July 30, 2022 Wayne Northey

Comments On: The Claremont Institute triumphed in the Trump years. Then came Jan. 6.

After Trump helped revolutionize Claremont from a minor academic outfit to a key Washington player, the think tank is facing blowback for standing by lawyer John Eastman after he counseled Trump on overturning the 2020 election.

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Updated July 30, 2022 | Published July 24, 2022

image above: Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605, first edition), by Miguel de Cervantes, originally El ingenioso hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha

Even errors of fact and framing, ideology or analysis, are different from what Fox News hosts do, which is attempt to get their viewers to believe things they themselves know are false. Fox News understands that its success depends on maintaining a fantasy world, rather than doing anything to disturb it. This is why some of its most marquee personalities, who shared the same horror as most other Americans at the events of January 6, caked on their makeup, stared into the camera, and lied to the people who trust them the most. What makes Fox News unique is not that it is conservative, but that its on-air personalities understand that telling lies is their job.Adam Serwer in Fox Hosts Knew—And Lied Anyway

WN: The institute highlighted below is an “intellectual” version of Trump’s crass and constant attempts at bending reality1 to what fitted/fits his pure narcissism.

They do not do research at the Institute to discover truth. They instead start with a certain wishful version of reality, and like Trump, try to bend it in that direction. Criminal investigators tend to do it too: it is called “tunnel vision.” 2 Like the proverbial Procrustean Bed, where Procrustes was a rogue smith and bandit from Attica who attacked people by stretching them or cutting off their legs, so as to force them to fit the size of an iron bed.

It is also called circular reasoning, whereby the unexamined premise(s) dictate their corroboration.3

Like the patient who thought he was dead. The doctor gives him a book about what dead people do. At the next appointment, the doctor asks if dead people bleed. The patient declares a definitive “No!” The doctor whips out a needle, jabs it into the patient’s finger; and when the finger spurts blood, he declares aghast: “Dead men do bleed after all!”

Ultimately this kind of deliberate subterfuge fails. For in God’s world, reality is reality. Truth is truth. Facts are facts.

The Institute is ever in pursuit of Kellyanne Conway‘s famous imaginary “alternative facts.” Theirs is a tilting at windmills, à la Don Quijote immortalized in an eponymous epic novel by Miguel de Cervantes. We read of the protagonist in the Wikipedia article:

He recruits a simple farmer, Sancho Panza, as his squire, who often employs a unique, earthy wit in dealing with Don Quixote’s rhetorical monologues on knighthood, already considered old-fashioned at the time, and representing the most droll realism in contrast to his master’s idealism. In the first part of the book, Don Quixote does not see the world for what it is and prefers to imagine that he is living out a knightly story that’s meant for the annals of all time. (Emphasis added)

There is no doubt that Cervantes wrote about Donald Trump. But the novel is wistful; whereas Trump’s and coterie’s will to dominate are deadly (in every meaning of the term) serious. So I say in reverse: Caveat “Trumptor”!

Please also see this. Necessary Farce about The Donald. Sometimes crude, and though dated, as valid today as then:

excerpts:

CLAREMONT, Calif. — Early in 2016, as Donald Trump’s march toward the Republican presidential nomination gathered the air of inevitability, alumni of a conservative think tank nestled here at the base of Southern California’s San Gabriel Mountains received an email with a tough question: Was it time for supporters of the Claremont Institute to help make Trump president?

“I’d sooner cut off my arm with a rusty spoon!” replied Nathan Harden, an editor at RealClearEducation, an offshoot of the political site RealClearPolitics, according to emails obtained by The Washington Post.

Others were interested, however. “I’m graduating this May and would very much like to get involved,” wrote Darren Beattie, a philosophy graduate student who would later work in Trump’s White House, until he was fired in 2018, after revelations that he had attended a conference with white nationalists. Harden declined to comment. Beattie did not respond to requests for comment.

The next four years would revolutionize the role of the Claremont Institute and a handful of other intellectual institutions that preach an America-first, originalist ideology. The institute — along with its journal, the Claremont Review of Books, as well as related journals such as American Greatness, and allied organizations, including Michigan’s Hillsdale College — gained influence during Trump’s tenure, funneling ideas and personnel to the administration despite Trump’s lifelong suspicion of academics and other experts.

Claremont blossomed under Trump just as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute had during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, adding a Washington office and expanding its recruitment of conservative activists and sheriffs to study its ideas.

But now, as the congressional investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol reaches its zenith, the role played by one of Claremont’s leaders, John Eastman, has divided its followers and raised some of the same questions posed in that 2016 email: How far should scholars go to put their ideas into action?

As dozens of courts rejected Eastman’s arguments, he fell from grace in many quarters. At Chapman University, where he was a professor and former dean of the law school, more than 140 faculty members signed a letter demanding he be disciplined. The university quickly announced his resignation.

But the Claremont Institute, where he sits on the board of directors, stood by Eastman, keeping him on as head of its Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, a position for which he was paid $120,000 in 2020, tax records show. An institute statement condemned “widespread lies peddled by malicious domestic political opponents” and decried a “blackout on the Claremont Institute or on John.”

That statement belied the debates and tensions that have persisted for more than a year, as the institute remains divided and other conservative journals ask what “happened to the Claremont Institute?”

To some who have gone through institute programs, its trajectory is less surprising. Several former Claremont fellows said Eastman’s legal strategy drew on doctrine that for many years has been at the heart of the institute’s politics.

Don Quixote does not see the world for what it is and prefers to imagine that he is living out a knightly story that’s meant for the annals of all time.

“How on Earth does Eastman get to this point of being ready to jettison the Constitution?” said one former fellow, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid alienating friends at the institute. “It’s by pushing deeper into this idea of natural rights, which justify any means necessary to preserve the republic. … That’s how Claremont goes from this quirky intellectual outfit to one of the main intellectual architects of trying to overthrow the republic.”

Charles Kesler — a senior fellow at the institute, editor of the Claremont Review of Books and a government professor at Claremont McKenna College, which is located nearby but is not related to the think tank — said the institute is split between some “who continue to believe that the election was stolen and some who have denied that from the beginning.”

Many of the institute’s leaders remain close with Eastman, but Kesler said: “I’m persuaded that John was wrong in the advice he gave Trump. … Whether his actions will hurt us or not, I’m not sure. It’s awkward and it raises some questions.”

Eastman did not respond to requests for comment.

But the institute’s view of the country echoed Trump’s in basic ways: Its scholars preach an America-first approach that is suspicious of international entanglements (they opposed the Iraq War) and joined Trump in embracing the long-standing view among Christian evangelicals that America was in spiritual and cultural decline.

Ralph Rossum, who taught Eastman at Claremont Graduate University, which is unaffiliated with the institute, said Eastman’s notion that Pence could overturn the election result left him “extraordinarily disappointed.”

“His reputation is in tatters, and the institute is badly damaged,” Rossum said.

Institute leaders, however, have been unwilling to speak out against Eastman because of long-standing philosophical agreement and enduring friendships, he added. “They are grappling with how to gracefully separate themselves from him,” Rossum said.

‘Know where your loyalty lies’

For much of the Claremont Institute’s history, the idea of embracing a presidential campaign and placing its people in White House jobs seemed far-fetched. Founded in 1979 by students of conservative political philosopher Harry V. Jaffa, the institute steered clear of policy analysis, preferring to focus on “deeper philosophical developments, the causes of our deep political discontents,” according to Kesler.

But by the 2010s, many at the institute had come to believe that America had fallen into precipitous cultural decline, accelerated, in their view, by the left’s demands for racial and gender equality. The institute “evolved in the direction of impatience,” Kesler said. “We have a legitimacy crisis in America. We’re one nation with two ideas of our Constitution — the conservatives’ view of the Founders’ vision, and the liberal notion of a living, evolving Constitution — and it’s not sustainable to have two constitutions governing one nation.”

Was it time for supporters of the Claremont Institute to help make Trump president?

“I’d sooner cut off my arm with a rusty spoon!” replied Nathan Harden, an editor at RealClearEducation, an offshoot of the political site RealClearPolitics, according to emails obtained by The Washington Post.

Then came Trump.

Their rhetorical styles were not in sync, but the institute’s view of the country echoed Trump’s in basic ways: Its scholars preach an America-first approach that is suspicious of international entanglements (they opposed the Iraq War) and joined Trump in embracing the long-standing view among Christian evangelicals that America was in spiritual and cultural decline. The institute and the Trump administration also shared a loathing for the “administrative state,” the term they both used to deride the federal regulatory bureaucracy, and encouraged a flavor of patriotism that rejected the critical approach to American history dominant in some academic and media circles.

The institute came to fill the ranks of its fellowship programs, which admit about 30 people a year, with pro-Trump influencers, such as Charlie Kirk, the founder and president of Turning Point USA; Jack Posobiec, who once promoted the false Pizzagate conspiracy theory; and Raheem Kassam, a [Steve] Bannon acolyte who edited the London edition of Breitbart News when Bannon was executive chairman, and has co-hosted Bannon’s “War Room” show, though he has appeared on the program only twice in the past six months.

Meanwhile, some institute leaders adopted a rougher rhetorical style, seemingly inspired in part by Trump. [Ryan P. Williams], the institute’s president, launches Twitter fusillades about “tyrannical left-liberalism” and “unmanly liberalism” and shares GOP talking points labeling testimony about Trump’s conduct on Jan. 6 a “hoax.” Williams was awarded a National Humanities Medal by Trump in 2019.

Rossum, the Claremont McKenna professor who is close to many institute leaders, said, “They’re not cultural warriors, they’re political warriors.”

The pivotal moment for many at the institute was its publication of a 2016 article by Michael Anton called “The Flight 93 Election,” which argued that the United States was in such dire trouble that Americans had to do whatever it took to grab control over the country from liberals and social reformers — and especially from Hillary Clinton.

The Claremont Institute crowd “saw Trump as a vehicle for their ambitions,” argued William Kristol, editor at large of The Bulwark and a lifelong conservative who became a prominent voice of the “Never Trump” movement. “They always had a streak of radicalism, which could be provocative and interesting.”

But in recent years, Kristol added, “they had a big impact in legitimizing the demagoguery, the mean-spirited willingness to demonize outsider groups.”

Still, William Voegeli, a senior fellow of the institute and senior editor at the Claremont Review of Books who wrote a response to Anton’s “Flight 93” warning of Trump’s dangers to conservatism, said he has never been prevented from expressing his misgivings about Trump in institute publications. He has called Trump “volatile and vindictive … lightly informed and unjustifiably self-assured.” Voegeli said in an interview at his home in California that he would prefer the GOP choose a different nominee in 2024, but added that he would back Trump over a Democrat.

Graduates of the institute’s Publius fellowship and similar programs end up in a wide array of Washington roles. “They’re trying to train people to take a kind of extreme populist right-wing ideology back with them to Washington,” said [David Swartz], the Boston University sociologist.

Former fellows include Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), right-wing filmmaker and commentator Dinesh D’Souza, Fox News host Laura Ingraham, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat and conservative podcaster Ben Shapiro.

After Jan. 6, the institute’s fellowships still attract prominent conservatives, including Kirk of Turning Point USA; Anthony Sabatini, a member of the Florida House of Representatives and an ally of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R); and Jack Murphy, a podcaster who runs a men’s group called Liminal Order.

The institute set up a Washington office last year, announcing that the Center for the American Way of Life would push for a “restored Right,” proposing to counter “radical feminism, and globalism” with “mental and moral toughness.”

Institute leaders say that as they have expanded their role in politics, they have stayed true to the ideas of their mentor, Jaffa, who advised Barry Goldwater in his 1964 presidential campaign and wrote the Arizona senator’s famous statement that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”

Some who were close to Jaffa, who died in 2015 and was a scholar of Abraham Lincoln, see matters differently.

Charles C. Johnson, a former intern and fellow at the institute who studied under Jaffa, wrote the 2016 notice asking if former associates of the institute wanted to help elect Trump. Once a right-wing provocateur who has since stepped away from those endeavors, Johnson said the institute today has “little to do” with the worldview of his former professor. “I regret my involvement,” he said, stressing in particular the institute’s rhetoric about a “cold civil war.”

Jaffa would have been disappointed but unsurprised by the institute’s fealty to Trump, according to one of his sons, Philip Jaffa, who said his late father had grown disturbed by the institute’s teachings.

Philip Jaffa said his father had harsh words for the institute, which he “repeated endlessly those last few years.”

Please click on: The Claremont Institute triumphed in the Trump years.

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Footnotes
  1. See for exampleNPR, , September 9, 2020: Trump Consistently Bends Reality, Sells His Narrative In Interviews For Woodward Book, Rage. We read:

    Three days later, urged on by [Robert O’Brien, the national security adviser (Trump’s fourth)] and [O’Brien’s principal deputy, Matt Pottinger] and a chorus of scientists including Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Dr. Robert Redfield, Trump ordered a shutdown of travel from China to the United States. He would later claim, in interviews with Woodward and elsewhere, that he made this move in defiance of his closest advisers. Woodward has Trump saying there had been a score of advisers present and “everyone in that room except me did not want to have that ban.”[]

  2. See: The Devastating Effect of “Tunnel Vision” in Criminal Investigations, by , Part 4 of a series on: The Common Causes of Wrongful Convictions.[]
  3. The Pyrrhonist philosopher Sextus Empiricus described the problem of circular reasoning as “the reciprocal trope“:

    The reciprocal trope occurs when what ought to be confirmatory of the object under investigation needs to be made convincing by the object under investigation; then, being unable to take either in order to establish the other, we suspend judgement about both.[5][]

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.

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