Trump Seizes the Day

He has the upper hand in this contest.

by Conrad Black (August 2016)

The last of the endless refuges of the Never Trump brigades were vacated as the once unthinkable Trump campaign departed Cleveland victorious. All the claims that there would be an anti-Trump coup attempt by procedural experts at the convention, or a fractured party and a third candidate, or a political disaster that would cause the Republican congressional leadership to “drop [Trump] like a hot rock” (in Senator Mitch McConnell’s words), all to be followed naturally by a Clinton landslide — none of it happened. Ted Cruz made a very poor impression by his vanity and ungraciousness, pitching for future support and leaving this year’s candidate unmentioned. Even allowing for Trump’s credulous (or malicious) reference to the National Enquirer’s claim of an involvement by Cruz’s father in the assassination of JFK, Peggy Noonan, referring to Cruz, once again had le mot juste: “What a jerk.” Nominees generally get a boost in the polls coming out of their conventions, and Trump appears now to be leading as the Democratic convention gets underway. This is the almost certain end to all the pre-convention claptrap about Trump’s unelectability, as Mrs. Clinton struggles with the ethical shambles over the e-mails and the Democratic National Committee’s attempted sandbagging of the now almost avuncular old socialist war-horse, Bernie Sanders.

After promising sacrosanct untouchability for the right to bear arms, Trump promised law and order in terms that sound chilling to anyone with any residual respect for civil rights. Just arming the police to the teeth and increasing their numbers, and authorizing almost anything on the basis of subjective reasonable cause to suspect someone, which is what Trump promised (unless that part of his speech was complete flimflam), is probably going to reduce crime rates and help protect against terrorism. But no one should be under any illusions that policemen so empowered are not going to cause death and grievous bodily harm to a large number of innocents through professedly friendly fire. There is no evidence that public opinion will not follow wherever Trump leads on this point.

Donald Trump may be elected and will have a mandate to strengthen the police and police powers, and the aggrieved, who actually believe the Bill of Rights means something, will eventually focus on the real subject of their anger: prosecutors and the judges and legislators who abet the immense kangaroo court of American criminal justice and the bloated and corrupt monstrosity of the prison system it feeds. The police, despite occasional individual outrages, are foot soldiers doing what they’re told under the rules of engagement they’re given. Continuing upholders of the presumption of innocence are now grouped mainly in the fractious tent of the Democrats. (Almost invisibly: Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders had nothing to say about it, apart from a five-word throwaway 26 minutes into Sanders’s platitudinous address). Those who want liberalization — a criminal-justice system that isn’t just a capriciously manipulated, half-politicized conveyor-belt to the bulging prisons and the quasi-Gulag inhabited by millions awaiting rubber-stamp convictions or likely return to custody under the oppressive supervised-release regime, are likely to have a rocky time under a Trump police-state that will have been explicitly mandated in the event of Republican victory. But there is no sign they should expect much better from the Democrats.

Despite my liking for Donald Trump personally, and my admiration for his seizure of complete control of one of the great American political parties from completely outside the Washington cartel and its tenacious tentacles, I consider this result of a Trump victory very regrettable. Yet he seems to know where his potential supporters are, and his formula may be what is needed to transform flippant and insincere talk of correctional reform from the tokenists among the Clinton Democrats to a national consensus for a resurrection of the rights of the accused and suspected: the right of every American to disinterested justice, after what promises to be a dark night for the civil libertarian and the advocate of procedural equality before impartial justice. The idealistic waffling of the Clinton and Obama Democrats has not achieved anything for the millions of incarcerated, the scores of millions of the previously convicted, or the innumerable masses in the vast unsuspecting hunting grounds of the ravening criminal-justice system. Nor have Clinton and Obama done anything significant for African Americans as victims of all aspects of the justice system, and Trump will commit a serious error if he doesn’t exploit the hypocrisy of the Democrats’ claimed status as benefactors to black America.

What the national media and the Democrats — who fired their national chairperson and booed her out of a breakfast meeting as a scapegoat for the excesses of the Clinton machine in not allowing Bernie Sanders to take “their” party out from under them as Barack Obama did — are going to have to realize is just how angry many Americans are. In their oleaginous complacency, the senior officials of both parties never imagined that they could be challenged by a well-known, largely self-financed person who ran as the candidate of rage against the importation of unemployment through a long porous border and unfair trade with cheap-labor countries, and national humiliation in ill-considered wars that dragged on for over a decade and that led to scores of thousands of American casualties and trillions of dollars wasted, and to strategic and humanitarian disasters despite a fine military performance. They have still not taken on board that about half the people want them all out. Neither have the members of the mainstream commentariat understood that the public is equally tired of them — from the intelligent Right, who thought it was their turn to take back the Republican party, to the facile Left, who sincerely believe that Mrs. Clinton’s role in the shameful nuclear green light to Iran (having said for years she would prevent any such thing) was a vote-winning demonstration of statesmanship.

First published in National Review Online.



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