One of the most repellent aspects of the 2016 presidential election has been a phenomenon that has its home in leftwing tactics but that has now emerged on the Right in addition to the Left. More precisely, it has revolved around the adoption by precincts of the #NeverTrump Right of tactics usually associated with the Left. The main feature of that tactic deploys a twofold effort at character assassination. The first step is the transformation of political disagreement into a species of heresy. The second step involves the thundering repudiation of the newly minted heretics, who are to be caricatured or demonized, and reminded that they must seek absolution or forgiveness for their apostasy.
A case in point is the New York Daily News column published two days ago by the erstwhile conservative, now Hillary Clinton supporter and #NeverTrump crusader, Gabriel Schoenfeld. “Expose Trump’s enablers,” the headline began, “How many people who should know better are making it easier for him to lie to the American people.”
Exhibit A in that roster of people “who should know better” is your humble correspondent, R. Kimball. In fact, I am the only Exhibit. My heresy is to have decided, rather late in the day, to support Donald Trump for president. Over the last couple of months, Schoenfeld has emitted several needling tweets taking me and others to task for that support. On September 17, for example, he tweeted that I, Victor Davis Hanson, and Charles Kesler were “backing a birther, a bigot, an enemy of the Constitution.” On October 1, I received a solo message: “impeccable timing for your endorsement of the lunatic, just as he implodes.” Then on October 17 we read that “If @RogerKimball, our Ezra Pound, had been born in Italy in, say, 1885, he would be singing Mussolini’s praises.” Note how the perceived pulse of the campaign affects Schoenfeld’s invective: when Trump is thought to be clearly losing, ridicule ensues; when Trump is on the upswing, paranoia and derangement follow.
Perhaps this is the place to mention that Schoenfeld and I, as he notes in his Daily News column, are acquaintances. “Encounter Press,” he writes, “published my first book.” Well, that’s nearly right. The publisher he has in mind is called Encounter Books, not Encounter Press. I should perhaps note for the record that I was not involved with Encounter when The Return of Anti-Semitism, the book to which he alludes, was published.
It is the subject of that book (a good book, I should note) that is one focus of Schoenfeld’s animus towards Trump and his supporters. Anyone who has followed Schoenfeld’s commentary on Trump will have noticed a shift in emphasis in his animadversions. Trump is always and everywhere a “lunatic,” a “bigot,” an “enemy of the Constitution” who has been “hugely successfully at disseminating lies,” etc. But where Schoenfeld initially compassed Trump himself in his charges of anti-Semitism, he has since shifted the focus onto Trump’s supporters — that basket of “irredeemable” “deplorables” that Hillary Clinton warned us about — and “enablers” (that would be people like me). This was a canny shift. For accusing Donald Trump of anti-Semitism is patently ridiculous. His son-in-law is Jewish, his beloved daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism, and his grandchildren are Jewish; he is an arch-critic of the Iran deal that threatens the long-term security of Israel.
Perhaps Schoenfeld was dialectically reversing a tactic advocated by Stephen Potter in his book Lifemanship. Potter suggested ambitious aspiring writers “find the quality for which the author was most famous, and then blame him for not having enough of it.” Assert, for example, that “the one thing lacking, of course, from D. H. Lawrence’s novels, was the consciousness of sexual relationship, the male and female element in life.” Schoenfeld brilliantly reversed this with Trump. There is plenty to criticize about Trump — I made it a sort of hobby to do that for several months — but anti-Semitism (or racism for that matter) is not among those things.
At some point, Schoenfeld took this on board, sort of. Maybe Trump is not himself anti-Semitic or racist (but he is still a “bigot,” etc.), nevertheless “by means of winks and nods and dog-whistles, he has courted them.”
Is that so? Consider the most recent episode that (speaking of dog whistles) has set Schoenfeld’s nostrils aquiver and has him pointing like a Gordon Setter at the moment of flush. A few days ago, someone at a Trump rally was taped shouting what some claim was “Jew-S-A, Jew-S-A.” Since we now know (see here, for example, and here) that Team Hillary has fielded operatives to incite violence at Trump’s rallies, and even hired activists in duck costumes to appear at Trump events, there was immediate suspicion that this chap, too, was a plant. I suspected that he was, and said so in a tweet.
It turns out that he was not a plant. He is just a Trump supporter. He denies saying “Jews-S-A.” According to the Times of Israel, he said that he was pronouncing “‘U’ with a Latino accent, to show solidarity with Mexicans.” But let’s say that is not the case. Let’s say that he did shout “Jews-S-A.” What then? The Trump people thought that was the case and instantly condemned it. “This individual does not speak for the campaign or the candidate, and what he had to say was disgusting.”
That is not enough for Schoenfeld. Seizing on my tweet, he weaves a malignant fantasy whose chief end is to indict me as an “ally” of Trump’s putative “anti-Semitic dregs.” His hope, of course, is that a little of the stain of anti-Semitism will rub off on me. I pause to note that this is a good example of the disgusting left-wing tactic I mentioned at the beginning of this column. Maybe Kimball isn’t himself an out-an-out anti-Semite, but is he an “ally” or “enabler” of anti-Semites? The philosopher Sidney Hook got to the heart of the matter when he observed that
as morally offensive as is the expression of racism wherever it is found, a false charge of racism is equally offensive, perhaps even more so, because the consequences of a false charge of racism enable an authentic racist to conceal his racism by exploiting the loose way the term is used to cover up his actions. The same is true of a false charge of sexism or anti-Semitism. This is the lesson we should all have learned from the days of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Because of his false and irresponsible charges of communism against liberals, socialists, and others among his critics, many communists and agents of communist influence sought to pass themselves off as Jeffersonian democrats or merely idealistic reformers. They would all complain they were victims of red-baiting to prevent criticism and exposure.
Schoenfeld should know this. Indeed, I am convinced that he does know it. But he is content to resort to such McCarthyite tactics to smear someone who disagrees with him about the merits of a political candidate.
Schoenfeld knows as well as I do that I have no truck with anti-Semitism. He also knows, or should know, that Donald Trump is no more responsible for the disreputable fringe that his candidacy attracts than Hillary Clinton is for the creeps her campaign attracts (though what about the creeps her campaign is responsible for, chaps like Robert Craemer?)
No, my unforgivable tort is supporting Donald Trump. Not only that, I am “an outspoken Trump supporter,” and not just one who sees Trump as the lesser of two evils compared to Hillary Clinton.
Rather, Kimball sees Trump as a positive good, “a breath of fresh air,” a candidate who is “unapologetically pro-American, who wants this country to be richer, freer, more secure.” Trump, writes Kimball, will be a welcome change after “nearly eight years of a President who hates this country and has done everything in his power to make us poorer (and) less secure.”
Schoenfeld omits my rather extensive litany of criticisms of Trump, but that’s fine: I wholeheartedly assent to the items he quotes, about Trump and about Obama.
Schoenfeld’s exposition is revealing.
As a personal acquaintance of Kimball . . . and someone whom I have always held in high regard for his intelligence and erudition, I was shocked by his readiness to endorse a man I regard as the antithesis of everything conservatism stands for. And I was flabbergasted by the sheer nuttiness of his contention that Obama hates America and is seeking to impoverish our country and render it vulnerable, a point of view one finds on the lunatic fringe but not in the rarefied offices of the New York intellectual elite.
Perhaps Schoenfeld really is a student of Stephen Potter. For he seems to be endeavoring to employ the gambit Potter calls “going one better.” Thus:
“I am surprised that so eminent a scholar as Dr. Whitefeet” . . . “Where should we be without Dr. Whitefeet.” Then go for him
Alas, Schoenfeld would not get good marks for this class in Lifemanship. Karl Krauss once said during the Japanese bombardment of Shanghai that if people had taken care that commas were in the right place Shanghai would not be burning. What would he say about an author who intended to issue some backhand praise but really just praised himself: “As a personal acquaintance of Kimball . . . and someone . . .”: grammatically that “someone” is Gabriel Schoenfeld. Was there ever any doubt about what a “high regard” Schoenfeld had for that fellow’s “intelligence and erudition”?
But I digress. Why is Schoenfeld’s gast so flabbered by my assessment of Barack Obama? Is it “sheer nuttiness” to contend that “Obama hates America”? Is it an opinion that belongs on the “lunatic fringe” to say that he “is seeking to impoverish our country and render it vulnerable”? Ironically, given Schoenfeld’s concern with anti-Semitism, no modern president has done more to distance the U.S. from Israel than has Barack Obama, whose former pastor and mentor (the inspiration for his “audacity of hope” sloganeering) was, and is, an unabashed anti-Semite (“Them Jews aren’t going let [Obama] talk to me”).
Obama famously — some would now say “infamously” — came to office promising to “fundamentally transform the United States of America,” the country that, in 2008, was the richest, mightiest, and arguably the freest country in history. Obama began his tenure in office with a world-apology tour, bowing to despots, coddling Islamic radicals, disparaging as racist and intolerant the past of the country that had elected him its leader. His extra-legal deployment of the alphabet soup of federal agencies has made us less free and has stymied economic growth, while Obamacare has been a frontal assault on medical care, both its competence and its fiscal health. He came to office promising racial comity and has done nothing but foment racial dissension. In fewer than eight years, he has added $10 trillion to the federal debt while presiding over the most anemic recovery in U.S. history.
On the foreign policy front, his decimation of the U.S. military and feckless accommodation of hostile powers have emboldened Russia, China, and Iran, while his bumbling interventions — many undertaken with the help of Hillary Clinton — have transformed ISIS from what he called a “jayvee” nuisance into a global threat and have left Libya and Syria in ruins. The world is a far more dangerous place now than when Obama took office, thanks almost entirely to his malevolent policies. Jimmy Carter was a terrible president. But at least he was an American patriot. No one would accuse Barack Obama of that. Remember, he sat for years in (and contributed to) the church of Rev. Jeremiah “God-Damn America” Wright. Obama is a transnational progressive who regards traditional pro-American sentiment as the province of “bitter enders” “clinging to their guns and religion,” or, as he pointed out to a Laotian audience recently, Americans become little more than xenophobes and racists when the economy stays stagnant under his leadership. Obama’s leading emotion when it comes to America is contempt, a characteristic he shares with Hillary Clinton.
Back in 2003, the columnist Charles Krauthammer coined the term “Bush Derangement Syndrome” to describe “the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency—nay—the very existence of George W. Bush.” Alas, that pathology appears as but a trifling malady compared to the serious strains of Trump Derangement Syndrome that have gripped some commentators. As Schoenfeld well knows, Trump was not my first pick among the Republican candidates. But I believe it is of the essence of conservative wisdom to understand that often in life our choices are not between something good and something bad, but between two things that are both imperfect. Donald Trump is an imperfect candidate. In my judgment, however, and in the judgment of millions of Americans, he is by far preferable to Hillary Clinton.
Some observers speculate that #NeverTrumpers like Schoenfeld are in effect polishing their job applications for a place in a possible Clinton administration. Can they be so naive? As the historian Conrad Black observed, “Whichever party wins this election, the heirs of the Reagan intellectual Right who have noisily endorsed Hillary as the lesser of evils will be wearing sackcloth and ashes and speaking inaudibly in the wilderness for a long time.”
Schoenfeld, like the Democratic National Committee and their many enablers in the media, has spun a tale in which Donald Trump is at once a despicable moron and yet a canny and almost diabolic manipulator, utterly, almost comically, unfit for high office. But to quote Conrad Black again, “The unutterable rubbish of Democratic claims that he is temperamentally unsuited to high office . . . has vanished without a trace or an echo.”
The Clinton campaign [Black continues] is being exposed every week as a tired pastiche of faded feminism (when Hillary was, as Trump pointed out, the greatest facilitator of male sexism in U.S. political history), an undistinguished tenure of high offices, and the enforced conventional wisdom, already punctured to shreds by Barack Obama’s insurgency eight years ago, that it is somehow Hillary’s right and her turn. Her whole campaign was Trump-scare and Trump blundering; it isn’t happening, and the nation is turning its disappointed eyes on her.
Leave aside the escalating scandals engulfing the Clinton campaign — new revelations about her felonious mishandling of classified material, the mind-bloggling litany of pay-to-play abuses involving the Clinton Foundation — leave all that, I say, to one side. Just compare what Hillary Clinton has said she wants to do with the Supreme Court with what Donald Trump has proposed. Compare her tax plan with his. Compare her attitude toward the extension of federal power over our lives through needless regulation with what Trump has proposed regarding regulation. Compare her policy on immigration to Trump’s. Compare her attitude towards the military to Trump’s. The list is long and to my mind irrefragable.
Schoenfeld, who has endorsed Hillary Clinton, clearly believes her long record in the public arena and more recent activities ensure that she would better serve the country than Donald Trump. I strongly disagree. Indeed, it would be fair to describe me as “NeverHillary.” I believe that she is the most corrupt person ever to be a major-party candidate for the presidency. Schoenfeld disagrees. But in a democracy one should be able to entertain such disagreements without descending to personal abuse. Apparently, Schoenfeld cannot help himself.
There are, as I say, plenty of things to criticize about Donald Trump. But as Peter Thiel pointed out in a recent speech at the National Press Club, when one pulls the lever for a particular candidate, one does so not because of his flaws but because of those things with which one agrees. I am voting for person X because I believe he is better equipped for the job than person Y.
As I noted above, there is in my view plenty to affirm in Donald Trump’s platform. Gabriel Schoenfeld disagrees. That too is his prerogative. But by fabricating a dark narrative in which Trump — and anyone who supports him — somehow “enables” anti-Semitism, he not only exhibits a bad case of Trump Derangement Syndrome, he also adopts a tactic that hitherto was the province of the fever swamps of left-wing animus. He is peddling a disgusting calumny, as baseless as it is offensive.