The Iowa Caucuses are over. Unlike the last time, we actually got the results of the voting the same night. We didn’t have to wait weeks while officials in Iowa explained to us that they had somehow designed a voting app that can’t actually count votes. So that’s progress. And as expected, Donald Trump won overwhelmingly. As of this moment, he appears to be the clear frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination. Just like in 2016, Trump is leading in pretty much every poll in every state. In fact, he’s doing better this time than he was in 2016.
From a historical perspective, this is a unique moment in American politics. It’s rare for a former president to run for office again, and have a serious chance of winning. It’s only happened a handful of times in the history of this country. And that leads to some quirks in the process. Here’s one of them: We’re starting to see the same attacks against Donald Trump that we first saw all the way back in 2016. Even when these attacks make absolutely no sense eight years later, they’re trotting them back out.
You might remember that in 2016, the big concern about Trump was that he supposedly couldn’t be trusted with the “nuclear codes.” Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton and pretty much every mainstream leftist publication and television program repeated the line. Republican candidates were asked about it on the debate stage, and some of them agreed with the framing. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in particular kept saying that giving Trump the nuclear codes was dangerous. Then Trump became president, and needless to say he didn’t launch the nukes. And after four years, he left office. And no one ever talked about the whole “nuclear codes” narrative ever again. There was no reckoning over all of that fear-mongering. No one ever apologized for it. It was just a mass panic based on complete nonsense that was memory-holed as soon as possible.
But now Donald Trump is back on the ballot. And because his political opponents aren’t terribly creative, we’re once again hearing a slightly warmed-over version of the old hits. This time, instead of warning about nukes, the concern is a little more general. Now they’re saying that if Trump wins in November, then he’s going to do some non-specific but very bad things with the military. This headline comes to us from NBC News, which as usual, is laundering the talking points of intel agencies and the Defense Department: “Fears grow that Trump will use the military in ‘dictatorial ways’ if he returns to the White House.” Specifically, according to NBC News, “Donald Trump is sparking fears among those who understand the inner workings of the Pentagon that he would convert the nonpartisan U.S. military into the muscular arm of his political agenda as he makes comments about dictatorship and devalues the checks and balances that underpin the nation’s two-century-old democracy.”
So to reiterate, “people who understand the inner workings of the Pentagon” are the brain trust behind this article. But it’s not really clear who these people are. It could mean current Pentagon officials. Or maybe it means retired Pentagon officials. Or maybe it’s just people who think about the Pentagon all the time. NBC News doesn’t say. But they do say we should trust these anonymous experts when they predict that Trump will “convert the nonpartisan U.S. military into the muscular arm of his political agenda.”
There’s a lot to unpack there. For one thing, the military isn’t nonpartisan anymore. That’s why they can’t recruit anyone. They’ve spent so long demonizing white males for political reasons that they can’t even meet their recruiting goals anymore. The data’s clear on this. According to Military-dot-com, the Army was able to recruit 44,000 whites in 2018, but only recruited 25,000 whites last year. This is by far the biggest decline of any demographic group, and it’s happening in every branch of the armed services. It’s a big part of the reason the Army, Navy and Air Force couldn’t hit their recruitment goals last year. This happened because the military became explicitly political. They started whining about “white rage” and “social justice,” and recruiting girl boss fighter pilots and trans admirals. And at the same time, they terminated anyone who refused to take the COVID shot. They started investigating every member of the military for potential links to “far-right extremism,” which they never defined. The point of the whole exercise was to implement a political purge, to ensure that the military is loyal to the Biden administration. And for the most part, it worked.
So no serious person thinks our military is nonpartisan anymore. But despite all of that, NBC News and the Pentagon — sorry, the “people who understand the inner workings of the Pentagon” — want you to believe that the military is functioning perfectly, and it’s Trump who’s going to come along and make the military political and dysfunctional. And he’s going to do that, we’re told, by “converting the nonpartisan U.S. military into the muscular arm of his political agenda.” This is yet another attack that might have been effective in 2016. But anyone who’s been alive for the past decade knows that it makes no sense.
Almost every president in modern history has used the military to advance his political agenda. Donald Trump’s greatest achievement in office, by far, is that he didn’t carry on this tradition. He didn’t turn Libya into an open-air slave market so that Hillary Clinton could feel like a strong and independent woman. He didn’t invade Iraq on some phony intelligence about weapons of mass destruction. He didn’t pull a Clinton and bomb Sudan to distract from a domestic scandal. Really, you can make the case that Trump was the single most restrained president in modern history when it comes to the use of the military. In all four years, the only time Democrats really became upset about Trump and the military is when he visited the bombed-out church just outside the White House during the BLM riots. That was the best hit they had. They said Mark Milley shouldn’t have been in Trump’s entourage or something. For about five news cycles, they pretended to be really outraged by that. Of course, they didn’t care about the BLM rioters torching the church, or injuring dozens of police officers and Secret Service agents. They were laser-focused on this one incident, because it’s the only example they could think of, to make the case that Trump had somehow co-opted the military to serve own political ends.
But they have to lie about this, just like they lied about the nuclear codes in 2016. And the reason for the lie is the same. Just like in 2016, the point of the slander is to delegitimize the Trump administration and lay the groundwork for undermining it from within. Eight years ago, all the warnings about Trump’s “instability” and the “nuclear codes” gave the F.B.I. an important pretext to launch an indefinite investigation into his campaign. And we know how that turned out. If you convince millions of Americans that Trump wants to be a dictator — a willing servant of Putin — then it’s a lot easier to justify illegal wiretaps of his campaign.
The only difference is that back in 2016, no one admitted any of this out loud. Now they’re just coming out and saying it. From the NBC News article: “Now, bracing for Trump’s potential return, a loose-knit network of public interest groups and lawmakers is quietly devising plans to try to foil any efforts to expand presidential power, which could include pressuring the military to cater to his political needs.”
This is what an actual “coup,” or “insurrection.” looks like. The media is openly bragging about a deep state plot to usurp the president’s authority. The article goes on to explain that, “Those taking part in the effort told NBC News they are studying Trump’s past actions and 2024 policy positions so that they will be ready if he wins in November. That involves preparing to take legal action and send letters to Trump appointees spelling out consequences they’d face if they undermine constitutional norms.”
So a bunch of Left-wing activist groups are going to threaten Trump appointees if they undermine “constitutional norms,” which are apparently defined by these Left-wing activist groups. What would be interesting to know is how many of these activist groups ever threatened the Biden administration. When the White House nationalized the rental properties, or tried to force millions of people to take the COVID shot or tried to implement a mask mandate on airplanes — even though all available “science” said it was ridiculous — did any of these defenders of “constitutional norms” have any issue with that?
Of course they didn’t. Now, in this article, NBC News is careful to not to admit too much. They’re saying that the deep state is just going to “file lawsuits” and “send letters.” But everyone knows that’s not all they’re going to do. At multiple points during the Trump administration, career officials in the Defense Department and the intelligence agencies openly defied the president and subverted his authority. As Jonathan Swan and Zachary Basu reported for Axios: “Once in office … Trump’s ambitions to withdraw from Afghanistan and other countries were subdued, slow‐rolled, and detoured by military leaders.”
To give one example, in the case of Syria, officials routinely lied to Trump about the number of troops in the country. Jim Jeffrey, the former U.S. envoy to Syria, stated in an interview that, “We were always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there.” He said that in reality, the U.S. had “a lot more than” the 200 troops in northern Syria which Trump had agreed to. Those are real quotes. It’s a Trump administration official admitting that they all just lied to the commander-in-chief about troop levels in Syria. Keep in mind, Trump publicly ordered a full pullout from northern Syria. There were a bunch of articles documenting this. But Jeffrey and the Pentagon just ignored the order. As Jeffrey put it: “What Syria withdrawal? There was never a Syria withdrawal.”
Call it the deep state, or call it whatever you want. These people conspired to prevent Trump from governing, and then they gloated about it. This happened again and again. At one point, the New York Times played up an op-ed from an anonymous Trump official saying that there’s a “resistance” movement against Trump that was operating within the federal government: “Like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations,” the official wrote. Leftists loved that. They also loved it when Mark Milley pledged to warn the Chinese government if Trump ever ordered an attack that would affect Chinese interests. That’s treason. It’s maybe the most obvious case of treason you could imagine — the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff tipping off an adversary about possible U.S. military action. But again, the media and Democrats celebrated it.
What these career operatives did is far more akin to dictatorship than anything Trump did. Americans elected Trump. No one elected these people. No one gave them the authority to keep U.S. troops in countries when the president wanted them gone. No one gave them authority to thwart everything Trump attempted to do. They just went ahead and sabotaged him, again and again. They kept subverting the will of the democratically elected president. It’s what happened when Trump cut off weapons shipments to Ukraine, which naturally angered the weapons manufacturers. There was testimony at Trump’s first impeachment hearing — from Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper — that the defense industry began flooding the Pentagon with phone calls shortly after the Trump administration suggested it would cut off these weapons shipments. And what do you know? Within weeks, the C.I.A. operative in the White House — whose name you were never allowed to know — leaked a classified phone call to Adam Schiff and kickstarted an impeachment. That’s the phone call where Trump made the mistake of mentioning the Biden family’s corruption in Ukraine. And yet again, none of these “defenders of democracy” who are so upset about a second Trump term said a word about any of this.
That’s because they’re planning to do it again. That’s why the media will again paint Trump as a dictator so that they can prevent him from governing. Last night, as the Iowa Caucus results came in, Rachel Maddow pushed the narrative again. Watch:
Their tears only make the Iowa results that much better pic.twitter.com/7ycE33uuq1
— Mostly Peaceful Memes (@MostlyPeacefull) January 16, 2024
As a side note, that clip is one of the rare instances of Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes being spotted in the same room at the same time. For a while it wasn’t clear if Chris Hayes was just Rachel Maddow in drag, or vice versa, who knows. But here we are, with both of the legends side-by-side, in the flesh. It’s a remarkable moment. A lot of fan theories died last night.
As for what Rachel Maddow said, of course, she’s just further advancing the corporate messaging of NBC News. She wants NBC viewers to think that “authoritarianism” is coming, and so to prevent it, we need to imprison Donald Trump and kick him off the ballot. This was never a compelling argument. But it’s especially unconvincing after Trump has already served as president for a whole term. And during that term, as Ron DeSantis has correctly noted, Trump’s problem was exactly the opposite of being authoritarian. If anything, Trump was reluctant to use his power. He didn’t wield his authority even in situations where it was necessary. He didn’t even fire Tony Fauci for completely botching the COVID response. That’s how non-dictatorial he was, to his detriment.
At some level , it’s clear that these propagandists are aware of how flimsy their case is. That’s why last night, for the most part, they didn’t allow their viewers to see Donald Trump’s victory speech. This is the presidential frontrunner, who just won the Iowa caucuses. But CNN cut away from Trump’s speech the moment he began speaking about the southern border. MSNBC made a big show of hiding the footage from their viewers. Watch:
MSNBC host @maddow says NBC and other mainstream news networks have decided not to show Trump’s victory speech. CNN had him on briefly but then cut away and replaced him with @jaketapper who says “caucus goers believe the lie.” pic.twitter.com/dnUHEB1wqH
— Michael Shellenberger (@shellenberger) January 16, 2024
Notice she can’t even mention Donald Trump’s name at first. She has to refer to him as the “winner of the Iowa caucuses.” And then she lectures her viewers about how important it is to muzzle him. She appears to claim, with a straight face, that MSNBC might be sued if they air the victory speech of the presidential frontrunner. By the way, if that’s true — which it’s not — any real journalist would welcome that lawsuit. But no one at NBC is pretending that they’re real journalists anymore. Again, this is now all right out in the open.
So it’s pretty clear after last night that the corporate press and their allies in the intelligence agencies won’t change their strategy. But it’s also clear by extension that, if Donald Trump wants any chance of actually governing this country, he’s going to have to change his. He’s going to have to command the military, instead of allowing the military to command him. He’s going to have to get rid of the prosecutors and the bureaucrats who have spent the last four years trying to imprison his supporters. And he’s going to have to stop making any effort to get these people to like him, whether they’re at the New York Times or NBC or anywhere else.
If Donald Trump becomes president — and after last night’s results in Iowa, it’s looking extremely likely — then he only has one option. This time around, he’s going to have to give these fear-mongers precisely what they fear.