The infamous neutron bomb was designed to melt human flesh without damaging infrastructure.
Something like it has blown up lots of people in the 2016 election and left behind empty institutions.
In theory, there are nominally still such things as a D.C. establishment, the Republican party, still abstractions known as “fact-checking,” still something in theory called “debate moderators,” still ex-presidents’ “foundations.” But, in fact, after this campaign, these are now mere radiated shells.
Who are the big losers of 2016, besides the two candidates themselves?
Collate the Podesta e-mails. Read Colin Powell’s hacked communications. Review Hillary’s Wall Street speeches and the electronic exchanges between the media, the administration, and the Clinton campaign. The conclusion is an incestuous world of hypocrisy, tsk-tsking condescension, sanitized shake-downs, inside profiteering, snobby high entertainment — and often crimes that would put anyone else in jail.
The players are also quite boring and predictable.
They live in a confined coastal cocoon. They went largely to the same schools, intermarried, traveled back and forth between big government, big banks, big military, big Wall Street, and big media — and sound quite clever without being especially bright, attuned to social justice but without character. Their religion is not so much progressivism, as appearing cool and hip and “right” on the issues. In this private world, off the record, Latinos are laughed off as “needy”; Catholics are derided as near medieval and in need of progressive tutoring on gay issues. Hillary is deemed a grifter — but only for greedily draining the cash pools of the elite speaker circuit to the detriment of her emulators. Money — Podesta’s Putin oil stocks, Russian autocrats’ huge donations in exchange for deference from the Department of State, Gulf-oil-state-supplied free jet travel, Hillary’s speaking fees — is the lubricant that makes the joints of these rusted people move. A good Ph.D. thesis could chart the number of Washington, D.C., insider flunkies who ended up working for Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac or Goldman Sachs — the dumping grounds of the well-connected and mediocre.
In this world, there are Bill and Hillary, the Podesta brothers, Huma Abedin and Anthony Weiner, Christiane Amanpour and Jamie Rubin, Samantha Power and Cass Sunstein, Andrea Mitchell and Alan Greenspan, and on and on. Jorge Ramos goes after Trump; his daughter works for Hillary; and his boss at Univision badgers the Clinton campaign to stay lax on open borders — the lifeblood that nourishes his non-English-speaking money machine.
George Stephanopoulos, who helped run the Clinton campaign and White House, and who as a debate moderator obsessed over Mitt Romney’s answers to abortion hypotheticals, is the disinterested ABC News chief anchor.
CNN vice president Virginia Moseley is married to Hillary Clinton’s former deputy secretary at the State Department Tom Nides (now of Morgan Stanley) — suggesting “The Clinton News Network” is not really a right-wing joke.
Former ABC News executive producer Ian Cameron is married to Susan Rice, a — pre-Benghazi — regular on the Sunday talk shows.
CBS president David Rhodes is the sibling of aspiring novelist Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser for “strategic communications and Speechwriting,” whatever that fictive title means.
ABC News correspondent Claire Shipman married former White House press secretary Jay Carney (now senior vice president for “worldwide corporate affairs” at Amazon: not just “corporate affairs” or “worldwide affairs” but “worldwide corporate affairs”). And on and on.
Is there a rule somewhere that requires a media kingpin to be married to a political operative or government official or like kind?
These nice people report on each other. They praise each other, award each other, make money together, and bristle with each other when they are collectively and pejoratively dubbed the “elites.” They write and sound off about the buffoon Trump and preen in sanctimonious moral outrage, as the rest of the country sees this supposedly lavishly robed imperial class as embarrassingly naked. If our version of El Escorial continues, something like the prognathic Habsburg jaw may begin to appear as an elite D.C. marker.
As administration officials go in and out of lucrative banking, foundations, academia, and Wall Street posts, the idea of a permanent New York or Washington “power couple” or “power family” becomes more banal.
Is there a rule somewhere that requires a media kingpin to be married to a political operative or government official or like kind? Can an opinion journalist not be actively involved, whether overtly or stealthily, in an ongoing campaign or married to a consultant who is? Is there a retiring high official who just goes home and calls it quits after his public service? Is Nebraska, Carson City, or Mississippi such an awful place after Chevy Chase, Georgetown, or Dupont Circle?
The Republican Party
What exactly is the Republican party? Has it any coherence or unity or shared ideas?
Is it for legally enforced borders or “let the market adjudicate” free passage of inexpensive labor between countries? Fair or free trade? Assimilation and integration, or identity-politics lite? Cashing in on government service or against emeriti lobbying?
Does it embrace traditional values or a slight slowing of the descent of popular culture? Does it want to reverse big government or ratchet it down somewhat? Is it against $1 trillion deficits, but okay with $500 million ones? Does it believe losing the presidential election nobly is preferable to winning it ugly? Does Obamacare need a tweak or two?
Is it for a Jacksonian, don’t tread-on-me foreign policy, or isolationism, or neocon nation building — all, some, or none?
Are Trump’s private boorishness and crudity worse for Republicans than Clinton’s now quite public corruption and dishonesty?
Atheist free-market conservatives seem to despise Trump’s vulgarity more than do Christian Evangelicals — not necessarily on the grounds that they are less likely to say such Trumpian things in their own private lives than are fundamentalists, but because they find him so very gauche.
No one quite knows what the party will become after Donald Trump sprinted away with the Republican nomination and then discovered that most of the Republican establishment, implicitly and explicitly, would rather lose to Hillary Clinton than win with him.
Many said they quit the Republican party when Trump was nominated, as many perhaps will quietly quit when it returns to normalcy.
After the election, don’t expect a rapid reconciliation. The Trump base, often in nihilistic fashion, does not wish to be part of Paul Ryan’s pragmatic world; and those who identify with the culture of the Wall Street Journal and the Chamber of Commerce have no desire to be seen with the NASCAR and tea-party crowd. For fleeting moments in the primaries a Marco Rubio or Scott Walker posed as a Reaganesque uniter, only to implode under national scrutiny and candidate infighting.
The Presidential ‘Foundation’
The presidential foundation is now a parody of itself.
The Clinton Foundation Syndicate served largely as a sinecure for Clinton hangers-on between elections who were apparently otherwise unemployable. It offered free jet travel for the Clinton family. It oiled pay-for-play donations that would spin off into private speaking and consulting gigs for the insatiable Bill and Hillary. Oil profits — from Russia, the Persian Gulf, and the autocracies of the former Soviet Union — fueled the Clinton cash nexus. (How odd to oppose domestic fracking but to welcome carbon cash from medieval foreign petro-nations.)
Many Republicans damn conservatives who would hold their nose and vote Trump in hopes of saving the Supreme Court or stopping the socialization of the federal government. They should spend a quarter of their time writing about the Clinton Foundation. In the past 50 years, have we ever seen anything quite like the listing of VIP foundation donors by name so they could cash in on Haitian relief contracts to pick over the carcass of a ravaged, impoverished nation — or blatant requests to medieval sheikdoms to send million-dollar presents or free jet service to the ex-president, the message routed by way of his secretary of state spouse? Dick Nixon would not have found a way to enrich himself on the backs of the Haitian refugees or think out loud about assassinating a troublesome political opponent.
There are three models for ex-presidents and their foundations. One is Jimmy Carter’s sanctimonious progressivism — of setting up a quite legitimate “center,” staying active in politics, and assuming a (sometimes tiring) role as senior citizen of the world who globetrots and editorializes on how humanity has disappointed him.
A second is more or less genuine retirement in the fashion of George H. W. and George W. Bush; their respective foundations and libraries are largely apolitical. Neither comments much on contemporary politics, nor do they trash their successors. Painting or sky-diving is preferable to returning to the campaign trail or slicing Obama.
The third is the Bill/Hillary Clinton paradigm of non-stop electioneering, tawdry enrichment, and massaging the office of president emeritus and a presidential foundation to feather one’s nest.
Barack Obama will choose one of these three models, but it is likely that the most lucrative Clinton paradigm is now utterly discredited.
Few any longer believe in fact-checking, largely because it was exposed as an arm of progressive campaigns.
The embarrassing recent statements of Dean Baquet, executive editor of the New York Times, were a frightening synopsis of rank bias defined up as disinterested audit. So were the obsequious check-ins by toady journalists with the Clinton campaign to remind Podesta, Inc. of their own lack of ethics.
Fact-checkers inordinately go after conservatives. Or they make up rules about what constitute “facts” as they go along, providing context and supposed noble intent to water down progressive inaccuracies. Or they use adverbs like “mostly” to suggest that false liberal assertions are “mostly” true and other accurate statements of non-liberals are “mostly” false. Fact-checking is postmodern truth that depends on who says something and for what purpose.
When Hillary Clinton in the second debate directed the audience to her own website to “fact-check” Trump, we came full circle from naiveté to farce.
Fact-checking might have been a neutral concept, not inherently better or worse than the original “facts” themselves — given that it is entirely predicated on the character and ability of those who fact-check (who, as we see from WikiLeaks, can be just as sanctimonious and deceitful as the politicians they audit). Fact-checking in the age of the Internet arena will go the way of America Online or Myspace.
There are no such persons any longer as “debate moderators.” The enterprise has devolved into artifice, in which the moderator is supposed to argue with the conservative candidate, “fact-check” him or her in mediis rebus, while being deferential to the like-minded progressive candidate.
Debate moderators follow assumed premises: an Anderson Cooper, Candy Crawley, Lester Holt, or Martha Raddatz envision themselves as crusaders hammering away at selfish and dangerous conservatives, in behalf of an ignorant audience that needs their enlightened help to avoid being duped. In a few of the worst cases, a scheduled debate question is leaked to the liberal candidate to ensure she is not embarrassed.
If a conservative candidate seems to have tied his opponent, the liberal moderator — witness a Matt Lauer — is considered a sell-out, soon to be shunned by the right people. Most are thus deterred from moderating “incorrectly.”
After 2016, we should either let the candidates go at it, or, better yet, let robot time keepers run things.
The 2016 campaign is not quite over, and there are a few neutron bombs left to go off — but for many of our accustomed fixtures it is too late. They are nuked, and nothing remains but their shells.
— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The Savior Generals.