by Anthony Esolen
Back in the early months of 2016, I was invited to an Ivy League school by one of the world’s most honored scholars of Dante, to give a lecture commemorating the 750th anniversary of the poet’s birth. The lecture was that year’s entry in a series financed by one of the professor’s friends, a former student and a high-stakes industrialist. He was also the big financier of Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign, and one of his closest advisers.
The next morning the three of us had breakfast. My host and the financier knew each other very well, and knew also whereof they were speaking, so my place was to listen and ask questions. We began to talk about the Rubio campaign, and that tangle of tripwires and tentacles known as the Middle East, where the financier had done plenty of work. So, too, did the Clinton Foundation, as he told us, and he was in a position to know, because he was acquainted with all the players.
He said it was an open secret that the Clintons played a tag-team game to squeeze money from foreign nationals. Bill would go to, say, Franistan, to wine and dine the Franistani defense secretary or the head of the nationalized Franistani oil industry, and then enjoy a week or so of debauchery in the mark’s company. Call it “bonding.” He would strong-arm the Franistani fellow into “contributing” big bucks to the Clinton Foundation, in return for special treatment from our state department. Once the terms of the deal were set, Hillary would fly in at the end to sign the papers.
If what he said was true, I have no doubt that Hillary Clinton could justify it in the interminable cellars of her mind, on the grounds that such deals were in the interests of America and the world, which interests happened nicely to coincide with her own boundless ambition and avarice.
Was it true? It had the ring of truth to me. It fit well with everything that has been written about Clinton l’homme et la femme, going back to their days in Arkansas, the state he loved as his home, the state she endured, with the smoldering impatience, I suppose, of an ambitious young actress enduring strip joints and slobbering impresarios. One must always look toward the end, after all. Nor was the financier alone in his observations.
It is remarkable that no one ever has said about the Clintons what any ally would have affirmed and any opponent conceded about Calvin Coolidge: that such underhand dealings were not in their characters, that they had too strong a sense of honor, too high a standard of moral action, too deep a commitment to the strict procedures of law to become no better than high-flown shakedown artists and racketeers.
I notice a similar omission these last two weeks since the election. No one says that Joe Biden and his party would not cheat, because they would prefer to lose clean than to win dirty. The line is that there is no proof that they cheated.
I find this strange. Imagine that someone accuses a policeman of having deserted his comrades in a gunfight. Would anyone think it a sufficient defense if he should claim that there was no proof? Imagine that someone accuses you of adultery. Is it a sufficient defense to demand the photographs? Are we so far beyond hypocrisy that no one bothers to feign outrage at what for ordinary people in healthy times would be felt as an attack upon their sacred honor?
I am making no claim here as to fact. But I do wish to set the initial conditions. The honor of the party and its standard-bearer can be gauged by such things as their turning the IRS into a weapon against conservative nonprofit organizations; and no one has gone to prison for it. Or by their running guns to Mexican drug cartels, in the hope that the ensuing chaos and bloodshed would force the hand of Americans still “clinging,” as former President Obama so smugly put it, to their firearms. Or by their attempted coup against President Trump, using a bogus dossier bought and approved by Hillary Clinton and her campaign, without their troubling to tell the warrant-issuing judge where the dossier had come from.
I will not say that the party that would do those things would do absolutely anything, though their foolishness about Trump’s supposedly being a “Nazi” appears to be rhetoric steamed up to justify bad behavior that people want to engage in for reasons other than the noble and patriotic.
I am aware that Donald. Trump is no saint. I hold no brief for the Republican Party, either. This I will say: to the extent that any party and its adherents are political creatures in the common use of those terms, to the same extent should we expect from them all the vicious deeds that do the dirty work of ambition, or that are set aflame by partisan irrationality and hatred.
Of course, politics has never been as white as snow. My old issues of The Century Magazine (circa 1875-1920) are full of articles and editorials about how to clean up municipal, state, and national politics. One proposal was to destroy the spoils system by making it impossible for the president to cashier public servants as soon as he came to power.
Such a move would be counterproductive now. Our problem is not only that Washington is a fever swamp of dishonor, patronage, and protection. It is also that Washington is host to an occupying government using the constitutional government as its sock puppet.
Nobody, when Theodore Roosevelt was a young firebrand in New York, could have foreseen how the national government would grow so powerful, so entrenched, and so embroiled in every feature of an ordinary person’s life. Jabba the State being what it is, corruption must become the rule of the day. After all, we are dealing with immense power and wealth, little exposure, and no reliable and severe penalties for malfeasance.
Even if men were saints and women were angels, the vast networks of the occupying government, the so-called administrative state, would wrest them toward greed and ambition; and men are not saints and women are not angels.
There is not, nor can there ever be, a culture of honor engendered by such a thing. For honor, if for no other benefit to the common good, the thing’s all-invasive strands must be unwound and extracted, one by one.
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Anthony Esolen is a professor and writer in residence at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts, in Warner, New Hampshire. Dr. Esolen is a senior editor for Touchstone Magazine and a contributing editor for Chronicles. He is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine and the author of many books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013). His most recent books are Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching (Sophia Institute Press, 2014); Defending Marriage (Tan Books, 2014); Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books, 2015); Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church (Tan Books, 2016); Out of the Ashes (Regnery, 2017); Nostalgia (Regnery, 2018); and Sex and the Unreal City (Ignatius, 2020).