President Trump’s defenders have constructed elaborate defenses for his multitudinous violations of laws and political norms. Holman Jenkins Jr., the longtime Wall Street Journal editorial writer and columnist, has crafted a comprehensive rationale for defending Trump that renders every case-by-case rationale superfluous. Jenkins argues that the only ethics in politics and governing is triumphing over your partisan enemies.
Jenkins and his Journal editorial page colleagues have mounted a characteristically unyielding defense of Trump on the Russia scandal. The FBI is biased, Trump has done nothing wrong on Russia, and so on. But what makes Jenkins’s argument so extraordinary is that it does not rely on this, or any particular set of facts, being true.
First, Jenkins describes the Russia scandal as partisan. He implicitly acknowledges that the FBI (whose staffers lean rightward) is not partisan in the traditional sense, but this doesn’t matter, because many of its normally Republican staffers dislike Trump: “To the extent that top leaders of the Obama FBI or intelligence agencies were hostile to Donald Trump, it was not on partisan or ideological grounds, but because they thought him singularly unsuited to be president.”
Some Republican FBI staffers personally consider Trump unfit for office. Ergo, the conflict is partisan. From here, Jenkins winds through some discursive observations before arriving at his astonishing thesis:
In any case, you are not a partisan to realize that partisan opportunism, more than any real evidence of a Trump conspiracy with Mr. Putin, drives the Russia narrative. Every president, including Donald Trump, has a duty to fight for his political existence. In our two-party system, where the parties serve as a check on each other, Republicans have a duty to help him mount a defense against those who would destroy him, at least until they decide the partisan cost of Mr. Trump exceeds the benefit.
Did Trump’s campaign cooperate with a Russian intelligence attack on his opponent? Have Trump or his allies lied about their contacts or obstructed the inquiry? None of that matters. Indeed, it would not seem to matter to Jenkins if Trump succeeds in his oft-stated goal of making federal law enforcement personally loyal to him, and directing it exclusively to investigate his enemies while protecting himself and his allies. He does not even bother to mention any caveats to this principle, such as that it would be going too far to cover up crimes or prosecute your opponents on trumped-up charges. Trump’s only duty is to fight for his existence, and his party’s only duty is to defend him to the maximal extent of its partisan self-interest.
Philosophically, this is quite chilling. It does not even rise to the level of fascism, which at least pretends to create a moral framework for a politics of zero-sum domination. It is the anti-ethos of mafiosi and serial killers. In any case, Jenkins is sure to defend any and all steps Trump and his party take to defend themselves, but he shouldn’t pretend that his position on those steps has any bearing on his support. He’s blurted out his belief that Republicans are entitled to do literally anything it takes.