by Victor Davis Hanson
Max Boot recently wrote that my arguments against the impeachment inquiry are prima facie proof of why the Democrats should, in fact, impeach Trump: “If even the great historian Victor Davis Hanson can’t make a single convincing argument against impeachment, I am forced to conclude that no such argument exists.”
In fact, I made 10 such arguments, all of which Boot attempted, but has failed, to refute. In this context, Boot’s intellectual erosion as a historian and analyst is a valuable warning of stage-four Trump Derangement Syndrome. I offer that diagnosis with regret given I once knew and liked Boot. But his commentary over the last three years has become sadly unhinged.
Most recently Boot declared – and then quickly retracted it only in embarrassment after popular outrage – that chief ISIS mass-murdering psychopathic Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi did not kill himself in cowardly fashion as Trump had described: “The assertion that Baghdadi died as a coward was, in any case, contradicted by the fact that rather than be captured, he blew himself up.”
When Baghdadi was cornered by American forces, he chose to murder three innocent children rather than surrender – consistent with his entire venomous career of ordering the beheading, burning, and mutilating of innocent captives from a safe distance. The murder of defenseless children is cowardly.
No one should know better the horrific crimes of a mass-murdering Josef Stalin than the Russian-born Boot. Stalin’s purges, orchestrated famines, gulags, show trials, liquidation of the officer class, and atrocities during World War II perhaps accounted for over 20 million Russian deaths. So how could Boot write, “I would sooner vote for Josef Stalin than I would vote for Donald Trump”? Twenty million dead souls don’t quite match Boot’s hatred of Trump.
After the former Republican Boot saw Trump elected, by defeating his own particular favored Republican primary candidate, and Hillary Clinton, he seemed a bit embittered: “For the health of our republic, I think we need to destroy the Republican Party.”
Boot lectures ad nauseam the supposedly less enlightened on the same old, same old purported evils of Donald Trump and the alleged compromised conservatives who in November 2016 saw Trump as the only advocate for conservative justices, a secure border, tax reform, greater energy development, and a tougher approach to Chinese mercantilism.
He apparently has no self-awareness that when Trump exits the national scene, Boot’s progressive overseers at the Washington Post will likely have no more need of such useful anti-Trump monotony – and thus no more need for what they see as their one-trick pony.
To his credit, Boot in rare moments of clarity seems aware of his own fixations and at least has confessed such doubts to his readers “But no matter how many columns or sound bites I produce, he remains in office, acting (as Sharpie gate shows) more erratically than ever. Sure, he’s not terribly popular – but he could still be reelected. I am left to ask if all my work has made any difference.”
In fact, all of Boot’s work has not made any difference.
As for his supposed dissection of my 10 reasons why the impeachment inquiry is becoming illegitimate, his refutation has the effect of only strengthening the arguments. Remember, the current impeachment inquiry is not about finding crimes that warrant impeachment, but is rather yet another attempt in a long series to delegitimize the president and render him politically inert: Trump is the target and “crimes” necessary to finish him are invented in each new iteration.
Coups Are Not Coups?
Boot knows that “coup” in current popular discourse describes a “blow” and not necessarily formally a coup d’état of an army storming the White House. In the political sense, a coup is an effort to remove a head of state, illegitimately, and often without the use of the military. That is why the whistleblower’s own lawyer, the anti-Trump zealot, Mark Zaid, has previously referred to collective efforts to remove Trump as “coups”: “#coup has started. First of many steps. #rebellion. #impeachment will follow ultimately” and “#coup has started. As one falls, two more will take their place. #rebellion #impeachment.”
Note Zaid’s conflation of impeachment, rebellion, and coup. Presumably, Boot thinks he is doing his own part to eclipse the need for a 2020 referendum on Trump, when he laments that despite his effort, “he remains in office.” Translated, I think that means Boot regrets that Trump is finishing his elected and constitutionally mandated term.
Since the November 2016 election, the progressive agenda has focused on rendering Trump powerless by means other than defeating him in the 2020 election. The parameters were outlined, for example, by Rosa Brooks in a January 30, 2017, Foreign Policy essay. A mere 10 days after Trump’s inauguration, she could envision not just recourse to impeachment or the 25th Amendment, but an additional possibility of a military coup (e.g., “For the first time in my life, I can imagine plausible scenarios in which senior military officials might simply tell the president: ‘No, sir. We’re not doing that,’ to thunderous applause from the New York Times editorial board.”).
I have no doubt that the “editorial board” would offer thunderous applause for some sort of Trump removal, even “the sooner, the better” – as retired Admiral William McRaven wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed.
Boot claims there “have been many legitimate investigations prompted by the president’s unethical and even illegal conduct.” Well, there certainly have been “bombshell” hysterias designed to subvert or abort his candidacy, his transition, and now his presidency.
But note that if Boot truly believes Trump’s conduct has proved serially illegal and there have been many “legitimate investigations” into his alleged criminal conduct, why then has not a single act resulted in a criminal referral? What is now the fate of all those who swore to us that Trump was a Russian asset, traitor, treasonous, or pervert such as James Comey, Andrew McCabe, James Clapper, John Brennan, and Christopher Steele?
A Nonpartisan Whistleblower?
Concerning my characterization of the whistleblower as a partisan, Boot retorts, “Given that the whistleblower was reportedly a low-level CIA officer assigned to the White House, it’s ludicrous to describe him as a ‘protégé’ of former vice president Biden or a political partisan.”
All that is simply untrue. It is ludicrous not to label him a rank partisan from the information that has so far seeped out.
The whistleblower reportedly accompanied Vice President Joe Biden on at least one Air Force Two visit to Ukraine. He is often described as a protégé of both Brennan and Susan Rice, for whom he worked when she was Obama’s national security advisor. He was an apparent Obama holdover on loan from John Brennan’s CIA to the NSC, only to be let go from the Trump White House for alleged partisan leaking. These contacts apparently explain why even a sympathetic inspector general noted “some indica of an arguable political bias on the part of the Complainant in favor of a rival political candidate.” The whistleblower’s initial version of the phone call proved not entirely accurate.
Boot should explain to his readers why after both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) boasted that the whistleblower would be integral to their impeachment efforts and certainly would be heard from “very soon,” suddenly there is no interest in having him testify and face cross examination.
Perhaps the explanation lies with the unorthodox manner in which he contacted the Intelligence Community’s inspector general to lodge a non-intelligence related complaint. He first caucused with Schiff’s staff, and almost immediately employed the anti-Trump activist Mark Zaid as his attorney. His complaint was translated into footnoted legalese, and oddly came after a mysterious change in protocol allowing such second-hand hearsay. The whistleblower did not produce any documentation or first-hand accounts to corroborate his accusations.
The 2016 and 2020 Elections
Boot did not refute my contention that voters have ample opportunity to turn the first-term Trump out in November 2020—unlike the case of the second-term Nixon and Clinton.
Yet he then makes the astounding assertion that “Democrats could hardly allow Trump to seek reelection unimpeached when he was trying to undermine the integrity of the election.” Note the present progressive tense “was trying” as if ongoing Trump-Russian collusion is still continuing – this after Robert Mueller spent $35 million and 22 months to confirm that there was no such evidence of collusion. The liberal Politico found that it was Hillary Clinton’s campaign who was most feverishly at work with Ukrainians to warp the 2016 election.
Boot next scoffs that “Hanson has some nerve, ignoring special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s evidence that Trump obstructed justice – and then complaining that the impeachment can’t proceed for lack of a special counsel. Again, Hanson never seems to have heard of Johnson, who was impeached without a special counsel.”
The attorney general, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who appointed Mueller, found that Mueller did not provide actionable evidence to proceed with an indictment on grounds of obstruction.
Remember the Andrew Johnson Impeachment!
Citing the impeachment efforts against first-term President Andrew Johnson 151 years ago is hardly an argument that negates the modern examples of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. That is precisely why I wrote, unlike the Nixon and Clinton impeachment efforts fueled by damning special counsel reports, there were no such briefs against Trump.
In fact, I do know the details of the Andrew Johnson impeachment farce, but again I did not think an impeachment effort of a century-and-a-half past should supersede the contemporary bipartisan practice of 1974 and 1998 – any more than I found credible acting attorney general and Obama holdover Sally Yates’s pathetic excuse that in eagerness to pursue the 220-year dormant Logan Act, she sent FBI agents to interview – and, as we have subsequently learned, largely to entrap – National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
When I noted that, unlike the Nixon and Clinton inquiries, there is currently no bipartisan impeachment inquiry, Boot offers no refutation other than smirking, “So because Republicans refuse to examine the evidence on the merits, the case shouldn’t proceed at all? This gives partisans a veto on any impeachment.”
The Republicans did examine the evidence of a Republican-appointed special counsel Robert Mueller. They accepted his conclusion that there was no evidence of Russian collusion. They were understandably not going to go down that rabbit hole again in response to the next iteration of “Ukrainian collusion” – in the manner described by whistleblower attorney Mark Zaid: “As one [coup] falls, two more will take their place.”
Quid Pro Quo Dead – Long Live Bribery!
Boot claims I miss the fact that “There is a strong case that Trump tried to solicit a bribe and invited foreign election interference in violation of U.S. law. But you don’t have to commit a felony to be guilty of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’”
Again, his interpretation of a quid pro quo is not shared by those who spoke on the phone call or the Ukrainian foreign minister who subsequently has clarified that there was no coercion during the call or in its aftermath. One reason why the public has not warmed to Schiff’s efforts is that they believe that the Trump thought crime of pondering a delay in providing arms that were subsequently delivered is hardly the same as the Obama Administration’s forbidding military assistance while actually leveraging the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor.
In any case, impeachment advocates have already quietly dropped the anemic “quid pro quo” as no longer sustainable and substituted “bribery” in the manner nonexistent Russian “collusion” was superseded by “obstruction.”
Boot adds, “The aid to Ukraine only flowed once the whistleblower came forward, sparing the Ukrainians from giving in to Trump’s extortion.” But why would a purported anti-Ukrainian Trump ever green-light military aid in the first place? If the supposedly pro-Putin Trump really wished to leverage the Ukrainians, all he had to do was to deny military assistance at the moment he entered office, and then simply claim that he was only continuing the policies of Barack Obama.
Obama and Biden Were Quid Pro Quo-ing For All of Us?
I also wrote, “If an alleged quid pro quo is an impeachable offense, should Vice President Joe Biden have been impeached or indicted for clearly leveraging the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor . . . ? Should Barack Obama have been investigated for getting caught on a hot mic offering to be flexible after his reelection on missile defense if Vladimir Putin would give him some space?”
Boot replies, “Both Biden and Obama were pursuing legitimate U.S. national security objectives. Neither sought any aid for their own campaigns.”
Should we laugh or cry at that absurdity? On March 26, 2012, at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, Obama promised Russian president Dmitri Medvedev that he might have more “flexibility” to reconsider implementing missile defense in Europe—if Putin granted to him what he called “space.”
Putin certainly did give him “space” and stayed quiet in perfect reset fashion. Obama was reelected. Missile defense was dropped. Two years later Putin felt the deal was over and he was free to invade Crimea. Obama’s quid pro quo with Putin is a classic definition of leveraging collusionary “aid” for a campaign.
In the case of Biden, he was pursuing de facto immunity for an incompetent son who was working directly against supposed U.S. efforts to help Ukraine clean up the sort of corruption in which Hunter Biden had trafficked. Given that Boot thinks a delay in arming the Ukrainians was contrary to U.S. interests, I would assume that an absolute rejection of military assistance by Obama and his Ukrainian point man Joe Biden might be impeachable offenses?
Honest Abe Schiff?
In response to my examples of habitual Schiff lying during this sordid farce, Boot simply offers that Schiff “is infinitely more truthful than Trump or his defenders. Attacking a prosecutor hardly exonerates a defendant—in fact, it’s usually a sign the defendant doesn’t have a case on the merits.”
No one quite knows what exactly Schiff is, given that he makes up rules of jurisprudence as he goes along. He is certainly not modeling his intelligence committee’s protocols after past procedural rules of the House Judiciary Committee during the Nixon and Clinton hearings. It will be interesting to see what Boot himself will say should information arise that Schiff was untruthful when he asserted that he has never met and does not know who is the whistleblower – whose real contacts with his own staff he has already lied about. How would Boot characterize real federal investigators and prosecutors should Horowitz and Durham respectively return reports with either criminal referrals or indictments against Obama administration intelligence and law enforcement officials?
I cited the bad precedent of a partisan effort to use impeachment as a way of destroying or removing a president. I also predicted both sides in the future might resort to this current precedent to mainstream what heretofore had been both a rare and unsuccessful effort to remove a sitting president: “Seeking to remove a sitting president by a purely partisan vote less than a year before the 2020 election most certainly is an effort to reverse the 2016 election.”
Boot’s response is again incoherent: “No one is reversing an election because Hillary Clinton won’t be president.”
One can debate the wisdom of impeaching Bill Clinton in 1998 (censure might have been wiser). Yet no one can deny that, unlike the present Democrat impeachers, the Republicans were armed with a special counsel report that found Clinton on several occasions had perjured himself, tampered with a witness, and obstructed a criminal investigation. Clinton’s law license was in response suspended in Arkansas, and he was likely to be barred from appearing before the Supreme Court had he not voluntarily agreed to disqualify himself. A federal judge fined Clinton more than $90,000 for lying under oath.
The country did vote for Trump, and not just against Hillary Clinton. If Trump is removed before his reelection bid by dubious means, then American voters will have their 2016 verdict reversed even if Mike Pence is elevated to the presidency.
Boot’s analyses are not factually based. So when he writes, “All that is left is the tribal loyalty that Republicans, including Republican intellectuals, feel toward a Republican president. They would never make such excuses for a Democrat.” In fact, I’ve never been a registered Republican, and remain an independent. In reference to tribal loyalty and the damage it does to institutions, Boot should consult James Piereson’s recent essay on Democratic partisan obstruction:
With the impeachment charade in mind, it is useful to review the various political and constitutional “norms” that have been blasted away in recent decades, mostly due to hyper-partisan conduct by Democrats, with encouragement and cover from the mainstream media.
Piereson then notes that, unlike Republicans, current Democrats almost never vote to confirm noncontroversial Republican appointed federal judges, Supreme Court picks, or Cabinet appointees. Boot should compare the Senate confirmation vote of Elena Kagan (63-47) with Neal Gorsuch (54-45) or Attorney General Eric Holder (75-21) with Jeff Sessions (52-47) and William Barr (54-45).
The Reverend French
In the now-apparent National Review Parthian-shot tradition, former colleague David French has likewise taken me to task for using the word “coup” to characterize the serial attempts to remove Donald Trump before the 2020 election, now culminating in the current House impeachment inquiry. French objects especially to my warning that constitutional government is dissipating.
French previously became best known for warning evangelical “fans” of Trump that they were hypocritical and risking their religious fides by voting for Trump, for briefly considering running for president against Trump (a gambit superseded by the Evan McMullin candidacy), for calling for the resignation of U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes (D-Calif.) from his chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee, and for variously warning us of impending bombshells and turning points in the Mueller investigations.
French’s modus operandi has been to deplore incivility and to call for an end to ad hominem attacks – and yet sometimes as praeteritio in order to liberate himself to do the opposite. In this case, after warning us of his cautiousness in using “idiocracy,” he nevertheless then says that I am part of an “idiocracy” – a rule by idiots who “manufacture ignorance”:
This sets up the debate as a battle of experts, and we all know that when there’s a battle of experts, the expert you like tends to win—regardless of whether he’s despoiling his expertise. . . . I use the word “idiocracy” advisedly . . . But for the sake of defending Trump, smart people are actively trying to build the idiocracy. They manufacture ignorance to save his presidency.
French’s three particular complaints that qualify me as part of his idiocracy are: 1) I am wrong to summarize these serial attempts to remove Trump before the 2020 election as a “coup”; 2) impeachment is not “the dissipation of constitutional government, it’s the exercise of constitutional authority” and I delude others to say otherwise; and 3) in partisan fashion, I “manufacture ignorance to save his [Trump’s] presidency.”
As French knows, the use of “coup” is often defined in popular discourse literally as a “blow” and in particular an effort to remove an elected government in unlawful fashion. As noted above, “coup” is not my usage alone, but employed occasionally by those seeking to remove Trump before the 2020 election.
As soon as the 2016 election ended, Trump’s opponents did not define themselves as the opposition, but militantly as #TheResistance – n deliberate emulation of the World War II armed resistance in occupied countries to Hitler’s Gestapo, and specifically “in terms that evoke the French resistance.”
An entire celebrity genre of rhetorically blowing up, shooting, burning, stabbing and beating up Trump continues. Well before the election, high-ranking FBI officials Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, subsequently both involved with the FBI’s trafficking in the Steele dossier and appointed to Robert Mueller’s special counsel team, were texting each other about an “insurance policy,” or an apparent means to monitor and stop Trump, or remove him in the unlikely case he would be elected.
An “Anonymous” official boasted in the New York Times that many inside the White House were doing their best without Trump’s knowledge to subvert the implementation of the president’s orders: “The dilemma – which he does not fully grasp – is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.”
The intelligence community, according to the Wall Street Journal, decided not to fully cooperate with the incoming President Trump. Leaks of private presidential conversations by White House assistants with foreign leaders are now commonplace. In antithesis to the military code of conduct that applies as well for retired officers, an array of former high-ranking generals and admirals have joined in to attack, in personal terms, the commander-in-chief as controlled by Putin or Mussolini-like or analogous to Nazis in his policies. Both the former directors of the CIA and the Office of National Intelligence have variously smeared the president of the United States as traitorous, treasonous, and a Russian asset – without collating current Trump Administration foreign policy with that of the prior Obama Administration.
French confuses process with legitimacy. Warping the impeachment process does constitute an illegitimate effort to remove a president. So, too, corrupting the FISA review process by knowingly submitting unverified evidence without apprising the court it was paid for by Hillary Clinton’s campaign erodes the legitimacy of such courts.
When the House Intelligence Committee is hijacked to subvert the normal bipartisan and transparent summoning and cross-examination of witnesses, when the chairman of that committee repeatedly has not told the truth about his real knowledge of the basis for his investigation, and when he is acting to circumvent an impending election without a special counsel’s finding of high crimes and misdemeanors, and without either bipartisan or majority popular support, it is not an impeachment proceeding as we have come to know it in the modern era – even if it is branded an “impeachment” inquiry.
This is especially true when the current iteration of the impeachment process is simply the latest episode in a three-year-long series of concocted melodramas to remove the elected Trump by either falsely claiming voting machine fraud, or by appealing to the electors not to follow their constitutional mandates or, in Soviet-style, by claiming the president is mentally ill, or by turning to the archaic Logan Act and Emoluments Clause, or by the acting FBI director and deputy attorney general contemplating secretly recording the private conversations of the president in an effort to remove him, or by the former FBI director leaking to the press confidential memos of private presidential conversations aimed at leveraging a special counsel appointment, or by coaching a whistleblower to claim second-hand knowledge of an improperly leaked confidential presidential phone call.
In such a larger context, this current serial resumption of the failed initial January 2017 impeachment effort does help to erode constitutional government as we have known it—and if what has transpired since 2017 becomes the norm with each new administration, then before long we will not recognize our Republic.
French claims that “If Trump is impeached and convicted (highly unlikely), it doesn’t ‘overturn’ the 2016 election. Hillary Clinton won’t be president.” No, she won’t but neither would be the elected winner President Trump. Again, a successful effort to remove him, before he seeks reelection in under a year, will certainly overturn the election of 2016 and subvert the 2020 election as well – and that has been precisely the aim of progressives these past three years.
French claims I am part of an “idiocracy” whose ignorance is dressed up with titles to mislead the public. To prove his point, in Schiffian fashion, French resorts to a concocted parody rather than any actual quotation of what he believes are frequent boneheaded references to idiots like me: “Akshually (sic), a Hoover Institution senior fellow and esteemed historian recognizes impeachment as a coup.”
Finally, both French and Boot now find extraneous ways to bring in the bogeymen “Fox News.” How odd, when former occasional guests surely know that rival – and their sometimes new homes – MSNBC and CNN rarely invite conservatives on any of their shows. Fox, in contrast, does offer invitations to progressives. I doubt there are conservative counterparts on liberal cable networks analogous to Fox’s Trump skeptics like Neal Cavuto, Andrew Napolitano, or Chris Wallace.
As to specifics, it was not Fox News whose anchors falsely assured us about every month or so that the “walls” of the Mueller effort to get Trump “were closing in on him.” Throughout this entire sad saga, it is also not Fox News but rather CNN that has been frequently forced to fire or reassign a large number of marquee reporters, analysts, and anchors for unprofessional, unethical, or simply incompetent journalism.
At many levels, the psychological pathology of projection has characterized this entire three-year effort to remove Trump. That syndrome also applies to the NeverTrump rump that for over 1,000 days has misled and smeared in its self-righteous pursuit of supposed truth and civility.
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