Published December 1, 2019
Well, now it’s official. The revolution I have been anticipating in these columns for the past two months has finally come and, lo, it turns out to be none other than the American revolution which is, indeed, redux. We have Nancy Pelosi’s own word for it.
As you’ve heard me say over and over again, [in] the dark days of the revolution, Thomas Paine said, ‘The times have found us.’ We think the times have found us now. Not that we place ourselves in the category of greatness of our Founders, but we do place ourselves in a time of urgency [based] on the threat to the Constitution, a system of checks and balances, that is being made. It is — they fought for our independence, they declared independence, they fought and won, they established a democracy.
Mind you, her somewhat garbled history lesson was not meant to place herself in the category of greatness of our Founders, but if President Trump had cast himself in the role of George III, as she implied — well, you could draw your own conclusions as to which noble revolutionaries she and her lieutenants were expecting to play in the impeachment drama she was touting.
It’s hard for me to imagine a greater vindication of the premise on which Mr Trump based so much of his 2016 campaign for the presidency — namely, that of a government in thrall to an unelected elite arrogating to itself the right to lay down the law, literally, as to what our elected leaders, along with everybody else, can and cannot do. Mrs Pelosi’s finally pulling the trigger on impeachment came about because of the intervention in the political process by the permanent government (also known as “the swamp”) in the person of a member of the security services currently under investigation for attempts to spy on and undermine the Trump election campaign and, subsequently, the Trump presidency.
Moreover, the carefully prepared report of this CIA “whistle-blower” was designed so that Adam Schiff, the John Adams to Mrs Pelosi’s George Washington, could claim (as of course he went on to do) that in the President’s supposedly incriminating telephone conversation with President Zelensky of the Ukraine, he had asked as a “favor” to him that the Ukrainian “make up dirt on my political opponent” — i.e. Joe Biden, whose intervention in a Ukrainian corruption investigation when he was vice-president, possibly to protect his son, was not made up but cheerfully confessed to by Mr Biden himself. But the President then released the hitherto secret White House memorandum of the call, which showed that he had said no such thing. In fact, the “favor” he had asked for was information about what he thought was the Ukrainian connection to the very same plot by the whistle-blower’s fellow security professionals and swamp-denizens against the Trump campaign in 2016.
He may, of course, be wrong about that connection, as about the deep state plot itself, but such a transparent attempt to discredit the investigation in advance by a colleague (or ex-colleague) of one or more of its targets would seem to suggest that the President is on to something. The whistle-blower cannot but have known that his report to Mr Schiff would not only turn attention away from himself and his friends but would also set the media pack a-baying (again) for impeachment, thus forcing a hitherto reluctant Mrs Pelosi’s hand. That reluctance, along with her refusal to submit the impeachment inquiry to a vote of the whole House in order to protect her more electorally vulnerable colleagues, showed how helpless she must have felt to resist any longer such exigent demands by that permanent government which we refer to euphemistically as the media.
So, then. It would appear that claims of illegitimacy against an elected president are being forced upon the House Majority by the so-called “Resistance,” within the executive branch, of a self-selected cultural elite without a shred of political legitimacy of its own. Here, emerging into plain sight, was the very villain targeted by the Trump campaign in 2016 whose very existence has ever since been denied by the media, along with their own role as a part of that elite. The irony is of course lost upon the intemperate impeachers, both elected and unelected, as so many other ironies have been over the past three years. It ought to be a lesson to us, though of course it won’t be.
And the lesson is this: if we are blind to irony, we will become irony’s victims. That is already the fate of those who fail to see, for example, that the first one to accuse another of lying is typically the more egregious liar; that the first one to use the word “divisive” against another usually does so only in order to deepen already existing divisions; that the first one to label another as “anti-science” is almost invariably the anti-scientific one, and that whoever calls anyone else a “hater” is always and ever sure to be the more full of hate himself. Now, with impeachment, we may find the culminating irony is that the opposition’s blind hatred for the President is ultimately what guarantees his re-election.
That, I believe, is Nancy Pelosi’s nightmare and the reason why she was so hesitant to yield to the impeachers’ importunities until the “whistle-blower” came along. In announcing the impeachment inquiry she even cited erroneous press reports about Mr Trump’s telephone call with the Ukrainian president, allegedly based on the whistle-blower’s account of it, rather than the White House memorandum of the call, which she admitted she hadn’t read. But her hatred, at least, was not blind or unreasoning. Rather poignantly, I thought, The Wall Street Journal’s “Notable and Quotable” column dug up a 21-year-old comment by Madam Speaker (as she then wasn’t) on the Clinton impeachment of 1998:
Today the Republican majority is not judging the president with fairness but impeaching him with a vengeance. In the investigation of the president, fundamental principles which Americans hold dear — privacy, fairness, checks and balances — have been seriously violated. And why? . . . We are here today because the Republicans in the House are paralyzed with hatred of President Clinton. And until the Republicans free themselves of this hatred, our country will suffer.
Arguably, the Republicans never did free themselves of this hatred; arguably, it is at least part of what has generated the even more virulent hatred of Democrats for President Trump (as, we might add, for the second President Bush before him). Certainly, our country continues to suffer; certainly, too, “paralyzed” seems the appropriate word to describe the House Democrats of today. Everything with them is seen through the prism of their Trump-hatred; everything they say and do is motivated by it, and even Mrs Pelosi herself, now the nominal leader of her party, is unable to move away from it.
I wonder, however, if she mightn’t be able to wrap her mind around the most dangerous and sinister irony of them all. As part of the federal government’s security services, the CIA came into existence after World War II to spy on our enemies and report to the president. Now, apparently, the agency has taken it upon itself to spy on the president and report to his enemies. Whatever you think of Ukraine-gate, impeachment or Joe Biden, you can’t possibly think that this is a good thing or healthy for the Republic. Not unless you’re mad. Or else paralyzed, like Nancy Pelosi. In the case of most Democrats, I believe, it is madness — the “holy madness” of revolutionary fervor, about which I have been writing in these pages for the past two months, finally finding what it supposes a persuasive reason for overturning the Trump presidency as it has wanted to do all along — “confirmation bias,” as Theodore Dalrymple wrote about last year’s Kavanaugh hearings, now “being our main method of reaching conclusions” about things.
But in the case of the comically misnamed “whistle-blower,” it is not a new madness. Rather, it arose out of another but not unrelated madness. I refer to that Media Madness I wrote about in a book of that title over a decade ago. Under President George W. Bush, the CIA was already a rogue agency because of its symbiotic relationship with the media. At least as early as the Reagan administration (according to Angelo Codevilla) politically motivated intelligence officials had learned that they would go unpunished for leaking illegally to the media in exchange for protection from the discipline of their supposed political superiors, all of whom lived in terror of scandal, and of the unrestrained media’s willingness to use it against them.
I would argue that at least part of the reason for the media’s hatred of Mr Trump, far surpassing that for his GOP predecessors, is owing to his apparent immunity to this same terror. Again and again he has dared the media scandal-machine to do its worst, and it has. It continues to do so. Yet so far it has failed to drive him from office — or even to drive his poll numbers down to the point where he can easily be beaten at the next election. That may be why the House Democrats have now decided that, instead of waiting for the next election, they need to try a lightning impeachment, while most Americans aren’t thinking about the election. They hope that, even if impeachment fails, as expected, to win conviction in the Senate, it will inflict some damage on his electoral prospects once people have had time to forget, if they ever knew, the flimsiness (not to mention the dangerousness) of the pretext on which the case for impeachment was laid.
Another very good reason why the deep state and its compliant allies among House Democrats might want to go for broke now, of course, is that Attorney General Barr and Special Counsel John Durham are thought to be close to exposing CIA and FBI wrong-doing in framing the “Russia-collusion” narrative that dominated the media for two-and-a-half years and the work of the newly Democratic House for all of this year. At the very least, impeachment could be expected to provide a counter-narrative to and thus a distraction from what others besides the Trump supporters may soon come to see as a deep state coup attempt. Or it could if it wasn’t beginning to look more than a bit like a coup attempt itself. I, for one, look forward to Mr Schiff’s Tom Paine-like thunderings to the effect that no man without corrupt motives could possibly want to know more about what might have been done by him and his allies in the security services. It must be impeachable, even treasonous, to want to find out.
True, they have and will continue to have the unfailing and unflinching support of the media, but it is still hard to see how this can be a good look for the President’s Democrat inquisitors. The scandal of insubordinate, free-lancing spies, on the other hand, looks like being forgotten no matter how the impeachment saga turns out. By now, the media reckon, the public have grown so used to the former underlings’ rights to second-guess their bosses and so become “whisle-blowers” against them that only a few right-wing kooks will bother to object publicly, however nervous their use of such means to such ends might be making more moderate Democrats in private. The media are hardly going to bite the hand that so often feeds them, while their Democratic beneficiaries must reason that if the CIA has broken free of political supervision it doesn’t really matter, so long as they are on their side — which is also the side of “history” and therefore, by definition, the right side.
Such reasoning is typical of the revolutionary madness — any means is justified by the sacred, “history”-endorsed rightness of the end — and shows how it is related to the sort of media-madness in which it first manifested itself. Until Jim Rutenberg’s signed editorial in The New York Times of August 8, 2016 announced to the world that paper’s abandonment of traditional journalism for advocacy and propaganda, the media retained enough vestiges of sanity to wish to conceal their revolutionary aims and their ambition for illegitimate and unaccountable power — even though it should have been obvious that, from the time when they began reciting their favorite mantra, that no one is above the law, they were always silently exempting themselves. Not since the Watergate era has anyone in the media ever been prosecuted for publishing classified information. Now, as the case of James Comey shows, their sources in government may enjoy the same immunity and the same exemption from legal restraint. So long as this remains the case, you may be sure that “whistle-blowers” seeking to depose elected Republicans will become routine. Their brazenness in illegality and impropriety will match the media’s own and, of course, will go unrebuked by the media or the deep state which they represent.
It’s not too much to suggest that Mr Rutenberg may have foreseen all this when he published his manifesto. We tend to forget, now that the left is playing its furiously defensive game, that 2016 was a time of revolutionary ferment for them as well as for the right. The open and unconcealed socialism of Bernie Sanders would very likely have carried all before it and got him the nomination if not for the more cautious DNC, long accustomed to a Fabian or delaying approach to its ends, and its machinations on behalf of Hillary Clinton. The left didn’t mind too much so long as they expected Mrs Clinton to be content to be a figurehead, as they now expect Joe Biden to be, behind which they can operate freely, if still somewhat surreptitiously. But when she lost, they felt doubly robbed, first by her and other establishment types and then by Donald Trump, who must have cheated, somehow, in order to have won. Everything the Democrats have said and done as a party since then has obviously had this sense of indignant outrage behind it.
As Wilfred McClay wrote in the most recent number of this magazine, “our capacity for loyalty is one of the things that makes life worth living. Without it there can be no enduring love, no family life, no friendship, no community, no society.” And, he might have added, no government, which is what the revolutionaries of the media want, at least for so long as Mr Trump is the head of that government. We ought to be able to see now that their scandal culture — based on making heroes of “whistle-blowers” while shaming the loyal as “cowardly” — has been tending to this point since that culture’s birth in the Watergate era. Republican government by Republicans has been outlawed as, in effect, piracy by the media’s quasi-official notification of a dissolution of the bonds of loyalty between that government’s leaders and their agents and employees.
Jim Geraghty wrote at National Review online that “When the Story Is Written, the Whistleblower Will Just Be an Afterthought.” Assuming that the scandal-culture survives the revolution intact he’s probably right. But if, as now seems possible, the country as a whole learns from the impeachment fiasco to look upon the media-Democrat complex with more skepticism, it may also come to see that the revolutionary whistle-blower is the scandal to democracy to which we should have been paying attention all along.
James Bowman is resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.