Defending the Indefensible: Ann Althouse on Trump’s Blood Libel

There’s always something to be learned from watching seemingly intelligent people defending the indefensible.

Ann Althouse teaches law at the University of Wisconsin, which implies that her IQ must be above room temperature. (Her moral standing, given her at-best-ambivalence about torture (oh, I’m sorry, that’s merely “harsh interrogation techniques”)  is another matter.)  But her hatred of liberals and liberalism is so vehement that she supports Gov. Scott Walker, despite (because of?) his attacks on the university where she teaches. Still, you’d think that Donald Trump would be a bridge too far for anyone not actually a mouth-breather.

But pundits gotta pund, and apparently Althouse regards the common-sense approach adopted by many others on the Right – denouncing Trump as No True Conservative – too obvious, or insufficiently likely to raise the blood pressure of the people she despises.

So she turns to the sort of silly pettifogging that characterizes really bad legal pleading, which puts great weight on distinctions-without-a-difference. She also makes use of one of her standard tricks: substituting not-very-well-done literary criticism of political statements for any sort of attempt to appreciate the moral dimensions of the arguments they embody.

The current case involves Donald Trump’s strongly implied but weasel-worded claim that Barack Obama is an ISIS supporter or sympathizer. That of course is not merely absurd but disgusting. Althouse, however, had no complaint about it that she wanted to share with her readers: she merely noted that the original Washington Post headline restated Trump’s nasty implication a bit more explicitly than suited Althouse’s delicate taste.

After lots of other commenters – but not Althouse – criticized Trump for that outrageous blood libel, Trump tried to defend himself by pointing to a Breitbart “news story” that points out what everyone knows: that some of the opposition to the hideous, genocidal Alawite regime in Syria headed by the Assad family consisted of Sunni extremists, some of them affiliated with al Qaeda or ISIS. Inevitably, then some of the military aid the U.S. gave the opposition wound up going to bad guys, which is why the Obama Administration had to draw back from a full-out attempt to get rid of Assad. (Formally, it’s no different from the problem Carter and Reagan faced in trying to dislodge the Soviet-backed Afghan government in 1979-83 by backing the mujaheddin resistance, of which the Taliban was an important element.)

Trump triumphantly pointed to the story that Clinton as Secretary of State was warned of the problem as vindication of his claim that the Obama Administration is supporting ISIS terrorism such as the massacre in Orlando. Of course that’s nonsensical, unless you want to say that Ronald Reagan was an al-Qaeda sympathizer.

Althouse leaped in to the fray, of course on Trump’s side.

It’s ridiculous that the media that support Hillary merely attack Trump for pointing at stories that suggest that Hillary/Obama had bad judgment, didn’t know what they were doing, or worse. The media have left the opening for Trump to take these easy shots, and now, when he does, they seem to think it’s enough to say Trump isn’t nice or Trump throws out inconclusive evidence and invites us to think for ourselves and ask questions.

Note the “or worse,” carefully ambiguous as to whether the suggestion is Trump’s or Althouse’s. As to the notion that “Trump … invites us to think for ourselves and ask questions,” that’s a remarkably … well, let’s just say “charitable” … way to put the situation.

Just to be clear: there’s no evidence whatsoever that Clinton and Obama had bad judgement, didn’t know what they were doing, “or worse.” The evidence is that they were in a situation, and knew they were in a situation, where the key local opponents of a genocidal monster were themselves hideously awful, and faced a difficult choice. And Trump is lying (again). And Althouse is helping (still).

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.