When the eventual history of this dumb and wretched is eventually written, this tweet could be one that children are forced to memorize, from a stone desk in their cave-school in the Nü-Barrens.
There’s a lot going on here, but the basic story is this: when the FBI found out about the extensive role that Russia was (ultimately successfully) attempting to play in our election, and the inordinate number of ties and meetings between Russia and the Trump campaign, they wanted to look into it. Seems reasonable, to me.
One thing they did was ask an intermediary to talk to several Trump campaign officials, your various Pages and Papadodoli. This intermediary would then report back to the FBI. Again, pretty basic stuff, when investigating criminality. Indeed, this would seem to be the bare minimum the FBI can do.
Of course, now that this is public knowledge, thanks to extraordinary leaks from quisling par excellence Devin Nunes, it has mutated into the FBI “infiltrating or surveilling” the campaign, which is only half accurate, for “Political Purposes”, which is nonsense.
The reason it is nonsense is basic common sense. This has been pointed out by probably millions of people, but the FBI, under the Higherly Loyal leadership of James Comey, slow-walked any Trump investigation to avoid even the merest hint of politics, even planting false stories in the Times about how there was no investigation, which was patently false. This is actually ok, or would have been, had they not made a huge show out of looking at some emails found because Anthony Weiner had to sext teenagers, and no, I will never ever get over this.
So, if you wanted to allege an FBI conspiracy to derail the Trump campaign, it was basically this: 1) Investigate and infiltrate; 2) find damning details of meetings and Russian interference; 3) alert the President, who said nothing; 4) tell the world there is no investigations; 5) ?; 6) win!
(This timeline ignores Mitch McConnell refusing to release a bipartisan statement telling Russia to back off, one the many reasons he’s the worst, but this timeline isn’t about Republican abetting, just baffling FBI conspiracies.)
Obviously, it is nonsense, but despite–or rather, because–of that, it is an absolute article of faith with the President, his surrounders, most elected Republicans, and the whole right wing machine. That’s why this tweet is so ominous. We don’t just have the normal absolutely insane situation of the President tweeting out idiot conspiracies. He’s now demanding that the Justice Department investigate itself.
Hitting the Bottom and Still Digging
It’s staggering to reflect on how out of bounds this is. This is careening toward that Constitutional crisis we’ve all been worrying about. A real explosive one; not “just” the daily crisis of a manifestly incompetent President using the office to enrich himself and help the foreign nations that helped elect him. It’s not the crisis I was expecting before the election, but it isn’t that far off, either.
Here you have the President using his immense platform to mainstream the idea that the FBI should have been subservient to whatever Trump wanted, not just during his Presidency, but during the campaign. You have him throwing the weight of his office to derail an investigation, and turn the DOJ into his private fiefdom. You have loyalty to Trump as the only factor that matters when it comes to law and order, and indeed, truth.
Hours later, the Justice Department responded by saying it had asked its inspector general to expand an ongoing review of the applications to monitor a former Trump campaign adviser “to include determining whether there was any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted its counterintelligence investigation of persons suspected of involvement with the Russian agents who interfered in the 2016 presidential election.”
Now, I’ve seen a lot of people make the case that the DOJ did the right thing here. By essentially giving Trump what he wants, they can avoid a clash, and hope to slowplay this until it is replaced by the next crisis, ultimately revealing that, of course, the FBI handled it well. They are also hoping that this internal investigation is a bit of a salve, and will prevent Republicans in Congress from demanding to unmask the intermediary.
Late last month, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) issued a subpoena to the Justice Department seeking all documents related to the professor. So far, he has been rebuffed by department officials, who have said that exposing the source or the source’s work could put him and his contacts in danger and jeopardize international intelligence partnerships.
Law enforcement officials consider the informant’s identity so sensitive that the FBI had been working over the past two weeks to mitigate the potential damage if his name was revealed, according to several people familiar with the matter.
Our Peculiar Authoritarianism
That’s how bad Nunes et al are. They are willing to burn the whole country to the ground not to exonerate Trump, because that’s impossible, but to sew enough chaos that no one is clear what is happening, and it is all lost in a miasma of accusations and counter-accusations, of competing narratives, of decided untruths given pride of place in the public square, and more complicated reality being shunted aside.
That’s what I mean by Trump’s dumbshow authoritarianism. He has an intuitive grasp on how to manipulate the truth, and how to bend the swirling distractions of modernity to his advantage. He knows that his platform is such that if he tweetyells it, it has the authority of unquestioned truth for millions.
And look at the language: not just the weird capitalizations, but the first line: “I hereby demand”. That’s…not something a President can do. He can execute laws. He can sign orders that set the wheels of the state in motion. He can suggest laws, cajole Congress, use the bully pulpit. But demand? And hope it comes true? That’s not democratic.
And there’s an element here where it is clear that Trump sort-of knows that. He clearly says he will “do so officially tomorrow”, but there’s a reason he put in the first part. He knows that even though that’s not a thing he can do, but by simply saying it, he’ll have legions of people on TV and online nodding their heads with concussive velocity to say “yes, of course, the President can demand anything of his Justice Department. They work for Trump! They are basically subsidiaries of Trump Org!”
By saying it, and by knowing (at least instinctively) that he is forcing the DOJ to bend here, if not break, he normalizes that behavior. He creates more confusion, more disorder, and more people saying that this order is exactly what we need, and it is right and good and true and above all American. And it is right because it’s what Trump wants.
Personality is what matters here. Trump’s whims are what matter here. Protecting Trump is what matters here. His demands, his crimes, his arrogance and ignorance, his pathologies: those are all swirled up into the constant noise and endless apprehension we all hear and feel. That’s the hurricane force of Trumpism, and our era. That’s his instinctive dumbshow authoritarianism. And this week, it has entered a new and more dangerous phase.
(A note on the title: I know how dumb it is to say that something is the apotheosis of the Trump era, since the two rules are: 1) It’s as bad as it has ever been, and 2) what comes next will be worse. So when I say “peak” or “apotheosis”, I only mean, “up to this moment”, not “it gets better after this, guys!”)
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