Doctor Krauthammer's Peculiar Guardrails

In general, the only view that liberal and conservative commentators share today is perturbation about the country and its future.  For liberals, the shocking anomaly in our national life has the name of a man: Donald Trump.  For conservatives, the matter is a little more frazzled.  Some of them decry the leftist intolerance and violence visible on college campuses and elsewhere.  Quite a few elected Republicans and certain talking television celebrities, commonly characterized as conservative, nonetheless, share the Left’s abhorrence of the President.  They may include Kim Jong-un and the Antifa goons with Mr. Trump in the list of humanity’s miscreants.  But the intentions, utterances and deeds of those calling themselves the “Resistance” are not what most bothers them.     

The renowned Dr. Charles Krauthammer, arguing on camera against Laura Ingraham, pronounces the President’s remarks at his press conference on the Charlottesville, Virginia melee a “moral disgrace.”  

The specification is Mr. Trump’s insistence that at Charlottesville, there was violence on both sides.  To say this was a dastardly abrogation of duty, even though the Doctor himself acknowledges it to be true (“Yes, there was violence on both sides.”).  It is true, but “not the point.”  It is not the point because all the leaders “in this generation,” all except Trump, recognize the unique importance and evil of white racism in American society.  And so, if there was a faction in the streets of Charlottesville that stood for racism, it is immoral to criticize another faction opposing it.

It makes no difference what the other faction did, or what part it played in the mayhem.  It makes no difference that the “Unite the Right” demonstrators had a permit, affirmed by a court of law.  It is immaterial whether all of those protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue were actually Nazis or Klansmen.  It does not matter that the President had denounced the Nazis and the Klan in his second statement, and specifically the one who murdered a woman with his car. Trump must be deemed to have taken all that back when he said there was violence on both sides.  And it makes no difference whether the bloody confrontation was, in effect, engineered by calculating politicians, who restrained the police from intervening to prevent violence.  All Krauthammer knows is that there were elements harkening back to Jim Crow on the scene, and so it is a moral disgrace to talk about anyone else.  

Of course, moral disgrace is one thing, and moral imbecility another.

In his exchange with Laura Ingraham, Krauthammer to some extent continues the argument of a recent column, in which he rejoices that the “guardrails” of our democracy had held against the imminent threat to it: President Trump. The more famous comment on guardrails was the 1993 Wall Street Journal editorial, contributed by Daniel Henninger, in which the author laments the relentless destruction of social norms that he thinks began with the mayhem at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention. Krauthammer does not mention this writing of twenty-four years before, but then, he is in no real way indebted to it, despite the similarity in titles.  Henninger’s editorial lamented, among other things, the decline of “self-restraint,” the “rules that for a long time had governed behavior,” the transformation of “the country’s institutions and its codes of personal behavior.”  

Krauthammer very nearly sets this thesis on its head. Krauthammer’s first guardrail is one that protects transgenderism in the army.  The President’s decision to terminate such, originally announced by twitter, Krauthammer finds “uniquely impulsive and chronically irrational.”  On Fox News, he had characterized the decision as “bizarre.”  According to Krauthammer, then, there is then nothing bizarre, impulsive, or irrational about men who suppose themselves to be women (and v.v.) from serving in the armed forces.  It is Trump’s decision that allowing them imperils fighting effectiveness that merits those adjectives. 

I dare say that a tweet does not constitute an order, as certain generals observed, and that actual orders have been issued since the tweet.  It is also apparent that in our time, senior commanders in all the service branches are cowed by the Left, and more fearful of being attacked as racists, Islamaphobes, or  homophobes than they are of their commander in chief’s ire. The adverse reactions of Boy Scout leaders and police chiefs to the President’s remarks before meetings of their organizations are two more guardrails in Krauthammer’s account.  Addressing the Boy Scout Jamboree, it seems that the President interspersed admirable advice about finding a life’s endeavor that you really enjoy with partisan appeals and attacks on his enemies, delivered in his inimitable style. It is no doubt irrelevant that those in attendance reacted to what Krauthammer calls the President’s “wildly inappropriate confection” with wild enthusiasm and cheers of “USA! USA!” Krauthammer knows what is good for the young Boy Scouts, and the Boy Scout leaders know what is good for themselves.  Whatever guardrail protected their moral tradition has long been bulldozed by the gay rights agenda, and they dare not incur the leftists’ wrath by being associated with a leader who is not afraid of them. 

As to the President’s suggestion that the police be less than scrupulous in preserving homicide suspects from bumping their heads when shown to their place in the back of the patrol car, certainly we understand Krauthammer’s revulsion at this “ugly sentiment” with its “thuggish undertone.”  It is just that another guardrail, the one deterring public instigation of deadly violence against police officers, had broken down first, even to the extent of Trump’s predecessor receiving at the White House representatives of Black Lives Matter and such kindred spirits as the Reverend Al Sharpton.  Perhaps for this reason, the ugly and thuggish utterances of a Chief Executive actually on the side of the police and against the criminals, occasion some relief. That is, they occasion relief among the officers themselves.  The President’s remarks make nervous their commanders, who must be politicians, worried about further attacks by the cop-hating left if they fail to dissociate themselves from Trump.

Most extraordinary is Krauthammer’s praise for the Republican senators who sabotaged the ObamaCare replacement bill, after promising their constituents that they were for ridding the nation of this health care abomination.  That represented the success of some valued guardrail because it frustrated Trump, whom Krauthammer judges to be untutored in health care issues and motivated by self-aggrandizement.  The merits of ObamaCare and the promises by which candidates elicited the votes of citizens all pale in significance beside the eternal truth that if Trump wants it, he should not get it, and whatever prevents him from getting it is a guardrail of democracy.

The guardrails to which Henninger’s editorial refers are those of personal conduct, preventing the young, above all, from falling into the abyss of dysfunctional and failed lives.  But if we are concerned with the guardrails that preserve American liberal democracy, they are surely the rule of law, preserving the individual liberties codified in the Bill of Rights and elsewhere, the separation of powers in the government, and the requirement that power be derived from the consent of the governed.

It requires no arduous scrutiny of the present scene to see the ruptures in the guardrails that protect our way of life, portending a change to a new way of life.  The individual liberty most vital to democratic politics, freedom of speech, is under ever more successful assault.  And let no one make the sophistical argument that it is not a First Amendment violation without specifically governmental repression.  Governmental repression is involved, for all practical purposes, if vicious mobs are left to roam free, shutting down by violence any discourse of which they disapprove.  Nor is the forced removal of those wishing to speak against the mob, in order to avoid violence (what just happened in Boston), any less a repression.

The vilification of the Republic and its creators, brutal desecration of monuments, and physical attacks on the defenders of the nation’s traditions, now spread like a communicable disease.  This does suggest a failure of guardrails, or maybe a problem in epidemiology.  The President and his willingness to say what leaves Dr. Krauthammer aghast, is the only significant opposition to the menace. In that sense, and just at this moment, the President would appear to be the guardrail, however imperfect.  Let the Krauthammers of the world offer us a better one (and stop pretending that Nazis and Klansmen are the primary threat) if Trump causes them such indignation.