In this livestream episode, we sit down with classicist and military historian Victor Davis Hanson. He is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, farmer, and author of “The Case for Trump.”
We’ll discuss the continually unfolding scandal surrounding surveillance of the 2016 Trump campaign, the broader ramifications of this global coronavirus outbreak on the US economy and the US political landscape, the culpability of China’s communist regime, and what role the media has played in all of this.
This is American Thought Leaders 🇺🇸, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Jan Jekielek: Dr. Victor Davis Hanson, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Dr. Victor Davis Hanson: Thank you for having me.
Mr. Jekielek: Victor, just over a year ago, we spoke about your book, “The Case for Trump,” which had just come out. We had a very wide-ranging discussion. I recommend the book to people still today because I actually think it’s held up pretty well. We spoke of two things that I’m thinking of. One of them is you spoke of an irony that you saw and that was that the people that were saying there had been Russia collusion on the side of the Trump campaign were themselves perpetrating a kind of Russia collusion.
Dr. Hanson: Yeah, I think I used the word “projection,” and that was a psychological condition in which people, for a variety of reasons, transfer their own culpability onto others. … By collusion, I mean through three firewalls, the Perkins Coie law firm, the DNC and Fusion GPS, Hillary Clinton hired Glenn Simpson, who then used Russian sources and we know now deleted all of the evidence for those sources, or he was either duped by them or he made them up, and then they created this—I don’t know what we would call it—a hook. Donald Trump was not incorrect when he said it was a hoax, but they made these … shenanigans or something to hide their own culpability that they had been colluding with Russians to damage, warp the campaign, the transition, and eventually the presidency of Donald Trump. And we can see that again, and again, and again that James Comey or James Clapper, John Brennan, when they accuse somebody of collusion or intrigue with the Chinese, or warping the FISA process, then usually it’s a good indication that they’ve done that themselves.
Mr. Jekielek: The Mueller report at that time was just about to come out and you made a prediction. Your prediction was that the Mueller report would help Trump instead of hurt him.
Dr. Hanson: I think it did. I think after 22 months, what we’ve learned and whether between $30 [million] and $40 million, we learned that there was no collusion whatsoever between Donald Trump and the Russians. But more importantly, since the Mueller report came out in March 2019, we’ve got all of this other information that’s been now declassified, and we’re learning that the Mueller indictment and plea bargain with Michael Flynn has been essentially withdrawn by the Justice Department because it was based on, I guess we would call it, a “perjury ambush” by the FBI’s own words. The Priestap memo where he instructed the agents and wanted to get clarification for what their angle was, and their angle was either to make him resign or to find him guilty of perjury on an insignificant dialogue with an ambassador that otherwise wouldn’t have won anybody’s attention. So since that time, I think it’s gotten even weaker. And then we have to add into the equation [of] Michael Horowitz’s Inspector General report about the FISA abuse, and now we’re into another dimension with all of the unmasking, the 245 unmasking request by Samantha Power which she claims were not made by her directly but may have been John Brennan’s employees—we have no idea. But the plot thickens.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s dig into the Flynn case here. On the one hand, we have the Department of Justice that has basically said, “There’s no case here.” We have William Barr having said, … “There was not a legitimate counterintelligence investigation going on.” And on the other hand, you have 2,000 former DOJ officials speaking up and saying, “This is a problem; this may be politicized.” And we have Judge Sullivan, most recently, potentially accepting amicus briefs in this case from a group, potentially the Watergate prosecutors. What do you make of all this?
Dr. Hanson: … We had talked before about projection, but it’s also a tactical defense because we saw Barack Obama, the ex-president, come out just a few days ago and speak to a group of former employees in the administration, and he attacked the withdrawal of the Justice Department case against Michael Flynn. What you’re seeing is that people are starting to get very upset. Not only are they men and women of the left that are supposedly devoted defenders of the First Amendment, civil libertarians—and that’s a matter of hypocrisy in this case—but more importantly, they feel that there’s a lot of criminal culpability with Bruce Ohr, with McCabe, with Comey, with Brennan, with Clapper, with Susan Rice, with Samantha Power, and ultimately on that January 5 meeting in the White House, Barack Obama apparently directed his intelligence hierarchy, the entire apparat, to continue to investigate Donald Trump. This is at a time, remember when Trump was elected president. It was during a transition. So I think there’s a lot of paranoia that if the investigation in its various manifestations is allowed to proceed on without obstruction, there would be a lot of culpability and … it’d be probably the largest scandal we’ve seen in 50 years in this country.
Mr. Jekielek: Victor, what are the implications here? Both the defense and the prosecution have basically said, “There’s no case here anymore,” yet it seems like there might be a case. What does this mean right now? Where are we at?
Dr. Hanson: I think with Michael Flynn, … and I will use the term “the left” while making the argument. Well, he pled guilty at some point in his life. And the reason he pled guilty was that he was given fraudulent evidence of his culpability, and he thought, “Well, I didn’t say this. … I wasn’t doing anything wrong,” and they said, “Well, we have this collation between what you just told us.” And when they had the “302” reports from the FBI agents that have gone through various iterations, and then they pressured his son, they mentioned the ossified Logan Act that I don’t think anybody’s ever been successfully prosecuted for—maybe two have been indicted. So take away all the leverage and if they had been transparent, there would have been no case. But now the left says, “Okay, we did all that, but he still pled guilty to making false statements to an FBI agent.” … That’s their last refuge right now. It’s a very strange logic. It means, if I were to tell you of a lot of things are untrue and I would have pressured your family, and I would get you to say something that you didn’t believe to be true to protect your family and to protect your livelihood, then you would be guilty, I guess, for making a false statement without any context. And that’s what the issue is now.
Mr. Jekielek: I’m not asking for a legal opinion here, but is this case over or is this case not over right now?
Dr. Hanson: No, it’s not over. I think Judge Sullivan is in a tight spot. When you’re a judge—I’m speaking as someone who grew up with a mother who was a judge—when the prosecuting attorney doesn’t want to take the case or to continue the case, and says there’s insufficient evidence, and the defense has mounted a pretty aggressive case that he should be exonerated and the case brought, then [for] the judge, it’s hard to know what he’s adjudicating. The word “judge” means he adjudicates [on] two parties in our adversarial legal system, but when both two parties agree that there’s no case, then what is he doing now? Now he’s inviting “outside input”—that’s a euphemism for people [from] left wing activist groups. If he is successful in sentencing Flynn, then I suppose it’ll go up on appeal and it’ll be reversed. But this is just one drama on a larger scenario, that we’ve got the FISA abuse, we’ve got the unmasking, we’ve got the use of the CIA in espionage that applies to Americans within the United States, we have a lot of false statements and obstruction of justice.
So we’re only in chapter one of a long, long, long novel. It’s been already long; it’s been three years, but when you have Barack Obama at the very center of the so-called brain of the whole apparatus, it’s hard to get to the truth because there’s certain things in American life that are unendurable. And one of them, we saw with China, that China was culpable for the virus and yet what do you do with a country with 1.4 billion people with nuclear weapons? So we just sort of put that out of our mind. Same thing—what do you do with the iconic president of the left, Barack Obama? We cannot reduce him to Richard Nixon status. It’s just unendurable, so we just forget about it. Same thing with Joe Biden—we just don’t have a Democratic presidential nominee accused of sexual assault after the psychodrama of the Kavanaugh hearing, so we just can’t deal with this, so we ignore it. And that’s where we are right now on all of these things.
Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating. Victor, this drama, as long as it’s drawn out already, seems to have sped up since the time that Richard Grenell was appointed as the Acting Director of National Intelligence. I’m wondering if you could speak to the significance of that appointment, and then let’s also talk about these unmaskings and what does that mean?
Dr. Hanson: For there to be any progress towards the truth, you have to have individuals in positions of power and influence that are not invested in the careerist Washington value system, or that they are not afraid to be hated by the left. Or when they wake up in the morning—and the New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, PBS, CBS, MSNBC, that whole Stanford University, Harvard—all of those forces coalesce against you, you don’t care. And finally after three years, Donald Trump found an Attorney General in William Barr who doesn’t care—he’s at a point in his life, in his career, that it has no effect on him. And the same thing with Richard Grenell—he’s an Ambassador to Germany, came in as an interim appointment as the Director of National Intelligence, he just wants to unclassify these things that should have been unclassified a long time ago, and he’s absolutely oblivious to what people say about it. And when you have rare people like that for a brief moment in time, you can get things done, and Trump has two people in those positions. Another one in the Congress is Devin Nunes—he doesn’t really care what people say about him, and that’s very effective. But those types of mindsets are very rare in Washington.
Mr. Jekielek: Given all of this, you mentioned the IG report, of course, the Mueller report, all this evidence that has come out recently, what do you make of the fact that to this day, 53 percent of Americans, according to a certain poll, believe that the Steele dossier had validity to it?
Dr. Hanson: Well, I’m surprised that it’s that few people because you got to remember for three years, they’ve had these megaphones, 360-degree circle, 24/7, and by that I mean, their universities have been instructing their children that Donald Trump is the great Satan and he tried to overthrow the government. And then they’ve had late-night TV, they’ve had Hollywood, they’ve had the foundations, they’ve had the major networks, they’ve had the newspapers, they’ve had the progressive cultural movement, they’ve had the Democratic Party, and they’ve all had this narrative that Donald Trump did all of these horrible things and perverse things, and he tried to throw an election. And then when they cross-examine Donald Trump in interviews, he wasn’t at all non-transparent, he was just candid, and he said, “They bugged me”—he was right about that—”And they did this to me, and they are a disaster, they’re evil,” and so they haven’t dealt with that before. So I think I’m surprised that almost half of Americans, that’s all, who believe Christopher Steele, given the propaganda and the indoctrination that they’ve been subject to, the last three years.
Mr. Jekielek: How do you expect this might change, or will it?
Dr. Hanson: Well, those sources of information won’t change. What will change is, if the proof is so overwhelming, and the written documentation and the hard data is so overwhelming, that a person’s sense of career or reputation will be so damaged by clinging to something that’s so false, then you’ll start to see people peel away. That’s the only time that progressives think, “Well, my noble ends justify any means necessary to get them, but if the means are imperiling the end, then I’m going to abandon them.”
And you can see that a little bit with Joe Biden to take one example. People need to carry him over the finish line but if he’s not a viable candidate, and if Tara Reade brings in evidence that makes somebody embarrassed to keep attacking her and keep supporting, then they drop that narrative. And they’re starting to do that a little bit in the mainstream media because when you have a memo from an FBI administrator saying [that] you want to get him for perjury, do you want to ambush him, you want to fire him, that’s pretty hard evidence. So when you have an FBI lawyer who doctors a document to fool a FISA judge, that’s pretty hard documentation. Or when you have people who have testified to the House Intelligence Committee and they’ve said they have no evidence of collusion whatsoever, then they walked across the street, and got a microphone in their face and said, “You wouldn’t believe what we found out in that committee; you wouldn’t believe what I had to testify,” and they lied, then these people are not worth defending anymore. And you can start to see that Clapper, and Brennan, and McCabe, and Comey don’t have the support from the left—not because people in the left don’t want to support them, it’s just in the cost-benefit analysis, they’re no longer such a valuable investment. They’ll be cut loose when the data starts to increase, and then they’ll turn around and say, “Comey lied to me. I didn’t know.” You’ve already seen that a little bit.
Mr. Jekielek: We’re seeing what appears to be a level of corruption in these systems that’s almost hard to believe. And I guess my question is, is this something new, something that was simply focused on the idea that Donald Trump could win an election, or is this something that goes deeper—that goes further back?
Dr. Hanson: We’ve always had corruption. Every administration has dealt with it. Remember the Obama administration had the Fast and Furious scandal? Eric Holder apparently was surveilling reporters from Associated Press and Fox News. We had the GSA scandal, Lois Lerner in the IRS. What’s new is this perfect storm and … as an outsider, Donald Trump didn’t have the support of the New York-Washington media corridor; the establishment people from the Bush administration. So he was on his own. He didn’t have the resources of the conservative/Republican movement, and he was an outlier. And so people were free to join forces against him. But more importantly, what keeps governments honest are the media, and the media in the old days, even though they were predominantly progressive, at least made the effort to act as if they were disinterested.
But when Trump came along, and after the Obama honeymoon with the media, … if you remember Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times, or Christiane Amanpour, or Jorge Ramos of Univision said, “We can no longer be disinterested because Donald Trump poses such an existential threat to progressive and liberal values that we have to be partisan”—they said that. And when the Shorenstein Center showed that 93 percent of the media coverage was negative of Trump, that served as a green light and that’s told people in Washington during the transition, during the early months of the Trump presidency, “We can do almost anything we want”—if I’m James Comey, or Clapper, or Brennan, or Obama, or Susan Rice—because there will be no media criticism of me. And once you lose that deterrent, then people, human nature being what it is, can be pretty nasty.
Mr. Jekielek: Victor, you have this column that you wrote recently which I believe is titled, “Do we even have a media anymore?”
Dr. Hanson: Yeah. By that what I meant is, do we have a media that will report the news in such a way that the reader or the listener will believe it? I think the answer is no. … If you were to turn on CNN and watch Anderson Cooper, he would call a guest and say, “If I defecated there, would you be offended?” If I was watching a news organization cover New Year’s Day and I saw Kathy Griffin, I would know that she held up Donald Trump’s head; if I looked at the coverage about, did Donald Trump have knowledge of a meeting with the Russians beforehand; Anthony Scaramucci, was he invested in Russian bonds, the very brief press secretary for Donald Trump—all of these things were false, and there was very little news coverage of when the retraction came. Just to be more contemporary and current, when Bill Barr gives an interview and he says, “Well, history will decide whether my effort to drop the charges against Flynn was right or not, and history is written by the winners. Haha,” and then that clip is cut out in isolation without the follow-up or the next sentence that says, “But of course, I did this not dependent on history, but on justice.” When you have that level of deceit, and we’ve seen it with the Covington kids; we’ve seen it with the Duke lacrosse story; we’ve seen it with George Zimmerman; we’ve seen it with Jussie Smollett—people have been so inured to it that they no longer believe there’s a media.
Mr. Jekielek: This is a natural segue into the next topic I wanted to look at, which is reality at the time of coronavirus. It’s been two months now since we’ve been in various forms of social isolation and lockdowns. On one hand, you have a media and many other people that are basically saying that the president has blood on his hands for such terrible handling of the coronavirus, that he gutted the health system previously that prevented preparation. On the other hand, you have information, of course, from the administration itself, saying they’ve handled it well, there’s all this messaging and that it’s been very successful and the testing is way above any other country. And of course, the third piece of this, and we’ll maybe do this a bit later, is just how communist China is actually involved in all of this and where culpability lies there. So how do we make sense of this, given all the realities that you just described?
Dr. Hanson: Well, there’s so many layers to the coronavirus tragedy, and it’s hard to keep them straight or even to peel the onion, but the first was China. And China realized at some point that this virus either got out of the lab due to laxity, or for some reason it got out. And I think it was out of the lab and the wet market was a ruse. And then they tried to stop it and use their considerable powers of propaganda and finance to corrupt the World Health Organization for a patina of legitimacy. And then at some point, they made a decision that they would not tell Europe, the United States, that thousands of people that could be infected were flying into their countries. And I don’t know why that was.
But I think everybody understands that this is at the feet of China. Now,… why I mention that is, is that they had one thing in common with the left in Europe and America, and that is they hate Donald Trump. So we had this Orwellian situation where the media was not just anti-Trump, but was actually picking up talking points from China. I’m trying to be as detailed as I can. By that, I mean, they would say, “Well, China did much better than Donald Trump in handling the virus. They have fewer cases and fewer fatalities,” even though we know that none of the information from China could be trusted. That was one story.
Then we had the second one with our credentialed experts, the people that have letters after their name, or they have billets at prestigious universities, think tanks, research centers. I’m talking specifically about Neil Ferguson at the Imperial College in London, or the University of Washington, epidemiologists and statisticians, or the experts who advise Gavin Newsom in California, or Governor DeWine in Ohio. They were completely wrong. They gave us these sophisticated models of doom and gloom and Armageddon, and it was all based on the denominator, i.e. the number of cases, of which, by their own admission, we didn’t know what it was. We essentially made these terrible predictions of millions of people dying, or hundreds of thousands of people dying later to tens of thousands of people based on the idea that when somebody was sick and was tested and they tested positively, and that was usually about 10 to 15% at most of the people who went in to be tested. Then that represented all of the cases. And so we knew pretty much the number of, the numerator of the people who died, although even that’s under question now. And so we got these fantastic rates, so 3-4% death rates, four out of every hundred, and you do the math in a 330 million country, you can come up with a nightmarish [scenario], when in fact, because of antibody testing and more reasonable and sober judicious skepticism, I think we’d now learn it’s one to two per thousand that will die of [being] infected.
So we have lost, I guess the confidence in the credentialed class and I’m not just picking on the modelers. I mean, Anthony Fauci has said so many things: “Not to worry about the virus. You should kind of worry about the virus. Well, don’t ever shake hands again because of the virus. The Surgeon General: “Don’t wear masks. Maybe you could wear a mask. Always wear a mask.” And “Antibodies give you protection. They don’t give you protection. They give you sort-of protection against reinfection.” “Children never get the virus. Sometimes they get the virus. They always get the virus.” “Sweden is a disaster. Sweden sort of works. Sweden is our model.” And so what we’re not doing is we’re not trusting people who have empirical observations and experience, and by that I mean emergency room doctors. They’ll say hydroxychloroquine has some efficacy in some cases, or ventilators are not the cure-all.
We haven’t listened to people like that, or we haven’t listened to economists or business people that have warned us: If you shut down a $22 trillion annual GDP economy, then a lot of people are gonna die. They’re not going to get medical attention. They’re not going to come in for necessary screening and diagnostics. They’re not necessarily going to get medicine. They’re going to have suicides, family abuse, substance abuse. All that’s happening as we speak, but somehow we said, “Anthony Fauci is a deity.” And I’m not criticizing him, but his input has to be collated with economists, politicians, military people, and out of that stream of knowledge, Donald Trump has to make a cost-benefit analysis. Not lives versus money, but lives versus lives. And so it hasn’t been a good performance from the get-go. And I understand it’s an election year. I understand Trump’s unpopular. I understand China lied to the world. We still don’t know the story. But given all of that, we still haven’t done very well as far as our credentialed experts.
Mr. Jekielek: When you’re describing this, I’m thinking back to what we were just talking about. It’s almost like people don’t know who to believe now.
Dr. Hanson: Yeah, well I don’t, because today I read something. I know that tomorrow it may be questionable and two days from now it will be false. So I was told, I think, four days ago, a new study suggests that warmer weather retards the transmission of the virus. And then yesterday I read that there’s no evidence at all that warm weather does. And then today, I saw some charts where the R sub one ratio of infectiousness per person has died because of warmer weather. And I don’t know what to believe. I don’t know what to believe, whether an antacid or an H2 blocker like pepsin, works, or Pepcid, whatever the trade name, or it doesn’t work, or quercetin. We’re just bombarded by knowledge and everybody, I understand, is trying to help but it’s not working too well. And people just have to trust their instincts, and their instincts are: warm weather, the flu goes away, there’s fewer colds, people get out, they get sunshine, it’s a healthier time, and it’s probably gonna be safer to go outside than stay inside. That’s pretty much folk knowledge and wisdom throughout the ages. And don’t shake hands with somebody who’s coughing. Things that we knew before will serve us in good stead, I think, rather than listening to a credentialed expert who has a limited amount of pragmatic experience.
Mr. Jekielek: Victor, one place where we haven’t had this kind of bombarding of information or data regarding coronavirus is actually from the Chinese Communist Party. In fact, Secretary Pompeo and Morgan Ortagus, when she was recently on the show here, were basically talking about still hunting for this information that could really help in getting some definitive answers.
Dr. Hanson: I don’t think we’re going to find that, because to get that information would be synonymous with an admission of culpability. And what do I mean by culpability? Then the Chinese Communist Party would have to say, “We are responsible due to our duplicity at best, or lack of transparency at best, and at worst, experimenting with increasing the efficacy of a coronavirus purportedly to find a vaccination, and then that leaked out of a level 4 [lab]. And whatever the actual cause, we’re not even sure of that. It would mean that “We, the Chinese Communist Party, are responsible for killing a quarter million people so far. It’ll probably be over a million people when it’s dead, and destroying the economy as we know it, and then not manning up to that and trying to take advantage of it.”
So we’re never going to hear that from them. I can’t think of a communist government in the history of civilization that’s ever been veracious or transparent. I guess the only mystery is, there’s two forces at odds with each other, and one is Chinese money and aggression and the idea that China doesn’t kid around. And so they go to Italy or they go to Greece or they go to Belgium and they say, “Look, here’s the money if you cooperate, and here’s what’s going to happen to you if you don’t.” And the only mystery is, will that overwhelm their culpability? In other words, will people accept the big lie because to not to accept the big lie would mean some economic damage. Or if you’re Australia, and you’ve got this huge country that’s resource-rich, and you’re not very far from a 1.4 billion-person China with nuclear weapons, and China says, “Do not follow that narrative. Do not have an independent, open mind about this. This is the narrative. This is what you should accept, and if you don’t accept it, we’re going to do this, this, this. And oh, by the way, you think the United States is going to defend you?” So that’s how China plays and they’re very good at it. They have a million people in reeducation camps. They practice a systematic discrimination against Africans, whom they extensively champion. They’ve destroyed the culture of Tibet. And yet they pose as shocked and disillusioned when American xenophobia and racism and illiberality and that narrative goes through our media. So who could pull that off but the Chinese Communist Party?
Mr. Jekielek: Well, it’s interesting that you say that because, at the same time, I’m hearing a lot of rumblings of a lot of people saying, “Wow, for the first time, I understand, Epoch Times, what you’ve been talking about all these years,” or “I suddenly see.” Or, to use a bad pun, “the mask has been lifted.” I’ve certainly heard that from a great number of people. And there are class action lawsuits that have up to 15,000 plaintiffs right now. One of them that I’m aware of, there’s legislation being proposed to hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable. Maybe there’s another side to this?
Dr. Hanson: It is. I’m laughing only because I hope you’re all safe, because I don’t think you’ve felt the full pressure yet even of the Chinese Communist Party to independent voices such as your own. But when they are able to affect censorship and freedom of speech in places like Harvard University, or Stanford University, or in the National Basketball Association, or indeed professional sports in general, or they can dictate the narrative and the plot and the characterization of Hollywood movies, you can see that they have a lot of power and influence and the only way to resist that power and influence is, by definition, to be adversarial to them. You can’t be neutral to them. And they have such resources. And one thing, it’s very controversial that people do not want to talk about, but they’re very manipulative in the sense of tapping into the race-, class-, gender-, progressive identity politics. So with the Russians, it was very easy for the left to say, or anybody to say, “Well, they’re all white racists, that they’re sort of the villains of Hollywood movies.” We always see a Russian white guy with a tattooed head and an obnoxious accent, and he’s killing people.
But with China, they brand themselves as part of the American “other.” They’re not the white majority. And they’re very insidious and careful about that. And even though they’re a mono-racial culture, for the most part, and they’ve been very racist in their policies toward other countries, they understand the mind of the left, that they can somehow pose as the victim, even though they were the victimizer in this crisis. And we’re much more careful to say anything negative about China because they’re going to come completely back and then tap into the identity politics movement. It’s quite ironic that if you happen to be Chinese American and apolitical, then you’re out of luck because we will racially discriminate against you. If you apply to Harvard University or Stanford or Princeton, we’ll think, “You know what, we’ll say the worst things possible to stereotype you, and to categorize you in a negative light: you study too hard, or you’re just good at math, or you have no cultural life. And therefore, there’s too many of you so we’re going to have a quota against you. But if you’re the Chinese Communist government, then we’re going to be very careful what we say about you,” which suggests that the left also always calibrates power and money. The Chinese Communist Party can do a lot for you or a lot against you in a way that the Chinese American community cannot when you practice discrimination against it in a systematic fashion.
Mr. Jekielek: Victor, something that I’m thinking of right now is how basically Trump always has to be wrong. Whether it’s in this case for the handling of coronavirus, we agree, of course, it wasn’t handled in a perfect way, but clearly he’s going to be held accountable for that politically. On the other hand, this is something that the Chinese Communist Party is very happy to see happen, given everything you described, and the confluence of this I find kind of disturbing.
Dr. Hanson: It is. I mentioned that earlier in the interview, that the Communist Party of China and the American left, and indeed the European left, have commonalities and what they share is a hatred of Donald Trump. The Chinese Communist Party, it’s obvious. He was the first president in US history to be very skeptical of Chinese motives and their asymmetrical trade practices. And the old idea was: “Well yes, they practice systematic copyright and trademark theft. And yes, they do dump products at below-cost to world markets and yes, they have financial irregularities, and they are not honest about the value of their currency. They run up these surpluses. They appropriate technology… I can go on. We all know what they do. But the more that we indulge them, the richer they’re going to become, the more they’re going to develop a consumer affluent middle class and they’re going to look like Palo Alto or Cambridge, Massachusetts and become liberalized. That was the idea.
Trump comes along and says, “I don’t believe it. They’re just going to use that money to become even more totalitarian. They’re getting stronger, we’re getting weaker. They look at our large exemption, our outreach, not as magnanimity to be reciprocated, but as weakness to be exploited, because we’re weak.” That was a jarring message to hear that. And yet, that’s what he said.
…And he was starting to win that trade war, we could use that term, because the US economy was booming. Unemployment was down to almost 3%. And China was hurting. I think it’s very important to realize that they were losing that rivalry with the United States. They were starting to have people who were neutral go to the United States’ corner. Even the Europeans were starting to enjoy this in a way that they never enjoy anything when the United States does well. And then, when this happened, I think initially, the Chinese were shocked that they’ve blown it. And then after recalibration in a few weeks, they thought, “You know, never let a crisis go to waste, because this is going to hurt the United States with a much smaller population and a liberal society and it’s much more worried about the quality of life than we are. And if we lose a couple of hundred thousand people in a country of 1.4 billion that has a systematic policy of not valuing human life in general, as happened in the West, then we’re gonna survive this much better than is the West.” And so far I think they may be right.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s incredibly troubling to think but at the same time par for the course of what one might expect from this communist dictatorship.
Dr. Hanson: Yeah, it’s kind of schizophrenic. In our minds, we know what they’re like. But in our hearts, people think, “Well, I don’t like Donald Trump, and I always sympathize with somebody who alleges there’s racism and unfairness and xenophobia,” and the Chinese are doing that. They don’t like Trump and they feel that they’ve been victimized and stereotyped. So that’s a good thing. And we’ve always had a historical soft spot for China since the war with Japan. And we supported them,… and we have a wonderful Chinese American community. And I just don’t think that President Xi or any of the communist apparatus is any way connected with the 70 million people that Mao killed. It just, there’s no continuity. And then there’s that Taiwan. Taiwan is supported by all those right wing nuts. And Richard Nixon was a big champion and Reagan… And so you put it all together and there’s a willful blindness about China. It’s not just accidental. I mean, people know what they’re saying is stupid, but there’s something there that they find convenient. And giving China almost a medieval exemption from culpability.
Mr. Jekielek: Prior to coronavirus, this did seem to be one of the few bipartisan issues in Washington, or at least heading in that direction. Now, it doesn’t appear to be that way. I keep saying this to people that Nancy Pelosi, for the better part of 20 years, was … very hard on China, understood it a lot better than many Republicans, frankly.
Dr. Hanson: Yeah, there is a coalescence. I think you’re right about that. In its nascent form, in other words, there were people on the left who said, “All you evil corporate people, you don’t care about the Uyghurs or you don’t care about the Tibetans because you’re just interested in profit.” And there were people on the right saying, “You didn’t care about Youngstown, Ohio. You just sold us out for a few pennies on the dollar for cheap production or outsourcing or offshoring with China.” And now those have come together and they’re saying to the middle, to the majority of Americans: If you’re on the left, they don’t respect human rights. They persecute people, they do some ghastly things on a systematic basis to dissidents, on one [child] policy. And then there’s people on the right who say that they have co-opted our corporate elite, our intelligentsia, and they did so at the expense of the middle class.
And so that coalescence is reflected in these new polls that suggest 60-65% of Americans don’t have a positive view of China and that’s way up from about 35-40%. That’s hard to do because traditionally in the United States, when you did polling: “Do you feel more sympathetic to China or Japan?” It was always China and not Japan, given Chinese victimization by Japanese militarism. So we’ve always had a sympathetic view of China and this virus and its trade practices pretty much ruined that. And we’ll see how far it goes.
Ideally what I would like to see is a recognition of Taiwan, because Taiwan has been a model country and has been very effective within democratic auspices of handling the virus and yet it can’t even get an audience with the World Health Organization. So I think there’ll be a renewed appreciation that Taiwan should be treated exactly like we treat South Korea and Japan, that it’s a valuable ally. It’s a democratic country. It needs to be defended. And we should sell it all the arms it wants and forget what China says. I think that’ll happen, I really do. I think Taiwan, because of a variety of events, its own behavior has been exemplary. Its democratic culture, the way that it handled the virus in a transparent yet effective way, it all contrasts positively with the mainland Chinese example.
Mr. Jekielek: As a testament to that, the Senate is unanimous right now in pushing for Taiwan to get this WHO observer status, which you wouldn’t think would be controversial, but is. So there is something clearly bipartisan for going for Taiwan, which is a rarity.
Dr. Hanson: Yeah, and you make another good point and that is, in the last two years, I guess it’s been about 22 months of budgeting, we’ve given the World Health Organization about $900 million. We’re by far the largest contributor and yet China seems to exercise much more influence over it. And the question is, why is that possible? I would like to think maybe it’s just naivete that China acts as if it’s in its Maoist traditions, it’s championing Third World movements. So Mr. Tedros, coming out of a revolutionary background, has sympathy for the Chinese Communist Party. I don’t think that’s the answer, though. I think people feel that China, on a few cents on the dollar, can exercise much more influence in Western countries because what they say about China is one thing, but what they think about China is another. By that I mean, if you cross China, they’re going to act toward you in a way that a Western country won’t.
And so they’re afraid of China because they think a country that has acted so deplorably in its past, both to other countries and to its own people, is capable at any time, any moment, of doing anything. In a way, in the United States, that’s not true. And so the World Health Organization reacts to the pressure of a minority contributor much more than it does a majority contributor. I think that’s what Donald Trump’s trying to change by trying to say, “You know what, we’re going to play hardball too. We’ll just make something like the World Health Organization that’s immune from Chinese influence.”
Mr. Jekielek: We’re talking about Donald Trump playing hardball. There is actually an election coming up. It seems like it is going to go ahead as planned. When we spoke last time, you did some thinking about what the President’s prospects are for 2020. You noted two things that would change the game. You thought he was likely to get reelected, but you said one, if there was some sort of existential crisis, which I think coronavirus qualifies, that could be a problem. And secondly, if the Democratic Party coalesced around a more centrist candidate like Joe Biden, then it would be close. And it seems like we have both of these realities. So let’s explore that a little bit. How have things changed? And frankly, we are in the worst economy since the Great Depression, at least that’s what some people are saying. And of course, that’s a big issue. So how is this playing out for the president right now?
Dr. Hanson: As I said, in the book, he was probably going to be reelected because his signature issue was the economy. And it wasn’t just a good economy. It was the best economy we’d seen in a half-century. And now we’re going to see the worst economy that we’ve seen in a half-century because we’ve sort of dropped a neutron bomb, where superficially the infrastructure looks pristine and functional, but the people have vanished. They haven’t been killed, but they’re locked in. So that’s going to be very difficult. But ultimately we’ve got to remember we have five months to go. And I think the democratic narrative is the following: Don’t talk about Joe Biden. Joe Biden is not the issue. It’s Donald Trump’s handling of the virus and the lockdown. And their narrative is: as long as people are dying from the virus, Donald Trump is responsible for it. He may have had a travel ban, he may have galvanized industry, he may have been right on everything from hydroxychloroquine to UV lighting, but it doesn’t matter. He’s responsible.
And then when the virus threat starts to diminish, people will say that he’s Herbert Hoover. I wrote a column, I think a month ago, saying they would do that, and they’ve already started. …If the prior narrative was that he didn’t lock down quick enough or long enough, now it will be that he locked down too long or too early, and he destroyed the economy. So they’re going to run on that.
What will be the ultimate arbiter of Donald Trump’s fate will be two things. We have five months. Everybody understands that two months of absolute economic damage will require at least two months to get back, to be in a position, not restoration, but to be in a position to restore it. If we were to go back in mass in June, and then by August, people were losing their fears and they were doing things that added to that missing 30% of the economy—cruise ships, airlines, sports events, concerts, restaurants—if that were to come back, then in the next two months before, I’m speaking now September and October, then Donald Trump could say the economy’s GDP is going up and unemployment is going down, then I think he wouldn’t have a problem.
The other wildcard is Joe Biden. And Joe Biden, remember, had had all of the advantages when the Democratic primary started. He lost Iowa and Vermont and he imploded. And then people got a good look at the alternative, a Kamala Harris, a Cory Booker,or a Pete Buttigieg. And they were terrified of them and especially terrified of Bernie Sanders, but they didn’t want Biden. They don’t want somebody on the campaign trail that says, hey “fat,” or “you’re a lying dog-faced pony soldier” or, “Hey, sister,” all that crazy stuff.
So they brought in Michael Bloomberg, and he spent a billion dollars to convince us that he didn’t know how to debate, he was a poor candidate, and he was arrogant. And he was very weak on China, weak in the sense that he was a profiteer from the Chinese Communist Party’s rule.
And so then they resurrected Biden. And he worried them but they thought, “You know, during the coronavirus, we’ll put him in the basement at his home, familiar surroundings, and he’ll be giving fireside chats, critiques on Trump’s handling, while he has a promenade of democratic functionaries that will audition for vice president and give him advice. And he’ll talk extemporaneously. He’ll be rested.” That didn’t work. He couldn’t talk extemporaneously. So then they said, “We’ll set up a teleprompter.” That didn’t work. “Then we’ll put his wife next to him for emotional support, reinforcement,” and that didn’t work. And then they said, “You know, what? Don’t let him say anything.” And so for three weeks, he hasn’t flown anywhere. He hasn’t had donors come over. We don’t have shots of him at a conference table. Even when he goes out to sympathetic journalists, the way that we’re doing now, in telecommunications fashion, he doesn’t do well. And so they have a rendezvous with that, and I don’t know what they’re going to do because something is wrong with Joe Biden. If he took Donald Trump’s Montreal cognitive assessment test, I don’t think he would ace it as the way Trump did. So Trump is a very young 73, and Biden is a very old 77.
So what that means is that for the first time since 1944, the vice presidential nomination of the Democratic Party is seen as the president, just in the fashion that Harry Truman, who moved Wallace off the ticket, was president in April of 1945. I think most people in the Democratic Party feel that whoever Biden selects, because he’s ahead in the polls now—and I don’t think he’s going to win, but they do—will be the next president. And most importantly, the progressive base feels that the agenda that didn’t have 51% in the primaries, and it gave us Biden as an alternative, I mean the new Green Deal, reparations, open borders, Medicare for everybody, wealth tax, 70% income tax, I could go on, that could be reified with a president that was appointed in the sense of put on the vice presidential ticket in a way that nobody else would ever put that person on, but now they will put that person on, and that person will be president. …And I don’t think that’s going to happen because it requires Joe Biden physically to be carried over the finish line. And I don’t think that’s going to be possible. I may be wrong. But I think we’re going to see things that we’ve never seen at the August convention. There’s going to be efforts to remove Biden or to find ways of facilitating him where he doesn’t have to campaign. They’re gonna have to do something because even with all the negative press and all of the controversy and the economic damage, we’re starting to see in some polls that Trump, he goes down and then he comes back. He goes down and he comes back. And Biden’s frailty and his problems with Tara Reade, they have to be addressed and so far, they are not being addressed.
Mr. Jekielek: To finish up, I think we have to look back through your lens of the Sophoclean tragedy, which you use in “The Case for Trump.” It’s very interesting and an appropriate place to end, if you could let us know where we are at in the story.
Dr. Hanson: In “The Case for Trump,” … Sophoclean tragedy is based on people like Philoctetes, or Antigone or Oedipus that can solve a problem because they’re heterodox, they’re not orthodox. And they have certain skill sets that both disturb the community and make them feel uneasy about the appearance of such a savior. Pre-civilizational skills can solve the problem because civilization is not so civilized sometimes. And we see that same archetype in the Western: “Magnificent Seven,” “High Noon,” “Shane,” even “The Wild Bunch” where people write in maybe outlaws but maybe gunfighters, hired guns, whatever we want to call them and they deal with the rustlers, the cattle barons, whatever term we use. And as the society feels relieved, but also upset that they had to resort to such a measure. We see it with American military history, George Patton, Curtis LeMay. Every time we get in a jam, we open a closet and bring this person out and say, “Go to it.” And then when the threat has passed, we say, “Oh my gosh, did you hear what Patton said? That crazy LeMay, did you hear what he said? Get rid of him.”
So we brought Donald Trump in because we said, “We can’t get unemployment down. The economy is stagnant. The Iran deal is bogus. Nobody wants to deal with China. And the alternatives, we the townspeople have no imagination or we won’t try something different.” So we bought in Trump. He had, in some ways, spectacular results. And now the virus has I think questioned that a little bit, but I don’t think we’re ever going to give him credit. And I think that as soon as the problem is solved, we’ll either, even if we re elect him, I think we will re elect him, but I don’t think he’ll ever get credit. You can see that the tragic hero always, it reminds me of Sophocles’ Ajax, they always whine. Ajax says, “But I should have got the armor of Achilles. I was the second best Achaean at Troy.” And they said, “No, no, Odysseus was smarter. He was better connected, or Agamemnon was more kingly than you were.” But he said, “It’s not fair. You always call on me when you need somebody to kill Trojans.”
And Trump is always saying, “Obama was a disaster. I was right. Hey, you guys, I was right about UV light. I was right about hydroxychloroquine. It has some efficacy. I know you made fun of me when I said that it was a bad flu year, but it may end up like 1958 with 120,000 dead and not 2 million that you’ve said that I was wrong.” So he’s always trying to convince people that he’s done all these great things and he’s not crazy. But he doesn’t quite understand that the role of a tragic hero is never to get credit because by definition, the methodology and the voice and the comportment and the behavior is so at odds with normal values and protocols that people feel guilty that they ever had to resort to bring a Donald Trump in, or an Ajax in, or a Shane in because to do so is a referendum on themselves. And it suggests that the sober and judicious, mellifluous people like Barack Obama can very easily turn loose the FBI and CIA and say that they did it in a very gentlemanly, sober and judicious fashion.
So we don’t like Donald Trump because he reminds us that we’re not so sober. We’re not so civilizational. And we can’t solve all these problems. And he’s raw and he’s honest, and it just bothers us. And so we want him to do all the things we brought him in to. And then we want him to leave and then we want to say, “You know what, I’m just shocked that he said that. He said, ‘Little Marco’ or gosh, he said, ‘Sleepy Joe.’ That’s so unpresidential.” But, what we will never say: “Wow, I’m really shocked that Barack Obama ran guns to Mexico, or that Barack Obama weaponized the IRS or Barack Obama turned loose the FBI, CIA and the Director of National Intelligence against American citizens, surveilled them and had FBI doing everything from committing perjury to altering document because he’s one of us. He’s one of our participants.” So that’s Trump’s tragic matrix that he’s trapped in. And remember what happens at the end of “High Noon.” Gary Cooper throws down the badge and leaves town. What happens at the end of “Shane”? He’s wounded. He cleans up the problem and he rides off in the sunset. Remember The Magnificent Seven.” Steve McQueen and Yul Brynner say, “You know what, they’re happy to see us leave” and they leave…. But you get the impression that they feel that once the problem is solved, there’s nothing more for them to do.
I can’t see Donald Trump being invited to a group of ex-presidents where he sits next to George W. Bush or Barack Obama or Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton and has small talk. I just don’t see that happening. I don’t think people, when they talk about former presidents like they are going to call Trump up and say, “How did you handle China?” They’re just not going to do it. And I think that’s tragic in a way.
Mr. Jekielek: Victor, we’re going to finish up in just a moment. Any final words before we do?
Dr. Hanson: Well, I think we’re at a very important point in our life, because all of the paradigms that we grew up with, and especially we’re inured in the last 20 years, have been put to test. And by that I mean we were told, “You must live in centers of power and influence in New York or San Francisco. And density is great. And the Obama administration said we have high rises that are in green belts, and people are going to live in apartments as they do in Europe, and we’re going to not drive. We’re going to all be on mass transit. And we want more government control so we can, like China, address matters of global warming. And all of a sudden, we’re thinking, “You know what, I wish I had a country house. I wish I could just be on the freeway in my own car. I wish I had plenty of space. I don’t want to take the bus. And I don’t like the idea that the government can, by executive theater edicts, suddenly take away my First and Second and Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. So I think it’s really taught us something.
And another thing, finally, we may be in the year 2020. But there are things in the human experience called plagues. And they’ve always been there and they always will be there. And the more sophisticated that we get, and the more we know about the genetic sequencing of virus, the more vulnerable we are in a globalized world in which Wuhan is closer to San Francisco than it is to parts of rural China. And so nothing really changes.
A final worry is that I don’t think we’ve seen the end of it. I think China has hit on a paradigm where we had the first coronavirus, SARS, and it caused some havoc and this caused havoc. And I think the Chinese are going to think to themselves, “Wow. This coronavirus did more damage to the West in physical, economic, military, political, psychological damage. And it’s something that we should consider, not that we would want to weaponize this again, but we would like the West to know that as we join the West in sophisticated viral exploration and research, you never know, it could happen again.” And I think that’s where we are right now. It’s a very frightening thought but we have no deterrent against this, a repeat performance, especially given China’s propaganda campaign. …I wish this was the end of the coronaviruses or the like, but I’m not sure it will be.
Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating and frankly very disturbing place to finish up. It’s such a pleasure to have you on, Victor.
Dr. Hanson: Thank you.