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Friday, August 17, 2018

BRENNAN, JOHN, NOT WALTER


I had a go at a jeu d’esprit and it turned into a hoofooraw, so let me talk about something else.  All of us cable news junkies have been up to our ears in hysterical discussions of Trump’s removal of John Brennan’s security clearance.  The damage to Brennan has been described as dire, and he is being hailed as a hero for not succumbing to the assault.  One estimate I read suggested that former government officials with their clearances intact can earn five to eight percent more than those without, so Trump has not exactly condemned Brennan to public assistance.  What is more, the current administration is not likely to want to call on Brennan anyway for his expertise in matters of spycraft.  The whole affair makes Trump look both petty and weak, which, from my point of view, is all to the good.

The uproar, however, reminds me of something I have long known but tend to forget when I am spinning fantasies of American socialism.  Modern mature capitalist states, of which America certainly is one, have enormous bureaucratic infrastructures [or superstructures, if you want to be rigorously Marxist about it] that administer on a daily basis the laws, regulations, and policies of the central and state governments.  These governmental structures are staffed by quite literally millions of men and women, most of whom are career employees.  Call them the Bureaucracy, the Establishment, the Deep State, call them the Enemies or the Defenders of the American Way, they are there, they are in place, and every day they make the decisions, implement the directives, and process the paper [or computer entries] on which society runs.

Because they are career employees, and because a career lasts typically for thirty or forty years, this huge group of people constitute a powerful conservative drag on change, regardless of whether that change is politically progressive or reactionary.  Let us recall that the modern Welfare State was put into place by a Congress that, for three generations, was controlled by the Democratic Party.  Between 1931 and 1995, the House of Representatives was Democratically controlled for all but two two-year breaks!  What is more, from 1933 to 1969, the Democrats controlled the White House for all but the eight years of the Eisenhower interregnum.  The generations of career employees, laid down like strata of sedimentary rock by successive Democratic Administrations, have proved an almost impenetrable obstacle to the reactionary aspirations of post-Reagan Republicans, despite the fact that the Republicans have controlled the House for all but four of the last twenty-three years.

Which brings me to my dreams of socialism.  Let us suppose, if you will follow me down the rabbithole to Wonderland, that a surge of millennials and post-millennials elect a Democratic Socialist as President and a House and Senate controlled by Democratic Socialists [you can see how far into an alternative universe I have wandered.]  And let us also suppose that this miraculous collection pass and sign into law legislation designed to fundamentally alter the structure of capitalist America [I am not even capable of imagining exactly what that legislation would be, but let that go for now.]  It would then fall to the vast numbers of career government employees actually to implement the legislation, to translate it into the decisions, regulations, studies, guidelines that would actually constitute socialism on the ground, if I may put it that way.

Career bureaucrats would have to rule against corporations and in favor of workers in hundreds of thousands of cases involving workers’ rights, safety, pensions, family leave, and all the other things that the Democratic Socialists in the Congress had legislated about.

I am not saying it would be impossible.  Not at all!  But the amusing Brennan kerfuffle can serve to remind us just how much work and time would be required to transform the American economy and society into something recognizable as socialism.

14 comments:

MS said...

I was watching the PBS Newshour yesterday and Judy Woodruff was interviewing a former CIA official (whose name, unfortunately I do not recall) about Trump’s stripping Brennan of his security clearance. She asked him what were the disadvantages, for someone no longer employed by the government, of not having a security clearance. He indicated,as his own example, that even though he is retired, he has from time to time been called upon to serve on panels addressing issues of national security that require his professional expertise, and that he has served on these panels without pay. In order to do so, he was required to have a security clearance, without which he could not serve and the country would be deprived of his advice and counsel. So, stripping Brennan of his security clearance - and Trump is threatening to strip many more of his critics of their security clearances – reduces the well of expertise from which our country can draw in the event of a crisis. Prof. Wolff correctly points out, however, that Trump would, in any event, be unlikely to seek advice from Brennan, or from others whom he has stripped of their security clearances, so whether they had their security clearance or not is essentially irrelevant.

But I believe a secondary effect of Trump’s conduct is perhaps more serious – that is the stifling of dissent that it generates. Brennan will not be silenced by what Trump has done; he will continue to criticize Trump, as he has in today’s NYT, with or without his security clearance. But Trump doesn’t care about that. His actions are aimed at cowing those still in his administration from opposing him. And it is their input that we need to rely on in order to prevent him from doing something rash militarily. His conduct may make him look weak and insecure to his critics on the outside, but they strengthen his hand on the inside. I suspect that before Hitler issued Directive 21 implementing the invasion of Russia some of his military strategists were inclined to think, but not express, the view, “But mein Fǜhrer, remember what happened to Napoleon.” Many of the readers of this blog may conclude (like my wife) that I am hysterically preoccupied with comparisons between Trump and Hitler. I would like to think that should Trump contemplate a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Iran, for example, that there would be enough opposition by conscientious and patriotic advisers in his administration that he would be dissuaded from doing so. But I am no longer that optimistic, no do I harbor a belief in the basic goodness and courage of most of our public servants. I can imagine that many career government officials would think something along the lines, “Even if our President bombs Iran, the United States will survive, our President will survive, and I will still need to have a job to support my family and to continue to live in the life style that we have become accustomed to. If I oppose him, and lose the argument, he will still bomb Iran and I will be out of a job.” This may all sound like the ravings of a semi-deluded individual, but I believe we are already down the rabbit hole. Like most (all!) of the readers of this blog, I never expected him to win the election to begin with.

DavidPalmeter said...

MS--I wish that I could disagree with you.

MS said...

Errata correction.

The parenthetical "all" in the last sentence of my comment was supposed to be followed by a question mark, not an exclamation point. My fingers misspoke. (Yes, I know, how could this happen? The exclamation point is in the upper left hand corner of the keyboard; the question mark is in the lower right. Answer: I don't know.)

Anonymous said...

To MS

All right—I know that what I am about to rhetorically ask is naïve, but, given what you say, isn’t Trump’s action here yet another instance of his not taking care to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution—since he’s gutting sources of information and advice in national security matters? (And doing so for reasons of petty, personal vindictiveness.) Isn’t this yet another piece of evidence—certainly not dispositive by itself, but one more piece that someday, when the Democrats take over or when even the Republicans can’t take it anymore—can be added to the weight of charges against this clown and help to make the case for his removal?

MS said...

Yes, I agree, technically his stripping Brennan of his security clearance could be listed as one of many charges in a Bill of Impeachment. The reason for this is that he did not follow the correct procedure. As the guest whom Judy Woodruff was interviewing indicated, there is an Executive Order that outlines the bases on which a security clearance may be revoked. It is a very lengthy document – some 26 pp. long. The guest sarcastically remarked that he doubted whether Trump had read it. Among the many bases which the Order lists as a legitimate reason for revoking a security clearance, it did not include the basis which Trump cited. With respect to the authority to strip a security clearance, the President has almost unfettered power. But he has to follow the procedures outlined in the Executive Order. In order to do it for the reason he cited, he would have had to amend the Executive Order, which Trump failed to do – as with everything else he does, he cannot be bothered with trivial details. (The Queen of Hearts: Sentence first; trial afterwards.) As you point out, this violation in procedure would not be enough to get Trump impeached. It would have to be supplemented by many other more serious transgressions in order to have any hope of justifying impeachment (even, I would submit, with a Democratic controlled Congress in, hopefully, 2019). Those supplemental charges will have to await the conclusion of Mueller’s investigation.

My concern is that we are running out of time. There has been speculation that Trump is suffering form dementia, and that it is getting worse. The physician of one of my relatives indicated to her that he, and other medical professionals, have seen signs of dementia in his behavior. I am fearful, as I may have indicated in a previous comment to a different posting, that before there is a solid, legitimate basis to impeach him, Trump will use the occurrence, e.g., of a serious terrorist attack, whether actual or false flag, as an excuse to declare national martial law. (I acknowledge that I do not have a degree, advanced or otherwise, in political science or international relations. I am just engaging in armchair, but I believe informed, theorizing.) I would not be surprised if Al Queda, or another terrorist organization’s operatives, aware of Trump’s instability, are planning a terrorist attack in order to trigger such a reaction, thereby achieving their objective of undermining our democracy. (Yes, I know, many of you believe we do not really have a democracy anyway, but, whatever you call it, it would be undermined. And yes, I understand, some (many?) of you may be thinking, “This guy’s really gone off the deep end.”)

So, assuming my concerns have any valid basis in reality, what can we do to avert these dire forecasts? Continue to protest his actions in letters to your newspapers, contact your legislators to express your concerns, support candidates, to the extent your time and financial resources allow, in the next election who oppose his views, and, as Prof. Wolff has urged, make sure to register and vote. In the meantime, hope that Mueller wraps up his investigation in a timely manner and that it includes enough evidence of transgressions during the campaign and misprision in office that even his Republican supporters cannot ignore it; and hope that, in the mean time, there are enough people in his administration (despite my expressed misgivings) who have the courage and backbone to stand up to him, no matter what the cost to their personal fortunes. (Some may advocate even more drastic actions, e.g., armed revolt, but I am not there yet, and am not optimistic that it would have any hope of success.)

MS said...

Sorry, one more addendum.

There is the provision in Amendment XXV, Sec. 4, that if the Vice President and a majority of the principal officers of the executive departments (the Cabinet), deliver to the President pro temp of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a written statement that the President “is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.” If the speculation that Trump is suffering from dementia, and that it is getting worse, is accurate, then the above designated individuals may feel it is their patriotic duty (and, perhaps would advance their ambitions), to invoke this provision. Although the prospect of Pence being acting President is not ideal, I believe, his liabilities notwithstanding, that he is more level-headed than Trump and would not act as rashly. Many of you may disagree with me.

s. wallerstein said...

MS,

Since you like the Trump-Hitler analogy (I'm not so happy about it myself), your description of the U.S. career government officials who prefer not to risk their jobs even though Trump leads to disaster is similar to that described by Hannah Arendt in her classic study, Eichmann in Jerusalem, A Study in the Banality of Evil.

Eichmann, as Arendt presents him (later studies have questioned her portrayal), is only interested in his career in the Nazi Party, he is not an anti-semite nor a fanatic, just a normal middle class bureaucrat (in psychological tests given by the Israelis Eichmann tested "normal") concerned about his family, "getting ahead" and his social status. According to Arendt, Eichmann "did not think": that is, he did not reflect on the morality of doing a good job.

Howard Berman said...

Dementia will compound Trump's other issues- but I predict that the Republicans would under almost no circumstances even to jeopardize the well being and safety of the country- will never act to circumscribe Trump's power- it would be a political black eye, it would be going against authority and their base, and they think like a big time drinker or black jack player, that they can handle Trump or anything else or game the situation- it's not in their political genes, it's not in their track record, it's not in the cards- even though everybody knows except the base how effed up Trump is - that's how much they care about America

MS said...

S. wallerstein,

Thank you for your apt observation regarding Hannah Arendt’s analysis of Eichmann and its application to how members of Trump’s administration may similarly succumb to the temptation of conformity in order to advance their careers. I believe that human nature, generally, does not dramatically change over time. The same self-interests that motivated Eichmann and his fellow Nazis will also motivate some segment of Trump’s appointees. They are the same interests in self-preservation that motivated the members of the Senate when Caligula was emperor to succumb to his demands that their wives participate in a brothel. But, as there were exceptions even in Nazi Germany, e.g., Rommel, and in Rome, e.g., Seneca under Nero, there are hopefully individuals who will have the conscience and fortitude to stand up to him, and, who, hopefully will have a more successful influence. (Disclaimer - I am not recommending that they should use the methods that Rommel and Seneca adopted.)

As you know, Hannah Arendt met with criticism and rejection in the Israeli and Jewish communities because of her depiction of Eichmann and her castigation of Jews whom she accused of not putting up sufficient resistance to Hitler’s Final Solution. As I indicated in yesterday’s comments, I am a cinephile and would like to recommend a movie about Hannah Arendt, titled, appropriately, Hannah Arendt. It is not a documentary, but a fine film about her nonetheless, with an outstanding performance by Barbara Sukowa as Prof. Arendt. It depicts her defending her views regarding Eichmann and chronicles her friendship with Martin Heidegger and Mary McCarthy, as well as her falling out with Kurt Blumenfeld and Gershon Scholem with respect to Eichmann.

As an aside that I will place here rather than in a separate comment, I just finished watching the PBS News Hour, which had a wonderful segment in its Brief But Spectacular moment series about a 91-year old retired school teacher named Flossie Lewis who is herself an admitted pedant and, when teaching, was a stickler for the use of proper English. In the segment, which shows her confined to a wheelchair, she is attending a reunion with many of her admiring former students, several of whom went on to become writers. She asks them to defend why they think Bob Dylan deserved to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. One of her former students explains that she was particularly impressed with Ms. Lewis because she once read her class one of Shakespeare’s sonnets and pronounced that it was not very good. Where I live, the segment will be repeated at 10 P.M. on PBS, and I would encourage the readers of this blog who live in the U.S. to watch it. It is a delight. (There is also a prior interview with her which you can watch on you tube by Googling her name in which she discusses the effects of aging. She says, for example, that just because one’s body is deteriorating, you personality and character do not have to deteriorate also.)

Jerry Fresia said...

I think the challenge is even more dire. Our system/bureaucracy tilts to the right. Our default position is friendly fascism which is then put on hold or pushed back on rare occasion, such as with The New Deal, only to be dialed back.

The problem it is seems is that among the Deep State bureaucrats there is enormous inequality with regard to power. Check out the sins of our newly anointed hero, John Brennan:

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2018/08/john-brennan-trump-hayden-clapper

A similar rap sheet could be compiled for the rebranded Comey, Hayden, and Clapper. We can't count on them. I think the key struggle is in the post collapse situation. How do we insert a broad coalition of progressives post the Trump collapse - which will be only an opportunity, not a victory.

The struggle within the Democratic party is central. The leftist forces must be defended against those who embrace the Bennan-establishment Democrats. "'No' is not enough."

LFC said...

Scanning the thread somewhat quickly and being pressed for time, I'll confine myself to the observation that I do not think a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Iran by Trump is at all likely. A pre-emptive conventional strike is somewhat less unlikely, but still, I think, fairly unlikely at this juncture. Mattis and the military in general are not enthusiastic about this, and I believe they would communicate that lack of enthusiasm quite clearly. Where Bolton would stand is less clear, but I doubt that even Bolton favors a pre-emptive nuclear strike. Even a strike w the most 'discriminating' nuclear weapons available would be highly destabilizing, to use the anesthetic jargon in which these issues are often discussed in high circles, and I think people in his admin wd communicate that to Trump quite forcefully.

That's as of now; it's possible that over time, those in favor of forcible 'regime change' may gain the upper hand. But right now, having just put sanctions back on Iran (thus harming the population) in conjunction w its w/dl from the nuclear deal (JCPOA), I think the Trump admin will be inclined to let that string play out for a while and see what Iran does re its behavior in the region, with which the admin claims to be so concerned.

Btw, the recently signed natl defense authorization bill, w its 700 billion plus price tag, contains some v ill-advised stuff, imo, but that's a whole other subject.

MS said...

LFC,

I certainly hope that you are right.

David said...

This discussion reminds me of something Primo Levi said in a 1986 interview with The New Republic:

"Everybody must know, or remember, that Hitler and Mussolini, when they spoke in public, were believed, applauded, admired, adored like gods. They were 'charismatic leaders'; they possessed a secret power of seduction that did not proceed from the credibility or the soundness of the things they said, but from the suggestive way in which they said them. And we must remember that their faithful followers, among them the diligent executors of inhuman orders, were not born torturers, were not (with a few exceptions) monsters: they were ordinary men. Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous; more dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions."

Anonymous said...

Trump having won... one of the most ironic things is that Brennan, after he was targeted by Trump, has entered the media circus and is now part and parcel of a discourse of "speaking truth to power". He is now an incarnation of the liberal media circus' dissenting voice representing common decency. Democracy in action. Ironic for a leader of an organization who has done so much....

However, if Clinton had won... Brennan would have been labeled simply as another pro-war democrat. Dissent, here, could take on a more authentically radical form and would have, far from being a central chord in the media circus, thrive in its traditional habitat of radical pastures.

In short, American politics has entered the spectacle of the french situation: either the horror of Le Pen or the relative "more rational choice" of Macron, regardless of the fundamental irrationality of the objective situation itself. That is, regardless how terrible Macron is objectively he is relatively better than Le Pen.

What is needed now more than ever is a trump card: Bernie's third way?