by Will Lloyd
Tuesday, 15
December 2020
Reaction
18:13

Bill Barr, midwife to the dictatorship that was never born

Trump's attorney general had no desire to bring authoritarianism to America
by Will Lloyd
Lights, camera… Barr testifying on investigations into Russian interference with the 2016 election. Credit: Getty

When liberal profile writers and essayists surveyed Bill Barr this year, they saw a danger to the Republic. While Trump was lazy, stupid, and a vain pagan, Barr, his second attorney general, was known to be cerebral, ruthless and Catholic. Here was someone who might be capable of transforming the nation, executive order by executive order, into a genuine dictatorship. Writing for the New York Review of Books in November, Fintan O’Toole characterised Barr as an “extremist”:

What must be understood about Barr is that he is not a lawyer in the political arena. He is a political ideologue and operative who happens to function through the law. 
- Fintan O'Toole, New York Review of Books

Barr’s ultimate role, according to O’Toole, was to play midwife in “the transition from republican democracy to authoritarianism.” A ‘Danger to Democracy’ was the headline on a scare-quote stuffed profile of Barr in the Guardian. 

Another long-read from the Washington Post painted a broad brush portrait of Barr as the man who filled in the blanks of Trumpism. The garrulous President talked; his attorney general acted; the constitution was maimed. You can probably guess what the New Yorker‘s Barr profile was like. Over the summer, when the Atlantic was publishing all those novella-length essays about how Trump was plotting a coup, Barr figured, naturally, as the man who would bend, then break, the law to ensure the election was stolen.

And yet this week Bill Barr left the White House, having Trump’s election fraud claims no support whatsoever.

On December 1, Barr said that the Justice Department had not turned up any evidence of fraud “on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,” — pretty much the exact opposite of what anxious profile writers thought he would do.

In the end, the Barr saga was a miniature version of the 45th presidency. The long night of authoritarianism never fell. Instead, there was a sad, squalid, and (occasionally quite entertaining) game show occupying the White House — men like Barr were contestants, not conspirators. Some people, like Fintan O’Toole, took the game far too seriously. They should have known better.

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Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

Absurd article. Trump was least authoritarian president for some time. Biden/Harris will be incredibly authoritarian. And the Democrat governors and mayors etc in many states and cities are some of the most authoritarian people on the planet. Trump, essentially, is a libertarian.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Trump has some libertarian tendencies, but most libertarians are in favour of open borders; Trump is emphatically not so.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
1 year ago

Some libertarians are in favor of open borders but others see open borders as enforced integration that ignores the rights of property owners. Trump is in the second category.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
1 year ago

Surely that is to imply that the rights of property owners extend beyond their property?

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
1 year ago

Not at all. If you enter the country through private property, you are violating the rights of the owners. Plus open borders, at least from a libertarian perspective, amounts to state enforcement of unfettered immigration. Libertarians very much recognize the rights of free people to determine immigration parameters. It’s a mistake to believe that libertarians put the rights of immigrants ahead of the rights of citizens.

The pure libertarian view would say that if you want to sponsor an immigrant, bring him or her into your home, support them, feed them, help them find a job, you may do that. But you wouldn’t be able to demand that someone else do that as that would be authoritarian.

Daniel Björkman
Daniel Björkman
1 year ago

Yeah, that’s libertarianism for you. “You can do whatever you want! Unless it inconveniences me in any way, then it’s oppression.”

stephen f.
stephen f.
1 year ago

What exactly, do you believe?

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
1 year ago

I don’t think you grasp the concept of libertarianism. It’s about you doing what you want to do, not forcing others to do what you want to do. It’s about being left alone by the government. You opening your door and housing would be immigrants is about you doing something. Not forcing others to do the same. That’s authoritarian, not inconvenient.

rosie mackenzie
rosie mackenzie
1 year ago

I would say he was a nationalist as opposed to a globalist. Nationalists believe in nations, and borders, in the self determination of the nation; they believe in defending the nation and in furthering its prosperity. Nationalists set their own people above others. When borders are secure, and law and order established, when there is a rooted morality or religion, then liberty can flourish.

Nationalists have been demonised by globalists for all these things.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
1 year ago

All national leaders worldwide are essentially nationalists. Not one is proposing to eliminate the borders of their own country.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Yes. Certainly the most libertarian president in this or the last century.

Zachary Lerer
Zachary Lerer
1 year ago

Trump was not a libertarian.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
1 year ago
Reply to  Zachary Lerer

We will have to disagree, obviously.

rosie mackenzie
rosie mackenzie
1 year ago

While his enemies indulge themselves with these absurd and unoriginal fantasies, they have been plotting to put the country under real dictatorship. Massive electoral fraud and corruption, with added intimidation, have ensured that unless checked by the criminal justice system, America will become a one party state and then a failed state.

David Stuckey
David Stuckey
1 year ago

Oh dear-another conspiracy theorist. Pray tell me ALL the evidence to support your assertion? As Dawkins would say “proof by repeated assertion”. Keep saying it until everyone believes it. How did Trump’s 50 law cases go? Thought so-even the (conservative) Supreme Court threw out the Texas case. I guess you think all the Republican Senators and Congress members were not influenced by fraud. Strange really is it not?

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
1 year ago
Reply to  David Stuckey

In fairness, the democrats invented the proof by repeated assertion tactic with Trump/Russia conspiracies in the face of zero evidence until even Mueller’s team was forced to face reality. It’s hardly a one sided tactic and democrats can’t complain now about it being used by the other side.

Bill Brookman
Bill Brookman
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I think Will Lloyd was writing toungue (I can never spel that word) in cheek.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago
Reply to  Bill Brookman

‘sad and squalid’ he called the Trump years. This was because of the Democrat TDS and attempts to over throw the 2016 election, and seeing a picture into the soul of Liberalism through the BLM activities. Trump himself was more of a King Author at Camelot to their Mordred and Morgana.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago

The long night of authoritarianism never fell.
Not federally, no. Where that has occurred has been within cities and states whose leaders do what they accused Trump of wanting. If only there was a term for that.

Zachary Lerer
Zachary Lerer
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

There is, “Bull.”

David Stuckey
David Stuckey
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

How about “lie”?

ard10027
ard10027
1 year ago

Fintan O’Toole did, indeed, take the game too seriously, but that’s an occupational hazard among people who take themselves too seriously. Another is to completely misidentify the source of the problem. Let me make it easier for Mr O’Toole; whatever the left is accusing you of, that’s what they’re doing. This is an iron law, so if Trump is accused of being authoritarian, that’s because the Democrats are. That’s why you risk being shot on sight if you step outside your home in a Democrat city.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago
Reply to  ard10027

Projecting, it is the Liberal way.

David Stuckey
David Stuckey
1 year ago
Reply to  ard10027

Seems like a brilliantly simple rule to live by-do you do it? Maybe someone of your cutting intellect would make mincemeat out of O’Toole in open debate (maybe?!)

Tom Graham
Tom Graham
1 year ago

Fintan O’tool is an imbecile and everything he writes and says is garbage.

Anyone with a shred of intelligence could see that, while Trump is the worst of all bad losers and was never going to just admit it if he lost the election, all the endless hysterical ranting from the progressive media about how he was going to reenact 1933 Germany was just the usual BS.

David Stuckey
David Stuckey
1 year ago
Reply to  Tom Graham

Wow-I love rational debate and well thought out arguments. Thats why I find Unherd so entertaining!

Jordan Flower
Jordan Flower
1 year ago

It’s always the same drill with the TDS weirdos. You’re no different than an apocalypse-obsessed cult. The end is always nigh. Trump is always plotting and scheming and colluding and conspiring for his big coup.

But it never happened. And it never will. This is for one of two reasons:

1) you’re wrong and there was never a coup.
2) you’re right, but the Resistanceâ„¢ did such a good job, that Russia”who had such incredible influence over our 2016 election”decided to let 2020 be “the most secure election in US history” resulting in their Oval operative being removed.

The thing about cult leaders, and religious date-setters, is that when their rapture or apocalypse predictions inevitably turn out wrong, they still get to be right, either by having made all their followers drink some fruity death juice so they’re not alive to call the B.S., or by gaslighting (I hate that I used this wretched term, albeit correctly) them by perpetually revising their crazed theories.

This article is the latter. But hey, at least we’re not all laying dead in bunkbeds with Nikes on.

Zachary Lerer
Zachary Lerer
1 year ago

Why does it feel that the article was cut off midway?

Andrew Hall
Andrew Hall
1 year ago

The underlying premise of this silly piece is the 2020 vote count in the six swing states was honest, fair, transparent. Pursuant to the sickening DNC/Russia conspiracy, which has been previewed but still awaits Durham, I suggest anyone believing the US political system isn’t deeply corrupt or the six swing states electoral process was honest, transparent, fair hasn’t been paying attention. And since it wasn’t any of these things who knows who won. I don’t.
The wounds go deep and regardless who is sworn in next year things are going to change, but not in the direction the DNC would wish.

nick woods
nick woods
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Hall

You are correct,where on earth did Biden get 80 million votes?

david.jp.finn
david.jp.finn
1 year ago
Reply to  nick woods

81 pushing 82 million actually

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago
Reply to  nick woods

It was like something in Lord of the Rings where Aragon leads ‘The Army Of The Dead’ to tilt the tide of the great battle.

Otto Christensen
Otto Christensen
1 year ago

American journalism=Psychogenic claptrap. Where does this leave us?

John Baker
John Baker
1 year ago

Yes, absurd article. Trump hung on so as to accumulate as much evidence of the fraud (certain and massive) as he could to guarantee that as much as possible of it is available to historians in the near future. Trump a queer fish alright but all the violence in the cities was carried out by Antifa and BLM, agents of the Democrat party. Under relentless pressure for four years by all the major power structures in the US he still managed to enact more good initiatives than any of recent incumbents. America now have instead a president with dementia whose deputy is a nasty piece of work. Together they will certainly be a hideous embarrassment to the nation.
Barr ran out of steam when he saw the enormity of what he was being asked to do and insist on a deeper investigation of the myriad aspects of the steal. Few men would have found the resolve to stand up to that pressure.

Derek M
Derek M
1 year ago

There’s no reason Fintan O’Toole ‘should have known better’ about anything, he’s a nutcase. His take on the reasons for Brexit is hilarious.

Daniel Björkman
Daniel Björkman
1 year ago

You know, I find myself sympathising with Barr, since his crime in the eyes of liberals seem to be liking law and order. Surely that is precisely what a lawyer ought to like? And as opposed to what, liking anarchy?

I admittedly think it’s a bit odd that, given his apparent (and in my eyes perfectly justified) love of the establishment, he’s so fond of Trump, who is the living embodiment of “screw the rules, I can do whatever I want!” But politics are always full of odd alliances and contradictions, I guess.

stephen f.
stephen f.
1 year ago

Keep guessing.

rosie mackenzie
rosie mackenzie
1 year ago

And yet he couldn’t face investigating and prosecuting the massive fraud and intimidation. That was the coup and he was overawed by it..