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.

Not only did Trump sweep his opponents in decisive fashion, coming from nowhere and largely financing his own campaign; not only did the Republican primary vote increase in four years by 60 percent; not only did he (and his wife) make only the most cursory effort to smooth ruffled feathers among the numerous defeated candidates, Donald Trump is still gaining support after a convention unlike any other in living memory. In 1964, Barry Goldwater tried but failed to conciliate the Rockefeller Republicans. Eisenhower and Nixon supported him, but a large part of the Republican organization and public fell silent or went for incumbent Lyndon Johnson, riding high on his legislative accomplishments and on the red-hot memory of JFK.

Trump’s acceptance speech was novel in several ways: It was not conciliatory; it warned of a grim period of crimefighting and anti-terrorist severity; and it steamed with anger against the errors of the recent past, committed by both parties. The Bush family was not present, and though Bushes were on the national ticket six times out of seven prior to 2008, and contested for it again this year, and gave the country two living Republican ex-presidents, that name was never mentioned. Donald Trump drove the conservatives who thought themselves, with some color of right, the heirs to Ronald Reagan out of the convention (they had only about 30 percent of the primary voters and delegates), and he and the conservatives flattened the Bush-McCain-Romneyites and had them implicitly renounced and repudiated.

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.

Though he is liberal on health care and taxes, and on avoidance of unseemly concessions to defined special interests, Trump’s faith in the prosecution system is completely unjustified. It is an evil and rotten system that produces 99.5 percent conviction rates, 97 percent without trial because of the perversion of the plea-bargain system; and the victims of the system are attacking the wrong target in the police. Most police are sometimes in physical danger and most do try to defend society against criminals. They are following orders in a system that has become a mockery of justice because of the extreme intellectual and professional corruption of the prosecution service, with the compliance of most of the bench, including the Supreme Court.

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.

The Republican leaders in Congress who were going to demonstrate the force of gravity in dropping Trump are in many cases (such as that of Paul Ryan) trailing him in polls in their own districts. Nothing short of a Trump election, if that, is going to send the entrenched placemen in the federal political boiler room the real, clear message. They have all failed and they have caused the entire political system to fail, and they should be grateful that both parties have selected candidates who, despite polemical buffoonery in Trumpism and the desperately tired and hackneyed banality of geriatric Clintonism, are all that stand between a Cruz–Sanders bifurcation: no center to hold, no elder statesmen to guide, no precedent to instruct; a chaos of leftward and rightward reaction, America the beautiful deafened by demagogy.

Trump is new and has the momentum, and as I have been writing here for months, he should win; the barbs and jibes of the liberal media will not, in Shakespearean terms, “touch him further.” Hillary Clinton, heavy laden with Dr. Johnson’s “disingenuousness of years,” is an unprepossessing defender of the liberal gate at this climactic time. Grating though Donald Trump’s law-and-order paean was to anyone who has any idea of how the U. S. justice system works, there were three great mitigating elements to his acceptance speech: First, he did not refer to God, who got through the Republican convention undisturbed, neither over-invoked nor made the subject of an intrusive witch-hunt, of the sort that was inflicted on the tired accused atheist Bernie Sanders (who denies it) at the weary end of the long-distance run of his life. Second, Donald Trump did not utter the words “climate change,” or anything like them. The mighty effort of the defeated international Left to take over the environment as its new excuse and moral empowerment to destroy capitalism, punish the successful, and perfect human nature did not even get an airing at the Republican convention. Third, he did not utter one word about a shining city, a beacon, an inspiring example, or an inexhaustible source of benign American exceptionalism.

It was clear from the general ambiance of the proceedings that all participants love their country and know it is a great country, but they were there to fix it, not to self-group-administer the therapy of incanted clichés about the singularity of the United States. The Republicans already know it is a unique country, and they know that not every unique trait is a good thing. Even if the prose was sometimes inelegant (though it had its fine passages too), the Republican attitude was good: determined, positive, righteous even, but not self-righteous; and not unfocused or discreditably targeted anger. There was, rather, a will to clean up a magnificent country that the candidate’s haughty opponents in both parties have misgoverned for 20 years. As the King James Version reminds us, an haughty spirit goeth before a fall.

First published in National Review Online.



Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of FreedomRichard M Nixon: A Life in FullA Matter of PrincipleFlight of the Eagle: The Grand Strategies That Brought America from Colonial Dependence to World Leadership and Rise To Greatness: A History of Canada from the Vikings to the Present. He was the chairman of the Telegraph newspapers in Britain, 1987-2003, and founded the National Post in Canada, where he remains a columnist. He also writes in the National Review Online and Huffington Post. He has been one of Canada’s best known financiers for 35 years and has returned to that occupation, and has been a member of the British House of Lords since 2001.


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