In a forthcoming book, Victor Davis Hanson advises people to take a historical perspective—and not the media narrative—in evaluating the activities and policy outcomes of the Trump Administration on key issues such as judicial appointments, energy, economic growth, jobs, and foreign policy.
Hanson, the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, studies and writes about classical and military history and applies their lessons to contemporary policy issues. His book, The Case for Trump, is due out on March 5. Hanson was recently interviewed about the subject:
What did Trump see in the American electorate in 2016 that no one else did?
Hanson: A sense that culturally the Left was taking the country into radical territory that was beginning to frighten half the electorate, while establishment Republicans were wedded to an economic orthodoxy unsympathetic to the hallowed out red interior. Secondly, he then crafted unorthodox agendas on trade, manufacturing, immigration, and foreign policy designed to win over those largely ignored in the swing states, especially in the Midwest, refuting both traditional Democratic and Republican campaign calculus. Thirdly, conservatives wanted a candidate that would not play by perceived Marquess of Queensberry Republican rules of campaigning and media handling, or seem to prefer to lose nobly than win uncouthly, but would instead match the Democratic “war room” blow for blow.
Why does he incur such disdain?
Hanson: A number of reasons. Personally, he can be cruel and even crude in repartee. His accent, appearance, dress and comportment grate on the elite of the coasts as unpresidential. His business past is hardly comparable to that of past presidents. He was written off by both party establishments as a crank and then inexplicably blew up the anticipated sixteen-year leftwing Obama-Clinton regime, leaving progressives in a state of shock. His record so far on judicial appointments, energy, economic growth, jobs, and foreign policy is impressive, contrary to dire predictions that he was incompetent and would wreck the economy or start a war. And he may have the ability to harvest large percentages of Democratic constituencies—the white working and remnant union classes of course, but also 20 percent of the African-American vote, and perhaps 30-40 percent of the Latino vote, which would be near fatal to Democratic election calculus, and thus achieve what more sober and judicious Republican strategists had heretofore failed at. In sum, someone who looks, sounds and acts like Trump is not supposed to be successful in a way many past presidents have not been.
Are Trump and his behavior different from that of past presidents?
Hanson: Yes and no. Ostensibly he is our first president without prior military or political experience, and acts in his words “new presidential” (tweeting endlessly, ad hominem attacks, too easy accessibility to the press, thin skinned, and non-ending campaign rallies). On the other hand, we have lost historical perspective in the age of a new 90 percent negative Trump media and historically ignorant journalists—given that past presidents like Kennedy, Johnson, and Clinton while in office were often reckless in their personal lives, and yet more protected by the media. If the personal behavior in the White House of even an FDR or the past associates of a steady Harry Truman were as well scrutinized and publicized as Trump’s, then we might have different views of such quite successful past presidents—and more perspective about Trump. The Internet and social media are force multipliers of these polarized times as we saw with the Covington kids, and the Jussie Smollett psychodrama.
Are the Trump Administration's policies good for America and the people who voted for him, and if so, why?
Hanson: We can only look at the data of the first twenty-four months: 3 percent annualized economic growth, below 4 percent peacetime unemployment, record gas and oil production, superb judicial picks, much needed deregulation, near-record-low minority unemployment, a strong stock market and still low inflation and interest rates—set against the crucial failure to address spiraling entitlements and a near $22 trillion debt. In particular, goals once deemed impossible are now feasible, as we see with rising real wages, steady increases in manufacturing jobs, and less offshoring and outsourcing in the once written off red interior.
On policies, do you think we get too much more media coverage of political personalities and Trump's behavior than the actual policies being rolled out?
Hanson: Well, I think most Americans do. If we collate the unprecedented 90 percent negative media, the celebrity assassination-chic outbursts, the efforts to sue about voting machines, to subvert the Electoral College voting, to stymie Trump initiatives in the courts, to introduce articles of impeachment, to invoke the Logan Act, the Emoluments Clause, and the 25th Amendment, to unleash the 2-year long special counsel’s “collusion” investigation, and the administrative state’s attempt under the FBI’s Andrew McCabe and Rod Rosenstein at the DOJ to enact a silent coup, we have never seen such an effort to discredit and to remove an elected president. It’s quite scary that Trump’s enemies could not wait until 2020, but the moment he was elected sought to use almost any means necessary to remove him—well apart from one-hundred-percent legislative resistance from the Democratic Party, which now has been superseded by a new generation of genuine radical neo-socialists.
Is there a Trump doctrine?
Hanson: Abroad, it is a sort of principled realism or ‘don’t tread on me’ Jacksonianism. American power is finite and won’t be diffused in optional wars where even tactical victories don’t seem to lead to strategic resolutions. Instead, it seeks to reestablish deterrence, and thus to be “no better friend” to our core allies and “no worse enemy” to our perceived enemies. There is a skepticism of global governance at the expense of nationalism, and even transnational alliances and agreements—at least to the extent they are deemed asymmetrical and not equally funded by participants. That said, Trump’s agenda abroad is increasingly aimed at containing China in economic, political, and military ways, and forcing it to play by international commercial rules—before its economic clout, population, military, and capital redefine the postwar global order on quite different and scary terms. Many allies publicly caricature Trump, but privately appreciate the restoration of U.S. deterrence.
At home, Trumpism is populist free-market capitalism—part traditional conservative economic doctrines of deregulation, tax cuts, and private enterprise boosterism, mixed with the doctrine of “fair” rather than “free” trade, in that Trump uses taboo tariffs to force allies and enemies alike to agree to symmetrical trade, while not letting the market entirely adjudicate social policy, as he sought to stop offshoring and outsourcing and maintain entitlements for the middle classes.
Any other issues you'd like to address?
Hanson: There are a lot of Trump known unknowns: will Trump’s base turn out in 2016 numbers? What happens to the Republican Party after Trump? Has Trump derangement syndrome led to the dismemberment of the Democratic Party and left it in the hands of a younger generation of socialists? How can Trump address near $1 trillion budget deficits, and $22 trillion in debt, especially given commitments to tax reduction, increased defense spending, and hands-off of entitlements?
Hanson last year published the book, The Second World Wars. He is also the chairman of the Role of Military History in Contemporary Conflict Working Group at the Hoover Institution.
Clifton B. Parker, Hoover Institution: (650) 498-5204, cbparker [at] stanford.edu