Our problems remain epistemological.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Letter to the Editor responding to David Frum’s ‘It Wasn’t a Hoax’

Seth Barrett Tillman, Associate Professor

Maynooth University Department of Law

26 November 2021

The Atlantic


RE: David Frum, ‘It Wasn’t a Hoax’ The Atlantic (25 November 2021, 7:00 AM ET), <https://tinyurl.com/ymsjzx7j>.

Dear Editors,

David Frum is dead wrong. The issue is not now and never has been: Did Trump have contacts with Russians?” Of course he did: this was known by one-and-all during the campaign. The issue was whether Trump’s contacts were criminal—or otherwise sufficiently suspicious that they should have resulted in the FBI and the U.S. security services’ investigating candidate Trump. The answer to that question is no.

Frum’s answer is yes. Frum writes:

At crucial moments in the 2016 election, Trump publicly took positions that broke with past Republican policy and served no apparent domestic political purpose, but that supported Putin’s foreign-policy goals: scoffing at NATO support for Estonia, denigrating allies such as Germany, and endorsing Britain’s exit from the European Union. (emphases added)

First, “scoffing at NATO,” “denigrating allies such as Germany” and “endorsing Britain’s exit from” the EU—all are First Amendment protected speech. Indeed, they are core First Amendment protected political speech. Such expressions of opinion can never form a permissible basis for investigating a citizen. To allow the expression of political opinion form a basis for investigating a citizen chills speech, drives policy-making discussions out of the public realm, and most importantly, empowers the security apparatus, in effect, to put its thumb on the scale of our elections. It is telling that Frum faults Trump for “publicly” expressing his views.


Second, a candidate’s breaking with past policy choices is precisely why new candidates come forward and why we have elections. A candidate’s having a public position at variance from prior policy can never form a permissible basis for investigating a citizen. To allow the expression of novel political opinion form a basis for investigating a citizen ends meaningful democracy. That’s why we have elections: to choose between competing, different policies.


Finally, Trump’s views were quite mainstream among rank-and-file Republicans. [i] “Scoffing at NATO.” Ambassador Jean Kirkpatrick expressed the view—years and years ago—that should the Soviet Union’s occupation of Eastern Europe end, then NATO and its Atlantic-focused mission would end with it. The United States’ traditional goal for NATO (and our other international security commitments) was to help democracies, and nations on their way to establishing democracy, oppose world communism. It was not to oppose Russia as a mere regional power. [ii] “Denigrating allies.” Many mainstream Republicans took and continue to take the view that Germany and other NATO members free ride on our defense establishment. Germany has consistently failed to meet its 2% GDP defense spending target. [iii] “Brexit.” As to the United States’ position in regard Brexit: U.K. voters voted for it. So Americans, including Trump, get to support it too. It is called standing with democracy.


Frum’s position amounts to this: If you express the wrong political views in public—by which he means, political views he disagrees with—that is a reason for the government to investigate you. Frum is not embarrassed by his position. Millions of Americans agree with Frum. He and they are entirely wrong. And the continuing viability of American and Western democracy depends on changing the hearts and minds of those millions.





Seth Barrett Tillman


Seth Barrett Tillman, Letter to the Editor, Responding to David Frum’s ‘It Wasn’t a Hoax,’ New Reform Club (Nov. 26, 2021, 4:21 AM), <https://reformclub.blogspot.com/2021/11/letter-to-editor-responding-to-david.html>; 

See also Seth Barrett Tillman, Bob Bauer’s Free Speech Problem and OursNew Reform Club (July 23, 2017, 10:36 AM), <http://tinyurl.com/y7ahouep>; 

Seth Barrett Tillman, This Is What Is Wrong with the American JudiciaryNew Reform Club (Mar. 16, 2017, 4:23 AM), <http://tinyurl.com/z4q9f8v>; 


Unknown said...

Seth Barrett Tillman, thank you for setting the record straight - and understand that millions of Americans agree with you!

Unknown said...

An aside: David Frum was a Canadian national working for George W. Bush.
He took the Oath of citizenship on September 11, 2007.
I at least question whether he took this Oath with full agreement - he clearly believes he's part of a certain class of Americans who are better than the rest, and that our laws should be bent or broken if those outside his class get "uppity" and try to enforce those laws and rules on members of his own class.
He should return to Canada, where aristocracy is the traditional form of government.

bearman said...

A child could have refuted such a intellectually lightweight and dishonest piece. Frum simply used lies and misdirection to make up his infantile article.

Lexington Green said...

It’s like we won the Cold War, but the evil spirit of the Soviet union took possession of the United States. David Frum is literally saying that if you deviate from the elite view on political matters, the police apparatus of the federal government should be used to destroy you. You can’t get much more Soviet than that!

RHSwan said...

Since taking office, Joe Biden has taken steps that made Putin and his friends millions of dollars. I guess following Frum's logic, Biden should be investigated.

Brien O'Toole said...

According to widely accepted standards for disingenuous advocacy, even a strawman argument needs enough hay to fill out the dummy stand-in. This wouldn't fill a sock as even a 20 second perusal of the actual argument would show.


edsheppa said...

Oh, those millions of hearts and minds must be changed? Fat chance. The American Experiment is over. It was a promising failure. Secession is the only way to keep it from being an utter failure - use the lessons learned to make a new, freedom loving country.

Brien O'Toole said...

I'm sure no succession predicated on Trumpian fantasies could succeed. Movements that begin in a lie are inherently unstable not only because there's no standard of truth around which people can assemble, but because they propel themselves to the outer reaches of incoherence as would be leaders vie w/ one another for prominence by getting ever more florid.