In this interview for the American Thought Leaders series, Epoch Times senior editor Jan Jekielek talks with Victor Davis Hanson, a historian and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, about the impeachment push against President Donald Trump, the so-called deep state, and how Trump is dismantling what Hanson describes as “the progressive project.”
Jan Jekielek: On my mind lately has been this idea of the deep state.
People are saying, “The deep state is this conspiracy theory. What are you talking about?” There are other people that are happy that a deep state exists and is presumably protecting Americans. And there’s some people who even identify themselves as being members of it.
Victor Davis Hanson: Ex-CIA John McLaughlin, the interim director, and John Brennan both praised it: “Thank God for the deep state.”
Mr. Jekielek: What does “deep state” really even mean? Does it exist?
Mr. Hanson: It does exist. And the classic definition is “a state within a state.” By that, they mean that the permanent bureaucracies at the highest levels that have the levers of power, the ability to do damage to you or me—the IRS, the NSA, the FBI, the CIA, some of the top cabinet officials—they are people who transcend elections. They’re not elected. Or if they are, they participate in an administration, they revolve back and forth. They go from the State Department to the Council on Foreign Relations to the Treasury Department to high office in the CIA. But the point about it all is they have a particular loyalty as if they’re an organic entity … And they feel that when an administration comes in, they step up.
… And they never say to themselves, “I’m not elected.” The constitution says an elected president sets foreign policy. Period. So there’s this sense that they, as credential experts, have a value system, and the value system is they have an inordinate respect for an Ivy League degree or a particular alphabetic combination after their name: a J.D., a Ph.D., an MBA, or a particular resume. I worked at the NSC, then I transferred over to the NSA, and then, I went into the State Department. And we saw that in really vivid examples during the Adam Schiff impeachment inquiries, where a series of State Department people, before they could even talk, [they] said, “I’m the third generation to serve in my family. This is my resume. This is where I went to school. This is where I was posted.” And in the case of Adam Schiff, we saw these law professors, who had gone in and out of government, and they had these academic billets.
And to condense all that, it could be distilled by saying the deep state makes arguments by authority: “I’m an authority, and I have credentials, and therefore, ipse dixit, what I say matters.” And they don’t want to be cross-examined, they don’t want to have their argument in the arena of ideas and cross-examination. They think it deserves authority, and they have contempt—and I mean that literally—contempt for elected officials. [They think:] “These are buffoons in private enterprise. They are the CEO in some company; they’re some local Rotary Club member. They get elected to Congress, and then we have to school them on the international order or the rules-based order.” They have a certain lingo, a proper, sober, and judicious comportment.
So you can imagine that Donald Trump—to take a metaphor, Rodney Dangerfield out of Caddyshack—comes in as this, what they would say, stereotype buffoon and starts screaming and yelling. And he looks different. He talks different. And he has no respect for these people at all. Maybe that’s a little extreme that he doesn’t, but he surely doesn’t. And that frightens them. And then they coalesce. And I’m being literal now. Remember the anonymous Sept. 5, 2018, op-ed writer who said, “I’m here actively trying to oppose Donald Trump.” He actually said that he wanted him to leave office. Then, Admiral [William] McRaven said, “the sooner, the better.” This is a four-star admiral, retired. [He] says a year before the election … Trump should leave: “the sooner, the better.” That’s a pretty frightening idea. And when you have Mark Zaid, the lawyer for the whistleblower and also the lawyer for some of the other people involved in this—I think it’s a conspiracy—saying that one coup leads to another. … People are talking about a coup, then we have to take them at their own word.
Mr. Jekielek: You said that the greatest irony is that Trump was falsely accused by people who were actually colluding. And by pursuing largely innocent people, the special counsel team basically provided a model for the people who are actually guilty of collusion to be prosecuted?
Mr. Hanson: They did. We saw that specifically with [retired Lt. Gen.] Michael Flynn, who was picked up supposedly on an excerpt, a surveillance excerpt, targeting the Russian ambassador. But it was actually reverse-targeting him. And then he was interviewed by [former FBI agent] Peter Strzok, who felt that he was voracious. And then notes of that interview were altered by none other than [former FBI lawyer] Lisa Page. And then that was transmogrified into an indictment of him. That was sort of a projection because they had a lot of culpability. And what was that culpability? It was people like [former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations] Samantha Power requesting 260 names to be leaked. It was [former FBI Director] James Comey going right outside of a confidential presidential conversation, writing a memo on an FBI machine, and then later using that as insurance and leaking it and then, subject to criminal exposure. Except post facto, somebody in the FBI decided, well, we have to classify those memos, whether they were just confidential or secret. If they’re secret, he committed a felony.
But who were those people who post facto adjudicated the classification? Lisa Page and Peter Strzok and a couple of others. So it was pretty damning, I think. And [it’s] the same thing we’re seeing in Ukraine. It’s the same modus operandi. [Former Vice President] Joe Biden brags to everybody … of all places, the Council on Foreign Relations, that he’s gone over there and said, “… six hours, I’m going to cut $1 billion in aid [to Ukraine].” Now, we’re not talking about lethal aid, because it didn’t exist. The Obama administration would not give Javelin missiles. They would not help Ukraine in its hour of need. That’s very important to remember that because that’s the accusation against Trump—thinking about cutting lethal aid, which had been given in their hour of need, as a felony or impeachable offense. But never even giving it is OK. But what he said is, “I’m going to cut non-lethal aid, which would be humanitarian aid, all aid, everything, unless you fire [Prosecutor General of Ukraine Viktor] Shokin.”
And now, the fired prosecutor has gone to an Austrian court and now he’s giving more filmed interviews, in which he says, “I was investigating Hunter Biden [Joe Biden’s son]. And I was going to cut off all resources for Burisma, and Joe Biden knew that and was sent over to get me fired.” I don’t know if that’s voracious or not, but that’s a quid pro quo. And instead of investigating that, we have this strange doctrine that because Joe Biden is now running for president, that provides him with legal immunity from even discussing what he did as a vice president. We’ve flipped it all around. We’re saying because he’s a candidate, Donald Trump tried to quid pro quo U.S. security interests for his own personal campaign. Donald Trump’s not the nominee of the Republican party [since the primaries haven’t taken place yet]. Joe Biden is not the nominee of the Democratic Party in 2020. We don’t know what the race is going to be like, but the idea that we have to give him an exemption from suspect behavior, because now, two years later, three years later, he’s running for president is absurd. And again, it’s part of this projection mentality that the best defense is an offense.
Mr. Jekielek: You have given this historical perspective you have on these sorts of scenarios, that this is what hubris and nemesis are all about. I’m wondering if you could take that same lens and put it onto impeachment? You’ve already started doing that.
Mr. Hanson: Joe Biden didn’t have to do any of that. He didn’t have to tell us at the Council on Foreign Relations that he had basically squashed an independent Ukrainian investigation by threatening to withhold aid. But his ego and his sense of self-importance and his desire to run for president in the future thought that this would be another “Corn Pop” or all these moments he has, where he brags about his masculinity and his toughness. OK. But the way nemesis works is that creates this narrative so that when people accused Donald Trump of that, they say, well, we’re basically looking at Donald Trump’s thought crime, that he considered cutting aid that he gave—that Obama did not give, lethal aid—and he delayed it. He thought about it, and then he maybe, at the worst, he thought about talking about an investigator who was never relieved.
But here’s Joe Biden, who really did do that. And he’s bragging about it, because he’s arrogant and nemesis is starting to take its toll. And the same thing was true of the Mueller investigation. Remember they said, well, [Trump] obstructed justice, we think, we sort of believe, he kind of did, but it’s not actionable because he thought about it almost in a Murder-in-the-Cathedral style. Who will relieve me of Mueller? You know, he didn’t say “go fire Mueller.” And, of course, he had the ability to do so under the Constitution. But he didn’t. He didn’t do what Richard Nixon did and fire Archibald Cox. But it was the idea that he thought about it, the idea that he thought about certain things with Ukraine, when we have other examples of people [who] actually did that. And that’s where nemesis [comes in], because they’re so emboldened.
And a good example of hubris and nemesis is Adam Schiff. So Adam Schiff gets away with leaking these lies throughout the Mueller investigation. “I know what’s going on. It’s a bombshell. You can’t believe it. Everyone is wrong.” And then he says, “I or my staff have never met with the whistleblower.” We know that was a lie. It’s a demonstrable lie. Then, he reads a caricature of the actual transcript of the phone call with Trump and the Ukrainian president. And it’s completely fantastic. It’s not factual. Then when he’s caught, he said, “Oh, that was just a parody.” So he’s becoming hubristic to a point where the ultimate nemesis is waiting for him at the opportune moment.
And the opportune moment was, next thing we know, he’s so emboldened that he starts, for the first time in the history of the U.S. Congress, to surveil the metadata of phone calls of his own ranking minority member, Devin Nunes, [and] of the president’s own lawyer and other people. And then he not only does this stealthily, but he’s so arrogant, he puts it in his report because he thinks he can get away with it. And I think nemesis is going to catch him. … You know, the wheels of the gods grind slowly, but they do grind finally. So I think finally we’re going to learn.
Mr. Jekielek: So I get the sense that you don’t think that the president is being treated very fairly in these impeachment proceedings?
Mr. Hanson: I think that people feel that for a variety of reasons—cultural, social, political—that Trump is not deserving of the respect that most presidents receive, and therefore any means necessary to get rid of him are justified. And for some, it’s the idea that he’s had neither political or military prior experience. For others, it’s his outlandish appearance, his Queens accent, as I said, his Rodney Dangerfield presence. And for others—I think this is really underestimated—he is systematically undoing the progressive agenda of Barack Obama, which remember, was supposed to be not just an eight-year regnum, but 16 years with Hillary Clinton. That would’ve reformed the court. It would have shut down fossil fuel exploration, pipelines, more regulations—well, pretty much what Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are talking about right now. That was going to happen. And so for a lot of people, they think, “Wow, if Donald Trump is elected in 2020”—and he will be, according to the fears of Representatives Al Green or [Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez or Nancy Pelosi; remember, they keep saying this impeachment is about the 2020 [election]—“we’ve got to ensure the integrity.” That’s what Nadler said today.
But if Trump is elected, that would mean eventually in five more years, [we’d have a] 7–2 Supreme Court, 75 percent of the federal judiciary [would be] conservative and traditional and constructionist. … We are the world’s largest oil and gas producer and exporter, but we probably would be even bigger. And when you look at a lot of issues, such as abortion, or identity politics, or the securing of the border, or the nature of the economy or foreign policy, they think America as we know it will be—to use a phrase from Barack Obama—“fundamentally transformed.” So that’s the subtext of it. Stop this man right now before he destroys the whole progressive project—and with it, the reputation of the media. Because the media saw this happening and they said, “You know what?”—as Jim Rutenberg in the New York Times or Christiane Amanpour have said—“… you really don’t need to be disinterested.”
Trump is beyond the pale, so it’s OK to editorialize in your news coverage. And so the Shorenstein Center has reported that 90 percent of all news coverage [of Trump] is negative. So they’ve thrown their hat in the ring and said, we’re going to be part of the Democratic progressive agenda to destroy this president. But if they fail, then their reputation goes down with the progressive project. And that’s happening now. CNN is at all-time low ratings, at least the last four years. And the network news is losing audiences, and most of the major newspapers are, as well. So there’s a lot of high stakes here. And if Donald Trump survives and were to be reelected, I don’t know what would happen on the left. It would make the 2016 reaction look tame in comparison.
Mr. Jekielek: Can you outline in a broader sense what the progressive project is?
Mr. Hanson: Yeah, because I want to be clear about what I meant and not just throw out terms. So the progressive project started in the 19th century. And it took hold with Woodrow Wilson in the early ’20s, and its basic belief was that the U.S. Constitution erred on the side of liberty rather than equality. We should have been like the French Revolution, more of a fluid concept that would change with the times and use the power of government not to ensure equality of opportunity but to mandate equality of result. And therefore, there were certain things in the Constitution that prevented that project.
And we’ve changed a lot of them. We now have senators elected by direct vote and not appointed by the legislatures. The states cannot have property qualifications. Some of these were justified as archaic in the 18th-century sense.
But given those reforms, we’re still not to where we want to be. And what do I mean by that? The Supreme Court can be an obstacle. And so we need to pack the court. Now, Democratic candidates no longer see the 1937 FDR effort to pack the court as disreputable, but an honorable attempt. So they’re all endorsing [this idea of] let’s pack the court and make 15 judges, if we can’t get our guys on the court. Let’s abolish the Electoral College and all the arguments that these people with powdered wigs in the 18th century came up with. Let’s just have a direct vote and let California and New York and the Great Lakes, big cities [like] Chicago, determine the election. And why do you have to go out in a place like Wyoming or Utah? And let’s get rid of this archaic idea of two senators from Utah or from Wyoming having as much clout as two senators in California. And here, we’re speaking in California. My senator represents 20 million people. A senator in Wyoming represents 250,000. One man, one vote. Let’s get rid of it, even though it’s in the Constitution.
What I am getting at is they want to streamline the Constitution continually in an effort to make a country of radical equality; that requires certain things like this impeachment or to prune the Second Amendment. Or to say that the First Amendment does not apply here at Stanford University, because we can say, “That’s hate speech, what he said. He has no right to say hate speech. I declare that ‘hate speech,’ therefore, don’t speak.” And so the First Amendment, the Second Amendment are being pruned. Due process on college campuses … If I say that I was sexually assaulted by that person over there … I don’t have to come forward to identify myself. That person is not given constitutional rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments as he would in a criminal trial off-campus. The ACLU, they used to be the champion of free speech, is now a grassroots organizer, it says, political organizer. You don’t see any ACLU outrage [that] Adam Schiff is now going into the phone records of members of Congress, even though when the U.S. government looked in the phone records of terrorists in 2001 after 9/11, the ACLU said that was a violation of residents’ rights—not U.S. citizens, but residents.
So what I’m getting at is that the progressive project is a multifaceted effort by intellectuals, academics, foundations, progressive members of the Democratic Party to change, formally, the Constitution and to change the mindset of the American people, so that we can make people all the same by the powers of government. We see what’s going on. We’ve seen it in Cuba, we’ve seen it in Russia, we’ve seen it in Venezuela, we’ve seen it in China. And we’ve seen a soft benign form in Europe.
And the United States is really the only major country in the world that says, “You know what, that process inevitably leads to an Orwellian totalitarian state, and it crushes liberty and individual freedom, and we’re not going to do it here.” That’s why we have a Bill of Rights and a Constitution.
Mr. Jekielek: I think a question on a lot of people’s minds is how can they get through this idea that they’re bigots and have serious problems?
Mr. Hanson: At this late day, passive defense does not work. And by that, I mean, if you sit there—and I have family that disagree with me myself, my siblings are Bernie and Clinton supporters—and wait for all of these accusations to be made against you, and then you think that in sober and judicious terms, you’re going to refute them, it’s not going to work. So what you have to do is, when somebody—you can be reactive in the sense that you don’t want to go out and force altercations or unpleasant moments—but when somebody starts in on that, you don’t want to say, “I’m not a racist.” You want to say, “Anytime that you adjudicate what a person thinks, or you categorize a person by his color or his religion or her gender, that is racist and it’s sexist, and we’re not. I’m not going to take it anymore.”
I don’t want to suggest that if a person is dark or white or Chinese or whatever term it is, I don’t want to live like that. And you do and you’re projecting your own racism upon me because you have a real problem. You can’t be empirical. Or when somebody talks about, “Well, you want to build a wall, you’re a nativist.” You say to them, “I don’t have a wall around my house. You have a wall around your house.” Barbra Streisand has a wall around her house. Mark Zuckerberg has a wall around his house. My children are in public schools; where are Elizabeth Warren’s children? They’re not in public schools. So this whole progressive idea in some ways is projection: “I want to live around elite people. I want to make a lot of money. I want to live in a nice neighborhood. I want to have a lot of servants, and I feel real guilty. So then, I project racism, homophobic, nativism, protectionism, all of these ‘-isms’ on you.”
And I’m not going to take it anymore. And so that’s what I try to do. When people talk to me in this area, especially, because we’re in Silicon Valley, I always say to them, “Did you put your children in public schools?” I put all three of mine in public schools. “Do you live in a racially diverse neighborhood?” Ninety percent of my neighbors are Hispanic. “Do you have a sanctuary around you? Do you have private guards? Do you have bodyguards?” I don’t. “Do you have a large bank account?” All of these things that you suggest are toxic actually are a psychological mechanism to protect [yourself]. And I’m not exaggerating. Just look at … the Democratic Party [field] right now. Elizabeth Warren wrote a book about how to flip houses and profit. She put her kids in private school. She lives in one of the most tony neighborhoods in Boston: Cambridge. She’s a multimillionaire. And she parlayed a fake ethnic identity in the most cynical fashion to take a spot from somebody else to become a Harvard law professor. Without that Native American identity, she wouldn’t have been a Harvard professor. Bernie Sanders owns three homes. He’s a multimillionaire. Joe Biden is a multimillionaire …
[Senator] Cory Booker is now saying you guys are all racist because no black people are on the [debate] stage. And then what are the white people saying? They’re saying, “Well, wait a minute. It was a free poll and fundraising is free. And if you really like Kamala Harris and Cory Booker … black people and white people should vote for them to get higher in the polls. Our only crime is we’re beating them.” And then we, watching this, said, “No, no, no. You’re guilty under your own ideologies of disparate impact.” Because, according to your own philosophy, if the proportions of a particular profession are not reflective of the actual numbers in the population, and even if racism doesn’t exist, it does exist. It’s implicit. Therefore, there’s six people on that stage, they’re all white, [then] somebody is racist. Why do we know that? Because you told us that.
And that’s what happens in these revolutionary movements. Yesterday’s revolutionary is today’s counterrevolutionary, and tomorrow’s enemy of the people. And they get into that Jacobin phase and that’s what happened to the Democratic Party. Now, nobody can be pure enough. And what happened? They’re all white, elite, wealthy people on this stage, and they stand convicted by the hypocrisies of their own ideologies that they impose on all the rest of us. And we get to watch it. It’s theater to see this in action.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.