SteynOnline celebrates its twentieth birthday this month, and we're marking the occasion by getting back in the cruise biz. No tests, no vax passports, that's all yours to choose or not; but just a week of fun on the high seas with Bo Snerdley, Michele Bachmann, Tal Bachman and other Steyn favorites. More information here.
We're also celebrating by strolling back through the last two decades of the SteynOnline archives. For earlier entries, see below.
Seven years ago, a man who had been threatening to run for president for decades finally did it. So he descended a Manhattan escalator and suggested that Mexico wasn't "sending its best". The media thought he was a joke, and their main interest in the event was the question of whether his supporters were paid extras. They barely noticed his slogan, already in place in that first day: "Make America Great Again." As for the broader aesthetic, it was left to the sorely put-upon GOP base to notice, "Gee, this guy's actually talking about an issue of concern to us..."
Three weeks after that escalator ride, I wrote the following under the headline "Last Stand of the Old White Males", a consideration of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump versus Hillary and Jeb. On the morning after the forty-fifth president launches his attempt to become the Grover Cleveland of our time, I reprise it mainly to remind myself that the Trump of 2015 marked a rare moment in the barren wastes of American politics when a major-party candidate was talking about anything real...
Readers keep asking me about the presidential race, and to be honest my heart sinks. Yes, yes, I know it's important to elect a Republican candidate because, if nothing else, as we're always told, they get to nominate strong candidates to the Supreme Court - like, er, Anthony Kennedy and, um, John Roberts. So that said:
Because for many years the only TV station I could get in my corner of New Hampshire was Channel 3 Vermont (with its excellent local news show anchored by the late and much missed Marselis Parsons), I've been watching Bernie Sanders since he was Mayor of Burlington. His rise from mayor to congressman to senator embodies what one might call the Ben&Jerrification of a once great and rock-ribbed Republican state. A New York Jew with a very urban accent, Bernie started in the latte enclave of Chittenden County, expanded to other semi-flatlandered quartiers of the state, but eventually conquered the plaid-clad hold-out of the North-East Kingdom. He did all this as an "independent socialist" without any party machine.
So he's not just an attractive gadfly but an extremely well organized one. Which is why a man who is largely unknown to the national media is pulling the largest crowds of this campaign - 10,000 in Wisconsin, 8,000 in Maine. And he's being very positive - it's all about Bernie, very little about Hillary. He would be the oldest man ever elected president and 83 years old at the end of two terms - which we won't have to worry about because the entire country will have slid off the cliff long before then. But he's enthusing the base, and any base wants to be enthused.
Hillary, by contrast, is in trouble not because she's a sleazy, corrupt, cronyist, money-laundering, Saud-kissing liar. Democrats have a strong stomach and boundless tolerance for all of that and wouldn't care were it not for the fact that she's a dud and a bore. A "Hillary rally" is a contradiction in terms: the thin, vetted crowd leave more demoralized and depressed than when they went in. To vote for Bernie is to be part of a romance, as it was with Obama. To vote for Hillary is to validate the Clintons' indestructible sense of their own indispensability - and nothing else. Hillary is a wooden charmless stiff who supposedly has enough money to be carefully managed across the finish line. But that requires Democratic electors to agree to be managed, too, and the Sanders surge is a strong sign that, while they're relaxed about voting for an unprincipled arrogant phony marinated in ever more malodorous and toxic corruption, they draw the line at such a tedious and charisma-free specimen thereof.
So Bernie is a real danger to her. He will be nimbler, more fun and more human in the debates. And he enthuses the young in a way Hillary doesn't. He could win Iowa, and I know he could win New Hampshire, too, where he will ensure that, instead of going off to destabilize the Republican primary, Granite State "independents" vote in the Democrat poll and play hell with Hillary's ability to manage turnout models. If Mrs Clinton's two down by South Carolina, Berniephobes will be begging any alternative (starting with Crazy Joe) to jump in the race.
Meanwhile, another old white man is destabilizing the Republican primary. Donald Trump would also be the oldest man elected president, but like Bernie he too seems to be reaching parts of the base the younger and prettier types can't. Six months out, no predictions are possible about the first states: I assume a George Pataki or Lindsay Graham or two will have fallen by the wayside by January, but a lot of the rest seem to have just enough cash to hang in awhile and it's not clear there aren't a couple more still to come. With a dozen or more candidates many of whom are all in the single digits and within the margin of error, you might be able to win New Hampshire with, say, 14 per cent of the vote. In an open primary, if the youth vote is over with the Dems voting for Bernie, an older culturally conservative Perot vote might well show up in the GOP to vote for Trump. Who knows?
But here's the funny and consequential thing. Trump is supposed to be the narcissist blowhard celebrity candidate: He's a guy famous for erecting aesthetically revolting buildings with his "brand" plastered all over them, for arm-candy brides, for beauty contests and reality shows. The other fellows are sober, serious senators and governors.
And yet Trump is the only one who's introduced an issue into this otherwise torpid campaign - and the most important issue of all, I would argue, in that ultimately it's one of national survival. And so the same media that dismiss Trump as an empty reality-show vanity candidate are now denouncing him for bringing up the only real policy question in the race so far.
What he said may or may not be offensive, but it happens to be true: America has more Mexicans than anybody needs, and then some. It certainly has more unskilled Mexicans than any country needs, including countries whose names begin with "Mex-" and end in "-ico". And it has far more criminal Mexicans than anybody needs, which is why they make up 71 per cent of the foreign inmates in federal jails. Just to underline that last point, a young American woman was murdered for kicks in a supposed "sanctuary city" on the eve of the holiday weekend by an illegal immigrant from Mexico. He had flouted US immigration law for years - or, to be more precise about it, local, state and federal officials had colluded with him in the flouting of US immigration law, to the point where San Francisco's sheriff actively demanded the return of this criminal to his "sanctuary city", thereby facilitating the homicide of an actual citizen, taxpayer and net contributor to American society.
This would be quite an interesting topic to air in a US election campaign, don't you think? Certainly, a segment of voters seems to be interested in it. But bigshot media like NBC and Univision and craphole emporia like Macy's are telling Trump and everybody else: you can't even bring this up; this is beyond discussion. The "acceptable" Republican candidates are now obliged to denounce the guy who mentioned the unmentionable: "Will you distance yourself from Trump's controversial remarks? Do you agree such views have no place in your party?" Needless to say, Reince Preibus and the other jelly-spined squishes of the GOP establishment are eagerly stampeding to do the Macy's-Univision-industrial complex's work for them.
The Donald is not really a conservative, nor much of a Republican. He's given more or less evenhandedly to both parties over the decades, because, at Trump's level, that's just the price of doing business in a sclerotic and corrupt republic. The Clintons attended one of his weddings, because, for New York operators, that's like the King of Spain attending the Prince of Wales' wedding: it's just A-list power-schmoozing. Whether the Chinese Politburo would respond positively to a President Trump whose opening conversational gambit is "Now listen, you muthaf**kers" is doubtful.
Yet Trump, like other philosophically erratic politicians from Denmark to Greece, has tapped into a very basic strain of cultural conservatism: the question of how far First World peoples are willing to go in order to extinguish their futures on the altar of "diversity".
As Ann Coulter's new book Adios, America! lays out in remorseless detail, Kate Steinle is dead because the entire Democratic Party, two-thirds of the Republican Party and 100 per cent of the diseased federal-state-municipal bureaucracy prioritizes myths over reality. Yes, it's distressing to persons of taste and discrimination that the only person willing to address that reality is Donald Trump. But that's because he's not the reality-show freak here. The fake-o lame-o reality freakshow is the political pseudo-campaign being waged within the restraints demanded by the media and Macy's. So, if Donald Trump is the only guy willing to bust beyond those bounds, we owe him a debt of gratitude. If, as Karl Rove proposes, other candidates are able to talk about the subject in a more "inclusive" way, so be it. But, if "inclusive" is code for not addressing it at all, nuts to that.
Step back and let's be bipartisan about what Rove calls the "disruptiveness" factor: Be honest, which would you prefer and which is a bleaker comment on the political health of the republic - Bernie vs the Donald? Or Hillary vs Jeb?
~ from SteynOnline, July 10th 2015
Bernie could have won the nomination. He had everything Trump had - except the killer instinct. So the moment he said he was "sick of hearing about your damn emails" Hillary knew she was in the clear, home and dry. When it mattered, Bernie chose to remain within the norms of American politics, and thus blew it.
Ten days after my first observations on Trump, I returned to the subject in a column headlined "The Superbowl of Superholes". So, within that first month, I covered the two sides of Trump that bedevil us to this day: a) he's an assshole, but b) he's the only guy who talks about anything that matters. Then as now, the GOP establishment flew into a tizzy about the former mainly because they have no interest in the latter.
I have no idea who will be the Republican nominee in two years' time. America is dying before our eyes: it is a sclerotic, corrupted, broke ruin. But I will always be grateful to the Donald Trump of 2015 for, however briefly, making American politics real again. And this piece usefully reminds us of the difference between a media "maverick" and a real one:
We are cursed, as the Chinese say, to live in "interesting times", about which there is much to say - the Iran deal, for example, or the Allaku Akbar guy running amok in Chattanooga. Yet the dead sloth that is the Republican Party has finally roused itself to spend the last 48 hours hammering Donald Trump for impugning the honor of John McCain.
As his criminal-immigrant surge demonstrates, Trump's support comes almost entirely from Americans who feel the political class passes its time talking about nothing that matters to them. So feel free to spend the weekend talking about John McCain. QED, as Trump is unlikely to say.
On the matter of McCain, in June 1998 the Senator stood up to address a Republican fundraising meeting: "You think that was a tasteless joke?" he began, referring to the previous speaker's closing Viagra gag. "Listen to this one." He then told the following side-splitter:
"Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly?
"Because her real father's Janet Reno."
Rimshot. In just twelve words, Senator McCain insulted not the President himself but the three women closest to him (officially, that is): he said the kid's a dog, the First Lady's an adulterous lesbian, and the Attorney-General's an unconvincing transvestite.
Is this as bad as mocking a guy's 40-year-old military service? Well, it's certainly ungallant. From the perspective of 2015, I have no respect whatsoever for any of the trio, but I would not mock their looks, orientation or alleged possession of male genitalia. At the time young Chelsea had just turned 18. Is it more disreputable for a grown man to insult in public a rich, powerful senator's war record than a teenage girl's looks? Whatever the answer, a chap who's done the latter has no business complaining about the former.
Back in '98, the real punchline to McCain's joke came in the deafening silence of the American media: like a genteel dowager on the 'bus trying to avoid catching the eye of the gibbering derelict, the press decided not to notice. In The New York Times, Maureen Dowd wrote a piece alluding to it, but without repeating the joke, which rendered her column entirely incomprehensible to anybody but Beltway insiders. The only reason I know the joke happened is because some guy called Steyn wrote about it in a foreign publication and rose to young Chelsea's defense. As I put it all those years ago, "Personally, I find Chelsea rather fetching in a coltish sort of way" - and Page Six of The New York Post excitedly reported this breaking news under the headline "Fetching Filly". It's an odd sort of war hero who picks on little girls.
The media blackout of 1998 is in striking contrast to the wall-to-wall coverage of Trump's "gaffe". Two decades back, the media loved McCain because he was their kind of Republican: that's to say, he spent more time attacking other Republicans than he ever did Democrats. And they wanted him to keep on doing that, so they closed ranks around him. Whereas no one wants what Trump wants to talk about to be part of the 2016 election conversation, so anything must be seized on to disqualify him from participation. And, if nothing else is to hand, a sneer at John McCain will have to do.
The thing is McCain's Chelsea Clinton gag is not untypical. Anyone who's "worked with Senator McCain" in the Senate these last gazillion years knows he has a short fuse. In late 1999, attacking as is his wont his fellow Republican, he told Senate budget committee chairman Pete Domenici that "only an asshole would put together a budget like this". Domenici rose to his feet and said, with wounded dignity, that in all his years in the Senate no one had ever called him that.
"I wouldn't call you an asshole unless you really were an asshole," said McCain.
Hmm. If this were a Jackie Collins novel, you'd be beginning to suspect that McCain and Trump were twins separated at birth: two men who disagree on everything else but are united in their belief that every other prominent Republican is an asshole.
McCain was projecting with respect to poor old Pete Domenici. Forty years ago, John McCain was a war hero. Since then he's mostly been an asshole. The problem is you can't out-asshole Donald Trump. McCain is in the Superbowl of assholery and hopelessly outmatched. He was doing assholery-as-usual last week, sneering at Trump's supporters as "the crazies". On recent polls that's getting on for 20 per cent of the Republican vote. If 20 per cent of Republican "crazies" take the same umbrage at McCain's sneer that Rick Perry, Lindsey Graham, Reince Preibus et al have taken on McCain's behalf at Trump's, then Hillary will be President with a Democratic Senate and maybe even House.
And yet no Republican "leader" objected to McCain's characterization of the base. Only Donald Trump did, and in doing so flung the crazy back in McCain's face. And all those hitherto somnolent Republican "leaders" stood on their dignity to insist that there was no place in their party for people who disrespect John McCain... no, make that all POWs... no, make that all veterans. McCain himself insisted that Trump didn't owe an apology to him but to all those who've served in the armed forces. So now John McCain is the personal embodiment of the entire US military? Trump didn't insult any of them, he insulted you, and you alone. I dislike the idea of protected classes of persons, and find the notion that John McCain is apparently the Caitlyn Jenner of the right not only faintly risible but, in terms of crude political advantage, unlikely to be as effective.
Trump's right: This country treats its veterans appallingly, far worse than most other civilized societies, consigning far too many to food stamps and entrapping them in a third-class health-care system. A New Hampshire neighbor of mine, a Vietnam vet exposed to Agent Orange and thus given cancer as a war-losing bonus, just received the usual letter from the VA telling him his benefits were being cut. Oddly enough, he loathes McCain and is gung-ho for Trump. Do you want to bet he's in a minority down at the Legion? John McCain doesn't embody the grand variety and diversity of America's warriors; John McCain embodies John McCain: That's it. So, when the Republican establishment spends two news cycles huffing about the amour propre of a wealthy career politician, they're only reinforcing Trump's critique: that the GOP is a party of "losers" and "failures" obsessed with peripheral trivia nobody else cares about, while ignoring everything that's killing your future.
Finally, re that "asshole" business, I should add that I don't mean it as a criticism. Personally, I'd like it if Calvin Coolidge were on the ticket, or indeed the Marquess of Salisbury. But they've decided to sit out Campaign 2016, so one must take what one can get. And a citizenry that votes for an asshole is less deluded than one that votes for a messiah. Thus, voting for, say, Silvio Berlusconi (a kind of wealthier mini-Trump, and yet the third longest serving prime minister in Italian history, after Mussolini and Giolitti) is less psychologically unhealthy than voting for Barack Obama. And, come to that, less damaging to republican virtue than voting for the previous guy's wife or brother.
Still, we are speaking about degrees of assholery here. I can't quite honestly imagine how big an asshole I'd have to be to tell that Chelsea Clinton joke into a live microphone, as John McCain did. But if "there's a place in our party" for such a man, there's certainly no reason why there shouldn't also be a place for Donald Trump.
So maybe now the Republican bigshots could drop the queeny hysteria and begin talking about something - anything - that matters?
~ from SteynOnline, July 20th 2015
SteynOnline: The First Twenty Years