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February 9, 2018

DANIEL HENNINGER: The Trump Panic: It was the belief that the elected president was unacceptable and had to be stopped.

The Washington press corps has kept the Trump-Russia collusion story before the American public for a year, and the president himself, speaking through his Twitter account, says he is the victim of a “witch hunt.”

How did this spectacle happen? Two salient and related events occurred on Nov. 8, 2016. Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton for the U.S. presidency. Within hours, the Trump Panic went viral.

The Trump Panic of 2016-17 was the belief that the U.S. presidency had fallen into the hands of an unacceptable person—who had to be stopped, or resisted by any means.

Historians will record that the Trump Panic gripped all Democrats, some Republicans, scores of intellectuals (such as those who signed documents declaring their refusal to work in the Trump foreign-policy agencies), foreign leaders, journalists, and members of U.S. security agencies.

On election day, two FBI officials— Peter Strzok of the bureau’s counterintelligence division and Lisa Page —exchanged text messages.

Page: “OMG THIS IS F***ING TERRIFYING.” Strzok: “Omg, I am so depressed.”

Recall how routine it was then to hear or read that the new U.S. president resembled Hitler or Mussolini. Democracy was “at risk”—even as such non-Hitlerian pillars as Jim Mattis, Rex Tillerson and Gary Cohn joined the government.

Let us stipulate it is not beyond imagining that individuals at the FBI’s Washington headquarters or at the Justice Department are Democrats. This is Washington, and the sky is blue. Historically, though, it has been possible to believe a functional distinction existed in these sensitive bureaucracies between political impulse and professional responsibility.

Because of the Trump Panic, professional discipline eroded.

And it hasn’t recovered yet. One of Trump’s major accomplishments has been to reveal the lack of civic virtue and self-control across our elite institutions.