Sunday, February 11, 2018

Trump – Middle American Radical

Pat Buchanan below has some good points but I think he is still too general in his analysis of Trump's thinking.  The key to Trump is that he is not a policy wonk of any kind.  He goes by instinct and common sense only.  But his instincts are conservative so he does a lot of good.  So while Buchanan makes a brave attempt to categorize him I think all such attempts will fail. He is "sui generis", one of a kind.  There are no others like him or even nearly like him.

President Trump is the leader of America's conservative party.  Yet not even his allies would describe him as a conservative in the tradition of Robert Taft, Russell Kirk or William F. Buckley.

In the primaries of 2016, all his rivals claimed the mantle of Mr. Conservative, Ronald Reagan. Yet Trump captured the party's heart.

Who, then, and what is Donald Trump? In a Federalist essay, "Trump Isn't a Conservative — And That's a Good Thing," Frank Cannon comes close to the mark.

Trump, he writes, "would more accurately be described as a 'radical anti-progressive'" who is "at war with the progressives who have co-opted American civil society." Moreover, Trump "is willing to go further than any other previous conservative to defeat them."

Many "elite conservatives," writes Cannon, believe the "bedrock institutions" they treasure are "not subject to the same infectious politicization to which the rest of society has succumbed."

This belief is naive, says Cannon, "ridiculous on its face."

"Radical anti-progressives" recognize that many institutions — the academy, media, entertainment and the courts — have been co-opted and corrupted by the left. And as these institutions are not what they once were, they no longer deserve the respect they once had.

Yet most conservatives will only go so far in criticizing these institutions. We see this in how cradle Catholics find it difficult to criticize the Church in which they were birthed and raised, despite scandals and alterations in the liturgy and doctrine.

Trump sees many institutions as fortresses lately captured by radical progressives that must be attacked and besieged if they are to be recaptured and liberated. Cannon deals with three such politicized institutions: the media, the NFL and the courts.

Trump does not attack freedom of the press but rather the moral authority and legitimacy of co-opted media institutions. It is what CNN has become, not what CNN was, that Trump disrespects.

These people are political enemies posturing as journalists who create "fake news" to destroy me, says Trump. Enraged media, responding, reveal themselves to be not far removed from what Trump says they are.

And, since Trump, media credibility has plummeted.

Before 2016, the NFL was an untouchable. When the league demanded that North Carolina accept the radical transgender agenda or face NFL sanctions, the Tar Heel State capitulated. When Arizona declined to make Martin Luther King's birthday a holiday in 1990, the NFL took away the Super Bowl. The Sun State caved.

This year, the league demanded respect for the beliefs and behavior of NFL players insulting Old Glory by "taking a knee" during the national anthem.

Many conservative politicians and commentators, fearing the NFL's almost mythic popularity in Middle America, remained mute.

But believing instinctively America would side with him, Trump delivered a full-throated defense of the flag and called for kicking the kneelers off the field, out of the game, and off the team.

"Fire them!" Trump bellowed.

And Trump triumphed. The NFL lost fans and viewers. The players ended the protests. No one took a knee at the Super Bowl.

Before Trump, the FBI was sacrosanct. But Trump savaged an insiders' cabal at the top of the FBI he saw as having plotted to defeat him.

Trump has not attacked an independent judiciary, but courts like the Ninth Circuit, controlled by progressives and abusing their offices to advance progressive goals, and federal judges using lifetime tenure and political immunity to usurp powers that belong to the president — on immigration, for example.

Among the reasons Congress is disrespected is that it let the Supreme Court seize its power over social policy and convert itself into a judicial dictatorship — above Congress.

Trump is no Beltway conservative, writes Cannon.

"Trump doesn't play by these ridiculous rules designed to keep conservatives stuck in a perpetual state of losing — a made-for-CNN version of the undefeated Harlem Globetrotters versus the winless Washington Generals. Trump instead seeks to fight and delegitimize any institution the Left has captured, and rebuild it from the ground up."

The Trump supporters who most relish the wars he is waging are the "Middle American Radicals," of whom my columnist-colleague and late friend Sam Francis used to write.

There was a time such as today before in America.

After World War II, as it became clear our long-ruling liberal elites had blundered horribly in trusting Stalin, patriots arose to cleanse our institutions of treason and its fellow travelers.

The Hollywood Ten were exposed and went to jail. Nixon nailed Alger Hiss. Truman used the Smith Act to shut down Stalin's subsidiary, the Communist Party USA. Spies in the atom bomb program were run down. The Rosenbergs went to the electric chair.

Liberals call it the "Red Scare." And they are right to do so.

For when the patriots of the Greatest Generation like Jack Kennedy and Richard Nixon and Joe McCarthy came home from the war and went after them, the nation's Reds had never been so scared in their entire lives.



A British parallel to the FBI v Trump saga

Last week saw political eruptions on either side of the Atlantic about a similar issue: whether government officials are neutral. The row over the leaked forecasts for Brexit, and whether civil servants were being partisan in preparing and perhaps leaking them, paralleled the row in America about the declassified Congressional memo on the FBI and Donald Trump. “Trump’s unparalleled war on a pillar of society: law enforcement”, said TheNew York Times. “Brexit attacks on civil service ‘are worthy of 1930s Germany’ ” said The Observer.

To summarise, in London a government forecast that even a soft Brexit would be slightly worse for the economy than non-Brexit was conveniently leaked. This happened just as some politicians and commentators were trying to shift the country towards accepting a form of customs union with the European Union — that is to say, not really leaving at all.

In Washington, the president declassified a memo prepared by Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House intelligence committee. It alleged that the FBI got a warrant from a secret court to bug a Trump campaign executive, using as evidence mainly a “salacious and unverified” dossier (the former FBI director James Comey’s words) prepared by a British ex-spy paid by the Democratic Party, a fact that the FBI apparently failed on three occasions to tell the court. The FBI also allegedly leaked the dodgy dossier to the press.

There are two sides to both stories. In Washington, the Democrats and some Republicans see a president prepared to break secrecy to make the FBI look bad, presumably as a distraction from its investigation of his alleged links with Russia. In London, Remainers focus on the fact that it is unusual and wrong for politicians to attack civil servants who are not allowed to answer back.

Nobody disputes, surely, that civil servants have views. Since 91 per cent of Washington DC voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and a similar percentage of public servants here probably voted Remain, we can guess what those views are in most cases. Former mandarins in the House of Lords and on Twitter are among the most outspoken opponents of Brexit in any form. In the FBI case, several key people (including the British
ex-spy, Christopher Steele) are on record as having been passionately opposed to Mr Trump’s election.

As chancellor, George Osborne set up the Office of Budget Responsibility precisely to remove economic forecasting from political pressure. Yet the Treasury returned to economic forecasting during the referendum campaign. It said that “a vote to leave would represent an immediate and profound shock to our economy. That shock would push our economy into a recession and lead to an increase in unemployment of around 500,000, GDP would be 3.6 per cent smaller” and so on. This turned out to be based on ridiculous assumptions and was utterly discredited by what actually happened.

This case is different, however. By all accounts the Treasury was stung by the humiliating failure of Project Fear (which would never have been exposed if Remain had won the referendum, remember). This latest forecast is not from a Treasury model at all but a “cross-departmental tool”, as Amber Rudd said yesterday. Nor is it based on the discredited “gravity” assumption, that trade decreases with the square of distance. It is thought to be a “computable general equilibrium model” of the kind that the Treasury’s critics have long recommended.

It is not clear who developed the model. It might have been contracted from an outside consultant. There is no evidence it has been “back-tested” on the British economy’s past performance to see if it works. More problematically still, the model does not test the government’s preferred policy at all, and makes ludicrous assumptions about what would happen under its three scenarios.

For example, if we leave on World Trade Organisation terms, it assumes we would keep the external tariffs of the EU that inflate the household costs of British consumers. Given that trade with the EU is about 12 per cent of British GDP, in order to achieve an 8 per cent hit to GDP, the model has to assume we would lose at least half that trade, which is for the birds. Garbage in, garbage out, as they say in modelling.

Who commissioned the forecasts? It appears it was not Treasury officials but nor was it a politician. The relevant ministers have distanced themselves. It looks increasingly like a freelance operation from within the top layers of the civil service. If so, this might indeed justify criticism not so much for doing analysis, but in who they got to model it. Being culturally averse to Brexit and free markets, they just would not think of going to economists like Roger Bootle, Gerard Lyons, Ryan Bourne, Liam Halligan and Patrick Minford, who see opportunities in leaving. They do not even realise they are being biased.

The pass-the-smelling-salts shock of those leaping to the defence of civil servants is excessive, as was their comparison of the critics to Hitler and snake-oil salesmen. Civil servants get secure, well-paid jobs with early retirement and excellent pensions. And when they screw up, politicians generally carry the can for them. An occasional question from a politician about whether they are letting their prejudices get in the way of doing their job may be uncomfortable, but it’s hardly unreasonable.

If they mount a freelance operation that frustrates a democratic mandate then all bets should be off, just as if it emerges that the FBI was freelancing to undermine a presidential candidate (either of them), then it would be a major scandal.

Britain faces its greatest decision in decades. If we leave the customs union, keep its tariffs and do nothing else, of course there will be pain. But if we also open up our economy more to the growing markets of Asia, Africa, Australasia and the Americas, and take measures to encourage investment and innovation, we will blow away any pessimistic forecasts. Civil servants should be modelling those possibilities.



Fake News and the Tet Offensive

Leftist fake news goes back a long way

Seemingly out of nowhere, a shock wave hit South Vietnam on Jan. 30, 1968. In a coordinated assault unprecedented in ferocity and scale, more than 100,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers stormed out of their sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia. They went on to attack more than 100 towns and cities across South Vietnam.

The following 77 days changed the course of the Vietnam War. The American people were bombarded with a nightly stream of devastating television and daily print reporting. Yet what they saw was so at odds with the reality on the ground that many Vietnam veterans believe truth itself was under attack.

The Tet Offensive had ambitious objectives: cause a mass uprising against the government, collapse the South Vietnamese Army, and inflict mass casualties on U.S. forces. The men in the Hanoi Politburo—knowing the war’s real center of gravity was in Washington —hoped the attack ultimately would sap the American people’s will to fight.

A key component of this strategy was terror. Thousands of South Vietnamese government officials, schoolteachers, doctors, missionaries and ordinary civilians—especially in Hue City—were rounded up and executed in an act of butchery not often seen on the battlefield.

Despite their ferocity, by most objective military standards, the communists achieved none of their goals. U.S. and South Vietnamese forces held fast, regrouped and fought back. By late March they had achieved a decisive victory over the communist forces. Hanoi wouldn’t be able to mount another full-scale invasion of South Vietnam until the 1972 Easter offensive.

But in living rooms across America, the nightly news described an overwhelming American defeat. The late Washington Post Saigon correspondent Peter Braestrup later concluded the event marked a major failure in the history of American journalism.

Braestrup, in “Big Story: How the American Press and Television Reported and Interpreted the Crisis of Tet 1968 in Vietnam and Washington” (1977), attributed this portrayal to television’s showbiz tradition. TV news editors put little premium on breadth of coverage, fact-finding or context.

The TV correspondent, Braestrup wrote, like the anchorman back home, had to pose on camera with authority. He had to maintain a dominant appearance while telling viewers more than he knew or could know. The commentary was thematic and highly speculative; it seemed preoccupied with network producers’ insatiable appetite for “impact.”

Braestrup criticized print media with equal vigor. The great bulk of wire-service output used by U.S. newspapers did not come from eyewitness accounts. Rather, he wrote, it was passed on from second- or third-hand sources reprocessed several times over.

He was stridently critical of “interpretive reporting,” in which editors allowed reporters to write under the rubric of “news analysis” and “commentary.” This, he asserts, produced “pervasive distortions” and a “disaster image.” The misinformation, fixed in the minds of the American people, played a role in shifting public opinion against the war.

“At Tet,” Braestrup assessed, “the press shouted that the patient was dying, then weeks later began to whisper that he somehow seemed to be recovering—whispers apparently not heard amid the clamorous domestic reaction to the initial shouts.”

Braestrup suggested that the press committed journalistic malpractice by taking sides against the Johnson administration and not correcting the record once the fog of the battle had lifted. These hasty assumptions and judgments, he documented, “were simply allowed to stand.”

Braestrup’s exhaustive analysis remains controversial. His friend and colleague at the Washington Post, the late Don Oberdorfer, attributed the erosion of public support to the credibility of the Johnson administration. The president’s office regularly issued rosy pronouncements at odds with the tactical ebb and flow on the battlefield.

But even to this day it’s difficult to find fault with Braestrup’s concluding insight: The professional obligation of journalists in a free society is to stay calm and get the story straight. It is not, as Walter Lippmann admonished, to conflate “truth” with the assembly and processing of a commodity called “news.”



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