Imagine if George Washington’s farewell address had been followed a day later — rather than 172 years later — by Richard Nixon’s first press conference as president-elect.
That was what a legion of liberal journalists, bloggers, tweeters, and actors would like us to believe happened last week.
On Tuesday night President Obama delivered a valedictory speech in Chicago that had progressive celebrities in ecstasies. “I love you more than I have space on Twitter to describe,” gushed Ellen DeGeneres. “I admire you so much,” tweeted equally right-on actress Ashley Judd. “And I will do my part to become increasingly aware of my #implicitbias and #whiteprivelege.” (I’d recommend also becoming increasingly aware of how to spell.)
Then, the very next morning, Donald Trump held his first press conference as president-elect. From Obama’s frostily artful, clinically crafted brand of uplift, we cut straight to The Donald’s unrehearsed, unfiltered construction-site banter. Within seconds Trump was throwing punches, suggesting that it would be a “tremendous blot” on the record of the intelligence agencies if they were responsible for leaking the now notorious Kompromat dossier — a report drawn up a former British spy, which alleges that Russian intelligence has evidence of perverted sexual behavior by Trump himself.
The most that can be said at this point is that at least parts of that report were inaccurate, so its allegation of a Russian plot to blackmail Trump must be viewed with skepticism. But Trump has always believed that attack is the best form of defense. He bluntly refused to take a question from CNN’s Jim Acosta, telling him: “You are fake news.”
The same people who had been crying their eyes out the night before were now frothing at the mouth. “Yesterday’s press conference was … a scary glimpse into the future of what we might be able to expect from a Donald Trump presidency,” seethed “Daily Show’’ host Trevor Noah. In Liberal La-La Land, bad things are always “scary.”
What the liberal media would most like is for Trump’s presidency to go directly from his inaugural address next Friday to Watergate, ideally within 24 hours, except that this time the scandal won’t be called Watergate, but — assuming the Russians have video of Trump ordering tarts to urinate on his Moscow hotel room bed — Wettergate.
Here are just some of the reasons this liberal fantasy will not be realized.
First, Trump’s party has control of both houses of Congress, something that Nixon did not have despite his landslide victory in the 1972 election. A House Democrat may well propose an impeachment resolution. But there are multiple hurdles the resolution would have to clear before it even came to a vote in the House, including the House’s Judiciary Committee. Two-thirds of the Senate would need to vote to oust Trump.
Second, the news media are far less respected today than they were back in 1972. That was the year Gallup first asked the question: “In general, how much trust and confidence do you have in the mass media … when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately, and fairly?” Back then, 68 percent said a fair amount or a great deal. Last September, in the most recent survey, it was 32 percent. In 1972, only 5 percent of voters answered “none at all.” Now it is 27 percent.
Reality check for newspaper editors and talk-show anchors: the more people tweet and “Facebook-like” the term “fake news,” the more they can simply dismiss any stories that do not fit their political preferences.
Finally, there is the distinct possibility that many voters do not care half as much about what Trump has been up to in bedrooms as they do about whether or not he can deliver on his election pledges. Instead of wishfully thinking about what could go wrong for Trump, liberal hacks need to consider the (for them) nightmare scenario that things may go right for him.
Voters do not expect economic miracles, but they may get higher growth if Trump and Congress can quickly deliver on tax reform and deregulation, and avoid an all-out trade war with China.
They may also get peace in the Middle East if Trump can turn his bromance with Putin into a concrete plan to end the war in Syria. And they are almost certain to see much more effective action against Islamic State and its non-violent sympathizers than we have seen under Obama.
Meanwhile, Trump may find he can quite easily sustain the morale of his supporters by continuing to goad the very people — liberal bloggers, tweeters and Hollywood luvvies — who hate him the most. For what those inhabitants of coastal bubbles of privilege (and yes, that includes you, Meryl Streep) do not seem to appreciate is just how many ordinary Americans despise them.
No doubt the liberal media will wage unrelenting war on Trump, as it did on Nixon nearly half a century ago. And no doubt there will be at least some grist for their mills, as there was then — perhaps even some good old compromising tapes. But this is not the 1970s. And Trump is no more like to suffer the fate of Nixon than Obama is to achieve the immortality of George Washington.
Niall Ferguson is a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.