HH: That music means the Hillsdale Dialogue is upon us. Once a week for an hour, I sit down with one of the key members of the Hillsdale College faculty and staff, usually Dr. Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College. And we are lucky that it is indeed Dr. Arnn in the house today. Tomorrow is my annual Groundhog Day show, so he’s agreed to come in early and surprise all of our Thursday people with this. And it’s all things Hillsdale at www.hillsdale.edu. All of our previous conversations are collected at www.hughforhillsdale.com. You can subscribe to Imprimis, the free speech digest, at www.hillsdale.edu. And you can indeed see all the Constitution courses, the Churchill courses, the course on progressivism. It’s all at www.hillsdale.edu. But today, we’re going to talk about the State of the Union, and we’re going to talk about the Constitution. Dr. Arnn, good morning and thank you for coming in a day early.
LA: Good morning. Yeah, we’re going to shock the Thursday people.
HH: And they’re all sleeping, and they’re waking up, and they’re going to hear some high end Constitutional talk. I want to begin with this. We are in the middle of Memogate – whether or not the Congress of the United States ought to supervise and release its findings concerning the FBI. I want to remind people Congress is Article I. They authorize the existence of the FBI. They fund it every year. They detail exactly how it spends its money. The FBI objects that it could hurt the relationship between the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and the FBI if this memo comes out. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is a creation of Congress. The fact that it operates with the FBI is as a result of a statute that Congress wrote. Dr. Arnn, we have basic Constitutional illiteracy in the media’s coverage of this story.
LA: Well, put it in school terms, right? So we’ve got two people who operate mostly in private accused of doing a bad thing. And they’re saying if you release it, it’ll hurt the relations between the two of us.
HH: That does not make a lot of sense.
LA: It doesn’t, no. I mean, it, let’s say that there was a list of agents of the United States undercover, and they were at risk, right? Well, they’re not, you know. I mean, in other words, what this memo is supposed to say, and I guess we’re going to see it, you know, maybe today, but what it’s supposed to say is that they went, the FBI went to this Foreign Intelligence Court and based an application to wiretap and surveil members of a presidential political campaign on the basis of a dossier. And this dossier has its origin in certain political actors, some on both the left and the right, in the United States, that stems from opposition research, right?
LA: So they are taking political opposition research, and they are turning that into surveillance of a political campaign. That’s a questionable thing. And why not tell the people about it?
HH: Now what’s interesting is CNN is reporting at this hour that the FBI agent at the center of the storm, Peter Strzok, played a key role in the controversial decision that upended Hillary Clinton’s campaign just days before the election, the letter to Congress by then-FBI director James Comey announcing the Bureau was investigating newly discovered Clinton emails. It’s a new revelation that Strzok, who was very anti-Trump, wrote the letter opening it. And so it’s being suggested in the media how could it possibly be that he’s a bad guy if he wrote this. In fact, we don’t know anything here about how someone covers their tracks if they think they’re going to, we don’t know a thing, Larry Arnn, but all the people who applaud The Post, the movie out right now, and the release of the Pentagon Papers, are all of a sudden have switched entirely to the non-disclosure side of the aisle. What does that tell you?
LA: Yeah, it’s, well, what it tells you is if you’ve got people prosecute Americans, and who handle secrets, and they’re mucking around in political campaigns, which James Comey did obviously during the political campaign as head of the FBI, then sunlight is an excellent solution, isn’t it? And so I don’t understand not releasing. And I think that there should be more released, right? In other words, this memo when we see it is going to raise questions. I think that those questions should be answered.
HH: Well, the interesting thing about the text messages between the agent as head of counterintelligence or deputy head of counterintelligence, and the lawyer who is his mistress, is that they were being sent on, in a fashion that leads me to believe that they were compromised by foreign intelligence agencies as well. If you know who the head of counterintelligence is, you’re going to do everything in the world you can to surveil them. And if you’re sending text messages like this, chances are they’re going to get surveilled. Almost everything is compromised, Larry Arnn. Do you operate on that, on that assumption, by the way, when you send emails?
LA: Yeah, well, our secret keeping rule at Hillsdale College is try not to have any secrets.
HH: That’s a good, that’s exactly the best way to go about it. All right, let’s go to the State of the Union, your general observation of how it went.
LA: Well, I think it was awesome. I think it was highly intelligent from the political point of view. And I think it was inspiring. I like to compare states of the union messages over time. The modern ones are very different from the old ones, because government does way too much. That’s why those speeches are so long. So I don’t like that about it. But it’s, if you look at the string of them, you know, since the bureaucratic state was born that changes American politics in fundamental ways, the presidents have been Nixon through Trump. And Trump’s speech is like Reagan’s speech, and very unlike Clinton’s and Obama’s speeches, different. They, all of the speeches have something in common. They all salute the American people, they all work for the American people, they say, they all want more jobs, they all want national defense. They’re all like that. But the difference is in how do you go about it? And in Trump’s speech, the American people are brave, active. They have passion in their souls and steel in their spine. And when they do things, they do them. It’s their virtue. And if you look at Obama’s first inaugural address, which was, they’re saying in the papers this morning, was watched by more people than Trump’s first one…
HH: First state of the union, not inaugural. First state of the union.
LA: Yeah, sorry, first state of the union. If you look at that, the people are struggling, but resolute and resilient. They endure. And then he names a bunch of achievements they’ve had. And those are all achievements that are triggered by something the government did for them. And so it’s a different, you know, Clinton’s speech is my favorite of all the ones that I don’t like, because it starts out with this amazing sentence. We meet here in the bleak of winter. But by what we say and the faces we show the world, we can force the spring. So you know, it’s nature being overcome by what, policy. So Trump’s thing is American people have a nature, and if you let them live under laws and earn and take care of themselves, they will. And all of their dignity, he says over and over, comes from that activity.
LA: And that’s very like Reagan’s first inaugural, first state of the union message.
HH: And let’s get to the specifics now. Here is the president talking about the tragic toll of violent people in the country without permission, illegal aliens, cut number 1:
DT: Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as illegal unaccompanied alien minors and wound up in Kayla and Nisa’s high school. Evelyn, Elizabeth, Freddy, and Robert: Tonight, everyone in this chamber is praying for you. Everyone in America is grieving for you.
HH: Dr. Arnn, this is the one part of the speech I did not like, because there are 10,000 MS-13 gang members in the United States, but they were talking about legalization of 1.8 million Dreamers. And confusing, you know, we have problems of scale, Dr. Bennett used to say. When the numbers get too big, we tend to just lose count. 10,000 is such a small percentage of 1.8 million. What was the point of that, do you think?
LA: Well, he, so you know, the effective thing going on here, the reason this speech is politically brilliant, in my opinion, more than any other reason, is there’s a consensus in America about immigration, and that is we don’t mind immigration. We don’t like illegal immigration. And there’s a very large majority that agrees with that both of those propositions. Why, then, can’t we stop illegal immigration? The claim that sympathy toward the ones already here makes it racist and cruel to do, to build a wall, for example. Well, Trump has just sidestepped all that, right, because he’s going to legalize 1.8 million people on condition that they demonstrate that there be a process to become citizens, on condition that they demonstrate that they’re not living like those people in MS-13.
HH: That they’re not one of the 10,000.
LA: There you go.
HH: That we’re going to let 1.8 million people in, but they cannot be one of those 10,000. But he never connected that dot. And when we come back, we’ll talk about that, because I also, bringing the parents in was just heartbreaking, and I’m not sure I could have done that. But we’ll talk more about that with Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, right after this. Stay tuned, America.
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HH: Dr. Arnn, this is really below the level of conversation that we’re usually used to, but I have to cover it. Michael Wolff, who is a discredited gossip columnist, wrote a horribly salacious book in which was included an intimation of an extra-marital affair between Ambassador Haley and the President, which has been roundly denounced. And I wouldn’t shake hands with the guy, but he showed up on Morning Joe this morning, and Mika threw him off. And then he takes to Twitter to trash Mika about how they gossip more eagerly off camera about who’s sleeping with whom, and who the President might be sleeping…I mean, our media has just crashed and burned.
LA: Yeah, well, I mean, I’m astonished by Michael Wolff, and I’m astonished by the people who print him. And I’m astonished by the people who give him interviews, all of that. And that means that’s bipartisan astonishment that I’ve just stated there.
HH: He’s a horrible man.
LA: Yeah, well, you know, to, for money, right, because he is explicit that he writes things that he makes up to be outrageous about public affairs and sell copy. That’s what he says he does for a living.
HH: Yeah, he makes up stuff and he sells it.
LA: Yeah, that’s right. And it’s, you know, it’s, there’s a joke that goes around any decent college campus where the literature people will argue that it’s harder because you have to create to write fiction, and the history people will argue that it’s harder because you have to look it up. And the truth is at the high level, both are harder, and Aristotle even says maybe poetry is higher than history. But I mustn’t take sides in that argument. I’ve got both. Anyway, you see, that, to apply this standard that you just make it up to the news? You know, and so the truth is probably, I don’t know, but I’m proud to say that four or five months ago, I didn’t know who Michael Wolff was.
HH: Neither did I.
LA: Probably, people don’t take him seriously.
HH: Well, the Nikki Haley stuff, it puts, and then the former First Lady and Secretary of State goes on the Grammy’s and reads from a book with that allegation in it. No wonder the Grammy’s are down 24% year over year. And I asked my law students the other did, did any of you watch the Grammy’s, and they said no, we don’t even have cable anymore. And I believe that the rising generation is developing a complete aversion to the so-called news, because they understand it all to be drama. It’s not news.
LA: Yeah, so they get, I think news operates, among the young, operates mostly through notifications now – Apple and Google and everybody, all the big ones. They all have news feeds, you know, and if you sign up for your stuff, and you have your notifications on, then things will, it happens to me all the time, and I’m interested in the news so I don’t mind it, but it, so I think that they see the news in snippets too much, and I think in general, by the way, kids don’t read enough. And I don’t pine that they don’t watch news on TV. I hardly ever do it myself. But they should read. Everybody, you know, if you spend 30 minutes in the morning reading the papers, you can just learn a lot. And also, if you read three or four, you know, I read three or four things. And that means that when I read a story like last week, we talked, what was it we talked about, oh, we talked about whether it was, well, I’m not recovering it now, but in the Wall Street Journal, it was reported that, oh, I got it now. Officials told Trump that Don McGahn, the White House Counsel, would quit if they fired Mueller.
LA: And the New York Times both sourced stories, and those are both serious places, right? They said that they were told that McGahn told Trump that. That’s two very different things.
LA: And I’m not accusing either one of them of lying. I think they’re both serious, as a matter of fact. I’m just saying hard to know what goes on in those places.
HH: Hard to know.
LA: And you’ll be skeptical about drawing conclusions if you read them both.
HH: But I do think there’s a difference between someone who admits that he’s making stuff up. He should not have a place on air. When we come back, we’ll talk about the descent of the media into other chaos and the President’s State of the Union with Dr. Arnn. All things Hillsdale are available at www.hillsdale.edu. And all our conversations dating back to 2013 at www.hughforhillsdale.com. Stay tuned.
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HH: I want to advise all of the young college, would-be college students out there and their parents who think they want to be journalists that I know there’s a great school at Medill. Guy Benson is a graduate there. I know there’s a great school at Syracuse. I know there’s a great school at Missouri. There’s a wonderful graduate school at Columbia. But if I really wanted to learn journalism, and I really wanted to learn radio, I would go to Hillsdale because of John Miller and because of Scot Bertram, and because of the team around him. You really do teach the craft. And the late, great Michael Kelly said it’s not a profession. Journalism is a craft, and there’s no one who credentials you as a journalist like a lawyer or a doctor. It’s a craft like woodworking, only it’s working in facts, hopefully, as opposed to what Michael Wolff does. But it’s in decline, Dr. Arnn. That’s what I want to talk to you about. I really believe when I saw the coverage on Tuesday and Wednesday that I could predict nine and a half out of ten responses coming out of anyone’s particular mouth about any subject, because it is all a kabuki dance now. Do you agree or disagree with me on that?
LA: I agree. And you know, so we have, I’ll add one thing to what you said about our journalism, and it is very excellent, and John and Scot are very good. Also remember it’s in a context. We don’t have a journalism major here. You have to major in something, and you also have to take the core curriculum. And that means when you leave here, you will be acquainted with the whole sweep of the Western tradition and how that compares to the rest of the tradition. So that means that you can place things in a context. And that’s sadly absent these days. Charles Kessler and Victor Hanson both wrote great articles, one in the New York Times, and one in National Review Online, I think, about the State of the Union message. And both of their articles are rich with knowledge of the past, of the Constitutional structure, right? And it makes them interesting. And then there’s just one more thing. When you make any work of art, and I mean art in the general sense means whatever people make, are you trying to represent something? Or are you trying to do something about yourself? And so the great art, the great tradition and peaks of art are all attempts to show nature more vividly, and of course, in a different modality than nature actually exists. So to make a painting, you know, say Turner paints these fabulous sea battles, right? And it’s hard to think of anything more emotion than a sea battle where the wind and the ships and the sea are all moving.
LA: He can put that on a, in two dimensions on a static canvas, right? It is a vast act of creation. But how do you judge it, except is it like the thing? Journalism has the same problem. You know, 800 words or 1,200 words or 1,400 words in the New York Times is not the same thing as the actual meetings in the White House. Can you represent those meetings fairly in the 800 or 1,200 or 1,400 words? And I think because we have abandoned our idea of truth and nature, I think we have, our journalism has declined toward the direction of Michael Wolff, although he’s the extreme.
HH: He is the extreme, but he is the direction in which we are heading, because that which gets rewarded gets repeated. He has sold more books than, say, I have or you have. And that’s because you and I write true things, and true things are a little bit more difficult to write.
HH: They require an attention to fact and detail so that they are not held up to the contempt of our friends, which would embarrass us, right?
LA: Or rephrase that. If we were as good at truth telling as he is at lying, maybe we’d sell more books.
HH: Perhaps we would. But there is good news on this front, and I want to touch on the good news. I just tweeted out during the break that Amazon Prime is now running the movie Ride The Thunder about the true heroes of Vietnam, the Covans, the last American Marines who stood side by side with the Republic of South Vietnam soldiers as the North invaded contra the peace, and the Democrats abandoned the commitments Nixon and Ford had made. And the Republic of Vietnam was lost, and hundreds of thousands went to the camps. And some Americans fought bravely and valiantly, and that’s out on Amazon Prime, made by an independent filmmaker. At the same time, our friend, Lee Habeeb, you know Lee…
LA: Oh, yeah.
HH: Lee has begun OurAmeircanNetwork.org, and the first thing on there is an excellent video by Dr. Bill Bennett about the opioid crisis, which killed 64,000 people last year. And so we are developing new means of communicating, but I don’t know that we’re developing them fast enough against this explosion of POV, point of view journalism. Everything is point of view journalism. It’s not neutral. It doesn’t even pretend to be neutral anymore, Larry.
LA: Yeah, and if you, you know, like I, did you know that Winston Churchill got up in the morning, and he read about 10 newspapers cover to cover, very fast, and he clipped them with a pair of scissors, and articles were taped in big scrapbooks. And among the things he read was The Daily Worker, you know, the communist party paper of Britain. And we know that, because we have the scrapbooks. But we also know that, because in the House of Commons, he will sometimes cite articles from The Daily Worker, right? And you know, Churchill was not, in fact, a communist. And so that’s the ticket, right? You know, my opinion is if you’re a normal human being, that is to say you have a life, and you don’t just, you know, spend all your time on politics, then you should read the papers every day. My own view is you should read them fast. I take that view in part because I don’t have time to read them any other way. But you should read a bunch of them.
LA: And that’s, you know, a way to go, like I, you know, I like, I like, I dislike, I like the New York Times, though, because whatever it does, you know, and sometimes it’s silly and awful and just misses huge things, right? Well, we’re all like that sometimes. I think they’re more commonly like that, but they always make a big effort. And you know, they’re skilled, so I would read them.
HH: Yeah, I do. And in fact, when people, I’ve told often that my prep before the show is the Times of London, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal in that order, which is an arc from east to west. And it’s also an arc from left to right, because I think the Times of London is actually to the left of the New York Times for a variety of reasons. I don’t know if you agree with me on that.
LA: Oh, yeah.
HH: But I have to keep track of, and they’re ahead of us on the news cycle. And by the time the show begins, I’m fully read in, and I can go to my audio, which is what I want to do with you now, because I want to go back to the State of the Union and play a couple of important clips for your commenting. Cut number 6, Donald Trump on dreaming.
DT: This, in fact, is our new American moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American dream. So to every citizen watching at home tonight, no matter where you’ve been or where you’ve come from, this is your time. If you work hard, if you believe in yourself, if you believe in America, then you can dream anything. You can be anything. And together, we can achieve absolutely anything.
HH: What do you think, Dr. Ann?
LA: Yeah, isn’t that powerful? And it’s a call to us to live fully human lives as citizens of a free republic, and that’s the strongest rhetoric in American history, because it is the expression of the principles of the land. You know, there are alternative ways to talk in great regimes of the past and the present that have worth. So the traditional society, the hierarchical society, the holy society, right? Those are, and there are instances, important ones in history, when you know, the Roman Republic was a hierarchical society. But the people at the top of the hierarchy were largely, or extensively, brave and devoted to the public interest. And you have to recognize that as a great thing. And so they didn’t talk quite the way Donald Trump was talking, right? Now in my little opinion, the United States is the greatest expression of political justice, especially for the modern world where you have to have limited government, because you have to have freedom of religion, because God goes across national boundaries. And in the ancient world, He didn’t. So I think America is a peak of all of that, and that passage that you isolated is a fine example of the peak of all of that in America.
HH: Now let me give you my theory, and we may have to come back to this after the break. People don’t credit Trump with having a strategery, but if you look at his six major speeches – his inaugural address, American Carnage, his first address to Congress on February 28th of last year in which he made promises, he said he’s going to be a promise keeper, and he said Justice Gorsuch is the first, not yet confirmed but nominated, and then he went abroad for three speeches – Saudi Arabia, in which he called on the leaders of Islam to direct their imams to tell people their souls will be fully condemned if they embrace terrorism, Poland where he did West is best, and Davos, where he said America first is not America alone. And then he came back and gave this speech. Those six speeches combine to send one big message. This president is not like the last president in every single particular. I am a repudiation of President Obama. What do you think of my theory?
LA: Well, I think that’s right, and I think, you know, I will add that his campaign speeches, the big, set piece speeches, several of them are very good. And this is at a time when he was just thought to be just a showboat and a reckless orator. And I think you’re right that you know, there’s a divide in the country, right? We have a great choice before us. I think my responsibility doing what I do for a living is, you know, as regards to public affairs, is to try to elucidate that choice, to make it clear to people what we’re choosing between, because both of them have their claims, right? And Obama was a very effective man. And I started out today by comparing with Obama’s first, and you’re right. They make different points. They have a different way of approaching things, because they believe in a different way of living and a different kind of nation.
HH: So do you think the antagonism to Trump, which is now so palpable it is on every station not named Fox, and almost every pundit’s lips at every moment – hostility, hatred for Donald Trump. Is it because of his style, or because of the underlying collision of really tectonic plates in American political theory?
LA: Well, yeah, it’s the, it’s the latter, right? I mean, he, when he, what’s the swamp that he’s going to drain, right? And who’s attacking him? So there’s this phenomenon that is the strongest intellectual force and political force in America, in my opinion. That stems from the universities, and it reaches deeply into government, and into journalism.
HH: Hold that thought. I’ll be right back, because I want to get to that thought and expand on it.
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HH: And at that, fundamental things being afoot, Dr. Arnn, leads me back to your state of Michigan. There’s something going on there in the person of John James. Follow him on Twitter, @JohnJamesMI, John James Michigan. He is sadly a graduate of the University of Michigan Business School and roots for the Blue. He is, however, an Army captain with a distinguished record of service. He is the CEO of a business, and he is dynamite. Have you come across him, yet?
LA: I’ve had two long talks with him, one in my office, and there’s a fire in that guy. And I started out, he’s very articulate. He’s a very principled man. He’s a very faithful man. He’s fun. And I started out, you know, because I’m old now and set a little in my ways, although, by the way, your audience can tell, because I’m so sharp, that I did take my Relief Factor this morning.
HH: (laughing) There you go.
LA: But, so I started out thinking, you know, of course this guy can’t be elected. He’s running, because he gets his name out and then he can run for something else. That’s, you know, we’re used to…
HH: And we should add he’s an African-American from Detroit. We should add that.
HH: People haven’t seen him.
LA: And so, you know, people, you know, and my saying that to him, that was kind of an invitation, you know, for him to say I was, for him to know I was interested in him and would like to be helpful to him over time. He was angry when I said that, and he just, he’s a really fiery guy, right? And he’s a very good guy. If you met him, you’d like him. I like him a lot.
HH: Well, I’ve had him on the radio, and people are telling me Justice Young, who was going to run for that seat, because Debbie Stabenow is a staple of American politics. I have nothing particularly bad to say about her. I have nothing particularly good to say about her. She’s simply a vote for Chuck Schumer. I mean, that’s all she has done in her long years in the Senate. Can you think of anything Debbie Stabenow has done?
LA: Well, first of all, we’re going to, this is a primary, so we’re, I’m going to be in Switzerland. You are, too. So I’ll just say, I’m not going to tell the Lincoln joke for people who like that kind of thing. That’s the kind of thing they like. I will say that she is a hard worker, and she stays close to the people of Michigan. And I think those are her gifts, and I think she’d be very hard to beat, but I don’t think it’s impossible. And I think that James brings something else. You know, back when I first talked to him, I’ve talked to him twice, as I said, you know, everybody thought Robert Young, who’s a great guy and whom I know well, was going to be the nominee. And James said to me, he said he’s not going to stay in. And I said really, and he said yeah, he said, and he likes Young. He doesn’t know him very well, but he likes him, and he didn’t say a bad word about him, except he said I don’t think he likes it. And I said why do you say that, and he said because there’s not that much activity there. Well, I only mean kind things to Robert Young, but James is, he’s pushing. He’s going to be, he’s going to be there.
HH: He’s not going to let it go.
HH: He believes it is doable. And of course, if you take away even 10% of the African-American vote in Michigan, you can beat Debbie Stabenow. But he’s got to make that, that’s the fundamental things are afoot issue. Detroit is changing rapidly in the good, and it’s reinvigorating. But you’ve also got an influx of the Google people into Ann Arbor. And you know, the new information economy people are not particularly bright on anything except their own world, and they’re not very bright on government.
LA: No, and they, you know, they’re, I don’t know if it’s good for a person not to have much education and get really rich when they’re 30.
HH: It’s very bad for a person.
LA: And you know, very remarkable people it might be okay, but, and these guys are very remarkable people. But they’ve pieced their knowledge of things together while they go, and that means the signals in the culture, like in the media that you were talking about earlier, that’s what they know, too many of them. And, but this guy, you know, this guy knows, he’s a reader. He has a habit. You know, if you talk to me, you get books mentioned to you. He writes them down. And you know, he’s working through a list. So I think he’s a serious guy.
HH: We will keep an eye on him. One more thing about the President’s speech, Larry Arnn. He used an example of a North Korean with crutches who had lost his legs fleeing that country. It’s an amazing, it’s an amazing picture. What did you think of that moment?
LA: Well, Reagan, Trump’s State of the Union message was a lot like Reagan’s. It harked back to them in explicit ways. And ever since Reagan, Reagan was the first one to introduce a hero as an example of a point he wanted to make at the State of the Union message. And now, they all do it. Trump did it more than anybody. And that story has got to be the most, I mean, dramatic. It was, it’s implausible when you hear there’s a man who’s been, you know, who’s impaired for life walking, and he escaped North Korea on crutches. And he was there.
HH: And he was in our, he was in our Congress being applauded by our 535 elected representatives and the President and the Vice President. It was incredible. There’s hope for North Korea, I guess. I guess there’s hope in that. Dr. Larry Arnn, there’s hope that you’ll be back in your regular spot next week, Friday, for the Hillsdale Dialogue, all of them collected at www.hughforhillsdale.com.
End of interview.