What concessions to progressive fanatics really accomplish
As the House impeachment farce doubles-down on its buffoonery, many voices are calling for an alternative: Don’t impeach, but censure the president. This compromise will end the Dems’ effort to impeach on the basis of second- and third-hand opinion and an Orwellian torture of terms like “bribery,” yet still “send a message” that Trump crossed some line of presidential decorum by asking a foreign head of state to “dig up dirt,” as some pundits call it, on a possible political opponent. Perhaps such a bipartisan gesture will also contribute to ending the stark divisions between the parties, and return us to our bipartisan “democratic norms.”
This “solution,” however, solves nothing, and begs the central question of the whole imbroglio: that the president did something seriously wrong. That claim is not self-evidently true, and should be contested as yet another obsession with Trump’s undiplomatic––i.e. not weaselly––words rather than his actions.
Let’s review the background of the alleged offense. Towards the end of the Obama administration, the issue of Ukraine’s endemic corruption had been raised. Also of concern was Hunter Biden’s cushy job with the corrupt Ukrainian Burisma company, as former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified during the impeachment hearings. Moreover, Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik pointed out during her questioning that Yovanovitch was coached by Obama’s people about how Yovanovitch should respond to questions concerning the bad optics of the Bidens’ actions when she testified in her Senate confirmation hearings.
As the Wall Street Journal’s James Freeman last month, Obama administration officials, then, certainly were concerned about the Bidens, and with good cause. For example, a Washington consulting outfit used Biden’s name while requesting a State Department meeting to improve Bursima’s image, explicitly saying that Burisma put Hunter Biden on its board to leverage such meetings. A State Department official who tried to raise a red flag about the Bidens was ignored by a Biden staffer. An Obama Administration’s special envoy for energy policy also expressed concerns to Biden himself, with no results.
That’s only what has surfaced about the Obama administration’s concerns about the Bidens. As Freeman asks, “It would also be useful to know if any U.S. officials ever fielded phone calls from foreign counterparts asking how to respond to Hunter Biden’s sudden interest in their countries. During the last five years, if any U.S. officials not named Trump also advocated scrutiny of the Biden family business, should they have been removed from office?” And as Freeman goes on to point out, there must be more officials cognizant of Biden’s outreach to other countries as well. It seems hard to believe that a State Department official who was being lobbied by a corrupt foreign business did not alert her colleagues in the administration.
Even with just the existing evidence of the Obama administration’s concern, it’s obvious that there was nothing wrong about a president raising the issue of Americans who are involved with a foreign company under investigation in a country notorious for its corruption, as Trump did. Trump did not invent the issue of Ukrainian government and business corruption, one that worried the previous administration. Nor did he invent the already public evidence of the Bidens’ actions, especially Joe Biden’s bragging to the world about successfully threatening to withhold $1 billion in aid if the Ukrainian investigator into Burisma and, perforce, Biden’s son, wasn’t fired.
So why do so many people think that Trump’s bringing up the Bidens was so untoward? When our president is discussing corruption with the Ukrainian president, do we want him to remain silent about existing evidence that a U.S. vice president in a country under his policy purview allowed his son to do business with a corrupt company in Ukraine? Should Trump also remain silent about his primary concern––meddling with our elections? Don’t we want our president to be careful to which countries we hand over taxpayer dollars? It’s yet another of the Dems’ and NeverTrumpers’ hypocrisy that they have spent three years on possible Russian interference, but dismiss as a lunatic-fringe conspiracy the evidence of Ukrainian interference to benefit the Democrats.
But, Trump’s critics say, the president was trying to get a foreign country to “dig up dirt” on a possible political opponent. Aside from the reality that everything every president does in an electoral democracy is political, how much chutzpa does it take to make that particular charge, given the patent evidence that the Democrats used unverified Russian-sourced propaganda to obtain a FISA warrant in order to spy on a presidential candidate’s campaign and then his administration?
We see here the selective use of the “Caesar’s wife” standard, that the mere appearance of impropriety is as bad as the impropriety itself, and so demands punishment––the ultimate foundation of Trump Derangement Syndrome. Trump’s meeting with Ukraine’s President Zelensky was about corruption, as well as the president’s concern that U.S. foreign aid money was being wasted, and that other countries that bluster about Ukraine being under threat from Putin were not putting their money where their big mouths are. So, according to our “presidential decorum”police, just because Jo Biden is a candidate in the Democrat primary, the president should not have brought up the already public and worrisome issue of the Bidens’ sketchy behavior? This exacting standard wasn’t applied to Vice President Biden when he bragged about coercing Ukraine into dropping an investigation, or to Sec. of State Hillary Clinton after she approved a Russian company’s purchase of 20% of our uranium supply following millions in Russian donations to the Clintons’ foundation.
Even if we assume, which is not certain, that Trump’s aim in bringing up the Bidens was to serve his political interests––a dubious proposition given Joe Biden’s weakness as a candidate––it was also the right thing to do. Indeed, not bringing up something already made public would have reinforced the impression that the powerful in America are protected and shielded by our government. Coming after nearly a decade of powerful people like Hillary Clinton and her minions, or like the highly placed officials in the national security and investigative agencies, getting away with crimes that would have led to jail-time for you or me, reinforcing that impression would have been a mistake, especially for a president who campaigned on draining the DC swamp.
Finally, if Joe Biden weren’t running for president, would the outrage from Trump’s critics have been as intense? Or if it were a Republican government official entangled in Ukrainian corruption instead of a Democrat? If Trump had asked Ukraine to investigate some alleged corruption for which there was no public evidence, if the “dirt” hadn’t already been “dug up” and had to be manufactured, then Trump’s critics would have a point. But there was already enough public “dirt” to trigger further investigation as part of a larger concern with Ukrainian corruption and interference with our politics. Any benefit to Trump politically was incidental, and certainly not the primary aim of the whole conversation.
To advocate a vote to censure the president, then, would be to validate the charge that Trump did something worthy of censure. That’s another example of the Republican acceptance of the progressive fanatics’ standards of behavior, which have been serially exposed as mendacious, hypocritical, and endlessly flexible.
Trump is falsely accused of a quid pro quo, but Biden’s very public, braggadocios confession of one is ignored. Donald Trump Jr.’s activity as a presidential advisor is condemned as nepotism and rent-seeking, while Hunter Biden’s proven exploitation of his father’s office for his own pecuniary gain is a “conspiracy theory.” Trump’s deal-maker tactic of being non-confrontational while negotiating with our rivals is seen as a sign of totalitarian affinities, while Obama’s hot-mic pledge, in an election year, to Vladimir Putin of “flexibility” after his reelection–– a pledge carried out––elicits crickets about joint US-Russian “interference” in an election. After all, wasn’t Obama seeking political gain from appeasing a geopolitical rival? Or how about the bipartisan dudgeon over withdrawing a few troops from the Turkish-Syrian border, when Obama created the whole Syria mess when he withdrew the bulk of U.S. troops from Iraq, creating the space in which ISIS would flourish and Russia and Syria expand their influence?
On the one hand, a vote of censure will not please the Dems’ base, which has been baying for impeachment blood since before Inauguration Day, and may punish the Democrats for backing down. But such a vote should still be resisted. Everybody not part of the progressive cult needs to accept that progressives don’t play by the rules or the “democratic norms” they profess. Their credo is “by any means necessary.” Conceding anything to them is taken as a sign of weakness and fear of their media pit-bulls. To paraphrase Goldfinger, they don’t expect us to compromise, they expect us to die. Trump did nothing to deserve censure, so don’t even give them even that consolation prize, and in the process defer to and legitimize their hypocritical standards.
A vote of censure will achieve nothing beyond gratifying NeverTrumpers’ irrational hate. The political divide will continue because the progressives want it to, and will end only when their collectivist, illiberal ideology is defeated.
Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Advance hints about the conclusions of Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s investigation into the abuses of the FISA process are starting to trickle out. Rather than the “historic,”as Trump put it, bombshell exposing deep-state miscreants gaming the system to take down the president, the report, to be released December 9, will document mere “sloppiness”and “mistakes”on the part of lower-level functionaries. But more important, it also will absolve more highly placed officials of any political bias.
On four separate occasions, the FBI and the Justice Department solemnly told the FISC there were grounds to believe that Carter Page and others in the Trump campaign, potentially including Donald Trump himself, were complicit in a criminal conspiracy with the Kremlin. The question is: What was their compelling basis for making that explosive representation, which breached the American norm against government intrusion in our political process?
We’ll have to wait for the answer to that question.
But these leaks are grounds for suspicion. Back in June, Horowitz made a similar determination about James Comey––incompetent at following proper protocol, but not “politically biased.”Given that ample evidence of Comey’s political agenda had long been public, common sense suggests that those of us concerned about the politicization of our judicial and investigative agencies have some reason to worry about Horowitz’s new report.
Equal justice under the law is the bedrock of constitutional governments. This principle was serially violated during the Obama years, when those responsible for the abuse of the IRS for partisan political gain, and for the ATF’s Fast and Furious operation, which was basically running guns to Mexican cartels, were never punished, despite the death of an American citizen by a gun provided by the ATF. Then there’s Hillary Clinton’s ongoing immunity for patent crimes related to violating security protocols with her private server, and running a pay-to-play State Department to enrich the Clinton Foundation.
If more members of the Democrat managerial elite get away with crimes for which ordinary people would be prosecuted, confidence in that principle, and in our government’s commitment to our Constitutional rights, will erode further.
The problem, however, goes beyond political preferences and passions. What we are seeing is the fallout from the progressive idea, over a century old, that governing should remain in the hands of a technocratic elite housed in federal bureaucracies, and staffed by unaccountable functionaries who in the main are invisible to the sovereign people, never facing accountability through regularly scheduled elections and public audit. Such agencies develop a guild mentality that creates “professional deformation”: the shaping of activity to benefit the agency and its staff rather than serve the larger function it was created to perform. This in turn fosters guild solidarity and loyalty that are more important than truth or justice.
Medieval craft and trade guilds were associations that promoted the economic interests of guild-members. They were hierarchically organized, membership carefully guarded, and activities sheltered from scrutiny. Internal loyalty and solidarity with the guild’s interests and procedures were nourished. Yet their monopolistic practices and insularity were inimical to the conditions of free trade and entrepreneurship that would lead to free-market capitalism and much more dynamic and effective economies.
A similar guild mentality exists in our public agencies, joined to an unexamined institutional “paradigm”which our federal bureaucracies assume to be definitive and beyond question. Thomas Kuhn’s influential study The Structure of Scientific Revolutions shows how the “scientific community”develops a “paradigm”comprising “received beliefs”that go unexamined and unchallenged. The consequence is to shut out new paradigms and theories, thus inhibiting scientific progress.
The paradigm upon which our modern federal agencies were founded is the progressive notion of technocracy. As progressives claim, modern, technologically advanced societies can no longer rely on the Founders’ideal of rule by virtue, common sense, practical wisdom, and tradition, which are acquired through experience rather than formal training or the mastery of data. In contrast, government bureaus and agencies, trained in the “science of administration,”as Woodrow Wilson put it, and staffed with the “hundreds who are wise”empowered to set policy for the thousands who are “selfish, ignorant, timid, stubborn, or foolish,”would guide Congress in determining laws and policies. After all, progressive Walter Lippman said, these agencies are the beneficiaries of “the great triumph of modern psychology, its growing capacity for penetrating to the desires that govern our thought.”
Indeed, today our Congress passes general directives and aims, but the specific policies are interpreted and supervised by federal agencies armed with judicial and enforcement powers, thus endangering the idea of separated powers that is one of our most important guards against tyrannical abuses of power. Yet more dangerous is that this mentality dominates the investigative, surveillance, and justice agencies sanctioned to use lethal force and spying apparatuses. This power, just as the Founders feared, can have a corrupting effect, one magnified if malefactors do not fear accountability or punishment.
We do not necessarily have to posit a conscious conspiracy to account for the behavior of the FBI, DOJ, and CIA in surveilling and investigating Trump and his administration over the last three years. Some of these agency personnel may sincerely believe they are serving the country, for that ideal of noble “service”is one of the guild’s most important self-definitions, as we saw in James Comey’s claim to a “higher loyalty.”That this notion may be self-serving, careerist, or politically biased is no more apparent to them than being wet is obvious to a fish. It’s the medium they swim in, reinforced by institutional authority and guild solidarity, and protected by unaccountability. The frequent claim of no political bias, moreover, is belied by the fact that 95% of federal workers’political contributions in 2016 went to Hillary Clinton. Nor should we be surprised that government-funded bureaucracies favor the party of big government. After all, they are the big government.
We have reams of public evidence for this institutional arrogance and professional misbehavior in the words and deeds of Comey, Brennan, Clapper, McCabe, Page, Strzok, Ciaramella, most of the witnesses in the recent impeachment hearings, and numerous other federal employees who clearly have been trying to undermine their boss, who was duly elected by the citizens these “public servants”are supposed to serve. Those words and actions are all we need to demand accountability.
But for three years, investigation after investigation has led to a few minnows being forced to resign with Cadillac pensions and lucrative jobs at MSNBC awaiting them, while the whales are still swimming freely. The American voters who supported Trump are not going to continue playing Charlie Brown to the investigative Lucy serially jerking the football away. We need to see indictments and trials or punitive plea-bargains, not meaningless slaps on the wrist for “sloppiness”and procedural corner-cutting. Even if juries acquit these rogue bureaucrats, most people will be satisfied that justice has been done.
But relying on members of the guild to investigate fellow guild-members makes it harder to achieve such justice. For example, as Roger Kimball , “One reason that it has taken so long for the Horowitz report to see the light of day is that key figures who are named in the report are given a chance to review a draft and to request redactions. Since many of the figures who are central to this story are part of the anti-Trump fraternity in government, we can expect to see, over the next few weeks, numerous leaks and other efforts to spin the contents of the report.”
The integrity and privileges of the guild will often trump what’s best for the people and their freedom. We have seen signs of this in some of Chief Justice John Roberts’decisions that aim to protect the institutional integrity and prestige of the Supreme Court rather than the Constitution.
Finally, we need a “paradigm shift”in order to reform our hypertrophied federal agencies and discard the worn-out paradigm of technocratic rule, which has led to deficits and debt, and needless regulations that inhibit personal freedom and economic growth. With some obvious exceptions, determining policy is not a subject for science, but for prudence, common sense, and practical wisdom based on a knowledge of human nature and experience as recorded in history. Data provide the means for achieving political ends, but cannot determine those ends. Those should be determined politically through elections and public deliberation by the sovereign people, and subject to Constitutional boundaries, the most important of which is protecting freedom.
And the cornerstone of freedom is equality under the law. The Democrats’attempts to delegitimize President Trump and disenfranchise his 63 million voters represent the best opportunity to begin shifting our government back to the Founders’vision of popular sovereignty and practical wisdom as the best guarantor of political freedom.