The Harvard literary scholar Philip Fisher coined the phrase “nightmare envy” to describe the peculiar desire among intellectuals living comfortably in the West to experience the real struggles of people elsewhere.
As President Donald Trump’s first year ends with successes in both foreign and domestic policy, Democrats and #NeverTrump Republicans are plagued by “nightmare envy,” since the dictatorship they warned about has failed to materialize.
This week, for instance, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) said: “I am concerned that the President of the United States is systematically trying to shut down every possible branch of government but the presidency … You’ve got him attacking the judiciary, you have him attacking the CIA, you have him attacking the Department of Justice, the FBI. I mean, this is the conduct of someone who could become a tyrant if we don’t step in and speak out against him.”
Likewise, Barack Obama’s former political adviser David Axelrod appeared on CNN’s State of the Union to defend his former boss’s use of a Nazi analogy to warn of the dangers of Trump’s America. “Elections happen and policies change, And that is democracy. But democracy also depends on sustaining our institutions … and what you see now is a president who delivers hammer blows again and again to fundamental institutions of our democracy,” he said.
There is no doubt that President Trump has attacked several individuals running American institutions, both public and private. This week, for example, he attacked FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for apparent conflicts of interest, owing to the fact that his wife, a Democrat, received hundreds of thousands of dollars for her (ultimately unsuccessful) state legislative campaign from Clinton allies while Hillary Clinton was under investigation.
But that is entirely different from attacking the FBI itself. Earlier this month, President Trump addressed the FBI’s graduation ceremony: “I am here not only to congratulate you, but to honor you for your courage and for your devotion. And I want you to know that with me as your President, America’s police will have a true friend and loyal champion in the White House.” (Trump added, in his usual style: “More loyal than anyone else can be, I tell you.”)
Speier and Axelrod fail or refuse to distinguish between attacks on institutions and attacks on the people running them badly. Likewise, journalists — who are almost uniformly Democrats, and anti-Trump — accuse the president of attacking press freedom in general when he attacks “fake news.” Usually, the prime culprits in “fake news” (ahem! CNN) are the most adamant in their newfound love for the First Amendment (the press part, not the religion part).
The reality is that Democrats were silent, at best, when Obama actually attacked our institutions — when he usurped the Senate’s power to review treaties, and even to control its own calendar; when he defied the courts in imposing an oil drilling ban in the Gulf of Mexico; when he re-wrote the Obamacare law without the approval of Congress; when he spent money Congress never allocated; when he suspended immigration law enforcement; and on and on.
As for the media, even journalists who hate Trump admit he is more accessible than his predecessor. Obama continued to show his contempt for the press this week when he gave his first post-presidential interview to… Prince Harry.
Those who claim Trump is attacking institutions are projecting: they have already shown that their utopian agendas admit no constitutional boundaries. In their contrived nightmare, they are revealing their own desires.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.