[On Thursday, you said you were once a Democrat. When did you first identify as such?]
In 2004, at the age of twelve. That was the year of my political awakening, although the only reason I paid any attention to politics was because politics came to the movies.
[Were you once a big film buff, or something?]
I was obsessed. I tracked box office data for almost thirteen years. And in the summer of ’04, the film industry was stunned to see Fahrenheit 9/11generate blockbuster business. It shattered every record for a documentary, and I do mean every record. All of them still stand, as far as I know. In my lifetime, America has always been derided as the nation of the politically apathetic, but for a few weeks in the middle of 2004, large numbers of people went out of their way and paid cash to see a political demonstration.
[It’s hard for people to understand what that meant at the time. In those days, we weren’t fixated on the political goings-on, salivating at the slightest indication of even the most meaningless political development. Going to the movies to watch something like Fahrenheit 9/11 was unprecedented.]
And it remains so: this autumn’s sequel, Fahrenheit 11/9, played to empty theaters. Even Dinesh D’Souza’s greatest hits have generated only a fraction of the interest of Fahrenheit 9/11. I doubt if we’ll ever see anything like it again. In fact, I guarantee we won’t, not when the theaters are on their last legs.
[So, did you become a Democrat because you liked Fahrenheit 9/11?]
No. I didn’t even see the film in theaters, although I was aware of the splash it made, financially and culturally. But I shared the opinion of its director, Michael Moore. I agreed that George W. Bush was a reckless incompetent, although the only evidence I really had to go on was that which was presented in the film. I was enchanted by the notion of the people rising up to force Bush out of office. At the time, it seemed like a revolution, a full-throated renunciation of all of the violence that Bush represented.
[Oh, to be young and idealistic again, so many years before you began to argue that there was no difference between Republicans and Democrats.]
Well, the romanticism suffered a discouraging blow when Bush came out on top in November of ’04. At the time, I blamed my father, who refused to vote.
[Would he have voted for John Kerry?]
He said that he would have, but he also pointed out that my mother would have voted for Bush. I don’t think either of my parents voted until 2008, when my dad voted for Obama. That, by the way, was the last time he voted.
[Has your mother ever voted?]
Couldn’t tell ya.
[Hmm. Were there any other major political movies in 2004?]
Only the masterpiece that was Team America: World Police. That came out less than a month before Bush bested Kerry, although the filmmakers claimed that the movie was not intended to promote or hinder a particular candidate.
[An apolitical political film?]
“Nonpartisan” will suffice. But, like Fahrenheit 9/11, Team America viewed the War on Terror, which I have since come to describe as the American invasion of Iraq, as a disaster. It didn’t put the blame on Bush, exactly, nor did it endorse anyone’s alternative proposal, but it expresses very little hope about the efficacy of the conflict, in particular its potential to prevent destruction and violence. I didn’t believe in the American mission, either, and because the Democrats were supposedly opposed to the Bush Doctrine, I supported them . . . as energetically as a twelve-year-old could, anyway.
[And it would be unrealistic to expect a twelve-year-old to appreciate the intricacies of political parties, to see through the smokescreens and recognize that they have more in common than it would seem at first glance. That takes a lot of time, more time than an adolescent could possibly have. And until then, you were a Democrat—or you identified as such, since twelve-year-olds are barred from political registration.]
In this country, they are. I supported Barack Obama in 2008, but not from the beginning. I was never that prescient, even at age sixteen. I liked Bill Richardson, who was later indicted, though I was not so affectionate as to be distraught when Obama pulled ahead and made him irrelevant. I moved on to Obama pretty quickly, and although I wasn’t old enough to vote for him, I tried my best to convince everyone I knew to do so.
[Do we have time to document your fall into disillusionment? How long did it take for you to lose faith in Obama, and the Democrats in general?]
One day, we will talk about my political misadventures in 2011 and 2012, a campaign season wherein I supported Ron Paul. I had all but given up on Obama in that saga, but I still maintained enough sympathy for the liberal cause to see the Democrats as the good guys, if only by default, in subsequent years, including in 2016, when I reluctantly voted for Hillary Clinton.
[And yet, now you seem to have no interest at all in voting for the Democrats.]
No, I don’t, and my frustration isn’t limited to Democratic officials, to politicians, either: the liberals of this country, the men and women who actually show up to vote, have forsaken their values. They have forgotten that “liberal cause” of which I made mention. Instead, their new cause is defiance of Trump. Like the Tea Party of this same decade, they have given up on their belief in parliamentary politics. They are interested only in condemning Trump, even when his proposals warrant sincere praise.
[Has President Trump ever taken a stance that warranted sincere praise?]
Yes, he has, and he is doing so right now. It is a minor miracle that we are finally pulling out of Syria and, with any luck, Afghanistan, as well. At last, one of the visions that Michael Moore presented in Fahrenheit 9/11 is being realized—or it will be, if the current plan is implemented. And yet, what are we hearing from the Democrats? Nothing but fear-mongering and escalating talk of impeachment, which sometimes amount to the same thing. A most un-lovely case in point would be this little number, courtesy of Nick Paton Walsh of CNN.
[What is this? A commentary piece on Trump’s decision to get us out of Syria?]
Surely you didn’t think the hawks and hyenas would button their beaks and zip up their lips as Donald the Devil takes up military action? Naturally, the Left will defy Trump at every turn, just as the Tea Party was irrationally hostile to Obama’s every move, but with this development, they have no chance of saving face. Remember when Trump had won the nomination and perfectly reasonable adults were afraid that he would drag us into a nuclear apocalypse?
[And yet, today they are terrified because he is scaling down a foreign war. Yes, it is an awkward situation for the liberals, is it not? Do you suppose Trump thought about this before he made his choice?]
If he did, then you have to give him credit for a brilliant maneuver. How much more can he do to expose the lethal dishonesty and hypocrisy within the Democratic Party? The party that, in 2004, called for the end of American bloodshed in the Middle East, and then, in 2016, pleaded for the greatest chance of world peace, has reversed course and condemned Trump for refusing to perpetuate the bleeding? Can you imagine a more striking inversion of one’s stated principles and intent?
[I see what you’re saying, but let’s be careful, lest we conflate criticism of the Democratic Party with high praise for Trump. In the first place, this policy decision was not nearly as shocking as the media suggests. In October, John Pilger appeared on Going Underground, a program aired on Russia Today, and suggested that Trump wanted to absolve himself of the Syrian conflict—not because he has humanitarian sympathies, but because the war is convoluted and he earns no political points for prolonging it.]
He does, however, come across as something of a maverick—in the eyes of some, at least—for terminating our involvement therein.
[Yes, he does, but he is also inconsistent: if he were really interested in brokering world peace, then he wouldn’t badger the Iranian government. American foreign policy is just as incoherent as it was in 2004, despite the most assiduous efforts of the Trumpeters to reduce it to stereotypes, to a melodrama starring the completely noble Trump and his irredeemably nefarious opponents. The Democrats believe that the roles are reversed, but otherwise, they adhere to the same one-dimensional moral template.]
Now would probably be a good time to point out that, contrary to what I believed at the time, if the Democrats had been successful in 2004, the tomfoolery in Afghanistan and Iraq would have continued. I hate to give too much credit to Pat Buchanan, but he hit the nail on the head when he referred to “the War Party”, to the cheerleaders for bipartisan bloodlust.
[Which, I think, brings us to Nick Paton Walsh’s masterpiece.]
Yes, let’s go to the article, the link to which we have included above. Let’s start with the title, one that is less of a clarifying header than a meandering expression of emotional unease. “America’s Unprecedented 72 Hours that Could Reshape the World”. We have capitalized it, lest it appear as if it were a random sentence plucked from the article itself.
[I’m sure you’ve noticed just how sloppy the journalists have become in the last few years. John Pilger, whose name we have already mentioned, described 2016 as the exposure of journalism, but evidently, the journalists themselves haven’t learned their lesson.]
No, they haven’t. On the contrary, they’re sloppier than ever, to a large extent because they are no longer required to conceal their bias. There is no longer any question of whether the journalists are compromised, for we are comfortable with corruption: our only interest is in whether they will tell us what we want to hear.
[Sam Harris said that the quality of our lying has diminished in the Trumpish Age. Sounds like we have a very serious problem with intellectual integrity.]
Yes, we do, and a pseudo-journalist like Nick Paton Walsh isn’t helping matters. In his article, the link to which we have offered above, Walsh plays the part of the lugubrious mourner. He laments the unnatural passing of some great being, one that was slayed ruthlessly and needlessly by Trump. The beast in question is American military involvement in Syria and Afghanistan, in ending which Trump will, at the very most, sever two heads of the hydra.
[One could make the argument that withdrawing American forces from those two countries would be unwise, but why does Walsh see this as something deeper, something tragic?]
Well, the rhetoric should be all too familiar to anyone who listened to the Tea Party in the Obama years. Trump himself constantly complained that Obama deliberately enervated the strength of the American military by timidly wading into bloodbaths overseas, rather than diving in full-bodily. It was sickening to behold, these bloodthirsty pundits and politicians penning sentimental eulogies to the American empire, never mind that the military budget became more bloated every year. Of course, no mainstream liberal figure ever challenged the conservatives on this point.
[Because the Democrats are just as eager to go to war as the Republicans?]
Presumably. Well, it’s probably no longer a matter of presumption, as demonstrated by the Left’s unanimous condemnation of Trump’s about-face on Syria and Afghanistan.
[We should try to be fair to those leftist critics and observe that some of them, at least, are troubled not by the withdrawal of soldiers, but by the inconsistency of Trump’s foreign policy. It does seem as if he’s making this up as he goes along, and while his latest action might be desirable, still there is a legitimate question of foresight, is there not?]
Yes, there is, and that was one reason why I decided not to vote for Trump: I didn’t think it would be responsible to allow a private citizen, who knows nothing at all about military action, to assume command of our national firepower. However, the same thing could have been said about Hillary Clinton, who never served in the armed forces, either. We should be asking questions about what our military is doing, and we should ask why the president cannot appear to make up his mind on issues such as this. However, most of the media coverage of this policy reversal has had less to do with the inconsistency of Trump’s decision than it has with his supposed error.
[In other words, the stars of media suggest that it is inherently wrong to withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan, regardless of what Trump said on the subject in the past.]
You got it. And that brings us back to Walsh, whose article we keep wandering away from. In the introduction, he refers to “the turmoil, poison, and irresponsibility of the past two years”, thereby telling us all we need to know about his mindset. I’m not suggesting that a journalist should never criticize Trump, or even that Walsh’s description is incorrect, but when you employ language such as this, it is very hard to convince us of your objectivity. This kind of summary tells me, or warns me, that you are incapable of judging Trump fairly.
[The problem, of course, is that we are more than willing to forgive this prejudice, because we are inclined to disagree with Trump. We’re affirming the consequent, which is one of the first mistakes to be addressed in any decent course on quantitative reasoning.]
Yes, it is. In the words of another writer, it’s like shooting an arrow into the wall and then painting a bullseye around it. Interpretation—which is to say, political bias—is the be-all, end-all. It allows a journalist to play to the crowd, and Walsh is looking towards his audience at all times. When he reflects on the implications of Trump’s decision, he says that “the Commander in Chief considers his own gut paramount, and the decades of sacrifice that got America to this point of lesser importance”.
[Oh, I see: because Trump is self-absorbed, and because he has been guilty of braggadocio in the past, therefore, every decision he makes must be undertaken strictly to fuel his latest narcissistic fantasy.]
Unfortunately, that is the depth of the Left’s psychological apprehension of Trump. In their eyes, he is a Cartoon Network villain, at best. He is guilty of perpetuating that image, of course, but all the same, his critics should, in theory, be more thoughtful than he—otherwise, what’s the point of questioning the man?
[There’d be none. Can we return to this claim of Walsh’s, that there have been “decades of sacrifice that got America to this point”? What, exactly, is “this point” that he refers to? Does he believe we have accomplished something in Syria and/or Afghanistan? Does he believe that we made the right decision to invade either of those countries? At this point, I’m not sure if Walsh really is a liberal. It’s easy to assume that he is, considering that he has no respect for Trump and that he writes for CNN, but then again, there are plenty of conservatives who have found a home within the so-called Resistance.]
That’s a good point, but then again, my point is not contingent on Walsh’s political affiliations. He may well be a conservative, but even so, his article is written to appeal, first and foremost, to the left-leaning readers of CNN. Because liberals are supposed to find war distasteful, Trump’s intent to scrap these two military operations presents an interesting challenge for his leftist critics. Walsh has to find a creative way to condemn Trump, so, rather than describe the end of fighting as such, he frightens his readers by warning of a humanitarian catastrophe if Trump keeps to his word.
[Do you have a specific example?]
Yes, I do. Walsh describes, very superficially, peace negotiations between the United States and the Taliban of Afghanistan. I’m not sure how the Taliban intends to be peaceful, but that’s beside the point: Walsh insists that there is a possibility of moral redemption for the Taliban, but that, by retracting our manpower, Trump is “walking behind his diplomats as they engage in diplomatic poker, and yelling, ‘He’s bluffing.’”
[Did Walsh seriously say that? Does he honestly believe that the withdrawal of American soldiers from Taliban territory will encourage the Taliban to behave badly towards America?]
It’s arduous work, charting the logical currents of the trigger-happy. And may I just say how much I love the awkward repetition of the phrase, “diplomats as they engage in diplomatic poker”?
[What does he even mean when he says that? It sounds like he’s accusing the Americans of lying to the Taliban, in which case, maybe we should refer to our earlier point about how little we really know about our government’s dealings. Is there a reason everything must be so secretive, shady, and sinister, even?]
Julian Assange doesn’t seem to think so. As for Walsh, he confuses his readers, which may be his intent, by explaining that, while “the reduced US forces’ size” in Afghanistan—which he claims, somehow also “remains for the foreseeable future 14,000 strong”—will have to stop training the Afghan military in favor of pursuing “high-value terror targets” and providing “limited air support” to the aforementioned Afghan military. All of which is supposed to make us queasy, as Trump is allegedly squandering a beautiful opportunity to make the world safer.
[And yet, at no point in his piece does Walsh explain, never mind question, why the United States should train any foreign army. Isn’t this kind of behavior, this military franchising in the Middle East, precisely what led to Osama bin Laden acquiring substantial power in the first place? I seem to recall Michael Moore making such a point in Bowling for Columbine, and then making it again, with even more convincing examples, in Fahrenheit 9/11. And yet, here we are, ten years removed from the election of Barack Obama, who became president because Americans were fed up with the War on Terror, and we are panicking because Trump may finally bring combat operations in Afghanistan to a close?]
We never can we decide on what we want, can we? Arguably the most ticklish part of Walsh’s propaganda piece is his concession that Joe Biden once made a proposal very similar to Trump’s. However, Walsh immediately explains that this decision is different because “this is not the logical conclusion of a National Security Council debate”.
[Oh, of course not. This time, it’s a bad idea because Trump conceived it—or at least, that is what we are told. What did we say earlier about affirming the consequent?]
Yeah, exactly. Wisely, Walsh doesn’t try to explain the substantive difference between Trump’s idea and Biden’s. Instead, he points out that Trump promised “victory in Afghanistan”, whatever that means, shortly after assuming office.
[Is this to say that “victory in Afghanistan” and a withdrawal of troops are mutually exclusive?]
Now, there’s a question to present to a cable news panel. I happen to remember David Letterman telling Bill O’Reilly that he wasn’t sure if he could hope for American victory in Iraq because he wasn’t sure what victory would entail, at what cost it would come. O’Reilly mocked him, asking: “Do you want the United States to win in Iraq? It’s an easy question,” to which Letterman replied, “It’s not easy for me because I’m thoughtful.”
[One can picture a liberal asking, “Do you want to defeat Donald Trump? It’s an easy question.”]
But it’s not easy for me, because, well, how do I say it without sounding pretentious?
[You’re expressing your opinion on the Internet. You’re automatically pretentious.]
Maybe so. I’m not sure if I would say that Walsh is pretentious, but he obviously wants to be seen as a geopolitical authority, and it seems that, to do so, he submerges his readers in a deluge of data. For example, when referring to America’s inevitable withdrawal from Afghanistan—which is odd, considering how necessary he viewed our training and ongoing physical presence above—he says that proper procedure is actually very simple, that we “simply had to pick the right moment to leave, or make an accommodation with the Taliban”. He’s implying that the correct strategy is so obvious that Trump must be uncommonly imbecilic to misstep, but take a look at what he says a moment later: “The US Special Forces there could go after ISIS, diminish Russian and Iran’s influence, and ensure the Syrian Kurds they fought ISIS alongside didn’t do anything stupid to their NATO allies Turkey in the North.”
[Is an ordinary American supposed to understand that? The same person who struggles to spot Iraq on a map is expected to know about the Kurds? And while we’re at it, can someone tell me whether or not we’re supposed to be working with Iran?]
Who knows, these days? Walsh believes that, whatever Trump would do, we must do the reverse, and while that strategy bears fruit most of the time, in this instance, we’re still waiting for someone to explain what, exactly, is so tragic about this. In the meantime, I had to fight off my own personal embarrassment when Walsh depicted Mattis as a tragic figure, a martyr in this endless war against Trump.
[Suddenly, Mattis is a political sage? How many people who praise his name today had even heard it before he walked away from Trump?]
The same number of people who are reading this conversation of ours. I mean, listen to this truly sticky tribute, courtesy of Walsh: “And it’s likely the next Defense Secretary will be chosen because he or she won’t apply the calming handcuffs of rational thought to policy that Mattis brought. We are in for a chaotic few months ahead, maybe years.”
[Oh, good: I was worried that this was going to have indelible consequences for the world, as Mr. Walsh declared in the title of his piece. But let’s revisit this phenomenon of the Left’s revitalized interest in war. Once committed to the invasion of Vietnam, the Left frowned upon Bush’s invasion of Iraq, but in the present day, they call for more aggression in the Middle East. And yet, the Right has played an equally dizzying game of musical chairs. What lessons can we draw from this, save for one of rational cynicism?]
I don’t think there’s any more reason to doubt that the march to war has always been a waltz. Both parties dream of violence, but where one calls for action, the other plays the part of scarecrow. Just give it time and we’ll see the Left play the part of peacekeepers, and the Right will reminisce on the good old days of Dubya. Who knows? Maybe then we’ll have a real sequel to Fahrenheit 9/11.
[Fahrenheit 9/11 ½, as the case may be. It is surreal, how rapidly the Left has co-opted the rhetoric of the Dubya years. Listen to what Walsh had to say about those of us who see potential in the pull-out: “Do not make the mistake of thinking these two US withdrawals from war spell peace. They show weakness and instability. America’s supremacy and the world order since the Cold War were predicated on overwhelming military might and predictability. Now Washington’s adversaries are stronger militarily, and see that the old strictures no longer apply.” Are we reading Nick Paton Walsh or Bill O’Reilly? For a moment there, I had honestly forgotten.]
Paranoia is infectious. Tragedy, though, is relative: I do not regret Walsh’s voluntary submission to the cruel casuistry of the Democratic Party, but I am saddened to see my fellow liberals, or those I once believed to be my fellow liberals, buy into the irrational bloodlust promoted in the press. They have been suckered by corporate nihilism, and the result will be further delay of the intellectual development of this country—not exactly an unprecedented problem, but one we have no need of exacerbating.
[Troubled times, my friend. These are troubled times. Will I see you before the holiday?]
Maybe. If not, then Merry Christmas.