Why does everyone have it in for Victor Davis Hanson? Professor, Hoover Institution fellow and farmer, Hanson is a consummate scholar of military history and ancient Greece. His literary accomplishments include paeans to American agrarianism and epoch-spanning histories of war, lauded by left and right. Yet the bipartisan goodwill has lately evaporated. The reason for the contempt is easily apprehensible: Hanson’s new book is titled, simply, The Case for Trump.
The repercussions have been swift. Isaac Chotiner of the New Yorker accused Hanson of ‘hostility to undocumented Mexican and Central American immigrants.’ Charlie Sykes of the new Weekly Standard rump, the Bulwark, enumerated learned Hanson among the ‘grifters and trolls’ whom he and his fellow editors wished to banish from the respectable society of the Washington dinner party circuit.
Perhaps Sykes is unaware Hanson would probably accept an ostracism from D.C. society with equanimity. Unlike the ilk of the Bulwark, he is no Beltway courtier. He spends much of his time on his family’s raisin farm in Selma, California, population 23,219 at last count.
Hanson has already spent decades professing his alienation from American high society. Ivory tower academics look down on him because his appointment is at CSU Fresno, not Harvard or Princeton. His vehement criticism of the Obama presidency earned him the opprobrium of the left, if he didn’t already have it. And much of the right — Sykes is far from the first — reject him because he doesn’t see Trump as a sort of conservative Antichrist.
The Atlantic published a breathless profile of Sykes, eager to pump his website up as a sort of center-right Manchurian publication in the anti-Trump interest. Quoting Sykes as describing his own writers as ‘Somali pirates’, however, probably does little to help the cause. It’s tremendously difficult to take him seriously as he describes how his ragtag, underdog band of socialites will wage plucky war against the entrenched elite of rural Californian raisin farmers.
The New Yorker’s effort fared little better. Hanson has recently taken to Twitter to contest the condensed record of his interview with Isaac Chotiner, arguing it was edited in bad faith and misrepresents the views he sets out in the full transcript. But even in the published version — which remains, for the moment, unaltered — Chotiner’s tone is scornful throughout.
Chotiner’s responses to Hanson endorse views that Chotiner himself certainly doesn’t hold and which apparently seek to caricature his subject’s. When Hanson disagrees with the view that Trump is a bigot, Chotiner calls Trump an ‘egalitarian.’ When Hanson expresses regret for the way Trump responded to the Charlottesville protest, Chotiner outrageously suggests the neo-Nazi demonstrators were ‘history buffs, really.’
Chotiner endeavors to demean Hanson by putting him in the awkward position of having to pare down his bad-faith exaggerations of Hanson’s views. Yet the result is the opposite of what Chotiner intended. Instead of making his subject come off as a vicious if erudite racist, Chotiner’s malice and Hanson’s resolute attitude of fine distinction impels the reader to sympathize with the latter.
Equally luckily for Hanson, he is perfectly content to weather all the derision that New York and Washington can throw at him. For he does not depend on them: his is an old-fashioned conservatism that comes from the land, like his raisins. If that’s not to the taste of Sykes and his dinner party guests, so be it.