VDH: The Case for Trump

I invited our friend Victor Davis Hanson to write something for Power Line readers about his book The Case for Trump, out officially today. He has obliged us with this synopsis:

I have never met Trump. I don’t know his close friends and aides. In lieu of any insider information, I wanted to offer a sort of Thucydidean account, neither rah-rah in support or unhinged in hatred, of why the country by 2016 was ready for an unlikely Manhattan billionaire populist candidate without either prior military or political experience.

More specially, I explore in the book how Trump crafted a brilliant but unorthodox political-geographic agenda to win the Electoral College—concentrating on restoring manufacturing, demanding trade symmetries with allies and rivals, curtailing optional overseas interventions, advocating legal only immigration, and no longer playing by Marquess of Queensberry rules toward the Democrats and the media.

So Trump’s message defied the conventional political wisdom of both the Republican and Democratic establishments in his faith that the so-called deplorables were neither yet a spent force electorally nor entirely responsible for often being left behind by the bicoastal, globalization-fed new affluence. Sixteen rival Republican primary candidates—the most impressive field the GOP had fielded in years—along with Hillary Clinton missed those truths.

In response to Trump’s message and his role as a tough and occasionally crass messenger, we have seen an unprecedented effort — often unethical and illegal — by the proverbial deep state, political opposition, and media to abort a campaign and later a presidency. Much of the intense opposition was fueled by politics, but not all of it, given the cultural unease our elites feel toward Trump’s personal history and comportment.

The ongoing Mueller inquisition, the tragicomical McCabe-Rosenstein palace coup, and the Michael Cohen circus were only the most recent episodes intended to remove or destroy Trump. These follow lawsuits over the voting machines, the early introduction of articles of impeachment, the Logan Act gambit, the Emoluments Clause nonsense and a celebrity cult of assassination chic, in which there was fierce competition among celebrities to voice the most creative and often grotesque way of killing Trump.

And yet, despite the negative mainstream narrative, the president’s lack of prior political experience and the usual pool of Washington revolving-door experts, the Trump economy is soaring. The US is renegotiating more equitable relationships with the EU, NATO, NAFTA, and the Chinese. We are now the world’s largest oil and gas producer. Conservative judges and justices are being confirmed in near record numbers. Minority unemployment is down, working class wages are up, and interest rates and inflation are moderate. Only the crushing national debt and out of control annual deficits loom as existential economic threats and must be addressed.

Abroad, the flawed Iran Deal is gone as is the empty Paris Climate Accord. Trump has made progress in stopping the nuclear and missile testing by North Korea, while China finally has been put on notice that its trajectory to world dominance is not foreordained and is now actively contested.

Trump’s transparent Art of the Deal negotiating is often as successful as it is mocked. NATO allies are committed to investing more in defense and our Asian allies are gaining comfort that a loose resistance to Chinese bullying is forming.

In some sense, Trump is playing the role of the tragic hero, reminiscent of the Western hired gun like Shane or Ethan Edwards in The Searchers. He recalls the Sophoclean Ajax, whose unorthodox means are temporarily put to the good ends of solving intractable problems, but who suffers the paradox, like all tragic heroes (and they are not always modest or predictable), that successful problem-solving allows his once beleaguered beneficiaries the luxury of setting aside the crude style and means of the man who has just saved the day.

And finally I point out that Trump does not exist in a vacuum. In 2016 he was the Never Hillary candidate for millions, and in 2020 he may be seen by even independents and former Never Trumpers as the only thing between them and socialism.

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