Behind the Irony Curtain

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on November 28, 2016

Behind the Irony Curtain

Hamilton crowd booed VP-elect Mike Pence after actor reads a cast message to him.

The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at The Wall Street Journal written by the editor, James Taranto.

Behind the Irony Curtain
Mike Pence went to the theater the other night, to see the Broadway hit “Hamilton.” But it was no ordinary visit to the theater. The vice president-elect got booed by tolerant, open-minded liberals in the audience, and after the show was on the receiving end of a lecture delivered from the stage by one of the stars.

According to GQ’s Jay Willis, President-elect Trump ordered Pence to the show, and it was “devious as hell”:

On the off-chance that Pence is received politely, Trump can triumphantly cite it as evidence that reports of national discontent and his movement’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. If the crowd boos lustily, he can simply jump on Twitter and caricature the left as frenzied, petulant, childish aggressors.

In other words, Willis’s claim is that Pence’s visit to the theater was designed to elicit reactions like Willis’s claim. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy!

A Crisis of Authority—II
Donald Trump’s election must have been difficult for President Obama, for reasons Peggy Noonan foresaw back in July:

President Obama has been an unusually strong helper and supporter of [Hillary] Clinton, and this is assumed to be linked to interest in his legacy. Successful presidents tend to be followed by presidents from their own party. But it is more than legacy, or loyalty. It is a desire to avoid humiliation. If Mr. Trump wins, voters will be saying more than that Mr. Obama’s leadership didn’t quite work. They’ll be saying he was such a failure that they lurched desperately toward someone who’d blow the whole system up. Mr. Trump’s election would be a stinging rebuke, one for the history books. Mr. Obama will give everything he has to keep that from happening.

So it is to the president’s great credit that his immediate response—the Rose Garden speech hours after Mrs. Clinton’s concession, and the Oval Office meeting with the president-elect the next day—showed no bitterness or rancor. But we suppose it couldn’t last.

We noticed a subtle shift in tone last Monday, when Obama held his first postelection press conference. In his opening statement, the president said this:

First of all, as I discussed with the president-elect on Thursday, my team stands ready to accelerate in the next steps that are required to ensure a smooth transition. . . .

It’s not something that the Constitution explicitly requires, but it is one of those norms that are vital to a functioning democracy—similar to norms of civility and tolerance, and a commitment to reason and to facts and analysis. It’s part of what makes this country work. And as long as I’m president, we are going to uphold those norms and cherish and uphold those ideals.

The passive-aggressive criticism of Trump—whom both Obama and Mrs. Clinton had depicted throughout the campaign as the scourge of political norms—was unmistakable.

But that was as far as it went. Several of the reporters confronted Obama with the harsh things he’d said about Trump—not, it seemed to us, in a “gotcha” spirit, but rather as a prayer for affirmation, for reassurance that he still reviled his successor as much as they did.

Obama declined the bait. “Look, the people have spoken,” he said in response to one question. “Donald Trump will be the next president, the 45th president of the United States. . . . And those who didn’t vote for him have to recognize that that’s how democracy works.”

Yet the questions functioned as gotchas even if that wasn’t their intent. The disconnect between Obama’s savage disparagement of Trump on the campaign trail and his unequivocal—and entirely proper—acceptance of the election result was difficult to miss.

The president put himself in that awkward position by departing from a political norm—that sitting presidents do not take on the role of attack dog on behalf of their preferred candidate. Bill Clinton didn’t campaign against George W. Bush in 2000, nor did Bush against Obama in 2008.

Since then, Obama has stepped up the criticism, although he has done so in a way the Associated Press’s Josh Lederman describes as “cool-headed, cerebral and confident”:

The jarring gap between Obama’s public face and the prevailing Democratic sentiment about Donald Trump’s election was an unexpected element to Obama’s final presidential trip, which included visits to Greece, Germany and Peru. Time after time, Obama opted for optimism over any sense of foreboding, and diplomatic dodges over criticism. The man whose legacy risks being devastated by Trump’s election appeared to be the one Democrat who wouldn’t publicly fret about its impact.

It’s true that Obama has not melted down in public the way many on the liberal left have. But Lederman overstates the case. On that foreign trip, as well as in a lengthy series of interviews, both pre- and postelection, with the New Yorker’s David Remnick, Obama has been quite fretful—torn, as at that press conference, between his duty as a lame-duck president to respect the office and the man who will soon hold it, and his anguish at what amounts to a repudiation of authority.

Here we mean not Obama’s authority as president, which he will continue to exercise until Trump is sworn in at noon on Jan. 20. Rather, what the voters repudiated was the authority of what Obama stands for, which we described in a 2013 column:

The left-liberal elite that attained cultural dominance between the 1960s and the 1980s—and that since 2008 has seen itself as being on the cusp of political dominance as well—is undergoing a crisis of authority, and its defenses are increasingly ferocious and unprincipled. Journalists lie or ignore important but politically uncongenial stories. Scientists suppress alternative hypotheses. Political organizations bully apolitical charities. The Internal Revenue Service persecutes dissenters. And campus censorship goes on still.

The first link in that passage is to a column a few days earlier, titled “A Crisis of Authority,” in which we first developed the theme. Hillary Clinton’s victory was supposed to be a more or less permanent ratification of the liberal elite’s authority. Voters had another idea.

In his comments over the past week, Obama has sounded some of the same themes we discussed back in 2013. He told Remnick: “Ideally, in a democracy, everybody would agree that climate change is the consequence of man-made behavior, because that’s what ninety-nine per cent of scientists tell us.” The 2009 revelations from the East Anglia emails that scientists had manipulated data and abused the peer-review process? Down the memory hole.

Remnick himself described the Obama presidency as “two terms long on dignity and short on scandal.” The IRS? The State Department scandal that arguably sank Mrs. Clinton’s campaign? Again, the memory hole.

In Lima on Sunday the president himself declared: “I am extremely proud of the fact that over eight years we have not had the kinds of scandals that have plagued other administrations.” That’s either delusional or very carefully worded: To our knowledge no other administration has used the IRS to punish ordinary citizens for dissent, nor faced FBI findings that the secretary of state treated classified information in an “extremely careless” fashion.

Also in Lima, the president complained of “elections that aren’t focused on issues and are full of fake news and false information and distractions.” That’s the latest left-liberal excuse; a Sunday New York Times editorial was titled “Facebook and the Digital Virus Called Fake News”—which is awfully rich coming from the editorial board that blamed the massacres in both Tucson and Orlando on conservatives, and from the paper that in 2008 called self-described “fake news anchor” Jon Stewart “the most trusted man in America.”

Meanwhile, the Times’s new public editor, Liz Spayd, faults “the media” for “turning [Trump’s] remarks into a grim caricature that it applied to those who backed him. What struck me is how many liberal voters I spoke with felt so, too. They were Clinton backers, but, they want a news source that fairly covers people across the spectrum.”

If you’d told us in 2013, when we identified the problem of liberal-left authoritarianism, that Donald Trump would be the solution, we’d have laughed along with everyone else. But he was probably a necessary corrective. The left has waged asymmetric political warfare, routinely traducing the same norms it was demanding its opponents respect. Trump beat them at their own game, and that might have been the only way it could be done.

The excerpts above are from the Nov. 21 BOTW Archives. For more “Best of the Web” from The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto click here.