Politics & Policy

The Betrayal of the Intellectuals?

President Obama in the Oval Office in 2010. (Pete Souza/White House)
After nearly eight years of aiding and abetting Obama, leftists now fear the possible constitutional overreach of our next president.

Peter Beinart writes angrily in The Atlantic of the supposed Trump intellectuals, apparently on the premise of not whether one has endorsed formally the Trump candidacy, but whether one has been critical of the existing administration. He suggests that I am guilty of suggesting that “America’s current leaders” are “predatory and decadent” and as one of “Trump’s intellectuals” have wrongly warned that “the natural arc of Obama-style progressivism is always anti-constitutional fascism.” (The quote is taken from a June NRO essay entitled “A Long Trump Summer” that lamented two “unprincipled candidates.”)

I and many others, long ago in the pre-Trump age, cited the quite dangerous trajectory of Obama’s constitutional overreach. That worry is now shared apparently by the New York Times. Suddenly in year eight, its editors fear that someday another president, perhaps one less sensitive, more uncouth than Obama, might find his exemplar useful, but for less exalted progressive purposes. Thus the Times has characterized Obama’s overreach as “bureaucratic bulldozing rather than legislative transparency.” And more ominously it notes, “But once Mr. Obama got the taste for it, he pursued his executive power without apology, and in ways that will shape the presidency for decades to come.”

Long before the arrival of Donald Trump on the current election scene, many noted with alarm efforts to circumvent the Congress with Obama’s “pen and phone” executive orders and nullification of existing law — whether the executive-order amnesties and non-enforcement of the border that he had warned he could not do before his reelection, given that they would be the work of an autocrat, or his allowance of sanctuary cities’ Confederate-like nullification of existing federal law, or his arbitrary reelection-cycle, non-enforcement of elements of his own Affordable Care Act, or virtual rewriting of laws in federal bureaucracies such as the EPA, or the quite dangerous politicization of agencies such as Lois Lerner’s activity at the IRS or the Eric-Holder/Loretta Lynch Justice Department or his divisive Chavista braggadocio (“get in their faces,” “punish our enemies,” “bring a gun to a knife fight,” “you didn’t build that,” etc.).

Obama understandably grew confident that he could nullify or ignore existing federal law, on the assurance he was doing so on transformative grounds and thus would be largely exempt from press scrutiny. And he was largely proven right in his reliance on media collusion.

RELATED: Obama’s Legacy Is Executive Abuse

So Beinart misses entirely what has angered the proverbial people about the so-called Washington–New York corridor’s political-media-academia elites. The people are not angry nativists opposing legal immigration, but they object to massive, illegal immigration that is neither diverse nor liberal, and whose architects never seem to experience firsthand the consequences of what they created.

It is not just the Iraq War per se that angered the people, but the elites who had urged the war and then by 2006 had largely and conveniently opted out from their preemptive advocacy (my brilliant three-week removal of Saddam; your messed-up years-long occupation) — while thousands of youth were still fighting for their lives in the places they had once been ordered into. And it was not anger at the wealthy per se, but at the well-connected elites whose lives are graced with cultural and social privileges, characterized by insider influence and generationally embedded connections that blind them to how life is lived outside their often ridiculous embryos — given that so often they never experience the direct results of their own ideological agendas.  

RELATED: Will Obama’s Executive Overreach Be Policed?

Finally, given the anti-constitutional arc of the last eight years, it is rich for Beinart to warn the good intellectuals about their true (anti-Trumpian) duties: to warn Trump supporters about the consequences of their ignorance, given that “America is a democracy because the people’s voices count,” as he writes. “But it is a liberal democracy because freedom of the press, independence of the judiciary, and the rule of law are not subject to popular vote.”

Should we laugh or cry at that doublespeak, given the Obama Justice Department’s somnolence in the matter of the Clinton violations of national-security protocols, or the president’s own executive order circumvention of existing laws, or a free press that so often has chosen to become a Ministry of Truth. 

#share#Beinart worries about the corrosive effects of wealth on democracy; he should offer an extension course on how the Clintons accumulated a net worth of $150 million since Bill left the presidency, or on the methodologies by which once-convicted financial speculator and multibillionaire George Soros warps the democratic process. Or he might collate the political preferences of a Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, or Mark Zuckerberg. Perhaps he could recall who was the first presidential candidate in a general election to renounce public campaign funding in order to become the greatest recipient of Wall Street cash in election history.

Beinart’s second commandment for anti-Trump intellectuals is to hone “their ability to push the American political system to address the combustible economic despair of the working-class white men who have powered Trump’s campaign.”

For the last eight years, white privileged intellectuals have been keen to cite the apparent ‘white privilege’ of others — often those who don’t have much of any privileges.

Note Beinart’s pride in his and other intellectuals’ supposed ability to “push the political system.” But, alas, by his own admission, they so far have not pushed much of anything concerning the “despair of the working-class white men” — raising the question of “why not”?  Certainly, for the last eight years, white privileged intellectuals have been keen to cite the apparent “white privilege” of others — often those who don’t have much of any privileges — in a manner that seems designed to assuage their conflicted psyches about their own demonstrable advantages.

Rather than answer in intellectual terms, I suggest that Beinart simply take a sabbatical: put his children for a year in an inner-city or rural, public unionized school, or conduct an anthropological field study by driving out for six months to Dayton or Modesto, or take up some work-study on a farm outside Delano. All that might be of far more value than searching for quotes in Czesław Miłosz’s The Captive Mind (whose warnings, after all, were focused on the allure for left-wing intellectuals of charismatic, hard-core Stalinism).

#related#In sum, violations of our constitutional freedoms could arrive in the form of a crude and blustering populist on the 2017 horizon; but far more worrisome is the fact that the dangers are already here, having arrived insidiously in the form of a suave constitutional-law lecturer, who assumed that because he was stamped as progressive, familiar, and one of the cultural elite, a liberal press would willingly overlook the means he employed to obtain their shared ends. The press corps need not worry that their freedoms will be taken away by Trump, given that for some time they have been only too happy to give them up.  

Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.

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