The “Democrats Are Evil” Trap
National Review’s David French blames this for GOP loyalty to Trump. Let us consider the irony.
David French is a regular columnist for the conservative National Review. Like many of his colleagues at the publication, he is no fan of Donald Trump. In fact, he briefly considered running for president last year, simply to give conservatives an alternative to having to choose between Trump and Hillary Clinton.
French recently published a scathing column in response to the Donald Trump Jr e-mail chain. The tenor is summed up by the headline: “There Is Now Evidence That Senior Trump Officials Attempted to Collude With Russia: Donald Trump Jr.’s e-mails are damning.” He concludes, “The Russian investigation isn’t a witch hunt anymore, if it ever was. It’s a national necessity.”
In a subsequent interview with Vox, French expands on his frustration:
I still can’t believe that there’s an actual email that exists that basically says, “Hey, the Russian government wants to help your dad,” and Trump Jr. responds, “Love it.” It feels like a bad House of Cards script.
Calling the Trump administration “a tornado of incompetence, he adds “the other thing that’s so dispiriting is watching the legions of Republicans bury their heads in the sand and pretend like this isn’t happening.”
Trying to explain this outcome, French adds, “My theory is that this is a manifestation of negative partisanship. If you look at that Pew data that really defines that term well, basically it says, ‘Hey, I’m a Republican not because of what Republicans believe but because I dislike Democrats,’ and vice versa.”
During the investigation of coordination between the Scott Walker for Governor campaign and various ostensibly independent groups, two themes were developed in right-wing publications. The first was that the investigation was politically motivated by liberal hostility to Scott Walker. The second was that searches for evidence were heavy-handed and abusive. French was among those developing both themes, as illustrated by an April 20, 2015 published in the National Review.
In the article, French describes three searches. In two, the person whose home was allegedly searched is anonymous. Only one is identified: Cindy Archer, who was investigated as part of an earlier investigation of various misdeeds of people associated with the Scott Walker Milwaukee County Executive office. By the time of French’s article, that investigation was closed. Although several people were convicted of misdeeds, Archer was not among them.
Here is how French described the Archer search:
The officer or agent in charge demanded that Cindy sit on the couch, but she wanted to get up and get a cup of coffee. ‘I told him this was my house and I could do what I wanted.’ Wrong thing to say. ‘This made the agent in charge furious. He towered over me with his finger in my face and yelled like a drill sergeant that I either do it his way or he would handcuff me.’
They wouldn’t let her speak to a lawyer … all the while the police searched her house, making a mess, and — according to Cindy — leaving her “dead mother’s belongings strewn across the basement floor in a most disrespectful way.” Then they left, carrying with them only a cellphone and a laptop.
Fortunately for those of us interested in learning what really happened, Archer sued members of the Milwaukee District Attorney office for damages in federal court. In response to claims which echoed those in French’s article, the investigators being sued submitted a record of the Archer search. Most compelling were an audio recording and photos of her home at the end of the search. These completely contradicted Archer’s claims, publicized by French, as I’ve previously written.
In response to this evidence that contradicted his original article, French published a sort-of correction, which he acknowledged that the investigator from the Milwaukee DA “is indeed unfailingly polite on the tape,” that he “did in fact advise her of her right to an attorney,” and that the Miranda warnings were in fact read. However, this correction is extraordinarily grudging. Most notably, he asserted that the tape only covered a portion of the search and the abusive behavior must have occurred outside that time period.
Following the release of the tape and other evidence, Archer’s submitted a radically revised complaint. Notably, it made no mention of any supposed tape gaps.
French himself seems to be a victim of the very syndrome he identifies; as a partisan, he was far too ready to accept claims that support his preconception that Democrats and liberals are evil. He ignored warning signals against jumping to conclusions, such as:
- The fact that the claims were based only on people with a stake in the controversy—those subject to the searches and the lawyers.
- Only one of the people taking part in the Archer search was from the Milwaukee DA office; a number of other agencies participated, including the FBI.
- Particularly in the second John Doe investigation, a number of the participants had Republican connections, including the special prosecutors, some of the retired judges in the Government Accountability Board, and two district attorneys.
- In fact, as described by French and other conservative writers, the rights of people who were subject to the searches were violated, but none, other than Archer, sued. This might be a signal that, as with Archer, the evidence wouldn’t support their claims.
In his recent interview with Vox, French acknowledges how the partisan bubble can convince people the other side is pure evil and the most important goal is winning. This bubble infects the judiciary. Federal Judge Rudolph Randa and the four justices who voted to shut down the second John Doe investigation–Michael Gableman, Patience Roggensack, Annette Ziegler and David Prosser—saw no need to hold a hearing before declaring that the subpoenas and search warrants issued by the John Doe judge were executed in an abusive manner. Justice Ziegler even quoted stories by French and other conservative writers — which we now know were quite inaccurate — to support the court’s conclusion.
That the Wisconsin Supreme Court shut the door on the John Doe investigation in the absence of any testimony or factual findings is indicative of the collapse of the analytical process upon which the justice system relies. While French is critical of Trump and Trumpism—the belief that winning is everything—he helped to create fertile ground for Trump.
Liberals should be careful about falling into the same trap.