John Bolton, one of the intellectual architects of the Iraq War, is currently head of the National Security Council. Working for Trump is an exercise in daily humiliations, but is still a pretty good gig, which he got after a decade or so of well-paid TV and speech circuit work. It is certainly a better gig than being a live-in nurse for soldiers who have had their limbs blown off or their heads wrecked or their spines severed.
John Yoo, who made the legal case that turned America into a nation that tortures, is currently the Emanuel S. Heller Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. I don’t know exactly what that position is, but I imagine it is significantly more cushy than, say, being an ash-covered mendicant traveling the country in sackcloth begging forgiveness.
Dick Cheney, who beside being evil was a remarkable failure, being the most powerful man in the country during two lost wars and a catastrophic recession, gets up to $75,000 a speech to talk about the leadership and the broad themes of history. Ari Fleischer is a talking head. Dana Pirino has had like 10 shows.
In other words, not a single member of the Bush administration, which at the very least deliberately overturned the Geneva Conventions, wrecked the lives of hundreds of innocents, and brutalized a nation into accepting torture, suffered any real legal or financial consequences for their actions. And they certainly didn’t suffer any social ones, at all.
That’s important to remember as we debate inanely about “civility” in the wake of both DHS Secretary Kristjen Neilsen and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders being booed from and politely asked to leave from a restaurant, respectively.
By now you know the outlines of this. Official Washington is absolutely aghast that these women weren’t allowed to have their meals after a day spent separating children from their families and/or lying about it. Even the Washington Post, which has been a beacon of hard reporting in a toothless and truthless era, pearl-clutched itself into irrelevance with an official editorial begging for civility.
Obviously, the right has been livid about this, with performative cries of fascism and declarations that the Left is finally showing their true colors. It’s easy to point out the hypocrisy here: the party of “Lock Her Up!” and “Trump that bitch!” and “grab her by the pussy” and “fuck your feelings” and “Mexicans are rapists” and “Democrats want open borders to protect their gun-grabbing jihadist pedophile pizza slingers” is sad that other people are being mean.
But there is obviously more at play here than just hypocrisy. It’s very strategic hypocrisy, taking advantage of Democrat’s natural inclination toward compromise and obsequious grandstanding centrism to force apologies and throw us on our back feet. It’s part of the constant firehouse of lies and nonsense that is impossible to combat, the swirl of confusion that is the constant background music of our times, the Rites of Spring being played on a broken accordion, forever.
It’s that horrible music, and the Democrat’s natural tendency to quail, that can force Nancy Pelosi to condemn a true champion of the base and stand up for Sarah Huckabee Sanders because they know how to work the system.
Note: she didn’t call for harm to supporters, but more incivility against Trump administration officials, who at the very least work for a man who consistently calls Maxine Waters, and no one else, “low IQ”, a racially-charged slur, which Trump knows, which is why he keeps doing it, which is why it is outrageous for Pelosi to condemn Waters for god’s sake.
So why did Pelosi capitulate? It’s because she knows how the game works (and has probably internalized it so much that it is part of her, or she is part of it, or it is indistinguishable. It was so laughably obvious and predictable how our elite media and political class would react to an acting agent of incipient authoritarianism being asked to leave a restaurant. They’d call for the left and the Dems to be polite, and to treat Trump’s bullying fascism with “kindness”, because “that’s not who we are”. We can’t let our politics get in the way of decency!
Fuck that. Saying that “politics” shouldn’t matter is the rallying cry of the powerful, for whom politics has no real impact. Sarah Huckabee Sanders is participating in a program to permanently orphan children on behest of the American people. She’s helping the administration poison our air and water, sew discord and distrust everywhere, slander career law enforcement agents, and block any real chance at seeing how deeply Russia has infiltrated our politics.
Politics is real life, and really affects the lives of people who aren’t in the powerful class. That’s why the Even The Liberal Washington Post and commentators from “both sides of the aisle” are universally aghast at what is happening to administration officials. They are nearly as complicit, and don’t want to upset the rules of what for them is a very comfortable game.
But that’s not how it should be. If you think that we are at a very dangerous inflection point in American history, you can’t let the comfortable stay comfortable. If the powerful are still comfortable during times of evil, evil wins.
That’s one way to combat this. There may never be actual legal or financial disruptions for these people (although there also might be, fingers crossed). But there damn well should be social ones. You don’t get to enact cruelty during the day and then go out like nothing has happened. You changed clothes; you didn’t change skin. Actions, we’re always told, have consequences. It should for the powerful as well.
This isn’t a cry to harass any Trump voters, obviously. Literally no one is saying that. Argue, persuade, cut them off your Facebook feed, whatever. That’s a private decision. We’re saying that punching up is a duty. We’re saying is that the powerful should be held to account. If they are, if their lives are made materially worse for their role in making other lives dramatically and irrevocably worse, maybe they’ll think twice. Maybe people won’t take jobs with brutal, authoritarian administrations. Maybe things will change.
And maybe not. The unique malevolent gravity of Donald Trump ensures that this administration won’t change its tone. But if its lackeys can’t eat in public anymore, if they are booed on the street and made to feel the weight of their cruel actions, maybe it will just be the fake king, wandering bloated down the empty hallways of the shadowed White House, mumbling nothings to the few ghouls who still hang around. And that, at least, might make a difference.