Victor Hanson:

"The Case for Trump" (2019)

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(Further down this page i also review some of Hanson's articles like "America Is Still a Global Leader" and "Coronavirus: The California Herd", published in the National Review magazine)

"Learn from history what you want to learn not what it teaches you". This has been the motto that inspired many of Victor Hanson's books, in particular for "Carnage and Culture" (2001) and "The Father of Us All" (2010), which are supposed to be his most academic books. Hanson is much better at fact-picking than at fact-checking. He has not learned from his own mistakes: he was on the side of the "weapons of mass destruction" and believed pretty much all the propaganda on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and he didn't see the Great Recession coming until it came. Many other scholars made fewer mistakes than him, and, still, don't pretend to be right as much as he does. He has also published books of Fox News-style neofascist propaganda so at least we know his political opinions.

This book aims at a) explaining why Trump won and b) showing that Trump has done a great job.

Much of what he writes could be correct, although his sources are often dubious. But the premises are sometimes obviously false. For example, he keeps talking of a "silent majority" and "a majority" (of what?) when in fact the majority voted against Trump and Trump's approval rating never went above 50%. It may be "silent", but it was a "minority", and apparently it still is a minority. It is misleading to start an argument by saying that a majority did this and that when in fact it was a minority. The problem is not what the majority did but the constitution that doesn't care about what the majority does. Trump lost the election by 3 million votes. Hillary Clinton won the election. Period. (I was not and i am not a fan of Hillary Clinton: it is just a fact).

There is no question, however, that tens of millions of intelligent US voters, including him obviously, voted for that scumbag, asshole, low-IQ, chimp-like, narcissistic, sex-molesting crook and con-man. Hanson's explanation is simple: people wanted something different and went for the one and only candidate who had nothing to do with the establishment. Fair enough if you ignore that the candidate that won the majority of the votes actually represented precisely the establishment.

Hanson (who obviously watches the neofascist channel Fox News besides contributing to it) does not spend any time discussing how right-wing media demonized Clinton (and would have demonized any other candidate of the Democratic Party). Hanson takes for granted that all the scandals blamed on Clinton are real scandals when in fact most of them are so irrelevant that even rabid Fox News watchers cannot clearly remember what they were all about. Email server? Doesn't Trump use a phone? Bengazi attack? Didn't terrorists kill US soldiers in Niger under Trump? Corruption? You got to be kidding: Clinton is a saint compared with Trump and his many universities, foundations, and assorted scams. Clinton was, ethically speaking, an average politician, whereas Trump is the gutters. Clinton was, technically speaking, an experienced and competent politician, whereas Trump is competent only in matters of prostitution and gambling. A big reason why tens of millions of people voted for Trump over Clinton is that right-wing media were incredibly effective at demonizing the adversary. They learned from the Pravda of the Soviet Union and from the Arabic channel Al Jazeera. This is a force that Hanson totally overlooks in his analysis, probably because he is part of that force.

Needless to say (since he represents the Fox News worldview) he never mentions that Trump also won because of an incredibly unfair FBI investigation (that was made public, unlike the investigation on Trump's Russian dealings) and because of Russian interference (proven countless times by all government and independent investigations).

Hanson thinks that Trump gives the old industrial heartland a chance to "come back". Three years of Trump haven't changed any of the numbers: none of the tech and science that makes the USA rich and powerful comes from the "heartland" and much of the poverty of the USA is concentrated there. What has changed is the perception: because the average salary has increased by 2% in the heartland, many there feel that things are better, unaware of the fact that, during the same period, salaries in Silicon Valley and New York have shot up 10 or 20%, and that countless billionaires have been created on both coasts. The gap has increased, not decreased. Again that false perception is largely the product of neofascist propaganda, not of real facts.

A good historian should instead notice how Trump and his propaganda machine employs two well-tested methods to create a false narrative: one borrowed from communist regimes (repeat a lie many times until it sounds self-evidently true) and one borrowed from Adolf Hitler (that people "more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie", Mein Kampf, volume I chapter X).

So the book turns into a comic book in part 4, where it talks about Trump's economic and foreign-policy achievements. Hanson argues that Trump's successes have not been seen in a generation. It is a selective list that sometimes clearly distorts reality. The USA has surrendered in North Korea, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Venezuela, one humiliation after the other. The USA is now widely derided all over the world, like never before in its history. (I suspect that i travel the world a little more than Hanson, and i read a few more languages than him).

Hanson's book also ignores the visible mental instability of this laughing stock of a president; and the fact that Trump has de-facto caused a civil war within the USA itself which may have far-reaching consequences (as anyone who really studied ancient Rome and Greece knows).

Hanson should have spent more time on Trump's real, undisputed achievement: how he dismantled the dogmas of the Republican Party. That party is now unrecognizable. It was the party proud of the Iraqi war (that Trump now calls a colossal mistake), the party of military intervention (that Trump now considers a waste of money), the party of free trade and globalization (that now Trump considers the cause of all domestic ills), the party that was tough on Russia (the only country that Trump has never criticized, insulted or mocked), the party that wanted more immigration, the party of fiscal convervativism and small government (Trump has increased dramatically the national debt and largely expanded government), the party of NATO (that Trump has all but destroyed), the party of the defense agencies (whereas Trump has demoralized and defanged the NSA, FBI and CIA through purges worth of the Chinese Communist Party), the party that was opposed to socialism (whereas the USA has been printing more money than ever and, during the covid-19 epidemic, launched a massive socialist program to rescue the economy, far bigger than anything that communist China or "socialist" Europe did), and the party of old-fashioned morality (compare with the twice-divorced Trump and all his extra-marital affairs). Hanson is particularly hypochritical here because he often criticized the Obama administration for being soft on Russia. But apparently now he thinks that being soft on Russia is an achievement, not a mistake.

More fundamentally and sadly, the book ignores that the white working class that voted for Trump has itself to blame for its own decline: nobody forced them to take up jobs at the hardware store instead of studying for a computer science degree like millions of Indian and Chinese kids did. Many of these white workers make less than their parents whereas those Indian and Chinese kids make ten or even 100 times more than their parents. By doing so, Hanson's book fails to educate the white working class on how it could get out of the hole it has dug for itself. Instead of helping the white working class to correct its mistakes, it helps the white working class repeat the same mistakes, generation after generation. The white working class that voted for Trump didn't just miss out on globalization: it is being left behind by hundreds of millions of people from all over the world.

The book also dangerously ignores the similarities between Trump and Mussolini, if not Hitler. After all, it's Mussolini who originally came up with the motto "Make America Great" (Mussolini's speech to Italian immigrants of March 1929). There is always something to learn from history if you are not afraid of what it teaches you.

P.S. 1

If you need more comedy, read Hanson's comic article in the National Review titled "America Is Still a Global Leader" (No, I'm not making this up). It's a good example of fact-picking and fact-twisting. For example: "the U.S. was the first major nation to issue a travel ban on flights from China . That was a bold act. It likely saved thousands endangered by Chinese perfidy and soon became a global model". Fact: Trump did not ban flights from China, it simply banned any foreigner who had been to China over the last two weeks. Tens of thousands of US residents continued to fly back from China to the USA on regular flights. The first country to ban flights from China was Italy, not the USA (and clearly that didn't help Italy, which one month later had the highest covid death rate in the world). Genetic analysis of the virus in New York has shown that the epidemic came from Europe, not China. To this day, California, which is the state closest to China with millions of ethnic Asians, has one of the lowest rates of infection of any state in the USA, way lower than states like Louisiana and Georgia that have much fewer interactions with China. In case Hanson forgot, San Francisco has the largest Chinatown in the Americas... and a much lower infection rate than New Orleans, a city with no Chinatown. Hanson writes that the USA has contained the covid-19 epidemic: the "per capita toll is analogous to Germany's and one of the lowest in the world among larger nations." Obviously he doesn't think that Japan (127 million people) qualifies as a "larger nation". The reason is simple: Japan only has 200 deaths versus the 18,000 of the USA (official data of April 10), which would prove his argument false, misleading and borderline criminal (because it makes people think that the threat is negligible). As of April 10, the number of deaths in the USA is increasing much faster than in any other major nation (+1,300 in the USA versus Italy's +600 and Japan's +0), precisely the opposite situation of what his statement would lead you to believe: the USA has a big, big covid-19 mess and it is rapidly becoming the world's epicenter. (Read The Clown & the Virus if you want to know how the USA ended up in such a dismal situation). Or take the classic Trump-ian argument: "The U.S. economy in 2019 - with its near-record-low unemployment, inflation, and interest rates - was the most robust in the world." The way the USA counts unemployment is not the way Europe does: millions of unemployed people are not counted (as he himself often argued in the past when the president was Obama), inflation is the same as in any other major country except that the USA doesn't count as inflation the rise in health care and education costs (Europeans and Asians do), and interest rates are unfortunately too low for the USA to be able to react to a crisis like the one created by the covid epidemic (not something to be proud of). And, no matter how many times Trump repeats it, it is still not true that the GDP growth rate is the highest in generations: the highest quarterly GDP growth rate that the USA has achieved under Trump is 3.5% whereas Obama achieved 5.5% in Q2 of 2014. Hanson writes "A reckless and disingenuous China poses an existential threat to countries across the globe" when in fact the perception both in Europe and in Asia is that "A reckless and disingenuous USA poses an existential threat to countries across the globe" from threatening to annihilate North Korea (and then letting North Korea get away with more nukes and more missiles) to assassinating an Iranian general (and then being kicked out of Iraq), from refusing to act on climate change (unlike China) to supporting Saudi Arabia's genocidal regime, from accepting passively anything that Russia does to starting pointless trade wars with just about everybody. And Trump was pretty much the last leader in the developed world to admit that covid-19 was a serious problem, dismissing it as "just a flu" until the dead bodies started piling up in every corner of the USA. The CDC was pretty much the only health organization in the world that shipped around faulty test kits (other countries simply followed the instructions from the World Health Organizations). The world is laughing at how ridicule the whole response was in the USA. I suspect that i travel a lot more than him to both Asia and Europe and have a lot more contacts there. He seems to credit Trump that the USA "reduced its carbon emissions by 0.5 percent in 2017". A child can tell that whatever happened in 2017 was the effect of policies enacted in the previous years (by Obama). He claims that 2017 is "the latest year for which data is available" (I'll fogive him the "is" that should be an "are"). Surprise: 2018 data are available - all it takes is a quick Internet search. And surprise: after Trump canceled Obama's policies, carbon emissions in the USA increased by 2.8% in 2018, the largest since 2010, just 0.4% below the all-time record (the source is the Energy Information Administration that reports to Donald Trump). And so on. Read the rest for yourself if you want some cheap entertainment.

P.S. 2

There are many examples of Hanson's vicious misleading writing, but here is another one. The title of the article is "Coronavirus: The California Herd". Hanson mocks California's success in containing the virus. It's an old-fashioned cheap political strategy used by everybody against the person in power: if you don't take action, they will accuse you of being responsible for the problem; if you do take action and prevent the problem, they will mock you for inventing a problem that didn't exist. But that's not the point. The point is that Hanson fills pages and pages of "If that is true, then" and draws all sorts of conclusions based on those "if it is true" premises, without ever proving that those premises were true. On the other hand, he ignores all the counter-arguments with a "maybe and maybe not." You can pick each of his sentences and find that he twisted the facts. California has the highest poverty rate? Fox News says so all the time. Fact: it ranks 28th according to the US Census Bureau (which reports to Donald Trump). The states with the highest poverty rates are Louisiana, Mississippi, etc... all states run by right-wing politicians. Where does Hanson get the statement that "20 percent of the population" is poor in California? That's an old study that adjusted the poverty rate by cost of living. Fair enough. But one should also adjust it by welfare programs of each state, and then California would suddenly be near the top. That's why so many poor people of the right-wing states hitchhike all across the nation to get to California and become jobless in California: they are better off homeless in California's free shelters than working in their home state. California has "the largest number of non-English speakers in the U.S.," Sounds obvious, right? That's the typical misleading statement. The statistic that he is referring to is about people who "speak a foreign language at home" which is compiled by the Center for Immigration Studies. These are not "non-English speakers": most of these people speak English better than Hanson's friends at Fox News but at home they speak their native language (mostly because they want their children to learn that language while they learn English in school). I was born and raised in Italy and i still speak Italian when i meet my Italian friends. Hanson doesn't mention that a close second in that statistic is Texas because Texas is run by right-wing politicians. He also ignores tha fact that many of these "non-English speakers" (who in reality speak perfect English) are college-educated immigrants from China, India, and Europe. His statement is doubly misleading because it seems to imply that "non-English speakers" are ignorant illegal unemployed immigrants when in fact these consistently rank among the highest-salaried people in the USA with the highest credit scores and lowest debts. Yes, California has a lot of those (of us). Hanson writes that California "rarely rates among the top ten states in terms of per capita health, by whichever metrics one uses". I could find dozens of metrics in which California ranks very high. How about, quite simply, life expectancy? Hawaii is #1, and you'd never guess which state is #2 if you only read Hanson's article. California has the highest number of homeless people, he claims. Not as a percentage of the population, and certainly not relative to the (geographic) size of the state. California has a small number of homeless per square km and that's another reason they keep coming. (He keeps omitting any explanation for why all these homeless people would stay in California if it is such a terrible state). He confidently states that "California ranks near the bottom when we count the number of available hospital beds per 1,000 population". I am not competent in hospital beds but it took a second to search the Web and find out that California has the same percentage of hospital beds as Utah and New Mexico. Hanson also omits the fact that western states tend to have smaller hospitals because PEOPLE ARE HEALTHIER. We don't need all the hospital beds that Louisiana or Alabama need: people smoke less, are less obese, and generally healthier. That's not a detail. People in states like California and Massachussetts are better educated, wealthier and live longer and healthier lives: why should these states have the same number of hospital beds as the failed poor states of the south? Some of his sentences are mere "word of mouth". For example "other models from the Oxford authors offer far less pessimistic hypothetical scenarios. In one, they suggest..." Which one? Title? Link to the study? You can google as much as you like and you won't find any such study. It is also funny to notice how much circumstantial evidence he needs to gather in order to prove the simple thesis that covid-19 started spreading earlier than originally assumed. That's been suggested by genetic analyses that are much more scientific than his beauty-parlor-kind of arguments, but Hanson wouldn't know because he doesn't read scientific papers. See for example this study that came up a few days before his article. By the end of the article, it is not clear what he is trying to suggest. For sure he missed the one clue that should be obvious when he writes "the California paradox. As with the apparent outliers of Germany, South Korea, and Japan..." Hello? Aren't these the countries most famous for science, technology and competent government? And aren't these the countries that took action immediately, earlier than most of the others? Where's the paradox?