by Victor Davis Hanson
Joe Biden, first as a candidate and then in the White House, from the outset saw the COVID-19 pandemic mainly as a means of leveraging political support, from the manner in which the lockdowns allowed him to run a virtual campaign from his basement to equating Donald Trump with the COVID-19 virus.
Like many on the Left, Biden was overt in such cynicism. So were Hillary Clinton, Gavin Newsom, and Jane Fonda – who claimed that COVID was a “never-let-a-crisis-go-to-waste” moment. Panic and lockdowns could help achieve single-payer health care, or a recalibrated capitalism, or the end of Donald Trump himself.
At the height of the last presidential campaign, Biden in September 2020 declared that Trump was responsible for the then-current 200,000 COVID deaths: “If the president had done his job, had done his job from the beginning, all the people would still be alive.”
Biden felt no need to list details where Trump had lethally erred or had not “done his job.”
He did not explain how any president should be able to prevent all deaths from a plague. And in 2020, Biden certainly had no expectation that before his own first year as president was over the cumulative deaths from the pandemic would exceed 800,000. He would have found it surreal to even imagine that soon there would be far more deaths under his own tenure than during Trump’s presidency – despite being the beneficiary of ubiquitous vaccinations, new therapies, and antiviral drugs unavailable throughout most of 2020.
During the 2020 campaign, both Biden and vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris also had cast doubt on the safety and efficacy of the Operation Warp Speed vaccines. They repeatedly implied that any forthcoming jabs would be tainted by Trump’s sponsorship.
Yet, later in office, both would publicly deplore any doubt similar to their own about vaccination safety or efficacy. Indeed, they equated remaining unvaxed to being unpatriotic. In addition, when Biden was inaugurated, he claimed that no Americans had been vaccinated. In fact, on some days under Trump more than a million people were receiving vaccinations.
Given that the new daily cases and COVID fatality rates had begun to decline shortly before Trump left office, and due to the growing ubiquity of the Warp Speed vaccinations, Biden gladly took ownership of the virus and boasted it would be essentially gone by July 4 – due to his own rebranding of Trump’s vaccination programs.
Biden had assumed he could blame Trump for all 2020 COVID-19 deaths, while few would die from the pandemic in 2021, and that, again, he could take credit for the Warp Speed vaccination program.
But fate, not Biden, was the master of our COVID-19 destinies. Soon both the Delta and Omicron variants arrived, and we are now back to a Groundhog Day of possible lockdowns and mask mandates. Certainly, Biden would not wish a political rival to do to him what he did to Trump: question the efficacy and safety of the vaccines, blame Biden for more than 400,000 deaths on his watch, and claim the continuance of the pandemic was Biden’s fault alone.
Truth and Consequences
What’s the moral of Biden’s current troubles? From the Bible and the Greeks and throughout the Western tradition, there is a constant refrain of being wary of hubris, the lying and arrogance that are innate to it, and the divine power that ultimately levels things out.
Biden and the Left so despised Donald Trump that they lost all sense of moderation, of proportion, of logic itself. Thus, they find themselves in the current ridiculous situation of suffering the consequences of their own unhinged rhetoric and actions.
This madness was birthed in part because Trump’s newly calibrated populist Republican Party had the potential to permanently draw the working class away from Democrats. In part, they found Trump’s salesmanship and braggadocio repulsive and contrary to bicoastal manners. Partly his agenda had more success since any first term since Ronald Reagan. Add it up, and the result was toxic hatred and mindless rejection of the successful policies.
Biden’s undoing was claiming not just to be antithetical to Trump, but the antithesis of all that Trump did. His hatred blinded him to the reality that Trump’s record on Afghanistan, the border, COVID-19, the economy, foreign policy, energy, and regulation was in each instance either adequate or very good. To simply nullify all of it, and to claim Trump was an ungodly disaster, meant Biden’s own one-dimensional rejectionist policies had to be winning and successful. And when they were neither, he suffered not just the wages of failure, but of hypocrisy and nemesis as well.
This irony of blindly speeding over the cliff to one’s own destruction is not limited to COVID-19.
How did the once omnipotent, omnipresent Hillary Clinton descend into a caricature of a shrill, mean-spirited, and pathetic has-been? Even more so than Biden, she assumed that her hatred of Trump would excuse anything. And anything not excusable could simply be fobbed onto Trump as if it was his own doing.
Illegal to use a private, unsecured private email server to avoid government audit? When caught simply cry that Donald Trump encouraged the Russians to hack it.
Was Clinton’s “Russian reset” a failure? Was her campaign’s opposition research via British ex-spy Christopher Steele a dud and a lie? Then simply amp up the Russian collusion hoax, accuse Trump of being a Vladimir Putin asset, and count on the “friends of Hillary” in the administrative state to seed and fuel the lie.
Lose a supposedly sure-thing presidential election? Then blame the terrible, failed campaign on voting fraud, or on the Electoral College, and then claim the winner was illegitimate, while joining #TheResistance.
What Hillary Clinton could not abide was that the loud Trump had outsmarted her hip campaign experts, that his agenda was more applicable to the times and the national mood, that she was a nastier and more egocentric candidate than Trump, and that dislike for her grew in proportion to her public appearances.
Weapons of Self-Destruction
The military traditionally polls as the most popular of all major U.S. institutions. No longer. In a recent Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute survey, only 45 percent of Americans expressed trust and confidence in our armed forces. That is a stunning, almost inexplicable reversal – until we remember what has transpired over the last four years.
Why would our most esteemed retired generals routinely violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice in smearing and slandering the commander-in-chief between 2016 and 2021?
They did so freely and arrogantly on two assumptions. One, they were assured that the bipartisan establishment would applaud their political attacks and provide them legal and political exemptions in a way unthinkable had they compared, say, Barack Obama to a Nazi, a fascist, a Mussolini, a death camp jailer, a fraud, and a liar deserving removal “the sooner the better.”
Second, they were so taken with their stars and epaulets, their high public profiles, and their entry into the corporate monied class upon retirement, that the public would surely listen to their supposedly sage, insider advice.
Instead, their hubris earned them the opposition of half the country – ironically the half once most supportive of the military.
Just as importantly, the high-ranking officer class, fairly or not, was humiliated in Afghanistan. China and Russia now assume the United States has lost much of its prior deterrence. The Pentagon was seen as reckless and wasteful: gone in a matter of days were a $1 billion embassy in Kabul, a $300 million refitted air base at Bagram, and some $80 billion in U.S. weapons and equipment.
When the people looked for contrition, for apologies, for explanations, they got instead the opposite: generals blaming Biden off the record; Biden blaming generals on the record; the sense that China has reached parity with the U.S. military; the chairman of the joint chiefs apologizing for usually routine photo-ops with the president, unlawfully interfering in the chain of command, and claiming a pandemic of mythical “white rage” – all done with the full acquiescence of his superior, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, another retired general.
Meanwhile, suspicion continued to grow that much of the woke agenda was fast-tracked through the military because it served the careerist trajectories of the compliant officer class. Again, those who felt their self-importance had earned them commensurate influence and power well beyond their tasks of ensuring deterrence and military preparedness, lost both influence and power – both for themselves and the military itself.
The Rot Spreads
The Green New Dealers assumed that by the sheer force of their own superior morality that they could abruptly curtail fossil fuel use, with little if any concern that millions of the lower-middle class depend upon inexpensive natural gas and gasoline for their daily survival.
After bragging they would end fossil fuel use in a decade, these same purists ended up begging the carbon autocracies of Russia and the Gulf Arab states to produce more of the toxic fuels they had done so much at home to curtail. The radical climate changers had little idea how unlikeable and unpopular they had become – not just because of their credo, but due also to their own hypocrisies, arrogance, and preening.
Black Lives Matter is similar. In summer 2020, it assumed the role of arbiter of all race relations. Corporations rushed to send it cash. District attorneys competed to drop charges of the arrested. Mayors stampeded to defund police departments. And criminals vied to commit crimes on the assumption that they would not be caught, or not be indicted, or not be convicted, or not be jailed – and that societies were culpable, not the criminals, for the damage wrought.
And now? BLM is polling even lower than Joe Biden and the U.S. military.
The lessons from these hypocrisies? There are natural, eternal laws that transcend personalities and are the ultimate adjudicators of right and wrong.
Good leaders acknowledge the talent of those they despise. They are not so obsessed in their hatred that they mindlessly fixate on the negation of unwelcomed success. General George S. Patton found General Bernard Montgomery a poseur, affected, and condescending – but Patton also appreciated that Monty was methodical, professional, and, as a defensive tactician, admirably tough and stubborn.
Churchill privately saw Charles De Gaulle as vain, exasperating, and narcissistic. But he publicly acknowledged that no other man of France in 1940 would have, or could have, rallied the defeated in exile, orchestrated a triumphant return, brought order to chaotic France, and restored French sovereignty, and, yes, chauvinism, to a defeated and humiliated people.
Republicans who joined FDR on the eve of World War II knew him to be vain, duplicitous, treacherous, and an egomaniac. But also, they conceded that he had the rare talent to galvanize the nation to defeat its enemies, and to charm and cajole the capitalist classes to produce weapons and goods as no other nation in history had done.
So, there were reasons why Socrates advised “Know thyself,” why the oracle at Delphi emblemized “Nothing too much” – and why you reap what you sow.
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Author reports for Victor Davis Hanson.
Photo “President Joe Biden” by The White House.