Tired of ‘Winning’ Yet?

President Donald Trump takes questions in the Rose Garden at the White House, May 26, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Republicans should stop making excuses for the president's lies, threats, and abuses — or stop wrapping themselves in the mantle of patriotism.

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE I ’ve never really thought of Mark Steyn as a Palestinian suicide bomber before.

You’ll want some context.

Steyn, a wonderful writer and former National Review colleague, was filling in for Rush Limbaugh a few weeks ago, and he made the case for using antitrust law to bully technology platforms such as YouTube (a Google subsidiary) into giving Republicans a fairer shake. Steyn conceded that the idea might not have much legal merit but insisted that it was necessary on political grounds. The Left, he said, is “serious about power,” and therefore the Right has to be equally “serious” — even if that means, as it plainly would mean here, abusing federal antitrust powers in the service of partisan political ends.

Steyn was leaning on a classic political trope, in effect: “The other side is a bunch of rat bastards, and therefore it not only is morally acceptable for us to be rat bastards, but we have a moral obligation to be rat bastards — if you aren’t a rat bastard, you aren’t a patriot.” Those are my words; Steyn’s would be cleverer, and possibly sung.

That is a pretty common line of thought, if you want to call it that, on the right right now — and on the left, too. Our lefty friends moan that the Right has all the money on its side and all the corporations (except Google, PepsiCo, AT&T, NBCUniversal, Facebook, UBS, JPMorgan Chase, Deloitte . . .), and the Left is therefore justified in engaging in political violence, slander, lies, acts of suppression from the petty to the grand, blacklisting, etc.

These are obvious post facto rationalizations of bad behavior. It’s the same reason our Democratic friends have insisted that every Republican president of the modern era was the moral equivalent of Adolf Hitler — they want to behave badly, they do not have sufficient moral cultivation to control themselves, they are looking for a moral permission slip, and there is no ethical get-out-of-jail-free card like the National Socialist German Workers’ Party.

You hear precisely the same thing from people who seek to justify terrorism. Jihad apologists will tell you that of course the Palestinians have to employ terrorism, of course they have to send suicide bombers, of course they have to murder women and children in Sbarro — the Israelis are so vicious and nefarious that anything is acceptable in opposing them, but the Arabs cannot beat them on the battlefield, try as they might.

In the Age of Trump, Republicans call that “winning,” which is not exactly the right word.

President Trump, incensed that Twitter has put B.S. labels on a couple of his B.S. tweets — not the ones claiming Joe Scarborough murdered a woman, bizarrely enough — retreated into Generalissimo Walter Mitty mode, that thing he does where he postures like an autocratic tyrant and then does . . . squat, more or less. If Twitter doesn’t get its act together, he threatened, “We will strongly regulate, or close them down,” a completely empty threat. He then issued a patently unconstitutional and frankly ridiculous executive order purporting to punitively revoke legal protections enjoyed by technology companies (and publications with comments sections, such as National Review) under the Communications Decency Act. But, in spite of the best efforts of Senate Democrats, the First Amendment still stands and remains an operative part of the Bill of Rights. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey will have a good chuckle and then mix himself another dihydrogen monoxide smoothie.

President Trump, ever the addict, was right back on Twitter, threatening to have the National Guard murder looters in Minneapolis. We don’t do censorship in the United States, and we don’t do summary executions, either. On Friday, another guest host for Rush Limbaugh allowed that the president’s actions were “unorthodox” or “outrageous.” We should speak plainly: These are lies and threats and abuses of the president’s position. These aren’t questions of etiquette. Republicans should stop making excuses for them or stop wrapping themselves in the mantle of patriotism — one or the other.

Republicans used to be the freedom people: free speech, free trade, free enterprise, free markets, freedom of religion, freedom of association, free to keep and bear arms. Trump and his partisans too often are the opposite of that: the neo-mercantilism people, the wildly expansive government power people, the Orbán toady people, the “total authority” people, the people who complain about abuses of presidential power on Monday and think up implausible excuses for them on Tuesday, the people who conflate corporatism with patriotism, the slanderers, the conspiracy goofs, the shut-down-Twitter-if-Twitter-doesn’t-do-what-we-want people.

Our friends on talk radio insist that we are one election away from “losing America.” If the president can shut down media he doesn’t like on a whim, then we already have lost it. All that talk of “winning” assumes a prize worth having and champions who deserve it.

That kind of winning looks a lot like losing.

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