Daniel Henninger this past week asked the right question in his entertaining, Terminator-themed meditation on the anti-Trump opposition that has “crawled across broken glass to terminate this presidency.”
It’s a question we’ve been over before in these pages, although rarely. There are always too many new details popping up in the endless Russiagate saga to zoom out and dwell on the big-picture questions. And up to now, we haven’t learned enough to be sure what direction the questions ought to take us.
Henninger’s central question marks a turning point, rather than a finish line. After pondering the broken glass, he poses this query:
One may reasonably ask: What was that all about? That the opposition simply wanted to “get Trump” is an insufficient explanation for the scale of this obsession. Nor is it sufficient to say the opposition emerged from Mr. Trump’s rhetoric about immigrants and such.
None of that explains why so many once-sober Federal Bureau of Investigation bureaucrats went rogue in 2016. It doesn’t explain why after the election professional Democrats formed themselves into what they called “the Resistance,” as if suddenly they’d all become characters in “Les Misérables.”
I can’t endorse these points emphatically enough. Consider that even with the Russiagate narrative put to bed as a nothingburger, at best – and a hoax, at worst – the Democrats in Congress are now literally planning to rehash the entire thing on Capitol Hill, and spend any time they have left over between now and January 2021 dragging in as many people as they can find for excruciating financial and professional colonoscopies in order to somehow, anyhow, get at Trump.
They’re still crawling across the broken glass. If it runs out, they’ll just have to break some more.
“What was that all about?” is a supremely important question. But the most important question is, “What is it all about?” It hasn’t stopped. The obsession and determination are still there.
I don’t find Henninger’s own response satisfactory.
Something snapped in the opposition’s psyche. They started wailing about “our democracy.” The panic over this presidency became Trump Derangement Syndrome.
That probably covers the reactions of some of the foot soldiers in progressive-left activism: the ones who join online groups and show up for #Resistance demonstrations.
But it doesn’t even begin to cover the motives of people like John Brennan, James Comey, Susan Rice, or Hillary Clinton. The cast of characters in Russiagate is astonishingly vast, stretching across continents, and the longer we go on, the less the original premise of the narrative holds together. It frankly became obvious by the fall of 2017 that these dramatis personae were not acting in response to suspicions about Trump and the Russians. Rather, they were trying to create suspicions about Trump and the Russians.
With time and fresh revelations, that has become steadily clearer and more certain. Even those who resisted drawing that conclusion early on were finally coming to it at the end of 2018. The investigations in Congress, which had the paced activities of the Mueller probe as their central predicate, kept yielding new information that didn’t make sense if the Obama agencies really thought they had a national security problem.
The information only made sense if the Obama agencies were laboring to pin something on Trump.
So the question, again. Why?
Reasons that don’t explain Russiagate
I can’t get enthusiastic over the proposition that it was all about covering up for Hillary Clinton. Our assessment of possible motives depends very much here on our prior beliefs about how humans behave. And the Hillary cover-up theory doesn’t pass that test for me. At some point, Hillary would be on her own as far as the anti-Trump coalition was concerned.
But more importantly, Hillary got the 2016 nomination in spite of all her drawbacks as a candidate. And polls showed her with an advantage over Trump throughout most of the campaign season. The motive to crawl across glass for Hillary doesn’t make sense for 2016, when no one needed to crawl across glass for her – and it certainly doesn’t make sense for 2019, when, glass aside, no one needs her anymore.
If it was about covering up for the misuse of government authority (e.g., the Hillary emails exoneration; the earliest, highly questionable spying on Trump), the coalition of the obsessed has taken things farther than any such coalition ever did. In the normal course of things, they would have just scapegoated a few people by now and cut their losses.
But they haven’t. They’re not in this to adjust our vision of the past. It’s not the dead hand of the past they’re worried about. Their goal is apparently to harass, thwart, defame, and if possible take down Trump, because of now.
Some reason for crawling across glass to do that, with big hunks of the exoskeleton severed, is the motive we’re looking for.
The scope of what the Russiagate posse has lost
Speaking of severed exoskeletons, it’s worth pausing to note how very much the coalition of the obsessed has already lost. Lee Smith, in a superb treatment at The Tablet, calls the Mueller report’s grand, act-ending scene an extinction-level event for the legacy media and the credentialed “experts.”
The media-and-experts dyad – the two-entity, co-dependent system – has been exposed. It hasn’t been providing us an honest-brokerage service at all. It has been conducting a vast information operation.
Russiagate was an information operation from the beginning, in which dozens of individual reporters and institutions actively partnered with paid political operatives like Glenn Simpson and corrupt law enforcement and intelligence officials like former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and senior DOJ official Bruce Ohr to smear Trump and his circle, and then to topple him. None of what went on the last two years would have been possible without the press, an indispensable partner in the biggest political scandal in a generation.
Smith’s final words toll heavily:
Americans still want and need accurate information on which to base their decisions about their own lives and the path that the country should take. But neither the legacy media nor the expert class it sustains is likely to survive the post-dossier era in any recognizable form. For them, Russiagate is an extinction level event.
If he is right (and for what it’s worth, I think he is), the losses the anti-Trump coalition is willing to take are colossal. The Obsessed Coalition is willing to wage what amounts to thermonuclear war on itself, in order to take down Trump.
It rings false to me that this is all because a whole lot of noted professionals in positions of power and honor have simply lost their minds. And even if that were “the” answer, it wouldn’t explain the activities of the principal group at the center of it all – government officials, the ones who had the tools of state in their hands – any better than the “Hillary” or the “cover-up” theory does.
For their motives, we have to look elsewhere. That’s the crucial reason why it still matters when and how the Russiagate operation against Trump really started. It’s also the question we must answer to prevent this from happening again.
A look ahead to what will help us, and not just satisfy our curiosity
I have a goal in arguing us to this point. It is to lay out, briefly, why I think we are indeed fated to pursue this matter to – if you will – the “better” end, and to suggest an outline of what we should be looking for.
The most basic element of the outline is the one unifying thing it’s all about, whatever the details may be. What makes the most sense is a function the U.S. federal government has filled for the main drivers of the Obsessed Coalition. The alarming proposition with Trump, the reason he’s simply got to be taken out, would be very simple: his election means that that function, for some number of people who have depended on it, could very well be lost, especially if he remains in office through January 2025.
The temptation with this analysis is to either run with it into the dead ends of conspiracism, or dismiss it outright because one-dimensional thinking makes it so easy to go down the rat-hole of conspiracy theory. I suspect now is the time when we will have to grow up a little, along that arc of history, and realize a modern truth: that while “Illuminati”-style conspiracy theories don’t explain what happens around us, there are an awful lot of things being done and decided for whole peoples today outside the formal apparatus of elected government.
The regime of a “regulatory state” has become a reality for so much of the world that affecting regulation is now frequently more important than affecting legislation. Manipulating the levers of regulation and administration has even become, for many purposes, the most important political activity. Deep-pocketed non-state parties do, in fact, hold endless conclaves and planning meetings to influence government bureaucrats; those who think this is a conspiracy myth don’t know what they’re talking about.
The incentive of the regulatory state
The practitioners are called the “lobbying industry,” but they do far more than just court congressmen over rounds of golf. They’re a full-service industry now, gaming out plans in the academy and think-tanks and NGOs, at “strategic services” nonprofits and in the halls of commercial industry, to use and extend the power of government. In many cases, they write something more important than legislation. They write regulation – regulation that Congress will never muster the unity or energy to regain mastery of, now that it has been turned over to executive agencies and the courts.
The key condition required for this regulatory system to continue on its current path – so profitable for many, and such a source of power – is a chief executive who is just fine with it, and doesn’t bother to know or think about its dysfunctionality.
Perhaps it was clear, well prior to July 2016, that that was not what Trump would be. In any case, without intending to, the mainstream media show every day that it’s not the kind of executive he is. All the caterwauling from the media about “chaos” and bitterness and fear and so forth in Trump’s executive agencies is evidence that Trump is not fine with regulatory bureaucracy as-is, and hasn’t done the things that would keep it rolling along on the same old course.
The media sell that to us as a bug. For Trump voters, it’s a feature. The noisy clashes of Trump’s bureaucracies with Trump are evidence of china being hurled – china that in many cases badly needed breaking. But that will incommode a lot of people who have made their living for decades from government that operates a certain way.
Perhaps that’s a major part of the outline of what we’re looking for: the breaking of the regulatory state. It begins to be a good enough reason, at any rate, to fight to the point of calling in fire on your own position, as the Obsessed Coalition is doing. Without that regulatory state model, operating in the same guise since at least the 1930s, many committed people don’t have a professional raison d’être, or any vision of a financial future for themselves.
The shibboleth of regulatory internationalism
There’s more than that, however. In the category of “what Trump would do differently,” there is also the post-1945 framework of regulatory internationalism, now potentially facing evaporation. That framework always depended entirely on the United States backing it as a priority. Modern internationalism in its complacent regulatory form is only possible because of the United States, and there has never been any other reality.
Trump is not a regulatory internationalist in that sense. He is a bilateralist and a deal-maker. He clearly sees that certain enabling conditions must be maintained among the nations (e.g., safe, well-regulated maritime and air space, deterrence of outrages like the use of chemical weapons). But he prefers the agility and situational responsiveness of bilateral relations across borders, rather than creeping clusters of rote principles, their books kept by theoretically stateless entities, which cannot be violated even when the “principles” turn into suicide pacts for national sovereignty.
Trump is much more in the style of American foreign relations before World War I than that of the post-1945 consensus. That’s hard luck for transnationalists and supranationalists, in particular, who are invested in multiple ways (including financial ones) in a very different vision. Their vision basically involves taking the administration of money, trade, and migration out of national hands, and ensuring it stays out. Trump refuses to compromise with that vision.
Did the Obsessed Coalition foresee that he would be intransigent in that regard? I’m not sure the perception was conscious or well thought-out. (Certainly the #Resistance seems unable to make temperate or articulate arguments, in most cases. There’s just a lot of demagogic screeching about evil “populism,” “xenophobia,” and, for the pile-on effect, “racist white nationalism.”)
But I do think this is also part of the outline. Trump’s discordant refusal to participate in the rituals of regulatory internationalism interrupts a lot of other people’s plans.
Besides the monkey wrench Trump throws into the structural machinery of regulatory governance, in which so many are invested, there are specific realms of activity in which we have troubling indications of past misdeeds, whose patterns may still be ongoing.
Very specific skulduggery it takes government to bring off
The Clintons’ adventure with Uranium One between 2005 and 2010 was a hint of one such realm. A compelling case is made here that the control of U.S. uranium gained by Russia wasn’t the true vulnerability created by this episode. But if the authors are right, the effect was worse than that. And it hints at questionable dealings the public knows too little about regarding uranium in general – the world over.
Indeed, the Clintons’ noticeable pattern of dealings in the 2000s with traders in high-value commodities suggests that that whole area of economic endeavor – not just uranium – could stand a good wirebrushing. Bureaucracies on autopilot, immune from genuinely accountable scrutiny even in the Western nations, are what it takes to keep dysfunctional and nefarious practices going.
That is at least as much the case with money and bookkeeping in the U.S. federal government. I’ve written on that topic a few times, and will only add here a most disquieting article from Forbes in 2018, which takes the very crude analysis essayed in a couple of my previous posts to a superior and even more convincing level.
A theme conveniently wrapped into Russiagate itself
A third specific realm is one that has been interwoven relentlessly with the Russiagate narrative itself, and that ought to stand out to us for that reason alone. The narrative has been obsessive and determined about persuading us that digital media of all kinds, and especially social media, are doing terrible things to us. They’re in the hands of our enemies – whoever “we” and “our enemies” are – and the solution we really need is to fear their impact on us, hold regular two-minute hates against them, and hand them over for government regulation as soon as possible.
In the interim, dark-funded nonprofit entities will be happy to step up and certify to us who’s naughty and who’s nice – ideally in preparation for a more formalized version of the same service, administered by governments.
It has repeatedly struck me how intently the Russiagate narrative has flogged this theme, taking every advantage of Trump’s seeming verbal incontinence to frame him and anyone who seems to be “for” him as the menace-in-chief.
Pounding the theme of a predatory-media apocalypse isn’t about a past pattern of misdeeds using the power of government, of course. It seems to be more an attempt to not waste any opportunity from the manufactured Russiagate crisis. The “story” about how social media posting by Russians was supposed to have “interfered” in the U.S. election has always been far too silly to stand on its own. Lacking any merit in rationality or explanatory value, it seemed to be incorporated in the larger narrative for an ulterior motive.
There is hope and a future here
Does all this get us anywhere? Karl Rove assures the president that he needs to move on from this whole distasteful affair. And Trump doesn’t want Russiagate to preempt the urgent business of the American people any longer than it already has.
But Congress and the media aren’t prepared to let go of it. The good news about this, apart from the straightforward point that it will do us good, is that every effort mounted by the anti-Trump coalition has turned — as I have observed before — into a giant self-own. In tilting at Trump, the coalition against him just keeps revealing the nature and scope of its own reprehensible shenanigans.
Now the Democrats are digging in, determined to haul in everyone for questioning and find something, anything, that a Trump associate did, no matter how remote the association. We can expect more and more to tumble out about what Democrats and other anti-Trump forces were doing, both before and after the 2016 election.
Republicans want the questionable activities of the investigators themselves questioned. Trump doesn’t have to take the public lead on it, and probably shouldn’t (although we’re still waiting to find out what Mr. John Huber has been doing for all these months). The legislative branch is highly motivated to keep burbling out all the disclosures we will need to piece together the real story behind Russiagate.
This is, in fact, what America needs. Real people have seen their lives shredded over this for no valid reason. That is unconscionably wrong. And the central problem is what the problem always is: that government is about power, and power corrupts. Government is too big in the U.S. in 2019. It has become misshapen and in too many ways wildly unconstitutional and out of reasonable control. None of the powers by which agencies of the U.S. government have injured our citizens and abused the people’s time and resources should go without withering scrutiny in the wake of this appalling episode. Not one.