, look, look. And you want to say to him, you’re playing a role that there’s no way out for you, because you have certain skills and a certain demeanor and certain manner of speech that offends people’s sensibilities. And once you’ve done what they wanted to, solve the problem that they couldn’t solve, precisely because of their conventions and their respectability, you can’t expect them to praise somebody that’s antithetical to themselves. So you’re in a paradox of your own making.
And that’s what’s tragic about it, because he’s done a lot of good for the United States. The fact that he was elected meant that 7 million people right now were working who otherwise would not be working. And I see them every day in the central Valley of California and there’s an energy about them. People who are employed, of all different races and backgrounds. And as one person said to me in Selma the other day. Employers come to me. I don’t go to employers. And that gives them a certain sense of respect.
Mr. Jekielek: Victor Davis Hanson, it’s such a pleasure to have you.
Mr. Hanson: Thank you.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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