President Trump is once again roiling Washington and provoking attacks from both sides of the increasingly irrelevant political spectrum with his pre-Super Bowl interview with Fox’s Bill O’Reilly. Here’s the relevant part of the transcript:
“O’Reilly: Do you respect Putin?
“Trump: I do respect him, but –
“O’Reilly: Do you? Why?
“Trump: Well, I respect a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to get along with him. He’s a leader of his country. I say it’s better to get along with Russia than not. And if Russia helps us in the fight against ISIS, which is a major fight – that’s a good thing. Will I get along with him? I have no idea.
“O’Reilly: But he’s a killer, though. Putin’s a killer.
“Trump: There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think – our country’s so innocent?”
The resulting uproar crosses ideological and partisan lines in ways that highlight the President’s role – and his value – as the Great Disruptor. From the worst and most craven apologists for all-things-Clinton, to the little Lenin of neoconservatism and all the usual suspects of right-wing NeverTrumpdom, the chorus of outrage rises like the howling of dogs baying at the moon. David Frum, former neocon enforcer at National Review and now an editor at left-neocon headquarters over at The Atlantic, is apoplectic. A washed up liberal actor who’s long past his expiration date indulges in a little uncharacteristic flag-waving. And the wave of virtue-signaling “patriotic” Trumpophobia rolls on….
What Trump said is something that every ordinary person recognizes – that the US government is not and has not been a conclave of angels. He echoes what every libertarian certainly takes as given: that government is coercion, naked force, and that it routinely kills. Only our political class resists this truism: or, at least, never says it out loud, except on those special occasions when brazen bloodlust is in fashion.
Even those who claim to be above partisan and ideological favoritism, and pride themselves on calling out hypocrisy and groupthink no matter what it’s coloration, like Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill, couldn’t help but ascribe dark motives to Trump, even as he was sounding like Noam Chomsky. Trump can’t possibly mean what he is quite clearly saying, they aver, because everything he says and does is, by definition, evil – while, over at the “libertarian” Niskanen Institute, which is pushing an alliance with the left based on NeverTrump-ism, they’re telling us that Trump does mean what he says, and therefore anti-interventionism and a comprehensive critique of the “liberal international order” is wrong and needs to be abandoned.
The Niskanenites abhor Trump precisely because he has thrown down the gauntlet to the “liberal international order.” Like all the advocates of American globalism, the Niskanen crowd and their neoconservative first cousins insist on the principle of “American exceptionalism”: the idea that we are uniquely qualified – destined – to impose a hegemonic order on the rest of the world via a network of protectorates, alliances, and military bases.
The privileging of the American state is due to our transcendent character as the incarnation of the Good – a grandiloquent delusion that has been the moral-ideological premise of US foreign policy since the postwar period and the dawn of the cold war. From the Truman Doctrine to the Bush Doctrine, this quasi-religious concept has rationalized all our wars of “liberation” – and brought us to the brink of financial and moral bankruptcy.
Trump is not only challenging the postwar international order, he also scoffs openly at the premise on which this doctrine is based. America, he is saying, must become a normal country again, and a return to normalcy is precisely what his foreign policy – and, I would argue, his domestic agenda – is all about. This cannot be accomplished until the penumbra of the Church Militant is banished from the policymakers in Washington, D.C.
Yes, America is “exceptional” in the relatively limited sense that it experienced a libertarian revolution – the only fully successful one in world history. Where libertarians part company with the “exceptionalists” is the latter’s belief that this burdens us with any special mission to “liberate” the world or even to protect it from its own folly. This metastasized globalism is simply Jacobinism unleashed – and, if pursued to the end, would soon deprive us of the unique characteristics that make us exceptional.
Trump’s remarks underscore his uncanny ability to upend American politics, challenge the conventional wisdom, and smash what George Orwell derided as the “smelly little orthodoxies” that dominate the discourse in every age and nation. He is, in short, the ultimate iconoclast, i.e., a destroyer of icons, a battering ram deployed against the solemn bromides that substitute for real thought. As the Trumpian tornado whirls its way across the political landscape, turning politics as we’ve known it upside down, the admission by a sitting US President that we are something less than angels of mercy is a welcome development indeed.
Am I saying that Trump is an angel of mercy? By no means. What I am saying is that the President of the United States has dared to introduce a note of realism into a subject that has never before been addressed by someone of his stature with such refreshing honesty and sincerity. And that is not only good in itself, it also augurs well for the future of the country.
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.