Taking Stock of Trumpism: Where It Came From, What It Has Accomplished, and Where It Is Going

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MATTHEW SPALDING: Good evening. I'm Matthew Spalding, Associate Vice President Dean of Educational Programs for Hillsdale College here in Washington, D.C. Welcome to the Allan P. Kirby Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship, Hillsdale East as we like to call it. And I'm very pleased this evening to welcome a good friend of mine and of the college. Our students have left for the semester, although I'm currently grading their exams, and the summer students haven't arrived yet, so you'll have to settle with my introduction. I'm especially pleased to have him here for two reasons. One is, as a college, we have proudly continued to teach things like the classics. And our speaker this evening is a great scholar of the classics, someone whose books I hope all of us have enjoyed. But also, as you'll hear in a moment, we share some common roots in terms of where we grew up. Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a professor of classics emeritus at California State University Fresno. He's also, we're happy to say, the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History at Hillsdale College. He received his B.A. in classics at the University of California Santa Cruz, is a fellow at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, and received his PhD in classics from Stanford University. He is from California. Indeed, he was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family farm in Selma, California, which is in the Central Valley of California, which is about 45, 40 minutes north of where I grew up in a little town called Corcoran. And that fact explains a lot of his understanding and his shaping of how he thinks about many things, as we'll see. He was a full time orchard and vineyard grower right after he got his PhD, so I'm glad to see that he put it to good use before he went to CSU Fresno's campus to initiate their classics language program. In 2000, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal. In 2008, he won the Bradley Prize. He's a weekly columnist for National Review online, as well as the Tribune Media Services. He's published several journals, newspapers, magazines. He's actually one of those people I oftentimes looked down upon, detest, am jealous of. He's written 23 books, including Wars of the Ancient Greeks and A War Like No Other-- How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War. His most recent work will be released in October, The Second World Wars-- How the First Global Conflict was Fought and Won. As the Distinguished Fellow in History at Hillsdale, he regularly teaches our students on campus about military history and classroom culture. He also teaches in our online courses, if you're interested, which are all free at hillsdale.edu. And he was involved in our course on Athens and Sparta, which came out last spring. And he taught sessions on life and government in Athens, Athens in the Persian War, and Athens in the Peloponnesian War. He's recently been writing about the current election, what's gone on in the United States, Donald Trump and Trumpism, foreign policy challenges, questions of immigration. His talk this evening is entitled Taking Stock of Trumpism, Where It Came From, What He's Accomplished, and Where He's Going. Please join me in welcoming our guest this evening, Victor Davis Hanson. [APPLAUSE] VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: There's only 5,000 classicists in the United States, so it's a very small group. I mention that because I got a letter yesterday from a very angry classicist, and he said, "You've become the Enoch Powell of classics, and you haven't done anything good til you wrote that one good article on the use of numbers in Thucydides' seventh book. Ever since then, it's all been downhill, and you'll regret it on your deathbed." That's the classi- Reminded me of what Churchill said about classicists: "They know little Latin and less Greek, and yet they're supposed to be experts on it." But I've had a rocky relationship in the world of classical languages. I thought I would just speak for about 30 minutes on the phenomenon of Trumpsim, where he came from, how he got elected, what he's trying to do, and what the future holds. All of you have come across that phenomenon or maybe you participated in when you had to look both ways when somebody asked you if you voted for Trump. Or you always said this phrase-- this is my favorite-- "well, he wasn't my first choice." Or after the primary, "I don't agree with everything he does," but you hear that a lot. It's always the same. Well, Hillary Clinton the other day gave an interview, actually she gave a speech to a women's international group, in which she said she was robbed of the election. She said, typical Hillary, I take full responsibility, but I was robbed because I'm a woman, of course, and of course, James Comey stole the election. You think that they'd be mad that he was still there rather than mad that he was fired yesterday. But, nevertheless, and then of course, the Russians did it. As I said to a group today, the Russians did it is sort of like Goring going to Hitler in August 1941 and said, well we could have taken Moscow, but it was very cold. And Methuen said it's not like we're a tropical people. In the German military handbook it said how to prepare for snow, but they were blaming everything on the snow, as if the Red Army didn't have a role in their defeat outside Moscow. That's what Russians do. They try to interfere with elections. They didn't put a gun to her head and say have a home brew server or approve the sale of one quarter of uranium holdings in North America. But she's still angry. And what lost her, of course, that election and empowered Trump was that she was shrill, snarky, she wasn't a good candidate. When she told the truth, she was less believable than when Trump told a lie. And she was a year younger than Trump, and physically she was 10 years older than Trump. And Trump violated all the rules of personal fitness. He looked too heavy. I had a friend that met him, and I said what was it like, and he said I got a choice between McDonald's Big Mac and Burger King. And he said then for dessert it was Haagen Dazs out of the cup. So Hillary ate right, and she did everything right, and that she was less healthy than somebody who was older and had that animal cunning and animal energy. So she wasn't a strong candidate. She had no message other than I'm a woman, and I'm not Donald Trump, the monster. And then, the only key to her election is that she was going to win only one way. You knew it; we all knew it. That Barack Obama had bequeathed a suicide pact. I should say, it's a long metaphor, he'd signed a suicide pact with the Democratic Party. Because basically he said I'm going to go down the community organizing identity politics Reverend Wright road once I'm elected. And I'm going to get empower identity politics minority groups to come out in unheard of numbers and vote in mass at levels you can't imagine-- 92%-- and whereas the clinger vote, or what we now know as the irredeemables and deplorables, will fall off, I will so appeal to the other groups that it won't matter. And of course it was true, but the problem was it was transferable to nobody other than Barack Obama. So Hillary inherited all the downside and none of the upside. And when Obama was through with that carnage, he had ruined the Democratic Party, and they had lost local elections, governorships, state legislatures, Senate, House, a generation of the Supreme Court probably, and the presidency. And yet she doubled down on that. She called one quarter of the United States basically irredeemable when she said half his supporters were such. And you thought, if she was smart, she would reprise that Annie Oakley role. It was pretty effective in 2008. Remember, she said that she shot guns with her dad. She had Boilermakers. She bowled. But then you start to realize that by 2016, it was a different party. Obama had destroyed that Bill Clinton party, that aw shucks, good old boy didn't exist anymore, and she inherited a paradigm that would only work for Obama. And I think I wrote an article saying you know where this is going to lead. It's going to lead to very lucrative speaking engagements for Obama as a reward for destroying his own party. He's going to be loved, and she she's going to be hated for trying to imitate something that has to be losing. And that's exactly why she lost the election. And then, of course, the other reason was that we all thought Donald Trump had a say in it. We all thought that, February, March, Donald Trump was the only candidate that could lose to Hillary Clinton. Remember that? Everybody said, well a lot of them did, Rubio is the ideal candidate or Walker. We had good governors-- Jindal, Christie, Walker. We had senators-- Rand Paul and we had Jeb Bush. They had the dynasty, the money, the name. We had outsiders that were more versed in facts, like Fiorina and Ben Carson. Nobody thought Trump has these particular gifts, but now looking back, I think most of you agree, he might have been the only candidate that could have won. Because unlike John McCain, he was not going to put Reverend Wright, that type, I'm not going to mention Reverend Wright. And unlike Mitt Romney, he wasn't going to apologize for his station in life. You can imagine if Trump had a run in 2008. Reverend Wright would have been 24/7, all the time. And had he been Mitt Romney in 2012 when Candy Crowley hijacked the-- he would have jumped over and grabbed the mic. So at least he was the first person who when Lee Atwater-- remember Lee Atwater? He gave us the Boston Harbor tank and Willie Horton ads and turned the patrician, aristocratic, snarky George H.W. Bush to somebody who ate corn nuts and was one of us. And it was very effective. And after he died, Bush lost. But we hadn't seen that type of guerrilla fighting until Trump came. And so whatever was going to happen, he was going to take, for once and all, the fight to Hillary in a very mean-spirited but necessary way. And that's why he would resonate in a way that she couldn't imagine. And he also understood a couple of things. We've all been told that demography is destiny, but is it really in the electoral college? Who cares who wins the popular vote if certain states are more important than others. A vote in Iowa was worth a lot more, or Ohio or Wisconsin, a lot more than my vote in California, at least on the national level. And Trump seemed to-- I remember watching CNN when somebody said-- I think they were talking about Jorge Ramos-- he seems to be oblivious to the ramifications of the Latino vote. I said yeah, he is. Because most of the Latino vote, and I'm living somewhere that's 90% Mexican-American, was going to go to two states-- California, that was never going to go red and Texas that was never going to go blue. And the states that probably had turned, maybe Colorado and New Mexico, were going to be turned no matter who. Now if he had made the argument there's a half a million Latinos who hate Trump in Ohio and Michigan and Wisconsin, I would have listened to it. But the point I'm making is that he looked at the electoral college, and he understood that demography is destiny as it applies to particular states and not the popular vote. And then when you add one final element to the election, that Trump campaigned as if he was going to lose and he was desperate, and Hillary campaigned as if she has already won. That was a classic hare and the tortoise. And so she was down in places like Georgia and Arizona that were never going to go red, at least in our generation, thinking that I'm going to get a mandate, while not visiting Wisconsin once. And he had a certain touch. They made a strategic error, the Clintons did, by thinking he is a billionaire therefore he can't be a populist. You can be a populist and be a trillionaire, and you can be dead broke and be an elitist. And she's proved that very well, she and her husband. And so are the Obamas. And so when he had that Queens accent, and he surrounded themselves with the likes of Mike Tyson, the World Wrestling Federation people, people in these key electoral states that I've got somebody like Donald Trump in my family, and I bring him out every once in a while-- I like him, but I don't want to be seen-- but they understood who he was. And that Queens accent worked to his advantage. And I'm being very cynical. I don't want to be snarky, myself. Because I talked to a New York developer once. When he called me and said I watch from my tower-- he has a big high rise. I shouldn't say high rise. I guess it's a skyscraper. And he said I see Donald Trump. And it is true that he deviates from his planned walk when he gets out of his limo, and he goes and talks to cement people. And I see people clapping that are on construction sites so whatever he is, it's genuine that people like him. And I thought about that when Hillary was telling the coal miners they had to learn how to build solar panels, he was using the first person plural pronoun "our." Did you notice that? I've never heard a candidate in history say our miners, our farmers, our soldiers. Nobody told him to do that. And then when you threw Kelly Conway and Steve Bannon into the mix, these are people that look like they've been around the block, and Robby Mook and all those guys that for Clinton look like they came right of DuPont Circle, Upper West Side. So it was sort of the metrosexuals against the guys who had been around too long. And over the years, I've met, infrequently but on occasion, Steve Bannon, so as I was saying to my wife, she goes who is that guy, and as she said that, "You Can't Always Get What You Want" started playing at a right wing Trump rally. And I said that is Steve Bannon. So there were elements that explain why Trump won. I want to add, if I could, just a little excursus. There was also a deep-seated anger, emotional in America that can't really be articulated well because it's an emotional gut felt. I guess I could summarize it where there's a lot of people in the United States that the elite, on the two coastal strips, say that they're irredeemable or deplorable, or we say they're not knowledge based or post-industrial. Whatever, they're not in with it. They are very angry at people who don't live by the ramifications of their own ideology. And by that I mean, if I'm in California, and I'm told we have to have high speed rail, it's going to be built where I live near Hanford and not in Palo Alto where it should start. If I'm told we have to pay the highest electricity rates in the country, it's not going to be in Palo Alto where the temperature-- I have an office at Stanford. I never turn on the heat or the cooling. If I go in August 15th when it's 107 in Fresno, Wal-Mart is full of Hispanic people who are there for the air conditioning. They sit there all day, as if their kids-- it's a playground. And so people, if I hear a lecture from colleagues at Stanford and tell me that open borders are a great thing, I know that they put their kids in Castilleja, or Harker the Menlo school. They don't put them in the Selma public schools. And there was a sense of anger. When I get up in the morning, I don't get a letter and say Mr. Hanson, your column from Tribune Media Services was outsourced to somebody from South Korea. He can do it at half the price. It just doesn't occur to me. That occurs to a lot of people. And that was epitomized in this Clinton couple that talked one way and lived the other. Progressive, progressive, progressive, and then they basically had a crime syndicate, and they had taste and appetites that were entirely hypocritical. And you couldn't square the circle of what they said and how they lived, and that was apparent to people, that the Democratic Party had become a party of the elite and a party of the poor, and had not just uninterest in the middle, but actual contempt for them. And that was fatal for them in these states. I would say that you can see that the Obamas are very much like the Clintons. I don't think Obama will be the avatar of a movement. Think about it. Take those four people-- Bill and Hillary, Michelle and Barack. They're the only post-presidential couples that went back, in our era, to Washington. Carter didn't. Reagan and the Bushes didn't. They both bought mansions. They both organized political action groups. They both, with a wink and nod, said my wife may be still politically active some day. Therefore, you should donate to, check, the library, check, the foundation, check, the $400,000 speaking engagements. They both looked at marriage not maybe as an act of love so much as a business proposition. They both had complaints about how life had not treated them well and how they deserved more money or more influence or power. And people looked at Clinton, and I think the Obama, that was really a bad image for the Democratic Party. People can take a lot of things, but they don't like to be treated like idiots. And to the idea that these are people in the trenches or they're good, old boys or they are hardworking progressives or you didn't build that, it's not time to profit, or at some point you made enough money and then go make $400,000. It just doesn't work. And so, I think that's something to think about. As far as Trump himself-- so he's elected. And how are we going to characterize the first 100 days? Part of the problem with the media hysteria is, again, if you've lost the legislatures, the local offices, governorships, Senate, House, then you don't have political power. And so there's an anger at that. And if you're the party of the very wealthy, the suburban, and the educated, which now the Democratic Party is, if you look at the per capita income of blue counties, overwhelmingly these are Democratic. Then you're angry that stupider people, less well-spoken people, less educated, are dictating decisions that you think affect your lives, and you don't know how to respond because politically there's no outlet for it. And one of the ironies is the media now is the other party. So if the media starts to use the F-word or the shit word or whatever that, then politicians follow suit. Not vice versa. If the media builds up Black Lives Matter or transgender Hollywood celebrities create LGBT movement or global warming comes out of the culture, then the Democratic Party reacts to it. So this hysteria from Trump is, in the democratic sense, reactive. Chuck Schumer reacts to Trump after what he reads in the media about Trump. And they don't really have a political base because Dianne Feinstein is 83, Nancy Pelosi is 79, Steny Hoyer, 77, Jerry Brown is 80, Bernie Sanders is 76. And the people who are young are more frightening. I mean Keith Ellison and Perez. So they don't have a second team that's going to come in. Whatever you think about the Republicans, they've got young people like Paul Ryan in the House, and they've got young governors, Marco Rubio. So there's a frustration that, politically, they don't know what to do, and they're angry at this guy who doesn't fit their image of a president. He doesn't speak well. He's not educated in the way that they think he is. And their way of thinking-- and I've tried this conversation, maybe some of you have with left wing people who hate Trump-- I said, you think it's easy to make a buck in the Manhattan real estate world? Crooked unions, crooked politicians, crooked community organizing, crooked environmentalists, and you're going to build a skyscraper in downtown Manhattan. You've got to be a genius to survive. They don't see that. So they underestimated him in the campaign, and now as president, they are underestimating him. So what is he trying to do? Basically, if you look at the agenda, what he's done is a 1995 to 2005 agenda. The proposed tax reforms are more like George Bush's reduction from 39 to 35 than they are Ronald Reagan's down to 28. If you look at Keystone and Dakota pipelines, they were already approved. It was pretty a mainstream decision. Hillary was all for Keystone until the election. If you look at immigration, Trump didn't come up with the idea of the wall. The House Republicans had voted. The whole Senate approved it. A third of it had been built. Listen sometimes to Bill Clinton and one of his speeches from 1994 on illegal immigration. It's far to the right of Donald Trump, and so is Harry Reid's. The point that I'm getting at is that Trump went back to the middle, but the middle no longer existed as we had known it. So it was considered radical and revolutionary because they were convinced that this trajectory, whether it was a single payer or permanent identity politics or whatever or lead from behind foreign policy, was set in stone. And trying to bring everybody back was difficult. The other thing that I think frightened them is that they were afraid that-- and we're starting to see it in Trump's first 100 days-- is that he's not as stupid as we think. There is a political paradigm behind a lot of his economic policies. And I think it's summed up by two words-- 3%, Joe Biden said it was three, maybe four, 3% growth. If he gets 3% growth due to simplifying the tax code, reducing corporate taxes, deregulation in some key industries, especially EPA, getting the interest rates maybe up to 1% or 2% or 3% higher than they are now. And he can achieve 3% growth that Obama never did, and we haven't had in 10 years. Then Trump's idea is that whatever differences you have with one another on your religion or race or skin color or ethnic background or whatever animosity that you have to me, it's going to disappear. And as somebody who lived through Reagan's era, I can tell you that people hated Ronald Reagan. And he was very unpopular in 81 and 82. I remember there was a congressman named Reagan, and his last name was Vineyard. And he ran for office. Reagan Vineyard. And somebody went down to-- I think it was in Southern California-- found this obscure, failed candidate and made his campaign and printed up thousands of copies. And all over where we were, because we had an agricultural collapse when Paul Volcker sort of broke inflation, prices just crashed. And everybody had this sign in their- Thompson seedless raisin, Reagan Vineyard. We had one. Reagan Vineyard, Reagan Vineyard. And everybody said this guy cannot win. And then you turn on the TV, and it was the day after the nuclear winter I think Carl Sagan told us about. Deploying Pershing missiles in Germany was going to start a nuclear war. He was bombing, invading Grenada. He was just Trumpian. And Walter Mondale was out of central casting, tall, handsome, liberal, but not crazy liberal like McGovern. And he was going to win. And suddenly between, I think the dates are roughly between 1983 in November to October 1984, the economy grew at a blistering 7.1%. And suddenly it didn't matter. Reagan could have blown up the world and people would've said at least I died rich. So, people switched. And it was miraculous for me to see all these farmers who hated him, and all of a sudden they said-- one guy, I can remember, did this. He took pruning shears and sheared off the vineyard sign in his barn and brought it back out, and it said Reagan with this ragged edge on the bottom. So he was no longer Reagan Vineyard, but it was Reagan. And that's what I think has influenced Trump. He feels that, as a business person, that money talks. And if we're prosperous-- and so in this way, although we're told that he's a protectionist, or that he's a mercantilist, or he's pre-Milton-- whatever that is, if you look at his actual economic team, their idea is to grow the economy. And I think that explains a lot of what he's doing along with bringing people back to the center on cultural issues. Abroad, it's pretty simple. If we were to take a survey of the world on January 20, I think all of us would say that North Korea that Obama bequeathed is not a stable situation. They have been testing. They had been threatening to blow up people. And they had been doing this predicated on the idea that being nuts and having a nuke or two was a good way to extort money. And it would continue. If you looked at Iran, we were starting to discover there was a side deal on inspections. There was a side deal on hostages. Cash for hostages, we didn't know about. There was a side deal for ballistic missile development. And again, the premise was that Obama would or could not do anything about it, and the United States was a played out power. If we looked at Russia, we were not talking just about Crimea, Ukraine. We were talking about the next acquisition in the Baltic states. We'd agreed that reset had failed, dismantling the missile project, anti-ballistic missile in Eastern Europe, or making fun of Mitt Romney to assure Putin would be more flexible after the election. All of that stuff had failed. And Russia was emboldened. China had built these bases on the Spratly Islands, was on the move. It all reminded me-- again, I don't want to overdo this imagery-- but remember, Jimmy Carter ran on not one soldier shall die under my tenure. I have no inordinate fear of communism like my opponent, and human rights shall adjudicate my foreign policy positions. Remember all that? And then I remember he wanted to sell F-15s to Saudi Arabia and the compromise is he would get to sell them, but they wouldn't have any bomb racks on them. So we sold them these things, but they had to sort of jerry-rigg the bomb racks on them. So and then we found out that after three years, his therapeutic view of human nature ended up with China invading Vietnam, communist uprisings in Central America, the Russians in Afghanistan, a revolution in Iran, the Shah gone, and the Shia radical Islam. And then Reagan came in and remember he didn't really say anything. There will be no hostages. What did that mean? And that point was he was unpredictable, and he would restore deterrence. And then when he sent missiles into Germany, stationed them there in Libya, Grenada, as I said earlier, the loss of deterrence is very dangerous, and it's matched only by the effort to recapture it. So what Trump is trying to do I think via Mattis and McMaster and that team-- it's not neo con nation building obviously, it's not isolationism, it's not even just realism. It's sort of strategic deterrence or realist deterrence. And what they're saying is that the world is an unstable, dangerous place because people have come to incorrect conjectures about US power. And that's a very dangerous time in world history, whenever that happens. In other words, by any empirical standard, the United States military, as cut back as it has been under Obama where we're down to below almost 3% GDP investment, if you look at our carrier force, our strategic assets, our nuclear assets, our battle-hardened troops fighting in places like Afghanistan, there's no military that even approximates-- there's no two militaries together that approximate. But deterrence is also a frame of mind. But if you believe that that military will never be used or it will be predictably used, then you earn the additional wage of contempt. As Hitler said, there's no greater contempt for a military superior power that you can push around. And people kept telling Hitler, don't go into the Saarland. Don't screw around the Saarland elections. Don't go in the Rhineland. The French army could crush us. And don't go into Poland because Britain and France together have a bigger army. They have better tanks. A Char B tank is so much superior to Mark I, II, or III. The new Spitfire has the same characteristics as the MBF109. Don't do this. And he said I saw Chamberlain at Munich. I wanted to step on him. I wanted to stomp his stomach and take that stupid umbrella and hit him over the head with it. And they're worms, he called them. People who had been magnanimous were called worms. And so we lost deterrence. And so what are wars? Wars are a laboratory experiment to prove who was actually strong in the first place. Because once you have faulty perceptions, reality is often the check. As I said earlier today, if you're in high school-- I went to a really rough high school-- I remember a guy named Armando Quintana. And he'd always come on like this. I'm going to get you after. And he'd do this. And he was about 5' 1". And there was a guy named Geronimo Rodriguez who was 6' 3". He was from Mexico illegally, and they put everybody- fights until they learned English. And Geronimo was the nicest guy in the world. He just sat like this and then, go up and hit him. I'm going to take you out. And one day, Geronimo just flattened him. I mean, he knocked him five feet. Didn't say a word, just knocked him. Broke his jaw. It was a big hubbub in those days. They dismissed school. Everybody could not believe it. And I thought, wow, that's weird. And I think what Geronimo was trying to do was restore deterrence. But he had to do it in a very violent way that was entirely unnecessary. Had he just said, Mr. Quintana, I would not do that again. Or just tapped him once, he would have established the rules. When Dean Acheson said that South Korea is not within our realm of defensive capable assistance, the north invaded just three months later. When April Gillespie said we don't intervene with borders between Kuwait and Iraq, and then Saddam invaded. And we forget that, that gestures, statements, assurances to unpredictable aggressors that we won't react are very, very dangerous. I had a member of my family said if Trump is elected, you'll be so scared the world is going to blow up. I said no, it will be the first time I rest in peace because I've been terrified the last eight years that some weaker power would do something stupid on the premise that the United States would not retaliate. And then we would get in a war, which would finally prove after many deaths and much violence, that guess what, the United States really is stronger than Iran. One carrier group has more conventional and nuclear power, of course nuclear, than the entire Iranian military. It would be stupid for Iran to hijack a boat or humiliate its crew or send a missile near a carrier and yet, that was what they were doing. Because they felt that they had contempt for military stronger power that would never use it. And then you get Trump in, and one of the things about restoring deterrence is he's capable, he thinks, or he tries to project that image of saying anything to anyone any day and doing anything. I was watching this strange media reaction to the firing of Comey. One of my colleagues at Hoover wrote today, this is terrible. He fired Comey. And that's going to unsettle everybody overseas. And I thought, no, it's not. It's going to be like Reagan firing the air traffic controllers when Gorbachev said don't screw around with this guy. He's capable of anything. So I don't think people understand because they don't live outside of that coastal bubble. That the world operates on a tragic view of human nature rather than this therapeutic view. And the therapeutic view is very dangerous. And the first Lord Halifax, I think it was in 1785, the great jurist of British common law said when people were trying to oppose the death penalty for anything other than capital crimes, he said well, you know, we hang horse thieves, not because the guy stole a horse, but because we don't want horses to be stolen. And that's what deterrence is. We don't like to do a crazy MOAB bomb or bomb one airline. But that's not the purpose of it. It's to remind people with subterranean capabilities that you shouldn't do that because we're capable of doing something, like not announcing it. And Trump would probably say, if I have an FBI director, it would be useful for him to know that I can wake up one morning and fire him. Because that creates a deterrent attitude, and you don't have that complacency or even arrogance and hubris that James Comey did because he understood that nobody would ever question them. So, a lot of the misinterpretation of what Trump is doing overseas, I think can be summed up, is it's very dangerous to try to restore deterrence. And I don't know if it's a thought out Trump doctrine, but I do, as someone who was a colleague of Jim Mattis at Hoover and knows HR a little bit, McMaster. I think they are trying to tell Trump that we have to find symbolic iconic moments that will not lead to a wider war. And then we have to draw a line, and a real line, not verbally but in actuality. And after a few of these incidents, in which we're going to take a lot of heat and which are going to be very dangerous, we will reestablish deterrence and then the world as we knew it in the post-war order will return, and this is preferable to the alternative. If you would ask what Trump would say, I would probably say something-- I don't believe in nation building. I don't think we can change the nature of man. The world abroad is always going to have thugs. It's like your lawn. It's always going to grow. And the idea that you're going to wave a wand, and the grass will be perfect. You'll have to buy AstroTurf in fantasy land because you have to mow the lawn. And there's always going to be a Saddam Hussein. There's always going to be a Noriega. There's always going to be a Milosevic. There's always going to be a Mullah Omar. And the degree to which they can harm innocent people depends on how well they are deterred. And we've got to restore deterrence, and this is the way to do it. Where does all this lead in conclusion, as far as the 2020 election? Well, Donald Trump has some inconsistencies that he ran on certain principles that got these proverbial Reagan Democrats, or the white working class, or the forgotten Americans, or the interior Americans, or the blue wall Americans out to vote in a way that they didn't before. I was teaching at Hillsdale this year, and I had taught there in the 2004, '12, and '16 election. I had never seen signs like I saw before. When I came back to California, a Hoover colleague said to me, well, my latest poll-- he's a pollster-- said that Trump is going to lose by 11. And I said, I think he's going to win Michigan. And they said, well that's because you rely on anecdote and you watch TV, and I have analytics. I said no, it's because I rode a bike for almost 25 days, and I saw posters everywhere. And at one point, I saw a person spray painting his garage. And I thought he was a vandal. So I got off my bike, and I ran over and I said, you just spray painted make America great. Who are you? Did you know the owner of this? He said, I am the owner. This is the only time I'm going to vote. I don't vote anymore. I'm going to vote for this guy, and everybody you see around here is going to vote for this guy. And I thought, wow, if that would be replicated throughout the blue wall states, he could win. And then when we got home, I said to my wife, who teaches junior college, I think he can win. He said, well, you know, it's very funny. I have mostly Hispanic class. I was making a joke, and I said I guess nobody will be voting for Trump, and the girl in the front said why don't you poll. 26 to 23. Trump had 23 votes of all Hispanic students in the interior of California. These things started popping up. I know it happened to you, too. All the time, we were told it was impossible. So, Trump appealed to working class people who were sick and tired of this elite or the media, whoever we call the elite. And that base is all that matters to him. We know now that conservative pundits that do what I do have no influence whatsoever. If George Will writes a column-- I like him a great deal, I have respect for him-- but if he writes a column saying Trump is the arch satanic figure of our time, nobody in Bakersfield is going to change his vote. Just not going to happen. My magazine that I write for, The National, if they run an entire issue saying never Trump, the people of Michigan don't get up in the morning saying I just can't vote for him. It's just not going to happen. But what is going to happen is those states have to be motivated. And they voted for him for four or five issues, and you know what they are. One of them was illegal immigration. Trump was the first candidate who said I don't have to do amnesty lite. I don't have to the Gang of Eight. I don't have to do Marco Rubio's- The law says you can't come in if you're illegal. I'm not going to deport everybody. If you're here, you haven't had a criminal record, you've been here for five years, you're working, maybe, OK. But we got some bad hombres. And that was true, we do. And he basically said Mexico benefits from remittances. They export the poor rather than addressing poverty. It's a safety valve for them. La Raza wants to change the demographics of the American Southwest. The Democratic Party wants to usher people in. They do not want the melting pot. They do not want Italian-Americans that are assimilated, that paradigm. And so, it was actually a sophisticated argument he made, that it would be good for the Republicans in the long run. Trying to outbid the Democrats for social justice to the illegal alien community's not going to work. You can't ever outbid a Democrat. But you can say I'm going to build a wall, and then you're going to not be infused by people who come here without education, without skills, without English, and pretty soon you will be surprised how quickly you will intermarry and assimilate, and you will follow patterns of other ethnic groups. And then if your name is Scalia or Alito or Cuomo, we won't know what your politics are. Lopez, Rodriguez, it won't matter. And that's what he was trying to do, and he's got to stick to that. And some of it was iconic, that he has to finish some kind of wall or those people will bolt. On trade, he introduced this idea that we've all talked about. Fair trade is not free trade. The Republican establishment said-- I don't know if they said it, but I think a lot of my colleagues at Hoover would believe it-- they would say running up deficits is not bad. Foreign competition, even if it's subsidized on their part, is not sustainable. It will weaken Germany or Japan or China. And it will make our companies more leaner and meaner, and it will lower prices at Wal-Mart for everybody. It's a great deal. And Trump came along and said you say that because you never get laid off. As I said earlier, I don't get a slip that says dear Victor Hanson, a person in Colombia wrote a much better column in the local paper and he's going to be hired at Tribune Media Services. So they never suffer the consequences of their own ideology. And Trump then appealed. I don't think he had it thought out, whether Milton Friedman economics or not, but probably in the long run is not as good for the economy, but he's saying in the short term, there are victims. And we're not going to run up these trade deficits. If they're so great, let Germany have them for 10 years. Let Japan have Milton Friedman's-- that'll be great for them. Just try it. And see what they say. And if it's so great, why don't they do it? Why do we do it? And I don't really care about being the leader of the free world if Youngstown, Ohio is destroyed. That was a very appealing message. So he's got to deliver on that and that means he's got to grow the economy, and he's got to keep unemployment below 5%. That's another issue. On foreign interventions, he's got to be very careful because he ran not as an isolationist, but as a pragmatic Jacksonian. We're nationalists. We're whack-a-mole-ists. They stick their head up; we knock them down. But we don't put boots on the ground and try to change hearts and minds. I happen to think that Iraq eventually probably worked. It would have been like Korea if we hadn't precipitously pulled out in 2011. Sort of like Eisenhower coming up for reelection in 56 and said Truman put those guys on the 38th parallel, not me. I'm pulling them out. For a cheap campaign talk, I don't think we'd have Kia and Samsung today. But nevertheless, that's not Trump's interest. His trump is to be punitive. And yet, Afghanistan is a mess. If we pull out, there's going to be a lot of people butchered there, sort of like South Vietnam circa 1975. So, yet, if he puts 5,000 troops, and we get involved more and more, that group of people that he promised that he wouldn't do that are going to be sorely disappointed. Same thing with some of these trade agreements, like the Pacific trade agreement or NAFTA. He's got to at least bring back something to the table. And they're very flexible, but if they feel that he's a typical politician that promises something and then he flips back and he joins the Jeb Bush establishment, he's not going to be successful in those eight or nine states that he has to win. Because that margin is very, very thin. And if he loses 150,000 votes here, he's not going to be reelected. If he does what I suggested-- that is not my idea, but if he's true to these promises to these voters-- he will win. And it's going to change the Republican Party if he gets re-elected. It already has changed. The Republican Party is now a more populous party, and it's a more empathetic party, I think. And I like this idea that nobody knows who to listen to anymore. I like the idea that writers at the Wall Street Journal, National Review, or Weekly Standard or Comey are not gospel. That there are people coming in online. It's just a free for all. There's no hierarchy anymore. I think this is much more healthy than this geriatric cadre that runs the Democratic Party or Hollywood-- intolerant and almost Stalinist. Let me just finish by the Democratic Party. They have a choice, don't they? They can be empirical and see that if Hillary Clinton had appealed to the working classes and moderated her rhetoric, not talk about irredeemables, not sold herself out to the identity politics movement, she probably would not have lost too many of her base and she would have gained some. And she did win 3 million plus voters, by a margin. She probably would have come close in only the one or two states she needed to do, and she probably would have won. Any sane person would see that would be the anecdote. So what you would not want to do is nominate somebody like Keith Ellison or Perez, Tom Perez, as the DNC chairman. Or you would not want to continue this, call it, the resistance, as if these people are French fighters out in the Maquis, trying to ambush the Waffen SS. It's not a good image. It's like 1968, when the Democratic Party came within 3/10 of a percentage point of beating the very unpopular, more unpopular than Trump, Richard Nixon. And they were killed because George Wallace took 13% of the vote, which translated in the loss of five southern states to Wallace, 5 to Nixon, that Humphrey would have won. And then you add in the left wing lunacy at the Chicago convention, and they blew that election. And then the anecdote was obviously to tell somebody like Humphrey or Muske or somebody, don't get caught with an anti-war fringe group. And make sure that Wallace, don't shoot him, but make sure he doesn't run in '72, which he did, and he was shot, and he was not a successful candidate. But try to get that working class. And what did they do? They said '71 Voters Act gave 18-year-olds the right to vote. This is the sort of new and progressive movement. We're going to get George McGovern and win. It was third largest landslide in American electoral history. Because they doubled down on failure, and it took them two elections to realize that nobody gets nominated who wins after JFK. Between JFK and Barack Obama were both different candidates, nobody could win unless they had a southern accent. Nominate a guy like Al Gore, he wins the popular vote. Bill Clinton wins the president. Jimmy Carter wins, and LBJ. Nominate somebody like Mondale or Dukakis or Kerry, they don't win. Because people didn't trust the Democratic Party on social issues, and they wanted some authentic conservative, they thought, with a southern accent. So that was sort of the remedy. And Obama brought this new paradigm. It's not, as I said, not transferable. So they have a choice to make. If you don't want to see them elected, then I hope you're very happy that Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher are using this atrocious language, that we see who's running the DNC are pretty much, they can't say a speech without using profanity. And Hollywood's enlisted Madonna, Ashley Judd. All of these people are building this image that we saw in '72, and it leads nowhere but to oblivion. And so Trump has been given a great gift in the nature of his opposition. So basically if Trump can please his base and grow the economy at 3% and avoid a major war by restoring deterrence, he's going to win. And if he doesn't, he's still going to win if the Democratic Party goes the McGovern route. Thank you very much. If you have any questions-- [APPLAUSE] AUDIENCE: My name is Howard. About 50 years ago, Nikita Khrushchev came to the United Nations in a very famous news clip. He took his shoe off and pounded the table. One interpretation of that was that Khrushchev wanted to show that he was crazy enough to possibly use nukes. Is it possible that Mr. Trump's sometimes irrational tweets have the same kind of effect on our international enemies? VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: No, I think it's not only possible; it's almost guaranteed. If you read-- it is painful, but read The Art of the Deal or The Art of The Comeback or Making America Great, and you ask for twice as much as you expect. You get 51%. That's a great deal. You act crazy so you unnerve your opponent. We've always known, and Henry Kissinger wrote that in his book about deterrence. Acting unpredictable was an advantage. Remember in the Yom Kippur War Nixon said, no, you go over and tell the Russians that I'm crazy, I'm a mad bomber, and I'm going to put us on stage three alert. And then you're the sober and judicious voice that has to calm me down, and you'll have a lot more success. Nixon said that, and it worked. And so I think that's sort of what-- I don't think they want to broadcast that-- but I when I see McMaster on Sunday evening TV or Sunday morning, I see Mattis, it's almost like they're telling the world, you guys don't know what we have to put up with. We're dealing with a guy who wants to get out of NATO. He wants to nuke Pyongyang. He'll do anything. But you've got to deal with us. Help me out. And then you almost get the impression that they go into a room with Trump, and Trump says, well how did it go, you guys? And so, the danger of that is that our adversaries are brilliant people. And they're trying to say Trump and those guys-- this is a script of The Apprentice and don't fall for it. So we have to at some point deliver. And so that's a danger that we all have, and I think you're absolutely right. Yes. AUDIENCE: Thank you, professor. Thank you very much. Michael Maybock. In the case of North Korea, for lots of us, it seems like it's an impossible situation because their troops are so close to Seoul. And so even though he sends the 6 fleet etc. At some point does that become a real problem for him to use leverage? VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: Well, it's very tricky, but I don't think any situation throughout history is impossible. There's always an answer. And North Korea realized that when you act crazy, and you have nothing to lose, and you have a few nukes, then that results in bribery. They've got billions of dollars, and Iran is following the same script. Pakistan does the same thing. And that when you're sober and judicious like Israel or France you get nothing with nukes. So we all understand the game they're playing. The question is can we find a way to mitigate it without leading to the loss of Seoul? The first thing we have to do is get on board with our allies. We have to get Japan and Taiwan and Australia and South Korea, Philippines, all on the same page. So I don't object to him having the Philippine president there who's kind of thuggish anymore. I mean he's not as thuggish as the Iran president that we dealt with. So you've got to get him on the same page. You can't have South Korea freelancing and saying to the north, these mean Americans are pushing us. They can't be doing that, and they're doing that now with this new president. The second thing is that we do have-- as Trump has showed-- Trump has been criticized because, like a madman, he says China is rigging the currency. China's running up debt. China's cheating on patents. And then he's quietly saying, now if you're willing to help us pressure them, cut off their coal imports, or what, then we're going to drop all that. Well, in Trump's mind, if they help on North Korea, then we're back where we started economically. No worse off, but we're a lot better off with North Korea. So that's the only country they can pressure because they have a billion people, and I don't think North Korea thinks they're going to do much damage to China. So China has been playing a dirty game. It's sort of like having a pit bull with a leash, and every once in a while they say, where's my leash? My pit bull's missing, and they know it goes right into your yard and bites you. I had a neighbor kind of like that. He'd always say, I don't know where my pit bulls are. And anytime we had an argument, they ended up in my yard biting me. So that's what North Korea does. And we have to say, you can't do that anymore. And if you do it, you're going to face severe economic ramifications. And we have a final and unsavory card, and I think that Donald Rumsfeld played it once in 2006. We tell China and North Korea the world is a very dangerous place in your neighborhood. Mexico is not nuclear. Canada is not nuclear. We have two oceans. I know that's nuclear war, but we have some preparatory time. But you've got nuclear Pakistan. You've got nuclear Russia. You've got nuclear India. You've got American nuclear assets. You've got nuclear Iran. Do you really want a nuclear Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, and Australia around you? Because you're headed that way. Because they're going to need deterrence, and our clients' nuclear weapons will work like Kias or Toyotas. They won't roll up on the launching pad like yours. So you broke the agreement that your client would not go nuclear, and we're going to break ours, and they can go nuclear if they wish to. That's about all we have. I hate to say, if you're going to insist on sanctions with North Korea and then people are eating grass, you can't be like the Clinton administration-- oh my God, they're eating grass. Well, they have to eat grass for the sanctions to work. I hate to say it, but it's better than people getting nuked. So we have these limited, but necessary and valuable options. I think they're all being played right now. And I hope they work. AUDIENCE: Thanks, and thank you for your speech. I was just wondering, you were talking earlier about 2016, and how a lot of Democrats really didn't think that Trump could win at all. And in fact, the media was constantly talking about that. I also noticed that they did that in 2012 with Romney, and I was very suspicious of that because I never quite understood why Romney was so far in the hole that he couldn't possibly win. It's one thing to say he's the underdog; it's another thing to say he can't win. And they did the same thing with Trump. And I'm wondering, do you think that it's possible this is just a strategy they're going to keep trying to use? VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: Well, obviously it's of some utility, yes, because then they tell their voters there's no reason to go out and vote. They're sort of like the San Francisco Giants in a losing year. Why would you want to go out? You're not going to win. Why would you want to go watch them? Don't participate in a losing cause. So yes, I think that was a lot of it. But also, they believed, after eight years of this sort of yuppie identity politics, that this was the trajectory where the Health Care Act was a prelude to the single payer. Black Lives Matter was a prelude to gay marriage to transgender restrooms to who knows what next, no gender identification on their driver's license. Everything was a logical, incremental step to a progressive paradise. And it was fated. It was Hegelian. It was fated. And that's what they believed. And they thought that the white working class was self-destructive perhaps, suicidal maybe, of short longevity, we know that, and doomed. And so they were going to make the necessary political adjustments, and they were going to have, I think 50 years, some people- and they miscalculated, terribly miscalculated. Because they didn't understand the electoral college. They didn't understand that not everybody believes that your race is your destiny. There is a growing number of people in my family, to take one example of a mixed race, and they don't identify with any race, and people want to be Americans. And so the identity politics is not necessarily our destiny. They misinterpret a lot of things. But give them credit, they won by 3 million votes, and they almost won the electoral college. It was about 250,000 brave Americans that said I've had enough and went out and voted for the first time, and they voted against Hillary. And you've got to give Donald Trump credit because, for someone who had no political-- the most unique phenomenon in American electoral history. Somebody with no political experience. First president that neither had a political office holding or military office rank won the presidency. And before Bannon and before Conway and before all of his strategists came on, he crafted that strategy. You can say that he just made it up. But he crafted the strategy that none of his gifted Republican contingents and opponents actualized. It was quite brilliant what he did. I was telling a group today-- I keep saying because I've talked to a group. I don't want to repeat myself if you're in the audience, but I have a wife who's, I would say, middle of the road. And she said to me, you've got to come in here. This man is-- I'm going to vote for Donald Trump. I said why? And she said come and look. And what she was referring to was Jorge Ramos, Univision, who's a multimillionaire fled to the safety the United States, cashed in big, lives in a gated community, put his kids in private schools, daughters working for Hillary Clinton and says that Trump is a racist and our country is racist for voting for him, tried to crash that press conference. Interrupted a number of times. And then Trump-- she said Donald Trump deported Jorge Ramos from his press conference. He said, get out of here. Nobody's ever done that to that guy. Doesn't he know what they're going to do to him? I said, he doesn't care. And she goes, no, he doesn't care, does he? I'm going to vote for him. And I think a lot of people had that visceral-- I don't know if that's a paradigm of governance, but it surely electrified people when he did that. He pointed out and said look at those media people. They're all liars. And I thought, well, I'm going to read tomorrow, this wrinkle frown op-ed that this is a threat to our republic. But when Glenn Thrush writes to John Podesta and says I'm a hack, we want to proofread my article, or Dana Milbank says I'm going to attack Trump tomorrow, can you guys give me some free research? That's what they are. That's what they are. Or the New York Times says you can't be disinterested anymore because Trump is unique, and therefore, you have to be at the source. So he's crude, but he always hits the essence of it. I have no idea what is sustainable or not. AUDIENCE: I've been watching the media reaction with a certain amount of amusement, because I have to tell you, it's like dinner and a show every night. And I'm kind of curious-- there's an awful lot of people like me. I just quit watching the news. I get my news in other ways. I get my news through online blogs. I find other things. I find other ways to do it. Where do you see this going? I mean do you think-- VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: I think what you're referring to-- I wrote an article once called "The Monastery of the Mind," where we've all retreated to mental monasteries. And I mentioned this earlier. I used to watch ESPN. I like sports. But I don't like to have a jock lecture me on my politics who's an ignoramus. So I just tuned the whole thing out. And then I noticed, there must be a lot of us because ESPN is almost broke. And then I noticed that about three years ago, I went to a movie. I didn't know what it was. I was shopping, and I just thought, well, it's going to be either a diversity person is going to be attacking an evil corporation or there's going to be evil people with South African or southern accents. And sure enough, it was. Or it's going to be a remake of a great movie, and it's going to be a terrible remake. I just watched a great movie, this Magnificent Seven, and I went to watch the remake and it was diverse, it was horrible. So I thought to myself, I'm not going to go to the movies anymore. And I quit doing it. And I noticed that everybody's quit doing it. And I don't mean everybody, but half the population. And I think that's what's happening, that people are psychologically disengaging. There was a word in classical Greek called sophrosyne and it meant not just prudence, but prudence in the sense that you didn't want to participate anymore in the arena of a radical Athenian democracy. A guy wrote a book called The Quiet Athenian. It's about people who just sort of disengaged from Athens. Because they thought they had nothing to offer, and they were not appreciated. And in California, I see them everywhere. As one person just told me, I don't mind paying 13% and still getting a 46th ranked schools and 49th roads, but I don't like it when I'm called greedy and avaricious and selfish for paying 13%. So I think a lot of us have disengaged from the media and we're looking for outlets or alternative news. And I think it's healthy. Again, I think this chaos is wonderful. And I'm a dropout like you on a lot of things. I don't watch the Super Bowl anymore. If there's a concert on TV and it's Madonna, any popular entertainment, I turn it off. I think I wrote about this. I went to a service station on the Chico pass when I was going back from Stanford home, and a rapper pulled up next to me, and he had this typical rap-- kill the bitch, shoot the pig, really loud. And I was just, and I thought, I'm not going to take this. I'm 63 years old. So I had two songs. I had a truck, and it took me a while, so I had that famous folk song, I think. I don't know who wrote it. But it was called "The Colorado Trail." It's a cowboy song. I turned that on as loud as I could. And then I turned-- the next channel was Joan Baez, "The Pleasures of Love." It's a famous French ballad. I played that as loud-- And so the guy stalked over to me. He said, wow man, that's pretty good music. And so I said, well, you know, we've all been listening to your stuff, and you never hear our stuff. And so, you never know what you're going to expect, but I don't think we have to take it anymore. We don't have monasteries anymore, but we have them in our mind. I go to a Wal-Mart where everybody is basically from Mexico. They're wonderful people. Most of them are illegal, but I see things in there you'd never believe. Five or six EBT cards. Everything. This is going to sound illiberal. I shouldn't say it on tape. But I was in there yesterday, and there was an Asian person who was there. And he was watching everybody speaking in Spanish, everything, and he was very educated. And he said to me, Dr. Livingston, I presume. And I thought, what does that mean? And he was Asian. And what he was saying is that I'm Asian. You're white. There's Mexican-American people like us, but we don't have to accept the fact that everybody comes to the United States and has EBT cards and does not learn the language and is rude in line. And just because it's a diversity issue, we're not supposed to say anything. This person was third generation Japanese. So I think people are saying, you know what, I don't have to apologize. What propelled Trump was the total absence of any guilt. He didn't apologize for being wealthy. He didn't apologize for being crude. A very prominent editor called me and said Trump is going to pull out on Access Hollywood because they released today, and we need to get on board. I said he's not going to pull out. He was crude; he shouldn't have done it. But he's not the apologetic type. Maybe sometimes he should. But I think it was a shout and said, we're not going to apologize anymore. We have nothing to apologize for. Deterrence is a funny thing. Where I live, most of my friends are Mexican-American, and we have canteens up and down our avenue, and they all have Mexican flags. Two weeks after the election, American flag, California flag at every one. I go to Wal-Mart parking lot. My car has been hit by people that don't have licenses. Came from Mexico, very hard working, but they hit the car, and they leave. Woman hit my bumper, ready to leave. I look at her. She rolls down the window and said please don't tell Donald Trump. I don't want to go back to Mexico. [LAUGHTER] I'm serious. So, the left would say that that's a sign of the climate of fear and anxiety in the lives that he's ruining. A skeptic would say he created deterrence. So I think it's still healthy. I know there can be darker channels we could go to, but I think people have to learn that the guy you see on MSNBC or the op-ed that you read in the Washington Post or that professor on YouTube is not representative of most people. And he's actually ridiculous. He's an emperor without any clothes. All you have to do show it. And that's what they did in that election. [APPLAUSE]
Channel: Hillsdale College
Views: 2,081,467
Rating: 4.4110937 out of 5
Keywords: trump, donald trump, djt, president, us president, u.s. president, vdh, victor davis hanson, hanson, hoover, hillsdale, hillsdale college, kirby center
Id: pzXJi9-1SUs
Channel Id: undefined
Length: 66min 44sec (4004 seconds)
Published: Fri May 26 2017
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