The cowardly spectacle of the anti-anti-Trump movement
It's time to choose between forthrightly supporting or opposing Trump
There is a rising anti-anti-Trumpism on the right. And it is a sad and cowardly spectacle to behold.
Such politics of negation are nothing new in America. The classic case is the anti-anti-communism espoused by some liberals during and after the McCarthy era. Yes, the Soviet Union was a menace, these liberals maintained, but even worse, perhaps, were Americans who were too zealous in their anti-communism. Hence the need to focus on the danger these anti-communists posed to liberal democratic government.
It's not that all or even many anti-anti-communists were intentionally pro-communist. But the effect of their consistent emphasis on the dangers of anti-communism was to downplay the seriousness of the threat posed by the Soviet Union.
One of the strangest developments in this very strange moment in American politics is the rebirth of politics by negation, this time on the right — in the form of anti-anti-Trumpism, which effectively argues that the president's liberal opponents are somehow worse than this phenomenally bad president.
Anti-anti-Trumpism played a role in various right-of-center publications in the run-up to the November election, where staking out an anti-anti-Trump position vied with pro-Trump and #NeverTrump as acceptable stances. During the rocky weeks of the transition, things became more fluid, with plenty of conservatives going out of their way to give the president-elect the benefit of the doubt. But it didn't last long. Today a few prominent #NeverTrumpers remain, many others have moved over into the explicitly pro-Trump camp, and anti-anti-Trumpism has become a safe position from which to avoid having to take any kind of stand at all. Or rather, it allows the right to indulge its hatred of liberals and liberalism while side-stepping the need for a reckoning with the disaster of the Trump administration itself.
Anti-anti-Trumpism can be seen in many places online, but its home base on the right is The Federalist — and especially the Twitter accounts of several of its leading writers and editors, above all Mollie Hemingway and Sean Davis.
For a good example of how it works, consider how these writers responded to Monday's big scoop from Eli Lake at Bloomberg View revealing that Susan Rice, former President Obama's national security adviser, was allegedly responsible for "unmasking" members of the Trump transition who got caught up in incidental surveillance of foreign officials. (Normally the identities of Americans who get inadvertently recorded in surveillance of foreign targets are concealed in internal government communications.)
Lake's story is definitely a great get. Yet as he makes perfectly clear, it's unlikely that anything Rice is alleged to have done is illegal (she would have needed to ask for, and receive, official permission to unmask U.S. persons) — and none of it vindicates President Trump's baseless March 4 allegation that the outgoing Obama administration wiretapped his phones at Trump Tower.
Yet that isn't the impression one got from the breathless tweets emanating from Hemingway and Davis on Monday.
Unmasking close to Obama. A history of blatant lying. Worse than Watergate.
You'd never know from any of this that the FBI is investigating possible treasonous acts of collusion between senior members of President Trump's 2016 campaign and a hostile foreign power — an allegation that makes Watergate sound like a triviality. Or that Rice's alleged "blatant lying" concerned the most inconsequential, trumped up, overhyped scandal in modern political history ("Benghazi"). Or that President Trump and senior members of his administration lie constantly, flagrantly, and transparently on a daily and sometimes hourly basis.
None of this means that Rice didn't transgress norms of propriety or protocol in seeking to unmask members of the incoming Trump administration. (She well may have.) Or that the extent of the use of surveillance in the executive branch isn't troubling, especially when it's used to take down government appointees. (It is.)
Yet analysts and commentators desperately need to maintain a sense of proportion in these disorienting and deranging times. Even if Rice abused her authority in unmasking members of the incoming Trump administration, and even if she leaked that information to journalists, the stench of scandal and allegation surrounding the Trump White House is still so, so, so much worse.
Achieving a sense of proportion requires analysts and commentators to let go of their knee-jerk hostility to Democrats and place the good of the country ahead of other considerations. It requires that they choose between forthrightly supporting and opposing Trump. And that they refuse the cowardly evasion of being anti-anti-Trump.