Trump’s Classicist

Given how many American celebrities have called for the assassination of Donald Trump since he became President, one could be forgiven for supposing from the title of Victor Davis Hanson’s book that what it sought to present was the case for clemency toward him. Hanson’s authorial ambitions, however, are far bolder. (In what follows I will not be endorsing his arguments for the Trump presidency; I merely examine the case he’s made for the benefit of Law & Liberty’s readers.) Hanson would like the current administration to continue for a second term, despite the numerous calls for Trump’s impeachment that have since been made for alleged collusion with Russia in helping to secure his victory.

At just short of 400 pages, with no footnotes, the book is a long but worthy exercise for the light it sheds on what moved the emeritus classics professor and fifth-generation Californian farmer who wrote it to join nearly 63 million of his compatriots in voting for Trump rather than Hillary Clinton or just staying home and abstaining. 

In his own staunchly blue home state, Hanson’s voting as he did would not have helped to deny Trump’s Democratic rival victory any more than his abstaining would. In several crucial midwestern swing states, by contrast, practically every vote for Trump did matter. No more than 70,000 or so voters in six key states made the difference. That, by so voting, these midwesterners had best served their own interests, as well as that of the wider nation, constitutes the central thesis of Hanson’s book.  

Had more impressive candidates than Trump or Clinton emerged as front-runners of their respective parties, observes Hanson, the final electoral outcome might well have been different, as likely would have been his vote. None did. Hence, despite all the uncouthness, invective, and disorderliness Trump has introduced into the Oval Office, America has emerged in Hanson’s view with a more trustworthy and reliable hand at the tiller than had his rival won. 

More importantly, he notes, unlike his Democratic rival, Trump had promised, and in office was seemingly managing, to set the American ship of state on an entirely different, more felicitous course from that on which it had been ever more progressively embarked under his predecessor. Hanson writes that the Trump agenda

arose as the antithesis to the new Democratic Party of Barack Obama. After 2008, Democrats were increasingly candid in voicing socialist bromides . . . including open borders, identity politics, higher taxes, more government regulation, free college tuition, single-payer government-run health care, tax-payer-subsidized green energy, rollbacks of fossil-fuel production and a European-like foreign policy.

Hillary Clinton was only promising more of the same. Hence, provided he stuck to his electoral promises (which Hanson believes Trump has largely done insofar as he could), he has proven a much better chief executive than Clinton would have been for the vast majority of Americans. 

As for Trump’s Republican Party rivals and their electoral pledges, Hanson considers them just as ill-suited to the times as Clinton and her pledges, and hence equally as lacking in appeal to the middle-American voters who gave Trump victory and who for so long had rightly felt themselves and their interests ignored by the political and cultural elites on the two coasts. The Republicans, says Hanson,  

also had their own sort of dogmas in addition to uninspiring national candidates. Fair trade was seen as less important than free trade. Illegal immigration was largely ignored to ensure inexpensive unskilled labor for businesses. . . . A powerful and rich United States could supposedly afford both trade deficits and to underwrite ossified military alliances and optional adventures. 

Whether it was boundless egotism or genuine public spirit that motivated Trump to seek the White House, he won and deserved to, according to Hanson, because, being the astute entrepreneur Hanson takes him to be, Trump had spotted a gap in the electoral market overlooked by the establishments of both main parties that he adroitly moved to exploit, at first to secure the GOP nomination and then the presidency. What Trump had spotted was the absence of policies especially designed to cater to “the traditional working classes of rural America as well as urban blue-collar industrial workers and many of the self-employed.” It was precisely such a set of policies to which Trump nailed his colors in publicly resolving to “Make America Great Again.”  

It has been the considerable measure of success Trump has enjoyed in implementing this set of policies during his first two year in office, in the face of huge concerted internal opposition, that has vindicated Trump’s election in Hanson’s mind. This despite all the muck that has been thrown at Trump both before his election and since—often with cause, given the many personal imperfections and failings Hanson freely acknowledges the President to have. He summarizes the track record to date: 

At home . . . [m]assive deregulation, stepped-up energy production, tax cuts, increased border enforcement, and talking up the American brand produced a synergistic economic upswing, as evidenced by gross domestic product, a roaring stock market, and near record [low] unemployment. Abroad, Trump restored military deterrence, and questioned the previously unquestionable assumptions of the global status quo, both the nostrums of our friends and the ascendance of our enemies.

The virulent opposition to Trump and his agenda has come, not just from embittered Democrats, who have seen so many of President Obama’s policy initiatives reversed, as well as from establishment Republicans who have likewise been sidelined and their favored policy nostrums somewhat discredited; it also comes from the so-called “deep” administrative state, or swamp as Trump has labelled it. That is, the congeries of unelected federal agencies and bureaucracies that in recent years have increasingly regulated, spied on, and generally burdened ordinary Americans, and whose main aim, Hanson agrees with Trump, “was no longer public service, but to survive and multiply.”     

Despite some of Trump’s program having appeal to those with libertarian leanings, many of them have voiced misgivings about his willingness to employ economic protectionism in retaliation for Chinese mercantilism. They would do well to remember that even that supreme apostle of free trade, Adam Smith, advocated tariffs in protection of the domestic manufacture of strategic goods, as were in his day gunpowder and sail-cloth. In any case, today, by “free trade” is understood managed, not unrestricted, trade, whose terms China has consistently breached through dumping, intellectual property theft, and forced technology transfer. 

Similarly, as Hanson is at pains to point out, it is typically the privileged elite who live behind the walls of gated mansions and communities, or are otherwise insulated from the adverse effects of the mass migration of impoverished and largely unskilled foreigners, who typically are the most vociferous advocates of open borders and amnesty for illegal migrants.

The Case for Trump is strong on exposing the hypocrisy and double standards of those who condemn Trump for foibles which they and their political heroes share but whom they exempt from criticism. Hanson zeroes in on Presidents Obama and George W. Bush, and late Senator John McCain, for this purpose. 

It is, he writes, “legitimate to remember that Bush himself had once infamously looked into the eyes of Putin and said he saw a soul straightforward and trustworthy, a characterization mocked by John McCain. Obama had waged an often brutal 2008 campaign against McCain that saw constant insinuations levelled at McCain as too old and at times near senile. Bush was accused by McCain in 2000 of running a dirty battle, including robotic calls alleging McCain had fathered an out of wedlock child.”

He goes on: “In other words, both Obama and Bush found themselves in the Orwellian position of calling for greater civility at a funeral [McCain’s] by uncivil references to a president whom they felt had been too harsh with . . . a deceased onetime bitter political rival who had criticized both presidents in the past for undermining him in [equally] savage fashion.”

Another irony not lost on Hanson is that, had Clinton entered the White House, it is she, rather than Trump, who would have truly become vulnerable to Russian blackmail for the manufactured dossier that she had commissioned from Fusion GPS for purposes of defeating Trump.

While it is too early to judge how successful Trump will have proved in office, Hanson has certainly provided interesting analysis on his campaign and time in office.