We waited nearly a week for the release of an epic “secret memo” written by the head of the House Intelligence Committee, one which purported to show political bias at the heart of an FBI investigation. The warning went out from all quarters: do not declassify this! It will compromise national security and sew mass confusion about the authority of the law enforcement.
It finally came, thanks to the declassification order issued by the President himself. For reasons that still elude me, this was widely considered by elite opinion to be a catastrophic choice on his part, an overturning of all that is decent and proper.
I read the memo within minutes of its appearance. It is extremely boring. Once I shook off my stupor, I read more closely. It does indeed seem to show a political agenda at the FBI. I was not even slightly shocked. Neither should you be. In short, the memo shows that the FBI undertook a surveillance operation of a Trump campaign consultant solely on the authority of a highly dubious dossier funded by the Clinton campaign, one that had been leaked to a sketchy news source.
Can you imagine? We think that agencies like the FBI and CIA have access to some special well of information which is forbidden to you and me. But here we have the FBI citing its authority as Yahoo news, which serious internet mavens regard as, how shall I say, less than fully credible.
My own reading of it: it does indeed show that upper-level management at the FBI was prepared to do whatever it took to bring down the Trump campaign. In other words, the memo heavily suggests that politics played a big role in a wire-tap decision, and there was a decisive purpose here. The shock here was not entirely felt by most people, however. It is hardly news that politics plays a heavy role in the conduct of government operations.
How could it be otherwise?
The further impact on the continued investigation of “Russian meddling” in the election is to further bring into question the initial motivation. Most Republicans believe that in the upper reaches of the FBI, a plot was hatched to harm the campaign and later discredit the victor by essentially claiming that the election was stolen. See, we have a Manchurian Candidate! Let the red-baiting begin!
People are divided as to whether the whole Russian investigation reflects the reality of Trump campaign entanglement with Russia or whether it is a witch hunt. I’m inclined to believe both are true but the truth doesn’t actually matter. Everyone involved massages facts to fit the agenda.
The mainstream press is describing the war of words from the GOP and the president to the nation’s top law enforcement agency as unprecedented. Nancy Pelosi is warning of a constitutional crisis. How can we even have a government when the actual president of the United States is whipping up the public against the main enforcer of US law at the federal level? Isn’t this rather dangerous to political consensus?
“The war between the president and the nation’s law enforcement apparatus is unlike anything America has seen in modern times,” declares the New York Times. He is “ tearing at the credibility of some of the most important institutions in American life to save himself.”
Consider this claim that the FBI is one of the most important institutions in American life. Law used to be almost entirely a matter for the states. Federal law enforcement became a big deal on with alcohol prohibition. The earliest core of what became the FBI itself was formed in 1908 and its main duty was the enforcement of laws that didn’t exist 50 years earlier, mostly concerning national banking operations and antitrust.
In other words, the bureau does not have deep roots in American history. It was born as a highly political agency to carry out the “Progressive” agenda of Teddy Roosevelt and has been used by politicians ever since to impose an agenda that finds no support at all within the US Constitution. The notion that criticizing it is unpatriotic is preposterous. Anyone with a conviction that society should be free from excess government control should be wary of the FBI.
As for Trump, he seems to love law enforcement. What he does not love is law enforcement that uses its power to subvert his political prospects, discredit his administration, and wage a propaganda war to undermine his political agenda. As I’ve written before, Trump doesn’t believe so much in the nation state but a personal state. He believes that he and not the “deep state” should be in charge.
What about this frenzied fear of declassification? Governments in all times and all places have a penchant for privacy. They hoard information, even when it is completely unnecessary. This traces to a culture within the state that tends to regard the public as an oppositional force. The less information people have, the better.
The result of this tendency to classify everything is that it feeds public paranoia. There is a reason why crazy conspiracies about nearly everything take hold and spread. It’s due to a lack of transparency in government. If we could kick off an effort at massive declassification about everything from the JFK assassination to 9-11 to this Russian investigation, we would go a long way toward instilling some measure of public confidence. Until then, the view that everything government says is a lie will gain currency.
You can see the effect of secrecy in public opinion. Sixty years ago, two thirds of the public believe that government can be trusted to do the right thing. Today, only 18% believe that. This is due to government growth, government incompetence, and the growing sense that the truth is being kept from us.
Trump’s decision to declassify this memo is a great start. Declassify more. Declassify it all. What will we discover? We will find the great myth of the modern age – that government can be neutral, public spirited, and full of non-stop integrity – completely refuted. Government is not really about service to others; it’s about using power to get your way at public expense. It sets up a tragic choice for everyone involved: use the system or get used by it. There are better ways to go about organizing society.