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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Dr. Paul Rahe of Hillsdale College on the President’s Address to the Joint Congress

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HH: It is the last radio hour of the week, and that means the Hillsdale Dialogue. Since four years ago, I’ve devoted the last hour of every radio week to a conversation either with Hillsdale College President Dr. Larry Arnn or one of his esteemed colleagues about issues of lasting importance. This week, Dr. Paul A. Rahe is my guest. Professor Rahe holds the Charles O. Lee and Louise K. Lee Chair in Western Heritage at Hillsdale College, where he is a professor of history. He is sadly a Yalie, twice. He’s the author of many, many wonderful books, most recently The Spartan Regime. He’s been here many times before. His website is Professor Rahe, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show, great to have you on.

PR: It’s a pleasure to be here.

HH: Professor, this week is not, we’re not going back 2,600 years to the Spartan regime, much as I might like to, and I note you’re doing an online course about that. How long has that course been up over at

PR: It’s been up about a year. Victor Hanson did Athens, and I did Sparta. So there’s eight lectures introduced by Dr. Arnn.

HH: Did you fight at the end? And did you win, just, you know, for 27 minutes or something like that?

PR: Well, the Spartans beat the Athenians, so I suppose I did win.

HH: That’s what I was saying. The 27 year war, it might have been…so, but there are more important and pressing matters, and I want to use your expertise as a classicist, a historian and an acute observer of things modern to ask you a couple of questions, first of all, about what you think about the first 43 days of the Donald Trump administration, and then we’ll work into the speech he gave, and the serial controversies which have been ginned up around him. First of all, the way I like to ask questions, what’s your general take on the man and the launch of the administration?

PR: Well, I have a theory that I call the 24 year itch theory. And it is that roughly every 24 years, we have a kind of revolution in American politics. There’s the American Revolution in 1776, there’s the Revolution of 1800 when Jefferson comes in. There’s the revolution of 1828, which is foreshadowed in 1824 when Andrew Jackson gets a majority of the popular vote. And you can follow that all the way up to the present day. That is to say if you look at the most recent election and you go back 24 years, you get the insurgency that produced a third party candidate, and put Bill Clinton into power. And if you go 24 years before that, you get George Wallace. As a cub reporter in 1968, I covered the Wallace campaign in Oklahoma. And I remember it very well. So what I think is you’ve got an unusual insurgency, but there’s a kind of precedent in American life for this. And you know, Trump knows about it. He’s got a picture of Andrew Jackson in his office. That’s the first Republican to glom onto Andrew Jackson in that way. And why was he elected? Look, I was not a Trump supporter. There were other people that I thought were better for the job. But he was elected, because the base of the Republican Party does not trust Republican politicians, and have excellent reasons not to. Consider this. Over the last six, seven years, the Republicans have said we’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare. Do they have a plan? No.

HH: Well, no, at least not one that we’re…they have concepts. They have concetps.

PR: Yeah, right, but not a plan. You’d think after six years, you’d have a plan if you were serious.

HH: Yeah. So you think that that is what generated this distrust?

PR: Yes, that and other things.

HH: Okay.

PR: They took over Congress. They had the power of the purse. They were scared to death to use it.

HH: They were, and when the Congress closed down, they ran away.

PR: Yeah.

HH: And so the pressure on them is high. So given all that, how has Donald Trump managed the rollout?

PR: Well, look, on the whole, the choice of people to run executive agencies and to run the very sort of ministries of the American government has been pretty good – sober, sensible and bold. The tweeting is crazy, but you know, it’s the tweeting that got him elected. So I’m not sure it’s hurt him all that much.

HH: I don’t think it’s hurt him in the least, actually.

PR: Yeah.

HH: That’s kind of an interesting thing.

PR: I don’t like it. It’s un-presidential, in my opinion, but you know, I learned a lot from last year that what I don’t like may not be the most important thing.

HH: Didn’t we all learn that, Professor Rahe?

PR: Yeah…

HH: Didn’t we all learn to, not to overvalue our own perspective?

PR: Right, and also not to overvalue the sort of rupture character of this, not to take that as a great horror. It’s, I held off supporting Trump until near the end, and then Hillary pushed me over the end when she started talking about deplorables and irredeemables.

HH: Right.

PR: And for me, the most important thing was the 1st Amendment, which the Democrats want to repeal. 44 Democratic Senators introduced a Constitutional Amendment that would gut the 1st Amendment. Hillary Clinton supported it. It went into the program of the Democratic Party. And it might not have been accomplished by amendment, but it would have been accomplished by their court appointments. And so I think, you know, if I were to write a piece about our situation right now, it would be stay of sentence.

HH: Interesting, a stay of sentence, and so we have to wait and see. Gorsuch, you must approve of, though. It’s the most significant thing he has actually done.

PR: Yes.

HH: And that will have lasting consequences. And I esteem the judge highly.

PR: Yeah, and I think his rollback of all sorts of executive orders, I think that’s very important as well. The area where he’s, you know, where they’ve got him and they can pummel him is in foreign policy, particularly with regard to Russia, where I think his situation, his understanding of things is unreal. Now the appointments he’s made, people like Mattis, whom I know, I spent a weekend with him in October at the Hoover Institution…

HH: What do you make of him? Let’s pause right there.

PR: Ah, he’s a very fine man. And he has a very fine, the gathering at Hoover is something organized by Victor Hanson, and it brings together military historians, and the focus is on strategy. So to watch Mattis in action in that kind of setting, speaking with strategists, what you could see was that his mind was superior in that particular sphere to anybody in the room.

HH: Wow.

PR: He is a very, very smart and very thoughtful man.

HH: I just played an interview I conducted yesterday with President George W. Bush, in which there was an aside, in which he pronounced himself to be very happy with Secretary Mattis being Secretary Mattis.

PR: Yes, I think it’s a terrific appointment, and I’m very glad to see H.R. McMaster in the White House.

HH: I also referenced the interview just concluded with George W. Bush in which he said the very same thing, the architect of the surge, he called him.

PR: Yes. Yeah, he’s not the sole architect of the surge, but he’s one of the pioneers of that, and he was the guy who put it into effect on the ground, which is rough work. Very smart, and his book on Vietnam and the generals is excellent. So the President’s put himself in a situation where he’s apt to get very good advice. And shaking up the State Department, that’s also a very good thing. But what we’re seeing is a war of what you might call the deep state in conjunction with the establishment press and the Democratic Party against the President.

HH: I call it the Manhattan-Beltway media elite and the Democratic Party.

PR: Yes.

HH: And that elite, in fact, I want to read for you after the break my take on what’s going on, but let’s quickly get to the Jeff Sessions thing. This is a wholly contrived controversy as to perjury.

PR: Yes.

HH: His recusal is appropriate given the lawyer injunction to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, and this is the potential of the appearance of impropriety, but he’s an ethical man, and he’s living up to the highest standards of my profession. But there is no hint of perjury in what he said. It’s simply a misapplication of a lethal term to a good man.

PR: Yes, right, and look, the question he was asked is whether he had discussions with the Russians about a certain subject. He answered no. He didn’t say I had no discussion with the Russians. And as a United States senator, there’s interchange commonly between people in the United States Senate and ambassadors of all sorts of countries.

HH: And I guarantee you the ambassador from Russia to the United States it not running the FSB/GRU wet measures campaign through Wikileaks against the United States, which happened, and which I denounce and you denounce, Paul.

PR: Yes.

HH: But it’s got nothing to do with Sessions.

PR: No, look, there’s an elaborate game going on, and the trouble is that it’s so transparently ridiculous that I can’t see that it’s going to help them any.

HH: When we come back from break, we’re going to talk about that. That was, in fact, the point of a column I wrote in the Washington Post on Tuesday that I’m going to have the esteemed Dr. Paul Rahe comment on.

— – – — –

HH: Professor Rahe, I mentioned as we were going to break, I wrote a piece following President Trump’s Tuesday night speech, some segments of which we’re going to be playing for you in just a moment, and it concluded this way. This is my piece, saying that Trump’s critics seem to deeply desire to attribute to him what would be a terrible example of blame-shifting by the commander-in-chief, referring to the ‘and they lost Ryan’ comment. It isn’t a rational opinion, but it also isn’t one that rings true. And pressing the argument, pushing the worst possible interpretation of a statement far more easily understood, the way I understand it, underscores again the yawning gap between Manhattan-Beltway elites and flyover country. The media should press every debate at every moment from every angle, I continue. Nothing less is expected from a free press. But those whose contempt for Trump is warping every instinct into one that sees only the worst of motives risk, and indeed may have already willed into being a wall of refusal to hear any further critiques from them. Turning every statement, every speech, every interview into an occasion of the harshest condemnation does not lead to rising negatives for the President. It instead cements the narrative that the elite media is out to delegitimize and destroy the Trump presidency. It’s a trap the media may have already fallen into. The media needs to step back and applaud when the new President delivers, as he did Tuesday night, and blast away when he swings and misses, as he did when he labeled a sitting federal judge a ‘so-called’ judge. If everything done by the President is an assault on decency and the rule of law, then nothing is. What do you make of my critique of the media, Professor Rahe?

PR: Well, I think it’s right. And let me push it a little, one step further. This kind of attack on Trump is an attack on the people who voted for him. They are deplorable and irredeemable. That was the theme of Hillary Clinton’s speech, and she came back to it later. And it’s actually the theme of the press. Now when you tell people they’re deplorable and irredeemable, they get angry. So in fact, what I think the press is doing is solidifying the base that voted for Trump, including people like me who voted for Trump…

HH: Reluctantly.

PR: …reluctantly.

HH: Yup.

PR: And what they’re doing, at least in my case, is confirming the suspicion that drove me into Trump’s arms, which is to say that they’re going to come after us. And you know, the move against free speech, which is echoed, by the way, in the academy, back around Halloween, the woman who was co-master at one of the colleges who had the previous Halloween written an email to the people in the colleges about appropriate Halloween costumes, the thing that caused the great explosion in Yale, she had a piece in the Washington Post on the 28th of October of this last year, in which she talked about why she resigned from her teaching position at Yale. And what she said is I no longer feel safe talking about some of the fundamental issues in the education of young people, and in particular, the issue of missing fathers and the impact of missing fathers on the development of children and their educability. In other words, we’re talking about academic freedom right at the core where a professor in class is talking about the subject of her expertise. And she said she no longer felt safe talking about a matter that some people might find offensive.

HH: Yeah.

PR: …but that is rather fundamental to the education of young people. And you know, it’s a major issue in America. 54% of the children born to women aged 18-34 are born out of wedlock now, and that means a very substantial proportion of that 54% don’t have fathers around. So to examine that question is such a very serious question. What does it mean?

HH: It means that the academy has closed its ears, eyes and mind to anything resembling what its mission ought to be in many places. Not at Hillsdale College. Everything Hillsdale available at This and all Hillsdale Dialogues at Dr. Rahe returns after this. Stay tuned.

— – – — –

DT: All the nations of the world, friend or foe, will find that America is strong. America is proud. And America is free. In nine years, the United States will celebrate the 250th anniversary of our founding, 250 years since the day we declared our independence. It will be one of the great milestones in the history of the world. But what will America look like as we reach our 250th year? What kind of country will we leave for our children? I will not allow the mistakes of recent decades past to define the course of our future. For too long, we’ve watched our middle class shrink as we’ve exported our jobs and wealth to foreign countries. We financed and built one global project after another, but ignored the fates of our children. In the inner cities of Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, and so many other places throughout our land, we’ve defended the borders of other nations while leaving our own borders wide open for anyone to cross, and for drugs to pour in at a now-unprecedented rate. And we’ve spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while our infrastructure at home has so badly crumbled. Then, in 2016, the earth shifted beneath our feet. The rebellion started as a quiet protest, spoken by families of all colors and creeds, families who just wanted a fair shot for their children, and a fair hearing for their concerns. But then, the quiet voices became a loud chorus as thousands of citizens now spoke out together from cities small and large all across our country. Finally, the chorus became an earthquake, and the people turned out by the tens of millions, and they were all united by one very simple, but crucial demand – that America must put its own citizens first, because only then can we truly make America great again.

HH: Joined now in the Hillsdale Dialogue, it’s Hugh Hewitt, by Professor Paul Rahe of Hillsdale, for everything Hillsdale, for all of our dialogues. Professor Rahe, what did you make of that which I think is probably, other than the salute to the widow of Ryan Owen, the central moment of the speech?

PR: Well, look, it’s a restatement of the theme of his campaign right down to the phrase at the end, make America great again. But he puts his finger on it that a political community is formed first and foremost for the protection of the members of the political community. And everything else comes second. And if you have open borders, you cannot protect the members of your own political community. And look, he is, I’m in favor of a generous policy of immigration.

HH: You and me, both.

PR: But open borders are another thing.

HH: Correct.

PR: And you know, I lived out in California three years ago in Silicon Valley. Next to me, next to the apartment that I occupied, was an apartment with 12 Chinese in it. It was strictly illegal. This was an apartment limited to about five people by the law. These were people who were working for Google on temporary H1-B visas, and they were taking American jobs. I had dinner one evening with the parent of a Hillsdale student who built condominiums and apartments in the Silicon Valley area, and he told me that 80% of his employees were illegal aliens. It, one of the striking features of being in Silicon Valley is I almost never saw an African-American. They’ve been pushed out. East Palo Alto used to be an African-American community. Now, it’s a largely illegal alien community. And the wages of American workers, especially unskilled workers, but also carpenters and that sort of thing, have been undercut over the last 30-40 years by a wave of illegal immigrants. And those people have been upset for a long time, and neither political party has appealed to them. They’ve been abandoned by the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party is so closely tied to the Chamber of Commerce and the concerns of the Chamber of Commerce, which is to say the primary one being cheap labor, that they didn’t respond to it. So part…

HH: You know, Professor, I want to pause here. For ten years, I have been arguing that the wall, I call it a fence, a double, long, strong, high fence is the visible expression of an invisible commitment to sovereignty. That was the heart of the deal, and that it didn’t get built was profoundly undermining of confidence in the Republicans, who are all, by the way, I think, 90% of whom are in a generous mood towards regularization. Those who are here who are not lawbreakers or violent may stay, but will come above ground, pay taxes, that sort of thing, but not become voting citizens. But build that wall, and the Republican regular establishment was afraid of that.

PR: Yes, yes. Look, they were afraid of enforcing the law. The laws are on the books. They’ve been on the books for a long time. And the laws are consistent with sovereignty. And the Republicans are so much under the control of the Chamber of Commerce that they were unwilling to enforce laws that they themselves had voted for.

HH: Let me play for you another portion of the Trump speech, because it goes back to what I think you put your finger on it, the first duty of the political community that is formed by consent. Here’s Donald Trump from Tuesday night, cut number 8:

DT: Our obligation is to serve, protect and defend the citizens of the United States. We are also taking strong measures to protect our nation from radical Islamic terrorism. According to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country. We have seen the attacks at home, from Boston to San Bernardino to the Pentagon, and yes, even the World Trade Center. We have seen the attacks in France, in Belgium, in Germany and all over the world. It is not compassionate, but reckless to allow uncontrolled entry from places where proper vetting cannot occur. Those given the high honor of admission to the United States should support this country and love its people and its values. We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America, and we cannot allow our nation to become a sanctuary for extremists.

HH: This goes back to your first comment, Paul Rahe. The first duty of the political community is to protect the political community that voluntarily consents to its formation.

PR: Yes. And look, he’s absolutely right on all of this. The attack that took place a few years back on an American military base was not sort of a workplace attack. The man was yelling Allahu Akbar. There is an Islamic problem. I don’t mean to suggest…

HH: Islamist. I use, always use the word Islamist to distinguish from our Muslim friends, fellow citizens, and indeed, those in uniform fighting for the flag.

PR: Yeah, you know, and here’s the problem. Islam is the flipside of Judaism. Both of them are religions of holy law. But Judaism is a religion of exile. I mean, so much so that there are many Jews in Israel who are uncomfortable being there, uncomfortable being in a Jewish state. And it’s tied up with the history of Judaism, which was a history largely of being in exile. Islam is really the opposite. It’s a religion of holy law that conquers, and establishes holy law in the places that it conquers. So it is hard for Muslims to be in a country that is not Islamic. And that’s why the Islamists, I’m using your word, and I think it’s a proper word, have such leverage within the larger world of Islam.

HH: Yes.

PR: I was once married to a Muslim, a Turk. And the young woman would not have heard anybody. And many of the Muslims that I knew when I lived in Turkey, it’s just inconceivable that they would participate in anything like terrorism. But there is a problem…

HH: It is that leverage. It is that Wahhabist leverage. That’s what this President is speaking to, and anyone who attempts to inflate or conflate his critique or our critique, or Lawrence Wright’s critique in The Looming Tower, is disingenuous.

PR: Yes, and there’s been an awful lot of sort of transparent lying that has gone on since the second Bush administration about this, more emphatically under Obama, but it started under Bush.

HH: Let me play for you, Professor Rahe, one more Donald Trump clip, cut number 7, please.

PR: Okay.

DT: Dying industries will come roaring back to life. Heroic veterans will get the care they so desperately need. Our military will be given the resources its brave warriors so richly deserve. Crumbling infrastructure will be replaced with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways gleaming across our very, very beautiful land. Our terrible drug epidemic will slow down, and ultimately stop. And our neglected inner cities will see a rebirth of hope, safety and opportunity. Above all else, we will keep our promises to the American people.

HH: I think that is so crucial, Paul Rahe. What do you think?

PR: Yes, all of that. I mean, the crumbling infrastructure is certainly true. The rise of crime in places like Baltimore and Chicago is really quite shocking, and it reminds me of the 60s. We have seen a kind of return of lawlessness. So far, it is limited mainly to inner city areas in particular places, and it has to do with the withdrawal of the police. And that withdrawal of the police was caused by the way the Obama administration handled all sorts of individual cases.

HH: More on that after the break.

— – — – –

HH: Can I play for you one last excerpt from the Trump speech to get your reaction, because Lincoln was invoked, and you are a student of Lincoln, by President Trump, in cut number 13:

DT: I believe strongly in free trade, but it also has to be fair trade. It’s been a long time since we had fair trade. The first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, warned that the abandonment of the protective policy by the American government will produce want and ruin among our people. Lincoln was right. And it’s time we heeded his advice and his words. I am not going to let America and its great companies and workers be taken advantage of any longer. They have taken advantage of our country. No longer.

HH: Now Professor Rahe, this is what I wrote in the Post that I saw a shadow of concern flash across the face of Speaker Ryan. And you know, because we are free traders. We are Reaganauts. I’m glad he got out of TPP, because I don’t like multiparty deals. I do like one on one deals. Nevertheless, I liked the NAFTA agreement, and that concern is there. But he invoked Lincoln. He could have invoked Lincoln, by the way, on internal improvements as well, a very famous speech he gave during his one term in Congress. What did you make of him invoking Lincoln on behalf of tariffs?

PR: Well, you know, it was the policy of the Republican Party in the 19th Century as it was of, for example, Alexander Hamilton before that, to use tariffs to promote American industry. That policy changed over time as American industry became strong. And we came to have an interest in free trade, because we didn’t need protectionism. I’m a little bit, let me put it this way. Free movement of labor is a dangerous thing, because it threatens sovereignty.

HH: Yes.

PR: And it means the very character of your country can be changed by importing large numbers of people from abroad. I think that’s already happened in California, to be frank. Free trade, however, is another matter, because it promotes competition, it keeps domestic industry on its toes. They have to be good. And it lowers prices and helps everybody in the country.

HH: It is remarkable how powerful it is, but the distinction you just made is the critical distinction. It is actually the one that led to Brexit. They were all for a common market. They were not for, I was talking with a lord of the House of Lords at the National Association of Religious Broadcasters this weekend, a wonderful gentleman, saying that they’re, they’ve got like an imbalance of almost, what, I think a quarter million EU immigrants into Great Britain who all want to be able to stay, but Great Britain doesn’t have that many people who want to leave Great Britain and go live in Europe.

PR: Right, right. Well, you can understand that. There’s a million Frenchmen living in London.

HH: Okay, it had to be much more than that, I just can’t remember the number, but I was stunned at the imbalance of the number of people who have migrated under the EU treaty into Great Britain, and how very few British want to go live in Europe. So that’s what powered Brexit. It wasn’t the goods and the no tariffs. It was the people.

PR: Now if we want to turn around and ask what is it that caused, puts American business at a disadvantage abroad, I think it’s the regulatory state.

HH: Yes.

PR: And at least here in Michigan, it was the stranglehold that the UAW had on the automobile makers that drove up the costs of producing automobiles in the United States and put us at a terrible disadvantage. And the UAW, which was a kind of parasite on the automobile industry, finally destroyed the automobile industry, as parasites often do.

HH: I will tell you, it will be a wonderful thing if Michigan stays red. And if it does, it will be because of the Ann Arbor renaissance which was done by the lowering of regulatory barriers and the promotion of free markets and free minds that is led by the lantern of the North at Hillsdale College. Professor Rahe, always a pleasure, my friend, good to see you. Are you working on getting me an invitation to Hillsdale that isn’t in January?

PR: Ah, I would love to have you come visit this coming January.

HH: No, no, I always come in January. I want to come any other time of the year than January. It’s…

PR: Ah, yes.

HH: Dr. Arnn gives me a January visa. It’s the only time I’m allowed.

PR: You know, the time to come is September/October when it’s really beautiful here.

HH: Yes, of course. Of course, it is. That’s why your malicious president does me wrong every single year.

PR: (laughing)

HH: Dr., thank you so much for filling in for me. The Spartan Regime by Dr. Paul Rahe.

End of interview.


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