The release of the Nunes memo brought into clear focus for me some very big concerns about the state of this republic. The memo certainly does not entirely undermine our government. But it shows just how far things eroded in one year. And that should concern all of us.
THE MEMO’S CONTENT FALLS FLAT
So Congress released the much ballyhooed Nunes memo on February 2, 2016. After all the hype, it seemed pretty anti-climactic.
Not really very impressive. Not earthshattering. Actually, pretty much a dud.
Maybe it played differenlty with certain segments of the population. But the rest seemed to have decided the analysis of those in the intelligence, law enforcement, and legal fields weighed more than the words of a man with agricultural degrees and a track record of lying for the President.
Jim Wright, of Stonekettle Station, summed up things well, as usual.
So, the earth shaking “intelligence” the Nunes’ Memo is based on isn’t actual intelligence at all. It’s just conspiracy theories skimmed from Breitbart and Infowars and Devin Nunes’ fevered imagination.
For clarification, the above comes from his Facebook page, not his blog. Regardless of source, Mr. Wright’s observation remains astute.
Mr. Wright is a former naval intelligence officer. You may also want to take a look at his blog about the memo prior to its release. I usually find his take on matters relating to intelligence issues very informative given his background.
So, if the memo is such a dud, why am I writing about it? I’m not really. That’s been done very well by many others. For example, you may want to check out the Mahablog, including some specific entries here, here, and here.
I choose to focus on something I found far more insidious about this whole thing.
THE EXPECTATIONS OF THE MEMO
Republicans released a memo with the expectation that at least certain sectors of the public would eat it up without question. And, whether intended or not, the real message to be digested is that questioning the President is bad, against the rule of law even.
This is yet one more nail. One more attempt to change the dialogue in this country to no dialogue at all. Anything that comes across as less than glowing for the President should be deemed suspect. Biased. Wrong. Fake.
The memo takes it a step further. To merely question is wrong. And also corrupting our institutions.
All hail the dictatorship.
THE REAL ISSUE IS THE EROSION OF OUR REPUBLIC
I think we are in the process of letting our republic slip away. And my question is, what are we going to do about it?
Alarmist me raises her head again. That’s a fair call against me. I confess. I am being alarmist because shock seems to be one way to shake people out of complacency. And we need that, because I believe the threat is real.
Did it begin with Trump? Absolutely not. The erosion has been eating away at the system for some time.
Is it coming tomorrow? No. But, if you asked me last January whether I thought it would have advanced this far in a year, I would have said, “No,” back then too. The erosion is accelerating.
It’s like climate change. Dealing with it now is the only way to prevent a disastrous future. We cannot wait for the consequences to become irreversible. Act now. Or lose it all.
A quote from my friend, Jon Gold, on Facebook:
So it’s late or early. I am putting this on the record. While there have been abuses in power from many sides, and all are not created equal. I stand with the agents of the FBI and know that their cause is justice and law and that they are trying to keep me safe every day from true monsters that lurk in the shadows. I stand with the agents of the CIA knowing that their mission is to keep us informed and our nation safe from its enemies. I stand with the institutions and constructs that keep us a nation. The death knell of government is being sighted by many. Do whatever it takes to save it. Once you lose it, you seldom get it back.
THE EROSION ACCELERATES
Since the last presidential election through the present, I have seen people increasingly embrace attacks on institutions of our society. This goes beyond complaining that politicians are corrupt liars only in it for themselves. I have heard that one since as long as I have been living.
No. People increasingly question why the press should be free. Why should people get to have free speech? Why should people have freedom of religion? Why can’t we discriminate against Muslims? Or poor people? Or immigrants? Or the LGBTQ community?
In so doing, significant members of our society were really questioning why have government protections for a free press, free speech, freedom of assembly, the right to redress government, and equal civil rights for all.
In other words, questioning important parts of the Constitution and its Amendments.
THE CURRENT MESSAGE: DON’T QUESTION THE PRESIDENT
Then candidate and now President Trump presents like a demagogue. He is the only one with the answers. Anything you hear that may offer different solutions or question his own should be dismissed as being biased, uniformed, and wrong.
Since his candidacy the terms “snowflake” and “social justice warriors” are hurled as derisive insults against those that question Trump’s policies, or urge for a wider understanding.
The President and many citizens have made clear that all news is biased and fake, except the news that has a bias slanted toward the President. In other words, even being neutral is unacceptable.
THE CURRENT MESSAGE: QUESTION THE INSTITUTIONS THAT QUESTION OR IMPEDE THE PRESIDENT
I saw the President question why judges should be allowed to rule against his executive orders. Parts of the populace nodded along and said, “Yeah. Why should they?” Even though the job of the courts is to interpret the law and question when it exceeds authority.
I saw that same President take advantage of the situation created by deliberate Republican obstructionism from prior years to nominate biased, bigoted, extremist-viewed persons to judiciary positions. So, new judges would be less likely to question him in the future. Or follow the normal rule of law.
And make no mistake. The Republican party refused to consider many of Obama’s nominations to federal judgeships. See federal judges are nominated by the President and confirmed by Congress. They don’t get elected. Republicans let vacancies stack up under Obama, hoping for a change in leadership come the next election. I recall one district court in Texas was begging nominations be heard because the court had too many vacancies. Not enough judges to do the job. This went far beyond one Supreme Court seat.
I saw the President nominate people to cabinet positions whose main qualification was their disdain for the department they would be heading. I have seen those appointees then proceed to dismantle those institutions. An EPA that dismantles protections of the environment and the citizens. Climate change ignored. Net neutrality dismantled. If we question, we are clearly against American jobs, that will be created by easing all these restrictions on U.S. business. Restrictions designed to protect U.S. citizens from big business.
Those rules that we put in place to prevent the type of abuses and economic meltdown that happened in 2008? Well, since the crisis is now over, we apparently need never worry about similar abuses ever happening again. So, don’t question those getting axed either.
I saw people complain that daring to question the President’s and the Republican Congress’ policies served to unfairly interfere with government trying to do its job. All those questions distracted Congress and the President from doing what needed to be done. But for all those questions, more legislative accomplishments would have been achieved last year. How dare we question our leaders?
Congress grinds to ineffectuality. The President clamors that all votes in the Senate be by simple majority, rather than by supermajority. The supermajority requirement serves as a level of insurance against putting a bill up for vote based on factional whims. Some votes even require a two-thirds majority under the Constitution. Yet, I see support among segments of our society siding with the President on the issue of simple majority voting. Signaling a further willingness to let checks on our government be eroded.
I have, time and again, discovered that things I thought were part of some system of checks and balances in this country were in fact mere conventions relying on the various parties comporting themselves in the usual manner.
Even the checks and balances preserved in law erode, either in actuality or in the public’s view. As noted above, the judiciary is being eroded from within and questioned and undermined from without. Republicans in Congress have put up verbal protests and then fallen in line with whatever Trump wants. Meanwhile, Democrats show there is little the minority party can do if no one wants to honor the usual conventions. Leaving no one in Congress who can be relied upon to question the President’s decrees. While the wave of gerrymandering and voter suppression enacted by Republicans has been set back some in the courts, in some states it remains unchallenged.
In fact, I saw the DOJ pull out of cases brought against voter suppression laws, claiming they did not think it was worth pursuing. The remaining parties continued with at least one of those suits and won. Similarly, the DOJ has pulled out of civil rights suits. And questioned its own prior decisions, particularly its findings that several city police forces engaged in racial profiling. The DOJ, under Jeff Sessions, self-erodes.
I also see this as an erosion of the independence of the DOJ. Nor are they the sole agency to suffer this loss. All of them apparently were only independent of the President based on convention as well.
I see actual erosion. I also see segments of the public embrace the erosion as welcome. In the process, norms shift away from a republic.
EDIT: To prove the point, a recent poll indicates that approximately 73% of Republicans believe “members of the FBI and Department of Justice are working to delegitimize President Trump through politically motivated investigations.” The independence of FBI and the DOJ from the President allows the agencies to serve as neutral watchdogs. As watchdogs they should investigate the President, right along with everyone else, for the public’s protection. Our cultural norms have shifted. A significant portion of the public now questions the right of the watchdogs to do their job. Particular if they are watching the President. The message delivered and received. Don’t question the President. Question those that question or investigate the President.
And over all of this, I see people elect to not be part of the republican process. Once again, I saw people not vote because they did not like either candidate. So, they gave up the right to have any say in what was going on at all. Or have a say in who represented them at any level of government.
THE MEMO TRIES TO FURTHER ERODE OUR REPUBLIC
Then Nunes’ memo comes along. First, the memo demonstrates erosion of another of those checks and balances held in place by convention only. Congress used a rule no one really expected anyone to use. To circumvent classified information requirements. To drop a memo on the American public purely as a piece of Presidential propaganda. That was disturbing by itself.
Then came some folks’ reaction to its release. I saw certain pundits and Republicans try to urge American citizens that the memo proved “bad stuff” was going on. The real problem with this conclusion is not some ridiculous conspiracy theory involving Republican FBI members, federal judges, DOJ members, the Democratic party, and the mainstream media all somehow managing to secretly and cohesively coordinate and successfully pull off operations against Trump and his administration.
No, the real problem is that the memo wants you to accept a dictatorship.
The memo wants people to question any investigation into a President. As long as the President says it’s bunk. Or if it’s mean to the President. Or, to put it another way, because the President should not be questioned. The memo specifically seeks that which all dictatorships seek. To prevent questioning, and therefore opposition to, the person in power.
According to the memo’s central arguments, if you investigate into the Trump campaign, you automatically prove you are biased against the President. Raising the question makes you biased. Being biased makes both your motives and your findings questionable. Therefore, any conclusions (other than those that utterly exonerate the President or his administration) are suspect. The act of questioning automatically makes you wrong. And subversive.
Even though the First Amendment of the Constitution grants all of us not only the right to free speech but the right to petition the government. We get to question. In fact, that is what we are supposed to do. If we don’t question, if we don’t inquire, we are not a republic. We are just a monarchy or oligarchy going along with whatever the rulers decide.
BREAKING DOWN A PART OF THE MEMO’S ARGUMENT AGAINST QUESTIONING THE PRESIDENT
Among the things cited in the memo are that the Steele dossier was unfairly used to support issuing a FISA warrant against Carter Page. Why? Well, according to the memo, Steele was biased against Trump. And being biased means that anything Steele said in the dossier was suspect, and probably inaccurate. How does the memo conclude Steele was biased? Because in September 2016, Steele supposedly told a DOJ official that Steele was “desperate” about Trump not being elected or becoming President.
The argument here is that Steele was a biased Democratic party shill trying to dig up whatever dirt he could to unfairly undermine candidate Trump. As a result, Steele’s findings should not be relied upon by anyone, least of all the FBI or a FISA court.
That sounds pretty bad, but here’s the rub. We have transcripts indicating that Fusion GPS hired Steele but did not tell him anything about who hired Fusion GPS. So first off, Steele did not go looking for information just to please the Democratic party. He didn’t know they were involved. He just went looking. And he had a reputation in the intelligence industry for good, neutral intelligence work.
That makes perfect sense. If you want an expert to look into something and then report back with his conclusions, you can tell him how you want to slant the report, and maybe he will do that. Or maybe he won’t. But you are better off not telling him. Instead just let him investigate and get back to you. That way you know that what he gives you is more likely to be legit. It will have legs rather than blow up in your face.
And by the way, even if the expert knows who is hiring him, he still is often expected to analyze as a neutral. Because, again, a neutral report is more likely to get you accurate results.
Attorneys hire experts for their cases all the time. And yes, some of them have a bias or slant. But the attorney is better off if the expert tries to analyze things neutrally. That way the attorney knows the strengths and weaknesses of the case, and can advise the client accordingly. For example, settle now rather than spend a lot of money taking the case to trial and losing.
We also know from transcripts that Steele went looking, found things that concerned him greatly about Trump and his connections to Russia, and that made him feel this stuff should be brought to the FBI’s attention. See what happened there? Whatever he found so concerned him that he stopped worrying about getting a report back to the client. He wanted to go straight to the fuzz. That’s the move of a neutral analyst.
So, after becoming that concerned by what he found, Steele clearly could be classified as being desperate about the idea of a Trump presidency. Not because he was biased or began being his investigation out to get Trump. But because what he found in his inquiry led to an analysis that made him desperate.
The memo argues that the fact that the inquiry results raised alarming concerns about Trump means those results must be suspect and cannot be relied upon.
An utterly ridiculous argument. But one that Republicans urge the American public to swallow. To digest. To make that part of their thought process going forward.
Why are the results of the inquiry suspect? Because they don’t favor the administration in charge. Why is the FBI suspect? Because they may have followed up on Steele’s inquiry.
The lesson here is clear. Do not question. The only results that are acceptable or non-biased are those that are biased for the President.
Propaganda 101. That is how republics are lost. And dictatorships are born.
REPUBLICS DON’T HAVE TO GO OUT WITH A BANG
Let me lay a bit of history on you. Before there was a Roman Empire there was a Roman Republic. How did one become the other? Was there some bloody, violent revolt that toppled the old government, and the new rose in its place? Nope. Did they just abolish all the laws forming the one government and adopt new ones? Not that either.
It just eroded away over time. Bit by bit. Until an Empire was pretty much inevitable. They left the old institutions right where they were. The Roman Empire had a senate. It had consuls, i.e., the closest analogue to our President. It just bent the old rules to its new purpose.
The Roman Republic did not die, it faded away and was subsumed into the new Empire.
That can still happen here. If we let it. If we continue to passively sit by and let our republic fade away.
Republics rest on a foundation of active and informed public involvement. Without that involvement, they become just another oligarchy or monarchy. Or dictatorship. Republics take hard work by their citizens. They take us.
Do I see hope? Yes. I see people becoming more involved than ever in the political process. Confronting their representatives. Running for office themselves. Trying to make their voices heard in a constructive, not deconstructive, manner.
But getting out to vote? Getting ourselves educated on issues and candidates before we vote? Listening to more than one point of view, instead of insisting that any view not matching our preconceived notions must be wrong? Trying to think critically and look at the big picture instead of our immediate gain or loss? Having civil discourse about difficult issues and fairly looking at all options? Accepting that compromise is the only way all this continues to work? I don’t know.
That’s up to all of you as individuals. What are you going to do to keep the Republic alive? Answering that question really is the single most important step that can be made toward “Making America Great.” Or letting the republic fade way.
Move it or lose it, folks.