HH: Five hours away, actually, from Donald J. Trump becoming the 45th president of the United States. 76 years ago, 1941, FDR gave a speech about the crisis that looms. 76 years before that, Abraham Lincoln gave a second inaugural address, probably the greatest inaugural address ever given, and 76 years before that, George Washington gave the first inaugural address. Dr. Larry Arnn, it’s probably the case that there are Americans out there whose great-grandfather heard George Washington give that speech. We are a young country, in many respects.
LA: Yeah, also the oldest, though, because this succession that’s happening today is the oldest, longest-surviving ceremony of its kind anywhere ever.
HH: And it’s a remarkable thing.
LA: Oh, yeah. Picking a real executive by the will of the people taking an oath prescribed in the document that sets up the executive, very similar speeches by all of them over 200 years. It’s really a great thing.
HH: Now I quote you in this morning’s Washington Post in a column I wrote when I talk about the Constitution is very, very strong. And there are checks on Mr. Trump, for those who are alarmed by him. I also point out that Hillsdale College’s President Larry Arnn likes to point out Donald Trump has never raised a word against the Constitution’s design or institutions. And I know that, because you set a team to find everything he’d ever said about everything with that regard.
LA: Yeah. A bunch of students working in my office, including last year’s salutatorian, Jack Shannon over in London, I usually don’t reveal his name, but you guys are all friendly, right? Anyway, he’s a really great kid, and they all were, and I just said Trump published in January of 2016, in the Reno, Nevada Gazette, a beautiful article about the rule of law and the Bureau of Land Management. And it’s, I invite you, just go look for it. It’s easy to find, and Google it. And it’s beautiful. And I was stunned by it, how good it was. I knew he’d been talking about this, but I went and got my team. I said go find everything Trump has said about the rule of law and the separation of powers and the Constitution. And how far back, says Jack? And I said how old is he?
LA: And what we found was stuff going back to 2000, but also back to 1991, one instance. And we couldn’t find any exceptions. And so Jack comes in my office, and says, and I read it with him sitting there. It’s good, too. And I said okay, where’s the bad stuff? And he said I can’t find any. And I said look again. He still hasn’t, right? It, and what that means is what he says has been, on that subject, has been not just good, but particularly good.
HH: Now we are going to spend two hours talking about some of these speeches, and these speeches matter. Why? When we begin with Washington and we look at Lincoln, and we go on to FDR and then we look at Obama and Clinton and Reagan, why do these speeches matter?
LA: Well, the office that Trump will assume today was not designed around a person except that George Washington was very influential over it. The powers are written down and described, and of course, they are the powers to execute the law. Think about all the different meanings of that term. And so how do you grant a power to execute sufficient to keep a country safe, which is no easy thing to do, it never has been, and yet make it accountable to the people? Well, everything about the office is designed to achieve that, starting today with an oath that the president will take. All the ceremony arises from the command in the Constitution that the president take an oath. And for all of the officers named in the Constitution, it said that they have to take an oath. The president’s oath if prescribed verbatim in the Constitution. And so the way to become president is to swear to uphold the Constitution, and that means on your personal honor, you see. And that means that, and just think what that means. It’s sublime. It means this is not your office. This is our office, and you get to hold it for a while.
HH: Do you believe Donald Trump understands that?
LA: I, of course, Donald Trump is the first person elected president to his first significant public service, and so there’s room for doubt, of course. And you know, he is a kind of direct and aggressive fellow. So that’s why people think he might be a tyrant, I think. Many do, I know, for sure. But what I think is he’s always spoken so well about this. And he does seem to me to love his country and its freedom.
HH: I also made the argument in the Post column, the Constitution is very, very strong. And it is hedged that office with many checks and balances which are not insignificant and which begin to act on it almost immediately. Yesterday, he paid a compliment to Paul Ryan for working closely with him. And if Paul Ryan doesn’t work closely with him, not much gets done.
LA: Yeah, and also, he’ll get his Trump tattoos, to use a Hewitt phrase. Yeah, the Constitution is very strong. Also, the Constitution is damaged, and it’s damaged because we legislate in a different way, and we have whole new 150 many legislative executive and judicial branches all combined into each one of these agencies. Trump is working on that, and that, I think, if he pulls that off, is a massive act of restoration of the Constitution.
HH: We’re going to be talking about inaugural addresses past, present and the future one, which is now about five hours away, as the Obama era dwindles into a memory like sand prints on a beach. It will be gone before you know it, and we will be part of the going.
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HH: Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and of the House of Representatives: Among the vicissitudes incident to life no event could have filled me with greater anxieties than that of which the notification was transmitted by your order, and received on the 14th day of the present month. On the one hand, I was summoned by my country, whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love, from a retreat which I had chosen with the fondest predilection, and, in my flattering hopes, with an immutable decision, as the asylum of my declining years—a retreat which was rendered every day more necessary as well as more dear to me by the addition of habit to inclination, and of frequent interruptions in my health to the gradual waste committed on it by time. On the other hand, the magnitude and difficulty of the trust to which the voice of my country called me, being sufficient to awaken in the wisest and most experienced of her citizens a distrustful scrutiny into his qualifications, could not but overwhelm with despondence one who (inheriting inferior endowments from nature and unpracticed in the duties of civil administration) ought to be peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies. In this conflict of emotions all I dare aver is that it has been my faithful study to collect my duty from a just appreciation of every circumstance by which it might be affected. All I dare hope is that if, in executing this task, I have been too much swayed by a grateful remembrance of former instances, or by an affectionate sensibility to this transcendent proof of the confidence of my fellow-citizens, and have thence too little consulted my incapacity as well as disinclination for the weighty and untried cares before me, my error will be palliated by the motives which mislead me, and its consequences be judged by my country with some share of the partiality in which they originated. What is George Washington saying, Larry Arnn, at the first inaugural address in the first paragraph?
LA: Of course, this is one of the few greatest speeches ever given. It was written by James Madison, and it’s given by George Washington, who first of all, they could not have had the Constitutional Convention if he had been unable to go. We actually have a record that shows that. But second, they designed this office about him. How are you going to have a strong executive? Well, they have devices to check it and control it and make it strong, too. And then second, they’re all looking at him sitting in front of the room when they’re drafting the Constitution. So all the great inaugural addresses, almost all of them, say, not Bill Clinton, they all begin with a statement of humility. I’m not worthy of this, this is a great thing. Reagan’s is particularly beautiful. This is an argument. You just read an extended argument about why I know I am not worthy for this. That’s what he says, and it goes on and on. He won’t shut up about it.
HH: People in the room must be looking at each other and saying is he going to take the job? Did he change his mind?
LA: (laughing) That’s it. That’s it.
HH: He goes on, then, to talk primarily, thought, “it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe… the Great Author of every public and private good… no people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States.” His second paragraph, after I am not worthy, God is most worthy, and God has been good.
HH: And it’s an argument again.
LA: Yeah, that’s right. And he, it, they are two or three of the most beautiful arguments any president ever made in this speech. And you have to, it is true that the greatest speechwriter in presidential history is James Madison, but it’s also true that James Madison himself didn’t really talk like this. And the reason was James Madison was, you know, four foot ten, or whatever he was.
HH: Little Jimmy.
LA: Little, short guy, and very intellectual, right, very, very great man, but not at all in the same way of George Washington, who was the personification of dignity.
HH: But he wrote this for him knowing he was a good ghostwriter.
LA: Oh, yeah.
HH: He wrote for the man.
LA: Oh, yeah. Madison is the one, more than anyone else, who persuaded Washington to come to the Constitutional Convention, and there was a crisis about it, a couple or three weeks before the convention, and Madison got on his horse and rode to Mount Vernon to talk to him. And Washington agreed again to go.
HH: This was because of the Society of Cincinnatus was meeting, correct?
LA: Well, it was, and because that’s, see, it’s just perfect to understand George Washington. The Society of Cincinnatus still exists today, and it’s a very noble thing. and it was a society of those who fought in the Revolutionary War. And they named it after a Roman citizen who retired and went home, as George Washington did. And so the whole purpose of the thing was to celebrate the founding by force of republican institutions that would not be run by force. But it got around in the papers that this was an aristocratic deal, and Washington was embarrassed by that. And so he decided he wouldn’t go to the meeting of the Society of Cincinnatus. And then it occurred to him that if he went somewhere else, it would embarrass the society. And so he couldn’t pretend that he as incapacitated or something, and so he wouldn’t want to cause anybody any embarrassment, and so he wasn’t going to go to the Constitutional Convention.
HH: And he had to be persuaded to go, and he did go.
HH: We have been joined in our conversation about the first inaugural address by George Washington, a warrior, by another citizen warrior, Senator Tom Cotton. I am now outnumbered – two Arkansas people. Welcome, Senator Cotton.
TC: Arkansans. It’s great to be here. I feel so privileged to finally have graduated from the low brown, jayvee version of the Hugh Hewitt Show to the Friday Hillsdale hour of the show.
HH: It is a very, very high. It’s very, very high up. Have you done your reading? We sent you reading. We sent you five inaugural addresses.
TC: I’ve done a little bit of my reading, yeah.
HH: And so what struck you about Washington’s inaugural address?
TC: Well, just the elevated tone of the address as the father of our country, first in war, but then also in peace, and the appeal that he made to all factions, all elements of what was still a very new country, a very young country, with a lot of potential divisions inside of it. And that spirit, I think, has continued forward through all the inaugural addresses you sent me, but really most presidents’ inaugural addresses.
HH: You know, it’s a much remarked upon thing in the Post today and in the news coverage I watched last night, that we are a divided country. Have we ever not been a divided country?
TC: Yeah, you know, as I walk around the streets today, one of my favorite sports is to try to identify the Trumpers from the resistance. But it’s also a reminder that there was a time in our history when we actually had a real resistance during an inauguration in 1861. And so matter how divided people may think we are in our times that there are times in our past when we’re much more divided, and that we have an opportunity to overcome those divisions and try to achieve some real great progress on things for the American people.
HH: And much more perilous. I pointed out when Dr. Arnn sat down, Washington, 76 years later is Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address. 76 years after that is 1941, we’re not at war, but the rest of the war is, and Wren Churches are being blown up and Guild Hall bombed. And then 76 years later, Donald Trump. This is not really as dramatic a period of time, Dr. Arnn, as those three other events.
LA: It isn’t. In principle, by the way, it is in some ways that we can talk about. But in practice, and see, in principle, there are always terrible looming dangers, and the ones we have today are very bad, and in my opinion, related to the ones in the Civil War. But it’s good to celebrate that they’re not, you know, there’s not an army in the field attempting to overcome the government of the United States on our own soil, and we shouldn’t act like there is.
HH: And in Lincoln’s first inaugural, which I did not read to get prepared, were there agents in the city attempting to conspire?
TC: Well, Lincoln references in his second inaugural his inaugural four years earlier in which there were spies and agents inside the city trying to foment disunion.
HH: You see, it is really kind of hard for our commentators today to figure out what to talk about when it comes down to this. We’re back on Washington, and you mentioned this earlier, Dr. Arnn, there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness, between duty and advantage, between the genuine maximums of an honest and magnanimous policy and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity. He’s making an argument about virtue.
LA: That’s right. Lots of foolish scholars build this web that we’re just a low, crass country built on self-interest, greed and all that. That’s a big claim of the American left today, but it’s an old claim in historians, which went left two or three generations ago. But you’d have to read this speech, and you have to wonder who did they pick to be the first chief executive? Who was the most important man in the founding of America? And he’s qualified to say this paragraph, and it’s just gorgeous. And in fact, it’s a summary of classical political philosophy.
HH: How so? One minute.
LA: Well, well, Aristotle’s claim is the greatest human good is happiness, and happiness is an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue. You can’t be happy if you’re a bad person, and that’s the whole culminating meme of that book, and yeah, he identifies the highest virtues, too. But this is just that. He just writes that in a paragraph.
HH: George Washington in 1789, April in those days, April of 1789. Don’t go anywhere. Senator Tom Cotton will be with us this hour, Dr. Arnn this hour and next hour from www.hillsdale.edu.
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HH: Gentlemen, we’re talking about Lincoln’s first inaugural right now. “I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” Larry Arnn, that comes at the end of what Tom Cotton off air just described as a brief.
LA: Yeah, he, the first inaugural and the second inaugural of Lincoln are the starkest contrasts, one of the longest and one of the shortest, and the second, I don’t know if we’re going to talk about it, but it’s a beautiful poem, and very brief. And the first one is a legal argument about the nature of the Union coupled with an appeal that we don’t have the power to end it, and we love each other, and we mustn’t end it.
HH: Senator Cotton, when you read these things as a United States Senator, and you’re going to be how close to the President and the President-Elect today before they take the oaths and then when they give the speech? Where do they put the Senators, behind them?
TC: Well, we’ll be a lot closer than I was four years ago as a Congressman up in the nosebleed seats of the stage. I think four years ago, the Senators were to the Speaker’s right, the audience’s left, just in the seats right off of the lectern.
HH: And so you’re, it’s a historic deal. What did you, when you read these things and prepare, what do you think about Lincoln’s argument on the eve of the Civil War?
TC: Well, the legal brief section of the first inaugural is very compelling. It makes a very strong case that the Union predates the Constitution, and that the Union is indissoluble, and it certainly you can’t have states simply seceding of their own accord. But you know, that final concluding passage, you know, is, as Larry said of the second inaugural, you know, a kind of fine poetry. And you know, you read it today, at least I read it today, and you think you know, where did he have the wit, the insight, the grace, the brilliance to come up with what are relatively simple words, but simple words put together in a beautiful fashion. And you still here those echoes today, shortly after a quite astounding election in November. Barack Obama said in the Oval Office that this is just an intermural scrimmage. We’re all on the same team together. And that, put in modern terms, is an echo of what Lincoln said in that final paragraph of the first inaugural about our bonds as Americans and as citizens, no matter how much our elections may rage and become vitriolic and partisan, and full of passion.
HH: There will be four former presidents on the dais today, and the defeated rival. This may be the first time we’ve done this where there’s a president with a defeated rival. Obviously, George Herbert Walker Bush was defeated by Clinton and was there, but you have a successful president, a defeated rival, and four living presidents. I just love the world sees that we don’t shoot our former presidents, and that is itself very, very rare.
LA: Oh, yeah. It, Lincoln makes the case in this speech that the first time free people by popular vote changed the regime was in 1800 in the United States of America. And the principle it established, he says, is that ballots replace bullets, and that’s the great thing. And remember, in 1800, what happened was the party of George Washington, the party that founded the United States of America, the Federalist Party, was destroyed by popular vote, and then of course, after that, Thomas Jefferson said we are all one country. What did he say? All Democrats, all Republicans now?
HH: The first inaugural, “My countrymen, one and all, think calmly and well upon this whole subject. Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time. If there be an object to hurry any of you in hot haste to a step which you would never take deliberately, that object will be frustrated by taking time; but no good object can be frustrated by it.” He’s actually urging patience, Larry Arnn, which is something maybe a lot of people in this town right now haven’t got much of.
LA: He, you asked me once did he think he could make a peace and prevent a war. I think he harbored that hope. I mean, there were ambassadors, he mentions it, from the South waiting o him, looking for a meeting which they never got. But, so they regarded themselves as a different country, but he thought maybe he could put that to bed by time.
HH: Did he keep the, very quickly, did he keep the border states in with this argument? They didn’t leave.
LA: He was talking to them.
HH: He was talking to Kentucky, and they did not leave. I’ll be right back with Senator Tom Cotton and Dr. Larry Arnn of Hillsdale College as we continue on Inauguration Day.
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HH: The greatest of them all, Dr. Larry Arnn, is the second inaugural address of Lincoln. And I don’t believe anyone quarrels with that estimate. Why is it so great?
LA: It’s great for two reasons. One is it summarizes the war as a penance for the injustice of slavery which we have all been complicit in. We all pay. And then second, it lays the ground for the reuniting of America having paid that price. And of course, it does that in what I think is the greatest language any president ever wrote, and so it’s just lovely. One part of it is like Macbeth. If every drop of blood drawn by the bondsman’s toil through 200 years, a bondsman’s unrequited toil is repaid by another drawn now by the sword, still it will be said that the ways of the Lord are righteous altogether. That’s just, that’s like the language in Shakespeare when Macbeth is about to kill his kinsman to get his throne, and he imagines angels above crying out against, and demons below crying for the blood of Duncan. So that’s a, you know, cosmic justice. It’s like the Declaration of Independence. You can’t, you know, we have paid for this. And we should have. And yeah, so…
HH: He adds as well, in the first inaugural, he makes no moral assault on the South. In this, he says both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any man should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces. But let us judge not that we be judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. That’s a judgment, Tom Cotton. That’s, he actually does throw down on the South at this point, although elliptical and somewhat parsed. It’s there.
TC: Well, in his indirect and measured way, but you know, the judgments of the Lord, in this case, were pretty stiff. The Civil War wasn’t just our worst war, still to this day if you tally up all the casualties from every other war we’ve been in, they barely surpassed the casualties that we had in the Civil War. So the cost that was paid to rid us of the sin of slavery were high indeed.
HH: Yeah, the idea that a speech would even matter, 600,000 thousand people are dead, the war is almost over, Larry Arnn. The idea that a speech would even matter is significant, that Lincoln would think his words could make a difference.
LA: Well, that brings up the Gettysburg Address. History will little note nor long remember what we say here, but never forget what they did here. And that turns out not to be so.
HH: Turns out not to be true.
TC: Is that what we might call a noble line?
LA: That’s exactly what that is.
TC: Well, that’s, I mean, history can easily forget what people did there, because there’s no immediate reminder. There’s nothing to show them, you know, especially in an era before video and audio recording. But for thousands of years, history has recorded words, and Lincoln, I think, knew that his words would be recorded to memorialize what had happened at Gettysburg and at so many other battlefields, and throughout the civil, entire war as the second inaugural shows.
HH: Let me ask you both, the last paragraph of the second inaugural is, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” And he ends. It’s very high, very mighty. What do you expect from Mr. Trump today when he becomes President Trump, Senator Cotton?
TC: Well, I expect it’ll be in the spirit of Lincoln’s inaugurals, but in the spirit of many other presidential inaugurals appealing to the better angels of our nature. He recognizes that many people are still quite opposed to his election and his presidency. I don’t think that Donald Trump, among the criticisms of him, will quite achieve the lyrical beauty of Abraham Lincoln, but then I wouldn’t say that 43 other presidents have achieved that, either. I also understand that he’s going to aim for some of the brevity of Lincoln’s second inaugural versus his first inaugural, which is a good thing, because not many people have ever told me that I wish that politician had talked longer.
HH: I’ve never actually been told that a speech was too short. What do you expect today?
LA: Well, I think it’s an important speech for Trump. It’s important, because it’s in this long line of speeches, and it’s amazing, by the way. Even Franklin Roosevelt, whose purposes are clearly to alter the meaning of the fundamental documents of America, celebrates those documents and their long continuity. And that’s a strength in the republic. It even places the interest of extremely ambitious men in the continuity of the republic. But the second thing is if he can speak beautifully today, and I pray that he does, that will help a lot. And you know, he has done that. Many of his speeches, his prepared speeches during the campaign, were very good, I thought. And they weren’t attended too much by his enemies. Maybe this one will be. And I hope it’s really great.
TC: I would agree with what Larry said about Donald Trump’s speeches in the campaign. His speech on Election Night as well had a very elevated tone, recognizing that we have divisions and wounds that we need to bind up. I suspect it’ll be in the same vein today, and I hope that he achieves that same level of eloquence that he had in many occasions in the campaign. As Larry said, many of Donald Trump’s critics like to pretend those speeches didn’t happen. They prefer to focus on the provocative tweet or the off the cuff remark, which really in the end matters very little compared to these major events. I mean, you know, I know people in Washington, you know, and New York obsessively follow the news every day. But most folks that I serve in Arkansas are not doing that. They don’t have time to watch twitter 24 hours a day. They’re not watching the cable news every night. But there are occasions when they stop and pause to listen to what their president says. And the inaugural are just maybe the foremost occasion, and that’s a moment for Donald Trump to break through all the clutter and to speak as a leader directly to the citizens of this country without a filter of the media, without his critics, you know, sitting there carping about it. I think he recognizes that, based on some of the speeches he made at the critical moments in the campaign like the convention speech, like the victory speech, which are some other moments where you can break through the clutter.
HH: Now Senator Cotton, you are not old enough, nor am I. I think Larry Arnn is old enough to recall that when Richard Nixon assumed the office in ’68, we’re actually the same age, but in ’68, the country was deeply divided. There had been riots and assassinations worse than we have now preceding the inauguration of Nixon in ’69. And yet I don’t think Nixon got as tough a time during his transition as Trump has received. It’s been relentless. And everything has been amplified. Everything has been the worst ever, that it is unrelenting. The media like woke up from an eight year hibernation with a toothache, and they’re going all Sam Donaldson on him every day. Or am I simply ignoring what they did to Obama? Obama partisans will say they treated him poorly. I don’t think so.
LA: No. Well, first of all, I think, you know, Lincoln, I don’t want to be alarmist, but the only time that I know of so divisive a transition is in 1860-61. And you know, they were threatening to kill him, right?
LA: And they were leaving the Union. But this is nuclear weapons in political terms right off the bat. I mean, some of the things Trump has been accused of on, so far, bad information, they will end his presidency if they turn out to be true. And so that’s before he takes office. It’s amazing to me. I have not seen anything like this.
HH: And a new Congressman elected from Maryland will bring an article of impeachment. Now it will not proceed, obviously. It’s the new Congressman in the southern part of Maryland saying that he is violating the Emoluments Clause on his first day, and therefore, he’s, and this is an argument that Laurence Tribe, did you take Tribe at Harvard, Tom Cotton?
TC: Fortunately not.
HH: You didn’t. Okay, Elizabeth Warren will probably give it some credit. Are you surprised that they won’t even back off for a month?
TC: Surprised? No. Disappointed? Yes, although in the same way that it’s nice to see the Democrats after eight years discover their inner cold warrior. It’s also nice to see the Democrats discover their inner Constitutional originalist caring about the original meaning of things like the Emoluments Clause.
HH: The Emoluments Clause, yes.
TC: You know, I wish Donald Trump’s critics would just give him a chance. You know, for ten weeks since the election, for 18 months, Donald Trump has been campaigning. And campaigning is mostly about words, whether it’s speeches, interviews, tweets, what have you. But now, he’s going to be the president. And his actions, and the results of his actions, yield, will be the way we can judge him. And in the Army, we had a saying. When the ramp drops, the B.S. stops. So if you’re on an airplane, and you’ve got a parachute strapped on, or you’re in a Bradley and you’re about to charge out the back of the ramp, you can talk the big game all you want about how well trained you are, what a stud you and your men are, how you’re going to ace the training range, or how you’re going to, you know, crush the enemy. It’s all talk. You know, once the ramp drops, though, you’ve got to perform.
HH: You know, there’s speculation that today, he will add the Muslim Brotherhood to the list of, or he will direct the State Department to add, since they maintain the list, the Muslim Brotherhood to the list of organizations known to be terrorists. And that attaches to it certain disabilities. What would you make of such a move if that comes to pass, Tom Cotton?
TC: Well, I don’t want to speculate on the executive orders he may issue today. I will say that the Muslim Brotherhood has been a source for much ill all around the world, and it’s kind of the fountainhead of movements like al Qaeda and the Islamic State. And for too long, too many Americans in Washington have not taken it seriously enough, and it’s time to take it seriously. You know, some members of it are not Islamists. They don’t wish us ill. But there are many who do.
HH: And Larry Arnn, do you expect him to move quickly on many fronts, or to take a week to get his bearings straight?
LA: I think he’s a pretty aggressive guy.
HH: So by nightfall, we may see things happening?
LA: Yeah, I think, I wouldn’t, I think you know, 2pm.
LA: (laughing) Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised.
HH: All right.
LA: He said, his, the thing about him, Tom spoke, I think, very wisely about him. These great speeches that are deliberate, his best speeches that are deliberate, they are one kind of thing. But you know, if Donald Trump is attacked, or if Donald Trump means to do something, he gets right back after it, you know. That’s the pattern. And I think he’s going to do a lot, and today.
HH: when we come back, we’re going to turn to Franklin Roosevelt’s 1941 address, Ronald Reagan’s 1981 address, and conclude by comparing President Obama and President Clinton all in short order. And then Larry and I will take your calls and talk longer as Senator Cotton has got to get off on, are you part of the official welcoming or sending or anything like that, Senator Cotton?
TC: No, Roy Blunt chairs that committee, and the rest of the members are the senior leaders of both parties in both chambers.
HH: So you’ll enjoy the day. Don’t go anywhere, America, I’ll be right back with Senator Cotton and Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College from the Kirby Center. All things Hillsdale at www.hillsdale.edu.
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HH: Tom Cotton, today, you will be looking out from behind the President towards the West, an innovation in 1981. And while I will go back in the next hour and look at the 1941 address, Ronald Wilson Reagan made that. The urban myth is he wanted to look at California. There are lots of reasons. But one of the things he said is he paid a note that across the river on Arlington were the row upon row of simple white markers bearing crosses or Stars of David. “Each one of those markers is a monument to the kinds of hero I spoke of earlier. Their lives ended in places called Belleau Wood, The Argonne, Omaha Beach, Salerno and halfway around the world on Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Pork Chop Hill, the Chosin Reservoir, and in a hundred rice paddies and jungles of a place called Vietnam.” And he went on to quote Martin Treptow, who gave a pledge, a World War I veteran. I think the veterans of America are with Mr. Trump. What do you think?
TC: I believe so as well based on my personal experience in Arkansas. And you know, now I would add to that list from Ronald Reagan’s inaugural scores of soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan as well. And when Arkansans come to Washington and see me, especially if they bring their kids, teenage kids, I tell them that you know, you hear people on TV criticize Washington a lot. And I’ll plead guilty to that sometimes. But what we mean by that is a shorthand about the kind of things that some people in Washington do that hurt people like us in Arkansas. But the city itself, especially the federal core, is a very special place, I think. And I tell them that from where you stand here in the Capitol, you can move west about four miles down our mall, and ultimately ending up at Arlington National Cemetery, which used to be Robert E. Lee’s farm, and learn the entire story of America and what makes America such a special and unique place in the history of the world. And I think it’s very appropriate that we have our inaugural address now on the west front of the Capitol looking down that mall past the Washington Monument towards the Lincoln Memorial, across the Memorial Bridge, which symbolically reunited the Union, and to Arlington National Cemetery, which is our final hallowed resting place, which also used to be Robert E. Lee’s farm.
HH: And it was the place that President-Elect Trump and Vice President-Elect Pence repaired to yesterday to honor the Unknown Soldier. I know you’re part of the old guard that used to protect that place. And I’m glad that he went, and I know it’s a tradition. I also wanted to point out to you, Dr. Arnn, that in Reagan’s speech comes a very famous, very famous line. I want to make sure, “We are a nation that has a government—not the other way around,” and he went on to say that, “In the present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.” That may be the most famous one-liner that Reagan ever got off.
LA: Yeah, and in some ways, unjustly, because it is very good. And notice how it’s qualified. In the current present situation, government is the problem, because it’s become a force unto itself, in my little opinion, and I think Reagan’s. But you know, so Senator Cotton just spoke very movingly about that tour you can take of American history. Reagan actually moved the ceremony to the west, comments on that in the speech, and then he takes us on this tour at the end of the speech. He talks about the Washington Memorial, and he talks about the Jefferson, and he talks about the Lincoln, and his statements about each of those men, it’s very beautiful. And then that ties to Martin Treptow. Up above, he said, each of us needs to be a hero like these heroes, like Washington and Lincoln and Jefferson. And then he cites one. And the point of Martin Treptow’s diary, killed, one of the first men killed in the expeditionary force in the First World War, the point of his diary is I must fight this war as if the whole result depends upon me. Reagan’s first inaugural, which to my mind, is one of the best, certainly one of the best modern ones, is a poem to self-government. It’s just lovely. And that, and remember, the ceremony had always been held on the east side. And he moved it around for this purpose, and said so.
HH: Yeah, and Dr. Joseph Warren is a founder that he quotes, and I thought it was unusual. Nobody knows who Dr. Joseph Warren is. You probably do. But he thought it important. Our country is in danger, but not to be despaired of. On you depended the fortunes of America. You are to decide the important questions upon which rests the happiness and the liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worth of yourselves. And Reagan is actually challenging everyone to get their act together and start working on behalf of the entire country. Not a bad message if Trump uses it today.
LA: Look at the difference with the Obama first inaugural. Reagan says I’m not going to fix the economy. You are. You see, it, you’re going to work. We’re going to get out of the way. And we’re going to make work possible by good, stable laws. But the economy depends on what everybody does. And that, the whole posture of the speech is extremely thoughtful, in my opinion.
HH: Senator Cotton, I know you are called. I appreciate you coming by. Thank you so much. Enjoy your, it’s your first inauguration as a Senator?
TC: As a Senator, yes. I was here in 2013 as a Congressman, and eight years ago, I was sitting in Mihtarlam, Afghanistan with my troops watching the inauguration on Armed Forces Network.
HH: Quite a change. Good to have you in the country. I hope your troops are well. Thank you both.
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HH: Matt Spalding runs the Kirby Center, and Dr. Larry Arnn drops in occasionally to see what’s going on here, and I think they keep much of it from him so that it runs efficiently and without problem. But today, and Matt, welcome, it’s great to have you here. What does the Kirby Center do?
MS: Great to be with you. We do everything we can to radiate the mission of Hillsdale College. We teach. We teach our students, but we’re here. We’re also trying to teach a lot of people who need to be taught – members of Congress and their staffs, and now incoming people who work in administrations.
HH: And how has it been during the transition? Has it been percolating with ideas and energy and lots of people excited?
MS: Well, you know, it was, it’s interesting. Before the election and even going back to the primaries, there was a lot of confusion, especially on the right, not as much opposition as you would think in this city, although from some, very vocal, of course, but from the most politicos, if you will, just what’s going on, trying to get a feel. You could start to sense those tectonic plates moving, and they didn’t quite know what to do about it. What’s happened, and in the general election, they almost, as a mass group, started to get a hold of this, most of them not thinking he would win until the very end, if that. And now, the mood has changed. Those plates have shifted. He broke through in a way that I think opens up politics. This reminds me of, you know, the 19th Century. This the way politics is an open field. People are maneuvering. There are all sorts of ideas, these ideas that have been sitting on the table for so long are now percolating forward. Now, it’s a different game. What do we do? What do we do first? What’s our strategy? How do we actually accomplish this? It’s open field politics, and it’s wonderful to watch.
HH: Two years ago, I believe, Dr. Arnn, also my guest in the studio, went to the Republican retreat and urged them to re-embrace their Article I responsibilities. That’s an interesting to see they’re retreating again to Philadelphia next week, Dr. Arnn, and now they have to exercise their Article I responsibilities with an Article II colleague.
LA: Yeah. So first of all, I submit that Trump has been very good in speech on this question of the separation of powers for a long time. He never slips. I can’t find any instance of him slipping to say I’m going to do it on my own, which Obama loved to say, you know, that great Constitutionalist who served his entire eight years without a touch of scandal, as we love to say today. So they’re on to their Article I powers, and Trump is on record saying they should exercise them. And what does that mean? It would have to mean over time that the Congress would pass real laws again, and this 150 or so regulatory agencies that pass now the vast majority of our laws, would not be lawmaking bodies anymore. And that’s what I contend for, and they should work their way back toward that, in my opinion.
HH: Kevin McCarthy, your friend and mine, and I know Matt’s, has got a list. He’s checking it twice, of all the rules, and they were a vast number of rules that rolled out in the last, I believe, it’s 120 legislative days, which goes much further back.
MS: Right, right.
HH: And they can be repealed by act of Congress, but not collectively.
MS: Through the Congressional Review Act. Right.
HH: And they’re going to do that.
MS: They’re going to do that, and they’ve already passed the Raines Act again.
HH: And so explain what the Raines Act is for people.
MS: The Raines Act is a law that says any regulation that has the effective amount over $100 million dollars, I think, is the amount, has to come back to Congress for their positive approval before it goes into effect. It is a massive wrench. It’s not a perfect fix, by any means. It does not solve the problem. But it’s a massive wrench to throw into the mechanism, which along with the Congressional Review Act, I think, is Congress’, this is a first step. It’s an important step, but it staunches the bleeding, if you will. The point Dr. Arnn makes is absolutely right. Congress needs to actually go back and legislate. They’ve, for too long, given away their legislative power to these agencies. Checking them after the fact isn’t enough. They need to reclaim that by getting control of the budget, by getting control of authorizations and appropriations. And if Article I means that, which it might in this relationship between a Republican Congress and a Trump administration, they’re going to have to actually legislate. So oddly enough, in my opinion, I think the fact of having Donald Trump in the presidency and a Republican Congress might do more for the separation of powers in a good Constitutional sense than if Hillary Clinton had been elected.
HH: Oh, absolutely, and I also think they’re going to have their quarrels, and they’re going to have their disagreements. But that will be worked out the right way. In the course of writing this new book that I put out, The Fourth Way, I include an appendix that was inspired by Dr. Arnn. It’s the complete text of the Homestead Act. I did so, because you liked to point out it’s four pages long.
HH: And it settled some vast amount of the country, and it had very little direction. But it did have a very specific purpose, and it laid out what you could and could not do. I would not be unhappy if this new Congress passed a lot of short laws, Dr. Arnn, a lot of short laws that were very specific as to what would happen, not giving authority to agencies to develop, but just set up a national marketplace immediately, for example, on repair and repeal, repair and replace, and move forward very quickly to get to 350 ships. Are you an optimist for their moving quickly?
LA: Well, I have never seen, as Matthew said, I’ve never seen a Congress so focused on this question. They, one of the things that changed in the last ten years is that people in Washington, the best people, started becoming afraid, afraid that we’re losing control of all this, afraid that there’s a decline that’s going to follow from that, that can’t be stopped. And also, along with afraid, frustrated, because you know, to repeal anything the regulatory state does, you need both houses of Congress and the president. And that’s a rare gift, right? Obama had it for two years. Look what he did with it. And so they’ve got their minds around the problem. And here, now, they’ve got the means, and I am optimistic that they will do some fundamentally important things.
HH: Now the Reid Rule established two precedents, one that nominations to both the executive and the judicial branch would be confirmed by simple majority, and they like to argue it doesn’t apply to the Supreme Court, but in fact, it is the same kind of nomination as the other ones, so it will. But it also broke the rules of the Senate. It said that you can change the rules of the Senate with a simple majority vote. My way of thinking, politics being politics, we get one rule change. We get to do not only the nominations, but we get one rule change. And it might be about the filibuster. Are you a fan of the legislative filibuster?
LA: Well, read the next Imprimis by our friend, and my former employee, Congressman Thomas McClintock. And he explains that what we need to do is restore the filibuster, because the filibuster is a very old rule, and what is says simply is if there’s somebody there wanting to debate the issue and can contribute in the eyes of the speaker something important, then the debate goes on. In other words, it was devised to protect debate, whereas what it’s for now is to stop debate. And any senator can walk in and, or any, what is it, any 40 senators can walk in and stop the debate altogether. So back when it was in the transition, that’s when you got senators standing on the floor reading the phone book. That should have been ruled out of order as not apposite or contributing to the debate. But then, they got tired of that, so now you don’t even have to read from the phone book. You just have to say. And so it paralyzes the Senate. And that, in other words, put the filibuster back like it was is what McClintock, who’s by the way a reverential and deeply knowledgeable legislator, he was made for that job, and he knows all about it.
HH: Well, go ahead.
MS: As I said, one key aspect of the argument is the claim of the Senate is that it’s an ongoing body that never changes. But effectively, what that means is the Senate doesn’t actually introduce new rules every session. It’s a misnomer. The Senate doesn’t have new rules. It doesn’t redo its rules. It’s based on precedent.
MS: But a Congress can’t bind a future Congress. So there is actually a question here as to when and how the Senate can change its rules if it chooses to change its rules. It could do it mid-course if it wanted to change those rules. So they could make adjustments as opposed to merely interpreting existing rules that go back to the 18th Century.
HH: And the leader, majority leader McConnell, is a fan of the rules, and of the continuing body, and is slow and loathe to change them. But I think that the pace of the growth of government has created a crisis moment where they may have to do just that. And we will see it very, very quickly in the new Congress. When we come back, we’re going to look at the most recent inaugural addresses, those of Clinton and of Barack Obama, and suggest how they were different in kind from the ones that we’ve talked about thus far, Lincoln’s Second, George Washington’s First, President Reagan’s First. They’ve done a different sort of thing in recent years, and I don’t think you’re going to see the same sort of thing being done today by President Trump. Don’t go anywhere except to www.hillsdale.edu. Of course, you can also head over to www.hughhewitt.com and get a copy of this amazing, wonderful new book, The Fourth Way, which publishes on Monday. I urge you get it, read it, memorize it. We have an agenda. It needs to roll forward.
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HH: Dr. Arnn, you did what I didn’t do. I read Washington, I read Lincoln, I read Reagan. You went further above and beyond. You read Clinton and Obama. What did those addresses tell us about both what they said and what we can expect from Donald J. Trump today?
LA: Well, in my opinion, Obama’s first inaugural is much better than Clinton’s, but Clinton’s is immediately revealing. I’m going to read it to you, the first paragraph. “My fellow citizens:
Today we celebrate the mystery of American renewal. This ceremony is held in the depth of winter. But, by the words we speak and the faces we show the world, we force the spring. A spring reborn in the world’s oldest democracy, that brings forth the vision and courage to reinvent America.” So first of all, this is before the days of global warming, or he would have never said that. But second, it’s an assertion of power. As his first words, right, a power even over the climate, but to reinvent the whole country. He goes on, “When our founders boldly declared America’s independence to the world and our purposes to the Almighty, they knew that America, to endure, would have to change,” right? Well, I don’t, you know, I don’t think that’s one of the main themes, right, except understood, by the way, within the realm of prudence. But the purposes never change.
LA: Well, he’s going to reinvent the whole thing, right? And that’s so opposite Reagan’s First Inaugural, where he begins by saying to a lot of us here today, he means him and his family and friends, this is a momentous occasion, but to the nation, it’s a commonplace.
HH: Occasion, yeah.
LA: And it’s the glory of the nation that it is that. And so, like Obama, Regan begins humbly, or Obama begins humbly as Reagan, and most of them do. Clinton is right out there with assertions of power. It’s really remarkable, and you should go read them. They’re easy to find on the internet, and read the beginnings of both of them, and you’ll see how opposite it is. Obama’s is a better speech, in my opinion, and it’s very good. Also, and there, it uses some of the arts of Franklin Roosevelt.
LA: You wanted to read…
HH: 1941, yeah.
LA: Yeah, and…
HH: And we might yet get there in the next segment, yeah.
LA: Yeah, and I’ll, those arts are to take the language of America, which is the magic of America, and the key, in my opinion, to unlock the politics of America, and Franklin Roosevelt is the one who showed how to take the Declaration of Independence, and even the Constitution, although he didn’t talk about that as much, and use those to build the progressive state, to redefine the meaning of the term rights. Franklin Roosevelt did all of that, and he is the first really massively successful progressive, partly by not using that term. And so Obama follows him in this, and so there are really handsome passages. I’ll, at the beginning, here’s how he starts. “My fellow citizens: I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors.” Now that’s much shrewder,…
HH: Than Clinton, yeah.
LA: …and more high-minded than Clinton…
LA: …because whether you believe in the Constitution or not, and I can show you places where Obama says explicitly often, many places, that we have to overcome the intentions of the founders. But here, none of that in this speech. He retranslates those intentions instead, and I have a couple of examples to read.
HH: When we come back from break. Don’t go anywhere, America. We will be right back with Dr. Larry Arnn from Hillsdale College.
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HH: Joining Larry Arnn, who is the president of Hillsdale College in studio with me and Matthew Spalding, the director of the Kirby Center in studio with me is Dr. Victor Davis Hanson, a friend of Hillsdale and of this show from far away California. Dr. Hanson, welcome. What do you expect from Donald Trump today? And do you think he’s going to fit into the 76 year cycle of fairly significant speeches?
VDH: Well, I don’t know about that, but I think he’s turning the world upside down every moment that he’s in the national scene. Whether it’s his comportment or his language or his manner or his agenda, we’ve never seen anything like it. We’ve never, I mean, literally, we’ve never had somebody without political experience or military experience, but, and also no one who’s ever taken the presidency has been given such a mandate in the Electoral College, but more importantly, from the previous president. Whether we like it or not, Barack Obama handed him over, you know, I’m not sure it’s a wise thing, but he handed him over a protocol from executive orders to making deals abroad without the full consent of the Senate as the Iran deal. I mean, it’s a sense of empowerment I haven’t seen in my lifetime.
HH: Are you an optimist, VDH?
VDH: Yeah, I am. I think people that are on the left, even privately, will concede to you they don’t think things could have gone on as they were. It was sort of like people, maybe even some conservatives thought I think wrongly, but they thought Hoover couldn’t have gone on as he was. There were too many people that were not connected with the government until FDR came in, and then people thought after FDR, it couldn’t go on like FDR was going. But just the debt and the division and the racial polarization, and the environmental extremism, the war against fossil fuels, the mess in the Middle East with Russia, China, I think people even on the left thought you know what? We like Barack Obama. We worship him, but privately, it can’t go on like this.
HH: Dr. Larry Arnn, you heard VDH be optimistic there about that, but at the same time, the shards of anger that are flying off from the left, whether it’s Barbra Streisand in an invective-filled piece in the Hollywood Reporter, or Robert De Niro outside of Trump Tower, or last night’s pepper spray outside of the Press Club, it’s not what we’re normally used to. So it’s hard to be optimistic for me.
LA: Oh, well, there is a fundamentally divided country here between two sets of principles that are not compatible with one another. And that’s coming to a head. So the way I’m optimistic is this. We’re going to have a big quarrel about all this stuff, and I hope and believe that it will be peaceful, even though the words will be violent, but that’s what’s going to happen because of all this. I used to say, you know, six months ago, I said it doesn’t matter who’s elected president. By February and March, America’s going to be a pretty unhappy country.
HH: You used to say as well fundamental things are afoot, and they are very much afoot today. Matthew Spalding, your students, what are they like? Are they anxious? Are they happy? Are they, you know, hey, let’s get to D.C. and get part of this deal?
MS: I think they’re very excited. The difference between last semester and this semester, last semester, they were a little unsure what was happening. They had people following different candidates. But they were all just generally friendly. Now, they’re very excited to see change and see things happen. I think this is going to take a while to work out. We’re going to see a lot of change rapidly. I hope to see a lot rapidly, including reversing some orders today. Congress is chomping at the bit. I’ve been talking to them about going up to Philadelphia and what they’re planning. But this is a kind of shift with these two diametrically opposed views of the world before us. It’s going to take a while to work itself out of the system. There’s a lot of things that have to be staunched. And then beyond that, there’s a lot of legislation backed up. I mean, it’s, they’ve got a whole list and tables of legislation backed up ready to go. To turn the course, to turn the ship, if you will, is going to take a lot of work. There’s going to be a lot of opposition, but they’re going to have to stay intensely focused on that objective to accomplish it.
HH: Victor Davis Hanson, go ahead, Dr. Arnn.
LA: I just want to add, there’s a reason for optimism. Outside our studio window, well, he just walked away, but I can’t say her name, but she’s one of my students, and she’s just been hired as one of President Trump’s speechwriters.
HH: Well, that is…
LA: I’m happy about that.
HH: That means long, windy speeches.
HH: (laughing) Victor Davis Hanson, you are a military historian. When Rex Tillerson testified, he said that China cannot be allowed to continue to build those islands. That’s a confrontational statement. We have an interesting world that’s coming apart. We have Russia in the Middle East, we have Aleppo in ruins. We don’t have the assets we had even eight years ago, much less 16 years ago. How long does it take Donald Trump to rebuild the American military so that it is effectively a deterrent?
VDH: Well, I think it’s going to take two or three years. I think deterrence is very hard to acquire, and very easy to forfeit, which we saw with Obama. And we’re going back to a classical approach to foreign policy in things like deterrence, balance of power. I’m sure he’s going to talk to Russia. He’s going to talk to China. He’s going to balance both, triangulate. He’s going to be very supportive of our allies, and then very hostile to our enemies, which will bring clarity. And as far as, getting back to the economy, Hugh, I think 3 1/2% or 4% GDP will stop a lot of opposition. And that’s what their aim is. So if they can deregulate, promote fossil fuels, export some energy, we do the tax code, and I know they’re going to have problems with the deficit right away by doing that, but if they were to achieve 4% GDP, it’ll be sort of like Reagan in ’83-’84-’85, where all of a sudden, we were watching movies about the day after, and that Reagan from the Pershing missiles to the confrontation with the Russians was going to blow up the world as Hollywood told us, and suddenly, the economy took off, and it was morning in America again. So opposition and ideological criticism of Trump will all hinge on whether he can get the economy to 3 ½ to 4% GDP.
HH: You know, the most common refrain is that he’s a traitor, that he’s a Putinite, that he is in the pocket of the Kremlin. How do you respond to that, Victor, because I think it’s silly, but a lot of people repeat it endlessly.
VDH: Yeah, I don’t know how, it’s silly for two reasons, Hugh. One, reset was the brainchild of Barack Obama. He came into office criticizing George Bush more than he did Vladimir Putin. I mean, he cancelled missile defense, there was the hot mic about being flexible after the election. He ridiculed Romney. He didn’t do much about Crimea. And then he did the worst of all things. He talked very loudly and carried a twig. And by that, he made fun of Putin. He said he was into macho shtick. He made fun of his bare chest. He said he was a class cutup. And all of that just enraged Putin. And Putin didn’t want, he didn’t follow that universal ecumenical agenda that Obama preached. He thought, you know, this guy is not a nationalist. I don’t know how to deal with him. But I don’t like to be lectured by somebody who has a lot of military strength at his disposal, but is afraid to use it against me. And whether that’s fair or not, he developed sort of an emotional contempt. So I think Trump is going to go back and think there’s areas where we can’t work with this guy, and may the best man win. But there’s other areas in the Middle East with radical Islam and with maybe nuclear proliferation where we can use him against the Chinese, vice versa. And if Trump can do something to pull Putin away from Hezbollah and Iran and say you know, these guys are not in your interest, that would be much more, I think, helpful that coming in with this reset of a reset of a reset. And we just get in an endless cycle, and I don’t think that’s going to help anybody.
HH: I want to close this segment and net by talking about President Obama, who has got three and a half hours left as president. He’s been a disaster, fundamentally a disaster, and I don’t care what his rating is right now. It will be a record that will be shameful as it is explored over the decades and centuries. But what he got wrong most, I think, was he, he fundamentally didn’t know what he was doing. There are two views, that he was an ideologue, and that he was incompetent. I am of the incompetent view, that OIIOHH, Obama is in over his head. Dr. Arnn, was he a leftist, or was he Chance the Gardener?
MS: Or both?
HH: Or both?
LA: Yeah, I think he was, I think he’s a leftist, a radical leftist. I think he was raised that way. I think his appointments were that way. And I think that he was trying to remake America as he says in his first inaugural address. And I think that he, I think that liberals, when they get a big majority, they all think everybody’s going to love them. And they’re very excited. I know the Obama people came in, and the buzz from them, people I knew, was this is going to be great. Everybody’s going to just love us. They sounded like Donald Trump talks today, right? And they were surprised when people didn’t. But remember, they doubled down, right? After they lost the Massachusetts election for the Senate, in Massachusetts, for God’s sake, and lost their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, that they rammed that Obamacare through.
LA: That’s very determined, right? And then to say to the Congress I have a phone and I have a pen, and I’m going to act without you if you don’t, he gave them a bunch of deadlines about immigration. If you don’t do something about this in six months, I will, right? That thing, that, I never heard that tone from any president before him.
HH: But he expected, the reason I think he’s incompetent, he expected that the courts would go along, and of course, the 5th Circuit wouldn’t. Go ahead, Matt.
MS: But of course, that’s still, these things go along together, don’t they, right? In history, great ideologues tend to be naïve about what they can and cannot get done and accomplished…
MS: …because of other people. They assume other people are with them, right? This is the problem when you believe in the arc of history, right?
MS: If you’re not on board, you must be an idiot yourself. If also tends towards tyranny, because you tend to be forceful about it. You tend to force your opinion. So it’s the combination of those things. They were very naïve about what would happen in terms of other people, in terms of the courts, in terms of how people would go along, in terms of the American people. They assume people want to be merely led by them.
HH: Victor, what do you think?
VDH: I don’t think, I think you’re right, Hugh, but I don’t think they’re mutually incompatible. I mean, I think he’s an ideologue, as Larry said, but I don’t think he was, and as Matthew said, I don’t think he was very skillful about advancing that agenda, because look at the agenda now. I mean, Obamacare’s going to be reversed. Nobody says the bombing of Libya was a good thing. Syria is a disaster. Pulling the troops out of Iraq was probably the worst thing…
VDH: …analogous to getting out of Korea in 1955, perhaps. Russia is a mess. China is a mess. We’ve added almost $10 trillion dollars to the debt. We’ve had zero interest. So the actual realization, the reification of that vision that Larry talked about was incompetent, but it was a vision nonetheless that he wanted to move the country left. And his legacy is that rhetorically, he did it, because he did things that nobody would have imagined. I mean, he had the singer who did Pimp A Butterfly With A White Dead Judge on the White House lawn to the toast of rappers. He had that guy at the White House. He had another rapper whose probation bracelet went off his ankle. So culturally, he moved the country far to the left.
HH: We’re going to come back and talk about that, culturally where we are, with one more segment. Three hours away from the end of the Obama era, and where is race in America.
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HH: Gentlemen, we only have seven minutes, but I want to ask. At the end of the presidency of the first African-American president, after we have read Lincoln’s Second Inaugural and thinking about the Civil War, how are race relations in America? And what did President Obama do or not do about them? We’ll start with you, Victor, and go to Matthew and then to Larry about what do you think he did or did not do in this respect?
VDH: Well, he reversed Martin Luther King’s idea that the content of your character was more important than the color of your skin. So in the age of Obama, your color, your ethnic background, your religion was no longer incidental to your character. It was essential. And he sliced and diced the electorate, and then he glued together from identity groups 51%. And so we live in a country now, I think, partly due to Obama that how you look or your superficial appearance is supposed to govern your worldview and even your character. And I think it’s historically the road to Armageddon, whether you look at Austria-Hungary or Rwanda or the Balkans. So that’s going to have to cease, or this experiment in multi-racial democracy is not going to work anymore.
HH: Matthew Spalding?
MS: No, I think that’s right. I think you have to connect this to the fact that Obama very intentionally, in his inaugural address and throughout wanted to change the direction of the country away from its grounding in equality as it was understood in the Declaration. And so his rhetoric turned away from this from the very beginning. But the one thing I would add to that is look at the statistics of what has happened to the country over these eight years. Black poverty has gone up. Children, you know, born in black households are worse than they were off. He started his administration wanting to talk about the black family. And he’s done nothing about it. Instead, he’s really focused and pushed towards a radical division of races, a more class-based society and division. This is not at all a presidential way to solve this problem, and I think it’s probably hurt his cause, and probably the cause of black leadership, perhaps in both parties, but especially in the Democratic Party if it’s now associated with this kind of radical agenda, and that’s not good for the future as he understood especially, but also for the future of the country.
HH: Larry Arnn?
LA: I’ll say a word about how he was able to do this. Obama is very good, sometimes beautiful about the claims of America that every citizen is equal, and just the same. Michelle Obama said the other day she can’t understand why race has to be a category. She said that, right? But then, look at these, this relationships with the local cops. So in Ferguson, right, this young man was shot by a cop.
HH: Michael Brown, yeah.
LA: And he had threatened the cop, right? And there’s proof about that. And what does he do? He sends the Justice Department to retrain the cops over and over, place after place – Baltimore, everywhere, right?
HH: Chicago, Cleveland, yeah.
LA: That’s all racial ground stuff, right? And those categories are the basic operating principle of the administration of the federal government today, and he did that. And he did that while claiming otherwise, and I think that’s artful. I think he knew what he was doing.
HH: But he has had a result, and it’s a great place to end. Victor Davis Hanson, in your City Journal piece, which I recommend to everyone, they can Google Victor Davis Hanson City Journal, you point out that it scares the Democrats that Donald Trump doubled Mitt Romney’s vote total among African-Americans, and might double it again. In other words, that maybe the vice grip of the Democratic Party on ethnic minorities in America has been broken by Trump, and that just causes them to shudder.
VDH: I think so. I mean, remember, he doesn’t have to win 51% of the so-called Latino or Asian or black vote. He just has to get about 35%, because so fragile is that coalition, and that translates into alienating people in Michigan and Pennsylvania and Ohio, that they need a super turnout of minorities. And if they don’t get over 35 or 36%, the coalition is shattered. And I think that’s what Bannon and Conway and Trump are after.
HH: Do the three of your, very quickly, think that President Trump, when he addresses the nation today, will reference race? Matthew?
MS: I think he won’t directly. I think he will speak to Americans as a nation, and as citizens. And if he follows the rhetoric he’s had in the primary, which has been very good on this, that is the way you should talk about the racial question in America. We are all united as a common country.
HH: What do you think, Dr. Arnn, one minute?
LA: He does sometimes, always to deny that any identity group is not included as a citizen. So I wouldn’t be surprised if he does, but it will be to make that point.
HH: Dr. Hanson?
VDH: I agree with Larry. I think he’ll do that, and I think his view of race is if you get up to 4% GDP, racial differences become irrelevant, because the economy’s going so hot that you need to hire everybody, and there’s going to be a shortage of labor, and that’s going to lift all. He’s a businessman, and that’s how he looks at the world.
HH: I think he’s going to talk about race by talking about police. I don’t know that there’s another way for him to do it that would surprise me less than if he talks about honoring the men and women in blue. We will see. We will see. Tomorrow, we are looking ahead three hours from now. President Donald Trump, and we are optimists. Thank you, Dr. Arnn, thank you, Matthew Spalding, thank you, Hillsdale, Dr. Hanson for joining us as we launch this Inauguration Day. What a day it is.
End of interview.