Here at The Bulwark, I recently reviewed Victor Davis Hanson’s new book, The Case for Trump. Writing at National Review Online, Hanson responded with a rejoinder that was nearly twice the length of my initial piece. I had not planned to return to the discussion. I had had my say and Hanson had his. There I would have been content to let the matter rest: to allow readers to read both pieces and form their own opinions.
But things took on a life of their own.
To begin with, after Hanson’s rejoinder appeared, I became the target of some very passionate tweeters. A small sample will have to stand in for a very large whole.
“You got your fucking ass handed to you @gabeschoenfeld by a vastly more intelligent human @vdhanson. Never Trump cucks of your ilk are a scourge. Piss off,” wrote someone under the handle @CryptoMcintosh.
In a similar vein, @vjeannek tweeted that “U aren’t fit to shine VDHs balls—and deep down you know it. Now run along and collect your $$ from your left billionaire Puppet Master. Because you make a living as a puppet.”
@JASchmidtEsq, evidently a lawyer, and a concise one at that, tweeted, “I’d say you just got your ass kicked by VDH.”
A more forward-looking respondent, @FChecker1984, expressed hope for a legal remedy, writing, “This really is the time for broad political, intelligence, media and corporate malfeasance to be prosecuted.”
Sigh. When it comes to Trump supporters writing on behalf of Victor Davis Hanson, conversation is not always conducted on the edifying level that one would expect from defenders of one of America’s leading conservative public intellectuals.
Of course, Twitter is Twitter. But several writers, including some well-established ones, also chimed in on Victor Davis Hanson’s behalf. What did they have to say?
Over at National Review, Jack Fowler, vice president of the magazine, told readers in a short note that I had cast Hanson “as a modern-day version of a Nazi mouthpiece and sympathizer.”
A bit further to the right, at American Greatness, Julie Kelly also took issue with what she called my “vile hit piece.” Echoing Fowler, she informed readers that “Schoenfeld intimates that Hanson is a racist, an anti-Semite, and a Nazi sympathizer.” Kelly also called me “vulgar” and “vicious,” accused me of spilling “vitriol” and “shamelessly contorting” my previous views, and being part of a “cabal” of embittered “NeverTrump garbage peddlers.”
Ending on a high note, Kelly concluded that:
The Bulwark and its enablers…continue to do more damage to our political discourse while professing to elevate it. The depth of their intellectual rot is matched only by their witless political sense and their schoolyard bully tactics. But no doubt their leftist benefactors are proud of their work in the service of genuine social evil.
Also weighing in was a more formidable intellectual, Roger Kimball, editor of the highbrow journal of criticism and culture, The New Criterion, as well as chief of the conservative publishing house, Encounter Books.
Kimball explains that he hesitated to speak out about my “twisted” attack on Hanson but felt compelled to do so because of the “ad hominem viciousness” of my book review. In the course of making his argument, Kimball likened me to “a disheveled fellow you find screaming at passersby on the street outside your office.”
Some years ago, I got into an unpleasant exchange with a professor, long since deceased, who accused me, among other things, of being a “no-nothing.” I responded that if one wanted to use that appellation as an insult, it would be more effective if one spelled it correctly. I would today offer similar advice to Roger Kimball. If you are going to reproach someone for engaging in “ad hominem viciousness” do not—especially in the very same paragraph—liken your interlocutor to a disheveled fellow screaming at passersby. It’s not a smart look.
An additional point in Kimball’s essay bears notice. Kimball charges me with “broadcasting indiscriminate charges of anti-Semitism” at Hanson and then reprimands me for mentioning the name of Adolf Hitler in my review. Schoenfeld, he writes, “goes so far as to exemplify Godwin’s Law, according to which the person who first brings up Hitler in an internet exchange loses the argument.”
For the record, I did not charge Hanson with anti-Semitism, let alone being a Nazi sympathizer, or a racist or anything of the sort. The subject of Jews and anti-Semitism is not mentioned in my review. What I did say, as readers can check, is that Hanson used dishonest methods to cover the tracks of a lifelong racist by the name of Donald Trump. I did indeed mention Hitler, along with two other great tyrants of the 20th century: Stalin and Mao. Readers can consult my review to see how and why I did so. Also, for the record, to compare Trump to Hitler, as I wrote in my review, is a “grotesque absurdity.” I have never indulged in such comparisons.
To be sure, some intellectuals of my acquaintance are guilty of that transgression.
Today, Kimball is one of Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters. In the very same response to my review which we are discussing, he writes that “Donald Trump’s presidency, for all its rhetorical bluster and occasional crudity, has been a salubrious and morally uplifting enterprise.”
The Trump presidency—“a salubrious and morally uplifting enterprise.” What kind of mind would produce a judgment like that?
One need not dig deep to find an answer. The very same kind of mind that would praise Trump in such ridiculous terms today is the very same kind of mind that yesterday depicted Donald Trump as a would-be Hitler.
Readers may not be aware but before Roger Kimball became a fanatical acolyte of Donald Trump, he was a fanatical hater of Donald Trump. And not only of Donald Trump, but also of Donald Trump’s supporters.
“There are only two things to bear in mind about the fans,” Kimball wrote about Trump’s followers as recently as January 2016. The first “is their virulence,” with “hysteria and anger [their] hallmarks.” The second thing, he continued, “is the utter irrelevance of substance to their enthusiasm,” which stems from “their imperviousness to argument.”
In March, revving up his rhetorical engine, Kimball compared the same mob of energized ignoramuses to the “brownshirts” of the Third Reich, while bitterly complaining of the rallies where Trump “encouraged a whipped up crowd to extend their right arms in Nazi-like salute while pledging allegiance to the Great Leader.”
Many more such depictions of our 45th president as an aspiring führer can be found in the prolific output of this eminent conservative intellectual. “Is this the 1930s?” Kimball asked after one Nazi-beer-hall-type Trump rally. An “aroma of populist demagoguery and menace” surrounds him. Indeed, the Trump phenomenon was so alarming, warned Kimball, quoting Friedrich Hayek, that we could be entering the situation that “precedes the suppression of democratic institutions and the creation of a totalitarian regime.”
To judge by his response to my review of Hanson’s book, Kimball seems to have forgotten that he specialized in such Nazi references. That is, he specialized in them right up until the moment he abruptly switched from worrying about the impending Trump Third Reich to hailing Trump for his “salubrious and morally uplifting” presidency. I don’t believe it is an ad hominem argument to raise questions about the quality of a mind that would produce such extraordinary gyrations.