I have never asked Trump for Personal Loyalty. I hardly know the guy. But was it too much to hope that he would at least make a stab at fulfilling his oath of office, to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.” Yes it was.
Do James Comey’s imperfections and manifold blind spots do anything to negate or even mitigate his characterization of the president as a mob boss. No they don’t.
Comey’s favorite theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, wrote that “the only empirically verifiable doctrine of Christian faith is original sin.” Does it matter that Comey may or may not realize that Niebuhr’s dictum applies to Comey himself? Not much.
Is Karen Tumulty, former reporter and now opinion writer for the Washington Post, right in her view that “Donald Trump is contagious… He turns everyone he touches into Donald Trump”? Maybe, and maybe Rick Wilson is onto something with his slogan that “everything Trump touches dies.” But I would say that the self-selection process works both ways, and that Trump and his agents latch onto one another, wittingly or unwittingly.
As I said, I hardly know the guy, but I am concerned that he hasn’t bottomed out yet. His problem isn’t the Deep State, as Trump himself is probably quite aware. It’s the regular old drab ponderous state that is getting ready to spit him back out. It’s a classic emic vs. etic situation, though that understates Trump’s extreme deviance. Here’s hoping the system “works,” though in the best case it’s going to be very messy.
Gotta give it up to the president today for his extremely accurate takedown of James Comey on the core issue at stake. I refer of course to Comey’s “very superficial” and “hermeneutically naive,” as the president put it, interpretation of Moral Man and Immoral Society. The 45th president correctly noted on social media that Reinhold Niebuhr himself said his book ought to have been titled “Immoral Man and Even More Immoral Society,” a fact that Comey had inexplicably overlooked–especially given Comey’s purportedly 24/7 access to the most up-to-speed Deep State algorithms. Moreover, Comey utterly failed to consider the role in Niebuhr’s spiritual development of his journal of pastoral work in Detroit, published under the rubric of Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic. Trump knows tamed cynic like nobody’s business, and Comey clearly does not. “Untruthful slimeball” is really far better than Comey deserved to be labelled in these circumstances. And as of Friday morning April 13th Comey has so far failed utterly to defend his reputation as either a reliable witness or a thoughtful moral theologian.
“Why would the US president ever want to legitimize a brutal dictator” is, in all seriousness, no longer the question on the table. Maybe W was a bonehead to say he had “looked into Putin’s eyes” and gotten a sense of his soul. Maybe Obama should have been less eager to press “reset” with Russia, and more willing to walk away from the Iran deal. And Trump is unlikely to know as much as he thinks he does about Kim Jong Un and North Korea. Do we even have an ambassador to South Korea in place? Has Trump learned anything at all about Korea that he wasn’t spoonfed by Xi Jinping when they met in Beijing last year?
Trump’s rush to announce a meeting with Kim may yet be countermanded or undermined or sabotaged by the “Deep State.” And I don’t blame the Deep Staters. They are concerned, perhaps beside themselves, for good reason. At this point, sad and almost unthinkable to say, Trump looks more desperate to meet with Kim than Kim is to meet with Trump. Is it too much to ask an American president to stop trying to prove that he is bigger and better than all other presidents?
“Using language and other forms of communication ‘to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.” That is “stochastic terrorism” (see David S. Cohen at RollingStone.com yesterday) and it is not just Trump doing it. ISIS and Al Qaeda got there before Trump, and the Israeli right wing before that (with vicious verbal slurs that inspired Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin). Many reasonable people have said Fox News makes a specialty of more or less deniable stochastic terroristic rhetoric. American politics ain’t beanbag, and plausibly deniable racist dog whistles are nothing new, but Trump’s race to and beneath the bottom is startling and truly unsettling. There is little plausibility to denying that Trump is responsible for what people hear him saying, as former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden said yesterday.
Speaking of the “deep state,” I think it is a positive development that so many of its mandarins, unlike the older couple behind Trump at the Wilmington rally, are not at all amused by his thinly veiled threats. The deep state may be helpful in a pinch, heaven forbid. More decisively, the voting public in swing states seems up to the challenge of holding its collective nose and voting defensively. If voters act in a truly conservative way, Trump is political toast and will only utterly delegitimize himself when he refuses to concede defeat.
In the old days, the deep state remained silent. The deep state did not stoop to “me generation” blabbering. But a former head of the NSA, Michael Hayden, was recently caught chit-chatting on his cell phone on an Amtrak train with a friendly reporter about NSA policies. And now Robert Gates has written another memoir (From the Shadows was published in 1996; this week we have Duty). Gates, who has worked for the national security apparatus since the Nixon administration, has every right to feel the way he apparently does about Joe Biden or Rahm Emanuel. But would discretion not have been the more valorous route? Gates protested the other day that he was not trash-talking President Obama himself–sorry, but that is what you did. Would Yoda (if that’s what they called you around the cabinet table) have stooped to rat out other people? If you were really shocked, shocked, at the politicized motives of Obama operatives, and offended that they made you feel invisible while they, you felt, naively criticized what they saw as the foolishness of the W. Bush years–begging your pardon, but what the heck were you really expecting when you signed up for another tour, this time with Barack Obama? C’mon, Gates, get a grip on yourself. If you really speak for the deep state, the deep state has become pretty petulant, and that worries me almost as much as some of the NSA revelations.
The reviews are in, and the latest Guardian leak via Edward Snowden has decisively trounced the Deep State‘s heavily redacted declassification yesterday. On Google News, there seems to be more coverage focusing on the XKeyscore program reported in the Guardian than on the competing official disclosure-within-nondisclosure, perhaps because the leak of XKeyscore, as Shane Harris writes in Foreign Policy, indicates that despite the “NSA Hype Machine” claims, “maybe Snowden wasn’t such a blowhard, after all. When (Snowden) insisted that low-level employees like him could spy on just about anyone, administration officials and NSA supporters in Congress were quick to call him an embellisher, if not an outright liar.” But yesterday’s documents from both the Guardian and the NSA lend “credence to Snowden’s claims,” Harris writes. The NYT lead story yesterday headlined “U.S. Outlines N.S.A.’s Culling of Data for All Domestic Calls” was revised overnight to “Senate Panel Presses N.S.A. On Phone Logs,” but both versions report Snowden’s leaked documents on par with the official story, which can be interpreted as either a stunning shift or simply a step in the right direction. I would at this point give the Guardian stories more weight, but the NYT–notwithstanding what Fox “analysts” may say–is not Democracy Now. Give them a little of the precious helium that the Guardian warned is running low (on our planet where we can get at it, not in the universe as a whole), and maybe they will wake up and smell the poisoned rose aroma more acutely.
Robert Lady, former CIA Milan station chief, was convicted in absentia by Italy for the 2003 kidnapping, in Italy, and “rendering” (read: delivered unto torturers in Egypt) of an Egyptian who was living in Italy after having been granted political asylum from the Mubarak regime by Italy. Mr. Lady was recently located in Panama. Italy requested that he be extradited to serve his prison sentence. But Panama put him on a plane to the U.S. a couple of days ago, reports Glenn Greenwald in the Guardian yesterday. The moral high ground regarding the rule of law seems to be expendable.
Brian Hauck of the Dept. of Justice asserted Friday before a federal judge that “Americans targeted overseas do have rights” but “they could not be enforced in court either before or after the Americans were killed.” Hauck noted that decisions on targeting “are made at the highest levels of the executive branch, with robust consultation with Congress,” to which (Republican-appointed) judge Rosemary Collyer replied, “No, no, no. The executive is not an effective check on the executive with regard to an individual’s rights. you cannot ask a judge to hold that only the Executive will check himself… (The Constitutional limit) is the courthouse door. And yet you say there is no courthouse door” (sources Scotusblog, Guardian, NYT, NPR blog The Two-Way).
The judge in the Bradley Manning trial upheld the validity the other day of the “aiding the enemy” charge. The problem with this from a First Amendment standpoint is that it amounts to defining the media as the enemy (see Harvard Law professor Yochai Benkler’s comment piece published in the July 19 Guardian expanding on this), which is what the dni.gov press release implied as well. Probably not a good omen for our future as a democratic republic.
Will the veneer of legality in all these distinct but related stories be thoughtlessly equated with constitutional legitimacy? The deep state is counting on it.