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Jeff Greenfield On Trump And History

Jeff Greenfield On Trump And History

He's an encyclopedia of political knowledge, wisdom, and wit.

Jeff is a TV journalist and author focused on politics, media, and culture. He’s been a senior political correspondent for CBS, a senior analyst for CNN, and a political and media analyst for ABC News. He has authored or co-authored 13 books, including If Kennedy Lived, When Gore Beat Bush, and Then Everything Changed: Stunning Alternate Histories of American Politics.

You can listen right away in the audio player above (or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app). For two clips of our convo — on how dangerous a Trump reelection would be, and how Biden trapped us with terrible prospects against Trump — pop over to our YouTube page.

Other topics: growing up in NYC; working on the RFK campaign in ‘68; leaving a lucrative consulting job for journalism; the populist appeal of Pat Buchanan; Newt’s pivotal role in polluting politics; how Trump totalized the GOP; his cult following among evangelicals; why he won’t be as restrained during a second term; the civil service in his crosshairs; how Haley and DeSantis failed to deploy dissenters who worked for Trump; Mike Lee’s surrender as a constitutionalist; Mike Flynn wanting to use the military on Jan 6; the congressmen who didn’t vote to impeach out of fear of death threats; our plummeting trust of institutions; Trump countering Jeb over “my brother kept us safe”; Trump priming his base to disbelieve any media reports; the “pathetic miscalculation” of the Resistance that he was finished; the Dems’ lost opportunity to take seriously the concerns of his voters; Obama’s firm stance on illegal immigration; why legal immigrants dislike open borders; how crime has “bedeviled” the Dems since the '60s; why non-white voters are moving toward Trump; Fetterman changing his tune as a progressive; protesters today don’t understand civil disobedience like MLK did; Reagan as a “senior stud” compared to Biden; why Biden is stuck with Harris; how the Ivy League hearings could have been a “Sistah Souljah” moment for Biden; famous moments in debate history; people who could have been great presidents; and Jeff detailing many other counterfactuals from history.

Browse the Dishcast archive for an episode you might enjoy (the first 102 are free in their entirety — subscribe to get everything else). Coming up: Jonathan Freedland on anti-Semitism and UK politics, Nate Silver on the 2024 election, Christian Wiman on resisting despair, Justin Brierley on his book The Surprising Rebirth of Belief of God, Jeffrey Rosen on the pursuit of happiness, George Will on Trump and conservatism, and Abigail Shrier on why the cult of therapy harms kids. Please send any guest recs, dissents, and other pod comments to

Here’s a listener on last week’s episode on civility:

I ought to read Alexandra Hudson’s book before commenting, but I think that politeness and civility are bound up with each other, and etiquette is something else. Miss Manners spends her time on describing proper conduct towards others founded on consideration — not on describing formal rules for the placement of flatware. She’s not Emily Post writing a social practices rule book. It’s true that “please” and “thank you” are good ideas for behavior, but they are encouraged because of an underlying idea: another individual merits your respect. Perhaps politeness is more intimate — person to person — and civility is more public, but in general, each seems to be bound up with consideration and kindness.

So I think that you are correct in saying that civility assumes that another person has inherent value. But I think there’s also a Ben Franklin argument to be made for civility just working better most of the time. You get more flies with honey, therefore civility serves one’s interest. But convincing the likes of Jon Stewart, Tucker Carlson, and Rachel Maddow will be difficult, since ratings are at stake.

Are you familiar with the term “clapter”? Seth Meyers is supposed to have come up with it and Tina Fey promoted it. It’s Alec Baldwin saying “Fuck Trump” to get mirthless laughter and applause. Cheap and stupid is dominating the discourse these days. People like Christopher Hitchens and Bill Buckley were invariably civil while discussing even contentious topics — but you messed with them at your peril. I think of you in the same way, and I believe you should take comfort from knowing that Stewart needed a gang and a claptering audience to bully you. Alone he couldn’t lay a glove on.

Another listener seeks clarification:

I’m a Christian who would be the first to share the loveliness of Jesus’ message on the dignity of all humans, which you speak to often and in the podcast with Alexandra. But didn’t other ideologies/cultures (e.g. Hinduism) message this same kind on dignity for all humans before Jesus? Or is your point that in Western culture, this specific flavor of the message underpins the liberalism we benefit from?

The specific point is the universalism of agape: unconditional love and acceptance of everyone. That was new.

Another note on the episode:

Your talk with Alexandra instantly brought to mind this recent article in the NYT on the clothing style of Mayor Eric Adams. In years past, this would have been a puff-piece about his style (which is undeniable). But today, with Adams persona non grata among the journalist class, the angle has to be that he obtained his expensive wardrobe through fraud, theft or other ill-gotten means. Just say something nice about the guy, FFS!

This next listener sends “thanks for your interview with Carole Hooven”:

The part of the conversation at the end about the diversity of views on the Council for Academic Freedom at Harvard regarding DEI, and on how to tackle the absence of viewpoint diversity, generated a jumble of thoughts. On the one hand, I strongly agree with you that the DEI bureaucracy apparatus has to go. It’s an offense to scholarly liberal values, and I don’t really care who gets rid of it, or why. On the other hand, I do care about the objectives of those leading the charge against universities more broadly.

Simply put, I have no confidence that the Chris Rufos and Bill Ackmans of the world have any more commitment to scholarly liberal values than the likes of Claudine Gay and her supporters. My sense of Rufo is that whatever one thinks of his politics, he did genuinely valuable original reporting on DEI in the federal government, and he’s got a real brain. But it gives me the heebie-jeebies that his model of what should replace New College in Florida was Hillsdale — a Trumpy Christian school with its own illiberal ideological orthodoxy. If he really wanted a Great Books school, why not St. Johns as his model? 

Then there’s Rufo’s Twitter exchange with Steven Pinker, in which Pinker expressed concerns about the direction Rufo and DeSantis are going, and Rufo’s reply was, “Sorry, buddy, we’re not going to listen to people who can’t even open their comments. We’re in charge now.” As in, Steven Freaking Pinker, who has stuck his head above the parapet more than anyone to defend proper liberal values in academia, is on the wrong team. Charming. Rufo and his allies are going to use the power they won not by seeking to build a genuinely liberal university, but by ramming a different illiberal orthodoxy down the throats of everyone who disagrees with them.

Then there was Ackman’s suggestion, in his recent piece for Bari Weiss’ Free Press, that Harvard consider hiring a businessperson for its next president. Because CEOs have done such a bang-up job of managing their companies in a manner consistent with a set of values, such as service to the public good, other than enriching their shareholders (while periodically wrecking the US economy)? They could give Claudine Gay a run for her money in terms of being unqualified to lead a university. Then there’s Ackman’s sudden position that the motives of plagiarism-detectors matter more than the objective truth when his wife, rather than Gay, is the accused

I feel disgusted with the whole lot of them. But then I think to myself, well, universities have had decades to address their drift towards an illiberal ideological orthodoxy, and they haven’t done anything. When they fail to police themselves, they sacrifice the moral high ground to complain about being policed by outsiders. Clearly things are only happening now because sufficient political force has gathered since October 7 to scare them; they wouldn’t have done anything if it hadn’t been for pressure tactics by the likes of Rufo and Ackman. 

So, does one support people using the tactics who got some results, at the moral risk of helping to replace one illiberal orthodoxy with a different one? Or does one take the position of a plague on all your illiberal houses, which is morally purer but offers no answer to those who would say, “You might not like us, but we’re the ones who actually got some of the results you say you want?”

What a brilliant exposition of our current impasse. I’m with my reader all the way. I just worry that the campus illiberalism is so intense and suffocating that any outsider pressure to wake them up is a good thing. But I don’t want an equally illiberal orthodoxy being foisted on campuses either. For the time being, I favor maximal pressure. I think we’re a long way away from the Ivy League turning ideologically conservative.

Carole Hooven just wrote a piece further detailing why she left Harvard. A reader flags a video from the same publication:

No doubt you have seen Bari Weiss give an accurate, 20-min walk-through on aspects our current cultural climate, specifically a critique of the current DEI atmosphere:

I believe this has been building for a long time. Weiss is correct: those who were drinking the PC KoolAid dismissed those of us who raised concerns on where the trajectory of this ideology would take us when we brought attention to it long ago. For those old enough to have lived through it, we remember the discussions in the late 1980s and ‘90s on political correctness. Today it’s the new church, and it wants your soul. 

I fought these same battles — with considerably more success! — in the 1990s. I was among the first editors to promote Camille Paglia’s work in the mainstream; at TNR we took on Afrocentrism, affirmative action, blank-slate understanding of human nature, and pioneered civil gay equality. Here’s a blast from the past doing the rounds recently:

I’ve asked and asked her to come on the Dishcast, but she’s become very media-shy. Another reader writes:

I read the dissent defending the Unitarian Universalists, and I thought you might be interested in a different perspective: “The Ideological Takeover of the Church I Loved: How the Unitarian Universalist Church lost its way.” I have not been involved in the Unitarian Church for a few years, but I think that essay probably reflects the current UUCA pretty well. I left UUCA because they were more interested in the current left-wing thinking more than spirituality or God. I remember how some of the parishioners were outraged when a pastor had the nerve to mention the “G” word — God.

Yeah; the church of social justice seems like the only mainline Protestant religion left. Another followup:

You responded to my dissent on DEI and Social Justice a couple of weeks ago, and I was a bit surprised by your response and felt that maybe I didn’t communicate my point properly. David French put my theme together much more lucidly in his column, “This Is the Actual Danger Posed by D.E.I.

That column was one I agree with. But it was framed so defensibly, so deferent to the liberal readers of the NYT, that it still disappointed. I guess my patience for their levels of denial and avoidance has become less capacious than David’s.

One more reader on the subject of DEI:

I found it unfortunate that the University of Texas at Austin doubled down on race preferences a few years ago after they had already achieved a great deal of demographic diversity by granting automatic college admission to the top 6% (top 10% at other state colleges) of the students from every public and private high school in the state. The UT System is also very generous about admission of military veterans, even when they do not have state residency.

In this way, UT Austin achieves considerable demographic diversity without using the invidious categories of skin color and race. Moreover, since the students admitted under this rule were high achievers within their own communities (and veterans also generally have self-discipline and a practiced work ethic), these students are more likely to overcome starting-point disadvantage and perform well. I know of one case of a brilliant young woman who graduated from a poor rural school, had test scores below the norm for prep school graduates, was accepted on the basis of general achievement to one Ivy university, and rose to become a department chair in a scientific discipline in another Ivy university.  It was hard for her at the beginning of college, but she toughed it out and excelled.

I don’t think admission departments should make an exclusive fetish of the SAT, but I do think it is one important tool in the diversity toolbox, along with diminishing the role of legacy admissions. I think it is acceptable to give a chance to disadvantaged high achievers — just without the explicit use of “race.”

On to the continued debate over the war in Gaza, a dissenter writes:

You wrote that Israel “has deprived Gazans of water, electricity, and food.” But as the latest numbers show, “A total of 7,653 trucks ferrying humanitarian aid entering the Gaza Strip have been inspected by Israeli authorities at the Nitzana and Kerem Shalom crossings. The IDF said the trucks have carried a total of 137,920 tons of aid.”

Next you claim, “There is no way to evacuate children, as was done in the 1940s in both Britain and Germany; and the ‘safe zones’ have turned into killing fields, because Hamas operates there as well, and can be targeted.” 

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