Resistance (At All Costs), page 1
Copyright © 2019 by Kimberley Strassel
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Resistance (At All Costs)
Chapter 1: Vive La Résistance
Chapter 2: About That Autocrat
Chapter 3: J. Edgar Comey
Chapter 4: Setting Up a President
Chapter 5: Masters of Obstruction
Chapter 6: A Mueller Special
Chapter 7: “Deep State” Revolt
Chapter 8: Judicial Unrestraint
Chapter 9: Ambush
Chapter 10: Crazy House
Chapter 11: Press Gang
Also by Kimberley Strassel
About the Author
To the memory of my father, Mike Strassel
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Political pundits learn early the risk of making predictions, but I will make one here: The reaction to this book—at least among some quarters—will prove its point.
The election on November 8, 2016, of Donald J. Trump to the presidency of United States unleashed many changes, though among the most enduring will be the rise of “the Resistance.” Loosely defined, these are the legions of Americans who were resolutely opposed to the election of Trump, and who remain angrily determined to remove him from office. They come in every shape and size—Democrats, Republicans, ardent leftists, moderate suburbanites, brainwashed millennials—but they share one thing in common. They view everything to do with Trump in black-and-white morality. You either hate the man, or you are as bad as the man.
There is, in fact, a reason the subtitle of this book refers to “Trump haters” rather than “Trump critics.” Many thoughtful Americans, and many thoughtful political writers, have issues with our 45th president—myself included. But the critics have also worked to do that very hard thing of judging Trump via the same lens they have judged past presidents. They praise him when he gets things right. They criticize him when he gets things wrong. This is the usual and long-held method of political accountability.
But the “haters” can’t abide nuance. To the Resistance, any praise—no matter how qualified—of Trump is tantamount to American betrayal. And by extension, any criticism of the Resistance is equally heretical. If you are a Trump hater, this is an excellent way of shutting down challenges to your tactics or arguments. But it’s a rotten way of furthering public debate, and the ensuing vacuum of meaningful discussion has already led the Resistance to overindulge. It is now engaging in behavior that is proving far more corrosive to our institutions and rule of law than anything of which it has accused the president.
Indeed, the claim that Trump marks some new or existential threat to the United States is hard to make in light of history. America has had many presidents who attracted deep loathing while in office, even from members of their own party. Not a few historians have made the comparison between Trump and Andrew Jackson, the nation’s seventh chief executive. Jackson was combative and passionate, prone to fits of rage. He believed himself “the people’s president,” and that he was therefore justified in aggressive use of his powers. His critics—which included a lot of polite society and the press—decried him as a racist, of lacking the intelligence and temperament for office, and of engaging in patronage and personal enrichment. Opponents warned of the imminent demise of a young nation under a “dictator” and “tyrant”—a man they derided as “King Andrew.” Yet Jackson also remains one of the more influential presidents. And obviously, the nation endured. While Trump has certainly brought a new and impolitic feel to the office of the presidency, the claims that he is a despot are simply false.
Notwithstanding some of his more flippant proposals, his presidency has, in fact, been remarkably rule bound. Unlike his predecessor, he has not governed by executive orders. He has dramatically reduced the size of federal government—not expanded it. He has appointed judges on the basis of their fidelity to the clear language of the Constitution and law. Despite shrieks of a budding autocracy, the 2018 midterms resulted in a normal, peaceful Democratic takeover of the House—nary a tank to be seen in the streets.
It is instead the reaction to Trump that is new and alarming, and that threatens to leave enduring marks. The term the haters have chosen for themselves—the Resistance—says it all. Throughout history, political resistance movements have existed to undermine occupying powers, as the French Resistance did in response to Nazi Germany. The very word suggests illegitimacy—a movement organized against an authority that has no right to rule. Yet whatever your views of Donald Trump, he won his election fair and square, under an Electoral College that has governed our system from the start.
The mind-set nonetheless explains how the Resistance has gone so far off the rails. Those who view their targets or their actions as illegitimate view themselves as justified in taking any action necessary to get rid of the occupier. Whether that be turning the awesome powers of the Department of Justice and the FBI against an unconventional presidential campaign, or ambushing a Supreme Court nominee with uncorroborated sexual-assault allegations, or using the impeachment process for political retribution, the Resistance views itself in the right.
But these actions aren’t right. In a poker match, one player might not like the look of the other, or his taunts, or his aggressive play. But that doesn’t give him the right to cheat—to slip an extra ace up his sleeve or mark cards. This has been the behavior of the Resistance leaders, and it has already caused harm to vital institutions. It is nothing short of alarming that huge swathes of the country no longer trust the Justice Department or the FBI to administer equal justice. Or that, according to a 2018 Axios poll, 72% of Americans believe that “traditional, major news sources report news they know to be fake, false or purposely misleading”—including 92% of Republicans and 79% of independents. Or that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has felt compelled to rebuke anti-Trump district court judges for exceeding their powers. Or that 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are campaigning on proposals to destroy some of our most basic aspects of U.S. democracy—from the
So back to that prediction. This is not a book about Donald Trump, per se. There are lots of books about the Donald—some fawning, some reasonable, tons critical. Entire vats of ink have gone into analyzing his every action or non-action and predicting what each means for this nation. That area is well covered. Nor is this a book about the many millions of Americans who passionately, even understandably, dislike Donald Trump—but who remain committed to rule of law, dignity in politics, and principled opposition.
This is instead a book about the more radical elements of the Resistance, and how their reaction to Trump is causing significant damage to our institutions and political norms. It will certainly note the role Trump has played, to the extent he often drives his rivals crazy and has at times helped provoke their overreaction. But the subject here is the behavior of other side—the fringe of his opposition.
And yet I predict that for the sin of writing a book that is not unrelentingly, remorselessly, and absolutely critical of Trump, the Trump haters will attempt to portray this as some sort of Trump apologia. In doing so, they prove yet again that the truest haters aren’t interested in debate or ideas or in restoring “norms”—as they claim—but only in engulfing the Trump administration in flames, and tarring and feathering as many of their critics as possible.
This pigeonholing isn’t new space for that class of writers that I consider thoughtful “critics.” For years now, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, under the leadership of Paul Gigot, has worked to provide fair and insightful analysis of the Trump administration, measured against our long-standing belief in “free markets, free people.” Plenty of other right-of-center (and even some left-of-center) publications seek to do the same. We are often critical of Trump’s manner and policies. But none of this counts for much among the Resistance, who instead cast any praise of the Trump administration—or criticism of their own behavior—as evidence of toadyism and propaganda, and who thereby (and self-servingly) seek to delegitimize broader arguments.
But if there is no room for a book that seeks to look as critically at the overreaction to Trump as at Trump himself, we as a civil society are lost. Trump will be in office for at most eight years. We will be living with the wreckage of the Resistance for much longer.
(At All Costs)
Vive La Résistance
Some say there are five stages of grief; some seven. For the Resistance—those unhappy Americans so bitterly opposed to the election of Donald J. Trump—there were only ever two: denial and anger. It’s been an epic psychological fail, one with grave consequences for the country.
The denial stage was at least short-lived. I witnessed its immediate form at the election party I hosted at my Virginia home that November 8, 2016. I love anyone who loves politics (and a good party), so we played host to guests of every political persuasion: Clinton supporters, Trump supporters, and even one poor soul still pining for Ron Paul. I was busy flitting inside for drinks, outside to where we’d erected a TV projection screen, and back to my computer to compare notes with WSJ colleagues about what had become a surprisingly tight race. On one such run I suddenly noticed small groups of Trump supporters staring avidly at the screen. I noticed an equal number of Clinton supporters drifting—dazedly, confusedly—toward cars. It was around midnight, and reality had hit: Hillary Clinton could not win. “President Trump,” murmured one Clinton supporter as I wished her safe travels. “It’s inconceivable. It can’t happen.”
It did happen, and for the most part, denial faded. The more radical anti-Trumpers would, of course, continue to deny Trump’s legitimacy. Some rolled out the left’s favorite complaint: the Electoral College. Trump had lost the majority vote, they said, and therefore Hillary should be president. Tell that to the Founders. Days and weeks after the inauguration, anti-Trumpers would seize on a yet more explosive argument for why Trump was not lawful: He had colluded with Russians to “steal” the election. But that conspiracy came later.
At the time, most Americans just geared up for the Trump inauguration. On one side was the Trump base, wild with joy that their candidate had proven the media and elites decidedly wrong. In the middle, a crucial number of voters who had pulled the lever for Trump, albeit reluctantly, and only because they would not tolerate another President Clinton. Also in the middle, Clinton supporters who were disappointed—but not unhinged—by the result. And finally, on the other end, a solid mass of Trump haters who had already decreed the president-elect a racist and a dictator, and who in a few short days of Trump’s election would become, officially, “the Resistance.”
They were fueled by that second stage, anger, and it was something to behold. Within hours of Clinton’s concession, anti-Trumpers had taken over the streets, engaged in candlelight vigils, marches, riots. Crowds seethed around the Trump Tower in downtown Chicago. Demonstrations broke out in every major U.S. city, from Los Angeles to Dallas to Minneapolis to New York. People wept. People wailed. Anti-Trump protestors in Oakland, California, threw Molotov cocktails and M-80 firecrackers at police. Angry individuals hoisted banners that read “Time to Revolt” or “Make America Smart Again.” Portland, Oregon, protestors took over the city for most of a week, blocking highways, delaying buses, vandalizing businesses and cars. One anarchist justified the violence to The Oregonian by explaining that no one should expect “black youth” to be “peaceful” when “Nazis are going to kill them.” Twitter was besieged with hashtags: #nevermypresident; #notmypresident; #StillWithHer. Cornell students gathered for a “cry-in.” The University of Kansas urged students to make use of therapy dogs. The University of Michigan comforted distraught students with coloring books and Play-Doh.
The nation’s liberal punditocracy meanwhile took to their computers. A rare few approached the task with almost touching normality. Eric Frazier, a self-described progressive editor for the Charlotte Observer, described his disappointment with the results, but suggested folks “move on.” “Congratulate a Trump supporter,” he said, and “accept defeat.” There were “rational reasons why Hillary Clinton lost,” including that the “economic pain” of Trump’s “rural, white blue-collar base is very real.” “Remember,” he wrote, “it wasn’t going to be the end of the world no matter who won.”
Few agreed. Timothy Egan of the New York Times explained in his post-election column that he hadn’t “felt this way since the nuns told our second-grade class that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.” The New Yorker’s David Remnick penned a piece titled “Presidential Election 2016: An American Tragedy,” in which he decried the triumph of “nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny and racism,” and, of course, brought up George Orwell. “It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety,” he lamented. Paul Krugman, the NYT’s reliably incorrect economist, offered his own apocalyptic prediction. “We are very probably looking at a global recession, with no end in sight.”
Krugman’s prediction turned out to be among the least hysterical. Trump critics declared an end to democracy as we knew it, under an administration primed to commit every manner of crime, abuse, and offense. No claim was too wild. Trump would strip women, the LGBT community, and voters in general of their rights. He’d deport the Dreamers and block liberal groups from providing any women’s services. Progressives predicted Trump would encourage reprisals against Muslim citizens.
Rolling Stone quoted an anonymous “prominent rights leader” explaining that Trump would probably use “surveillance power to go after critics.” The same piece quoted ACLU executive director Anthony Romero bracing for a “full-blown ‘civil liberties crisis.’” Other outlets suggested Trump already had a “secret enemies list,” à la Nixon, and that he’d turn the state on those targets. Not a day passed when Trump was not compared to Hitler, a fascist, a monster, or a bigot. Columnists further fanned fears by noting that there was no “check” on the budding autocrat.
These warnings didn’t fade. As recently as June 2019, presidential candidate Joe Biden in Iowa explained that Trump “poses three fundamental threats to America” and that one of these was to our “democracy.” “Everywhere you turn, Trump is tearing down the guardrails of democracy,” said Uncle Joe. “We’re at a moment when we need to reset constitutional norms in this country.”
* * *
People didn’t like Trump the man, true. It was outrageous to the left that the real estate baron they had written off as a joke and an imbecile had won, and had done so by appealing to the very fly-over America the elite holds in such contempt. Add to this Donald J. Trump’s almost unparalleled ability to infuriate his opponents. It isn’t just his blunt, impolitic style. Over the decades, the press and liberal elites had grown accustomed to setting the rules of the game, scolding Republicans who failed to play by them, and accepting the ensuing apologies. Trump, infuriatingly, refused to play.
But what few on the left or in the media would acknowledge is that this anger also came from something completely aside from Trump. It was a seething fury over losing in general—in particular over losing such a consequential election.
Every presidential election matters—but some matter more. The 2016 election mattered lots, coming as it did after eight years of Barack Obama’s experiment with liberal government. The 44th president had proven one of the more radical in modern history, relentlessly pushing to expand the size of federal government, regulate or take over private industry, and stock the courts with activist judges. A Republican Congress had nonetheless forced him to do much of this via regulation and executive order—all of which could be undone.