On June 14, 1918, a nineteen year old Italian soldier by the name of Bernardo Vicario was ordered by his commander, Carl Rigoli, to carry out a curious task. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Italian forces would soon be hit with a furious bombardment that would mean the death of most of them. Rigoli clearly knew this, which is why he told young Bernardo to write an inscription on the ruined wall of a home in the village of Fagare, where they were holed up:
“Better to live one day as a lion than a hundred years as a sheep.”
Rigoli perished in the battle: Bernardo lived to tell the tale. And almost a hundred years later, a researcher looking for ways to smear GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump stumbled across a reference to it and attributed it to Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator.
A reporter for Gawker, the notorious gossip site that’s been sued for libel more times than I care to discover, had set up a parody Twitter account named “Il Duce,” and the reporter, one Ashley Feinberg, tweeted the not-said-by-Mussolini quote at Trump, who promptly retweeted it. Shortly afterward, Trump was confronted by reporter Chuck Todd, who wanted to know why he was retweeting something said by Mussolini. Trump wouldn’t back down: “It’s a great quote,” he said, quite correctly. That refusal, and the content of the quote itself, underscores and explains why he is winning and why the hysterical smear campaign directed at him and his campaign is failing big-time.
But why – why do they hate him with such ferocity? The accusations of “racism” and the way he speaks without regard for upper class niceties doesn’t explain the intensity of the hatred coming from the journalistic wolf pack and the Washington crowd. After all, shortly after Trump raised the issue of whether we should allow Muslims into the United States, the House of Representatives passed a bill – supported by libertarians like Rand Paul as well as mainline Republicans and Democrats – making it all but impossible for immigrants from Muslim countries to resettle here. It also requires all foreigners who have visited Iraq, Syria or Iran, or who hold dual citizenship from those countries, to apply for a visa before visiting here… Yet we heard very little about that.
So where is all this vitriol coming from? David Stockman, former chief of the Office of Management and Budget under Ronald Reagan, nails it:
“To be sure, there is much that is ugly, superficial and stupid about Donald Trump’s campaign platform, if you can call it that, or loose cannon oratory to be more exact. More on that below, but at the heart of his appeal are two propositions which strike terror in the hearts of the Imperial City’s GOP operatives.
“To wit, he is loudly self-funding his own campaign and bombastically insisting that America is getting a bad deal everywhere in the world.
“The first of these propositions explicitly tells the legions of K-Street lobbies to take a hike, thereby posing a mortal threat to the fund raising rackets which are the GOPs lifeblood. And while the “bad deal” abroad is superficially about NAFTA and our $500 billion trade deficit with China, it is really an attack on the American Imperium.
“The American people are sick and tired of the Lindsey Graham/John McCain/George Bush/neocon wars of intervention and occupation; and they resent the massive fiscal burdens of our outmoded but still far-flung alliances, forward bases and apparatus of security assistance and economic aid. They especially have no patience for the continued huge cost of our commitments to cold war relics like NATO, the stationing of troops in South Korea and the defense treaty with the incorrigible Japanese, who still blatantly rig their trade rules against American exports.
“In short, The Donald is tapping a nationalist/isolationist impulse that runs deep among a weary and economically precarious main street public. He is clever enough to articulate it in the bombast of what sounds like a crude trade protectionism. Yet if Pat Buchanan were to re-write his speech, it would be more erudite and explicit about the folly of the American Imperium, but the message would be the same.”
All this was on display during the Houston GOP debate, and yet its significance was lost amid all the histrionics. To begin with, look at this exchange between former AIPAC employee Wolf Blitzer, the moderator, and Trump:
“BLITZER: You said this about the ongoing conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians – I’m quoting you now: ‘Let me be sort of a neutral guy. I don’t want to say whose fault it is, I don’t think it helps.’
“BLITZER: Here’s the question. How do you remain neutral when the U.S. considers Israel to be America’s closest ally in the Middle East?
“TRUMP: Well, first of all, I don’t think they do under President Obama because I think he’s treated Israel horribly, all right? I think he’s treated Israel horribly. I was the grand marshall down 5th Avenue a number of years ago for the Israeli Day Parade, I have very close ties to Israel. I’ve received the Tree of Life Award and many of the greatest awards given by Israel.
“As president, however, there’s nothing that I would rather do to bring peace to Israel and its neighbors generally. And I think it serves no purpose to say that you have a good guy and a bad guy.
“Now, I may not be successful in doing it. It’s probably the toughest negotiation anywhere in the world of any kind. OK? But it doesn’t help if I start saying, “I am very pro-Israel, very pro, more than anybody on this stage.” But it doesn’t do any good to start demeaning the neighbors, because I would love to do something with regard to negotiating peace, finally, for Israel and for their neighbors.
“And I can’t do that as well – as a negotiator, I cannot do that as well if I’m taking … sides.”
That is nothing short of remarkable, especially if one recalls the Mitt Romney-Barack Obama debate in which both competed with the other in proclaiming their absolute fealty to Israel and their refusal to even recognize that there are two sides to the issue. Marco Rubio was outraged by this unprecedented display of common sense, and launched into one of his robo-responses, repeating word-for-word some editorial he’d probably read in Commentary or the Weekly Standard. And in the course of it he said something remarkably stupid: “The Palestinians are not a real estate deal, Donald.”
Now one assumes he meant the Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t about a real estate deal, but the reality is that’s precisely what it is – a real estate deal gone bad. It’s all about land. And it will take fair-minded negotiating and – yes – deal-making to solve that festering problem. Rubio cannot acknowledge this because his donors won’t let him. As a creature of Imperial Washington – where Israel is always right and the Palestinians are always wrong – Rubio can’t allow himself to say or even think that.
Another example of why Trump has roused the ire of the political class: in refuting Rubio’s misleading accusation that he did not change his position in August 2011 and come out publicly against the Libyan intervention and starting another war in Syria – both of which he has denounced in no uncertain terms – Trump said this:
“If these politicians went to the beach and didn’t do a thing, and we had Saddam Hussein and if we had Gadhafi in charge, instead of having terrorism all over the place, we’d be – at least they killed terrorists, all right?
“And I’m not saying they were good because they were bad, they were really bad, but we don’t know what we’re getting. You look at Libya right now, ISIS, as we speak, is taking over their oil. As we speak, it’s a total mess.
“We would have been better off if the politicians took a day off instead of going into war.”
I bolded the above because it succinctly sums up not only the Trumpian foreign policy but also Trump’s critique of the past twenty years. And to make things even scarier for the War Party, he wants us to pull back from policing the world to attend to business that must be attended to:
“We can no longer defend all of these countries, Japan, Germany, South Korea. You order televisions, you order almost anything, you’re getting it from these countries. Whether it’s a Mercedes-Benz, or whether it’s an air conditioning unit. They’re coming out of these countries. They are making a fortune. Saudi Arabia, we are defending Saudi Arabia. Before Before the oil went down, now they’re making less, but they’re making plenty. They were making $1 billion dollars a day.
“We defend all of these countries for peanuts. You talk about budgets. We have to start getting reimbursed for taking care of the military services for all of these countries.”
Trump has called for pulling US troops out of Europe, where they’ve been sitting since the end of World War II: these countries are rich, he argues, and have to start defending themselves. He also questions what they have to be afraid of in Putin’s Russia, declaring he could get along with the Russian leader, with the implicit assumption being they could too.
Indeed, Trump challenges every major new American incursion into regions where it doesn’t belong: Syria, where he wonders why we’re subsidizing “rebels” and “we don’t’ know who they are”; Ukraine, which he disdains as simply a backwater where we have no interests; and Libya, where he points to the chaos caused by Hillary’s war and where we’re getting ready to revisit.
Trump represents a deadly challenge to the high command of the War Party – the neoconservatives who lied us into war in Iraq – and were called out for it by him. These people are the main driving force that is ideologically committed to maintaining Washington’s imperial pretensions even as we plunge further into bankruptcy. They are behind the vicious smear campaign that equates Trump with Mussolini, Hitler, David Duke, and the Devil himself. They see that they are losing control of the GOP – their pathway to power – and they are reacting like the cornered rats they are.
If Trump gets the Republican nomination the neocons are through as a viable political force on the Right. That’s why National Review devoted a whole issue of their magazine to the theme “Against Trump.” That’s why the neocons’ allies in the media are going after him hammer and tongs. That’s why neocons like Robert Kagan are openly declaring they will support Hillary Clinton, while others – including the formerly libertarian network of organizations funded by Charles and David Koch – are financing a “Stop Trump” campaign. There is even talk of the (impractical) idea of running a third party candidate in order to take votes away from Trump.
The rats are converging, squealing up a storm of abuse, and resorting to the most obvious smear tactics in order to keep their bread-and-butter on the table. Yet this, too, will backfire, just as all the other attempts to stop Trump have flopped – because people have had enough. They are beyond angry – indeed, they’re happy! Overjoyed by the sight of the political class on the run – and determined to make them run even faster.
I hear Trump wears a bullet-proof vest, and has done so for years. If I were him I’d guard my head – and watch my back.
This is not to say I personally give one iota of political support to Trump – and Antiwar.com doesn’t endorse candidates for any office, period. David Stockman’s piece, linked above, describes some of the pitfalls of Trumpismo, which I fully endorse. Yet that is not my purpose here.
My job is to analyze current events: instead of reiterating what everyone else is saying, albeit in different words, my purpose is to get behind the headlines and go beyond the groupthink so that my readers can not only understand what is happening in the world – but also develop some insight into how to go about changing it. If Trump secures the nomination, the way is paved for transforming the GOP from the party of perpetual war to the party that honors the long-forgotten “isolationist” Sen. Robert A. Taft, who used to be celebrated as "Mr. Republican." And if Trump actually wins the White House, the military-industrial complex is finished, along with the globalists who dominate foreign policy circles in Washington. While Trump is no libertarian, the effect of this sea-change in the foreign policy realm will be to objectively cut the dominance of federal power in our lives, first of all by saving us from bankruptcy and freeing up resources for the private sector, and secondly by reducing the blowback that has empowered terrorists.
Don’t be fooled: GOP bigwigs aren’t afraid Trump will lose to Hillary. They’re afraid he’ll win.
Trump, for all his crudity and contradictions, represents a populist uprising against the Empire and those who profit from our imperialist foreign policy. That’s why the political class hates him – and has vowed to destroy him.
I started out telling you the story of the lion and the sheep, and I end with the good news that the sheep – inspired by the lion – are finally turning on the sheepherders.
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NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.