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Wall Street Journal Trump’s Bonfire of Pieties .pdf

Original filename: Wall Street Journal_Trump’s Bonfire of Pieties.pdf
Title: Trump’s Bonfire of Pieties - WSJ
Author: Chris Byllott

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Trump’s Bonfire of Pieties
Will his nasty rhetoric shake things up or crack their already shaky foundations?

This combination of file photos created on January 16, 2017 shows then Republican US presidential candidate Donald
Trump (November 10, 2015 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L, March 14, 2016 in Berlin).

Jan. 16, 2017 7:02 p.m. ET

This column has previously observed that few things are as dangerous to democracy as a
demagogue with a half-valid argument. The president-elect has offered at least a halfdozen such arguments, and that’s merely in the last week.
First we had Donald Trump’s press conference attack on CNN’s Jim “You Are Fake
News” Acosta. Then a salvo against the pharmaceutical industry, which, he said, is
“getting away with murder.” Mr. Trump also accused intelligence agencies of leaking a
smear against him, asking in a tweet: “Are we living in Nazi Germany?”
This was followed by an interview with British and German newspapers, in which Mr.
Trump called NATO “obsolete,” dismissed the European Union as “basically a vehicle for
Germany,” and threatened to slap a 35% tariff on BMW for wanting to build a plant in
Oh, and the feud with John Lewis. The congressman from Georgia had accused Mr.
Trump of being illegitimately elected on account of Russian meddling. Mr. Trump fired
back on Twitter that Mr. Lewis should spend his time fixing his “crime infested,” “falling
apart” district in Atlanta.
Say this for Mr. Trump: He has no use for pieties. Mr. Lewis is routinely described in the
press as a “civil rights icon.” The next president could not care less. Wall Street Journal
Republicans believe that business decisions should be left to business. As of Friday those
businesses will do as Mr. Trump says. NATO? Too old. The EU? Not salvageable. The
fourth estate? A fraud. The folks at Langley? A new Gestapo.
All this baits Mr. Trump’s critics (this columnist not least) into fits of moral outrage,
which is probably his intention: Nobody in life or literature is more tedious than the
prig yelling, “Is nothing sacred anymore?” Liberals intent on spending the next four
years in a state of high-decibel indignation and constant panic are paving the way to Mr.
Trump’s re-election.
But the main reason the president-elect’s attacks stick is that they each have their
quotient of truth.
Mr. Trump is not wrong that NATO’s European members don’t carry their weight. He
isn’t wrong that the EU is in deep trouble no matter what he says. He isn’t wrong that

Mr. Lewis’s attack on the legitimacy of his election was out of line, or that the
congressman’s courage in the 1960s should not insulate him from criticism today. He
isn’t wrong that drug companies price-gouge.
Nor is he wrong to be infuriated by BuzzFeed’s publication of an unverified opposition
dossier regarding his Russia ties. He isn’t wrong, either, to suspect that outgoing CIA
Director John Brennan may have leaked that the president-elect had been briefed on
the contents of the dossier. In his previous incarnation as President Obama’s top
counterterrorism aide, Mr. Brennan developed a reputation as a leaker and spinner of
the first rank.
But the opposite of not wrong isn’t necessarily right. There’s a distinction between
“unverified” and “fake.” There’s a difference between BuzzFeed’s unethical decision to
publish the unredacted dossier and CNN’s appropriate efforts to report on what Mr.
Trump knew about it. To complain that our European allies don’t spend enough on
defense is one thing. To conclude that NATO is obsolete is a non sequitur, reminiscent of
the old joke about lousy food and small portions.
These aren’t just ordinary fallacies. They are a systematic effort to discredit a broad set
of foundational institutions, at home and abroad. The aim is not reform. It’s revolt.
Do mainstream journalists tend to have a liberal political bias? Sure. But when Mr.
Trump tags them as “the disgusting and corrupt media,” he is making a different point:
Down with the whole lot of them. Was Angela Merkel foolhardy to open Germany’s arms
to a million refugees in a year? She was, but with Mr. Trump it has become a pretext to
predict, and cheer, the end of the liberal order in Europe. It might be possible to dismiss
Mr. Trump’s “Nazi” smear of the intelligence community as another case of rhetorical
excess. Except that he has already made plain his indifference for intelligence briefings
and his disdain for judgments that don’t square with his policy goals or his personal
For supporters of the president-elect, all this may be a refreshing turn away from the
stale certainties of the Obama years. When things need shaking up, there usually isn’t a
nice way of doing it. A good result might be worth a hurtful word.
The optimistic scenario: Mr. Trump’s blasts will get NATO to spend real money on
weapons. Maybe they will also get intelligence officials to reconsider leaks against their
civilian masters, get companies to think harder about the social effects of their
decisions, and get editors to raise publication standards.
I fear another scenario. Mr. Trump’s genius for tearing things down will not be matched
by an ability to build things up. Half-valid points will not be made whole. In the bonfire
of discarded truisms and broken institutions will lie more than the failure of one man’s
Write bstephens@wsj.com.

Copyright ©2017 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved
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