My Weekly Reader 15 November 2020.

            The Covid-19 pandemic has sent people streaming to History in search of previous events to provide some guidance for the present.[1]  Applying to America the understanding of the impact of epidemic disease formulated by his Yale colleague Frank Snowden, law professor John Fabian Witt argues that “New germs help make new laws and institutions, yet old ways of doing things shape the course of epidemics and the ways in which we respond to them.” 

            Witt discerns two trends in the American government response to disease, beginning with the smallpox epidemic that coincided with the Revolutionary War.  One is the development of preventive measures.  These measures include things like draining marshes and bogs to rob mosquitoes carrying malaria, yellow fever, and dengue of their habitat; providing city populations with clean water to drink and to clean the filth off the streets in order to avoid cholera; and the screening of populations to prevent the transmission of disease.[2]  Government, what Witt calls the “Sanitationist State,” grew in power in response to the need to prevent disease.  At the same time, science and medicine advanced rapidly in their ability to provide government with the needed tools.  All of these efforts Witt sees as expressing liberal values of a free society. 

            In contrast, there are the coercive or authoritarian measures of a “Quarantinist State.”  Governments caught up in a desperate emergency may impose an “authoritarian and discriminatory control over people of color, the poor, and immigrant newcomers.”  Here it is hard not to think that Witt may be using epidemic disease chiefly as a metaphor to criticize other forms of expanded government power.  “America’s record on infectious diseases is filled with discrimination and authoritarianism….Each new infection presents a risk of entrenching existing inequities.”  The same might be said of any national security emergency.  Witt may be extending an earlier argument against John Yoo’s interpretation of the Constitution in the aftermath of the undoubted emergency created by 9/11.[3]  However, one could just as easily point to the USA Patriot Act and the revelations of Edward Snowden for further examples of what can happen under an “emergency” that never seems to end. 

            Witt raises vital issues.  A democracy is rule by laws, not by men.  A democracy’s laws define the operations of government during normal times.  An emergency is a departure from what is normal.[4]  What becomes of the rule of law during an emergency?  Can the courts grant broad discretion to government officials to deal with an emergency?  When should government officials surrender such discretionary power?[5]  Is it fair to judge the quality of a democracy by what it does in an emergency, rather than by what it does in normal times? 

            Happily, American presidents have always pulled back or were pulled back from the brink in previous emergencies.  Those were decisions taken by individual men.  We know less about the behavior of the career bureaucrats who operate the machinery of government.


[1] See, for example, John Fabian Witt, American Contagions: Epidemics and the Law from Smallpox to Covid-19 (2020), reviewed by Adam J. White, WSJ, 10 November 2020. 

[2] The case of “Typhoid Mary: in 19th Century New York City offers a revealing example. 

[3] See: https://harvardlawreview.org/wp-content/uploads/pdfs/witt.pdf 

[4] War, rebellion, natural disasters, and epidemic or pandemic outbreaks of disease are common examples of conditions which may justify declaring a “state of emergency.”

[5] Declaring a “state of emergency” or a “state of siege” is a common feature of anti-democratic coups. 

Crisis of Democracy.

One way of telling the history of the Twentieth Century is to describe the Triumph of Democracy.  In 1900, only11 countries that could be described as political democracies: they granted all adult male citizens the right to vote and they applied the same laws to all citizens.[1]  The “War to Make the World Safe for Democracy” only somewhat advanced their cause: by 1920, there were 20 democracies and many of them had granted women the vote.  The interwar crisis and the Second World War centered on the defeat of aggressive tyrannies.  Thereafter, however, democracy advanced by leaps and bounds.  Western colonial empires were dismantled.  Democracy expanded its meaning from the purely political to social democracy, and legal protections for civil rights were greatly extended.  The Cold War ended in the collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire.  By 2003, there were 86 democracies in a world of 190-odd countries.[2]   

            Rather than continuing its advance, however, democracy has been in retreat since the mid-2000s.[3]  Where democracy continues to exist, “democratic norms and institutions” are being hollowed-out.  What has caused democracy to fall into disrepute?  What has caused dictators and would-be dictators to gain a new credibility? 

            The crisis arises both from specific personalities and from larger and more long-term systemic changes.  On the level of personalities, one can point to the interaction of Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, and Donald Trump.  Many of the successes for democratization owed at least something to American government backing for democratic movements and institutions from the of Jimmy Carter’s administration through the Reagan-Bush era.  Donald Trump’s administration has largely abandoned the “bully pulpit” on behalf of democracy in the shit-holes of the world.  A host of minor-league wannabe-tyrants draw inspiration from Chinese and Russian aggression. 

On the level of systems, two different sorts of problems exist.  On the one hand. regularly-held elections in which citizens choose their own leaders are not enough to make a country democratic.  Real, living democracy requires also a widely accepted “liberal” mindset.  It requires independent institutions like courts, business, media, and non-governmental associations.  Finally, it requires institutions of government (from the civil bureaucracy to the military to the intelligence services) that serve the nation, rather than any individual leader.  These are the “democratic norms and institutions” that are being hollowed around the world. 

On the other hand, all of these ills arise from the interaction of sclerotic political systems with increasingly indifferent citizens.  Here it becomes difficult to solve the chicken-or-the-egg problem.  Do frozen-up political systems foster citizen alienation?  Does they shift citizens into wavering between solving their own problems through ad hoc means or hoping for a strong-man who can burst the dam?  Does citizen alienation and indifference allow political systems to congeal around dead issues, rather the forcing them to address live issues? 

Neither answer holds much promise for revived democracy. 


[1] This bald definition invites enough qualifications to make your head spin.  For example, women didn’t have the vote; many representative governments hedged-in responsive government to serve an anti-democratic distrust of “the mob”; and democracies ruled over-seas empires in an undemocratic fashion. 

[2] Larry Diamond, “The Global Crisis of Democracy,” WSJ, 18-19 May 2019. 

[3] That is, it began during the years of the Obama-Biden administration. 

Election Investigations 1 21 October 2019.

James B. Stewart is nobody’s fool.[1]  His most recent book paws over what is known of the near-simultaneous and mid-election investigations of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.[2]

Hillary Clinton had used a private e-mail server for business and personal matters when federal regulations banned that practice.  She then “wiped” the hard-drive, deleting tens of thousands of messages about purely personal matters.[3]  The subsequent FBI investigation concluded that there existed no sign of criminal intent.

However, FBI agents in offices which had previously dealt with the Clintons (Little Rock, New York City) were “hotbeds of anti-Clinton hostility.”  FBI Director James Comey told Attorney General Loretta Lynch that “there is a cadre of senior people in New York who have a deep and visceral hatred of Hillary Clinton.”[4]

The Inspector General of the Justice Department later excoriated Comey for having usurped the authority of the then-compromised Attorney General Lynch.[5]  He had denounced Clinton’s “extremely careless” handling of information.  Then, an unrelated investigation of Congressman Anthony Weiner revealed that his wife, Huma Abedin—Hillary Clinton’s chief aid—had not informed the FBI that she had another computer on which “sensitive” information had been stored.  This had forced Comey to re-open the investigation late in the election.  This may have cost Hillary Clinton the 2016 election.[6]  Arguably, this was a violation of standard operating procedure in the FBI.

Stewart seems to suggest that there are a great many Republicans within the FBI and the Justice Department.[7]  Furthermore, they are motivated by their partisan commitments, rather than by a professional commitment to law enforcement.  “Comey felt bound to appease the Clinton-haters because they refused to accept any process that failed to yield their preferred outcome.”[8]

Exactly why Comey would feel obliged to appease the Clinton-haters is not clearly stated.  Would they leak embarrassing information about Clinton or someone else?  Would they compromise his re-appointment as Director?  Then, Comey seems to have leaked his memos to trigger appointment of a special prosecutor, who turned out to be Robert Mueller, a Republican.  Much remains to be learned.

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_B._Stewart  I wonder if that makes him feel lonely?

[2] James B. Stewart, Deep State: Trump, the FBI, and the Rule of Law (2019).  See the review by Jonathan Chait, “There Are No Winners Here,” NYTBR, 20 October 2019, p.  11.

[3] Apparently, she did NOT transfer this trove of treasured personal communications to an external hard-drive for future reference because she isn’t someone who dwells on the past or retains e-mails from her daughter.

[4] As I understand it, the New York office had wanted to investigate the allegations of influence-peddling suggested in Peter Schweizer, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich (2015).  They were not allowed to do so, probably because the source of the information was a partisan opponent seeking to discover harmful information.  FBI agents in the New York office may have leaked anti-Clinton information to conservative media.

[5] See: https://www.washingtonpost.com/apps/g/page/world/scathing-justice-dept-watchdog-report-rebukes-james-b-comey-cites-major-missteps-by-fbi/2309/

[6] Actually, it is difficult to say exactly what caused Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the election.  See:  Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign (2017).

[7] So it’s like military service.  Most Democrats will not fight for their country, although Pete Buttigieg and Tulsi Gabbard are exceptions.  For that matter, neither will most Republicans.

[8] Chait, “No Winners.”

Barr the Door 17 October 2019.

By April 2019, the investigation into allegations of conspiracy between the Donald Trump campaign and the Russkies concluded with a sort-of “Scotch verdict.”  Depending on your point of view of course.  Soon, Attorney General William Barr ordered an investigation of the origins of the “Russia probe” that had been carried out by the FBI before and after Donald Trump was elected President.  Barr wondered if the FBI might have “abused its power” in the investigation.  The Inspector General of the Department of Justice already had launched an inquiry into the FISA warrants used to justify surveillance of Carter Page.  However, the IG could compel testimony and secure documents only within the Department of Justice and the FBI.  Barr’s new investigation, backed by a presidential order for all agencies and departments to co-operate and permitting Barr to declassify any documents that he thinks right, seemingly could touch on the State Department, the Defense Department, and the intelligence community.  Barr had asked US Attorney John Durham to carry out that investigation.

In early October 2019, Barr and Durham went to Rome.  The two wanted the cooperation of the Italian government in their investigation.  Why Italy?  It’s the operating base for Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor who is suspected of having ties to the Russian intelligence service.  Mifsud had told Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.  Later, Mifsud eluded the FBI and then disappeared.  Where is he?  Will he talk?  Furthermore, in early July 2019, Christopher Steele met with an FBI agent stationed in Rome.  They had known each other from having participated in investigations of Central Asian-Russian organized Crime.  Steele shared his early concerns with the agent, who reported them to Victoria Nuland at the State Department.  It might be useful to sort out the details not covered by the documents and e-mails.

In addition, the two hoped to get help from the governments of Britain and Australia.[1]

They are interested in Australia because Papadopoulos told the Australian High Commissioner to Britain and his assistant, that he had learned that the Russian had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton during a meeting in May 2016.  Durham may want to know exactly when the Australians communicated this knowledge to the Americans.  Did they share the knowledge immediately, by mid-May, with the FBI or the CIA?  Did they share it in mid-June after the Russian hack of the computer server of the Democratic National Committee and of Hillary Clinton’s secret server became public knowledge?  Did they wait until mid-July, as the timeline of the FBI seems to suggest?  If they waited, why did they wait?  It was interesting news.

They may be interested in Britain because of the potential involvement of the British intelligence services, both MI-5 (domestic) and MI-6 (the foreign Secret Intelligence Service).  Christopher Steele had been a senior member of MI-6.  Now he runs a private “intelligence” organization out of London.  Can that business thrive if the intelligence “community” doubts you?  So, what—purely out of self-defense—did Steele tell the British s well as various Americans?  Did British agencies share that information with their American “cousins”?

It is important here to not confuse William Barr with Rudolph Giuliani.  Nor—so far–do the subject areas of their investigations overlap.  Will Barr’s investigation survive?

[1] “Barr hunts for signs of a plot to undermine Trump,” The Week, 11 October 2019, p. 5.

Summer 2016 2 10 July 2019.

In the many days ago, some people suspected that FIFA (International Federation of Football Associations—i.e. the organization that ran the “beautiful game”) was as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.  When the British Football Association contemplated trying to get the World Cup venue in 2018 or 2012, it hired Christopher Steele’s firm to investigate FIFA.  He learned a lot.  In 2011, when the FBI opened its own investigation into corruption in soccer, agents talked to Steele.  The FBI group conducting the soccer investigation, was the “Eurasian Organized Crime” group.  It was based in the New York field office, rather than in Washington.  The FBI group’s leader at that time may have been Michael Gaeta.  Gaeta later moved to the American embassy in Rome.[1]

In the first week of July 2016, Steele asked Gaeta to come to London.  Gaeta got the meeting approved by Victoria Nuland, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, then met Steele in London on 5 July 2016.  Steele gave the agent 2-4 pages highlighting his information gathered so far.  It has been reported that Gaeta said “I have to show this to headquarters.”[2]  Was that the answer Christopher Steele hoped to hear?

To whom did Michael Gaeta report?

On the one hand, Gaeta reported back to Assistant Secretary Nuland, sending the papers he had been given by Steele.  Nuland later stated that “our immediate reaction to that was, ‘This is not in our purview.  This needs to go to the FBI, if there is any concern here that one candidate or the election as a whole might be influenced by the Russian federation. That’s something for the FBI to investigate.”[3]  Unless Nuland was using the “royal we,” who were the people with whom Nuland discussed the information sent by Gaeta?  Did it go as far up as Secretary of State John Kerry?  Then what did Nuland do?  Did she forward the report to FBI headquarters or did she tell Gaeta to tell Steele to tell the FBI himself?

On the other hand, another account says that Gaeta also sent the reports to the Eurasian Organized Crime team in the FBI’s New York field office.  There it sat until mid-September 2016.[4]  Gaeta had been, or still was, the boss of the Eurasian Organized Crime team.  So, he sends this stuff to the outfit and they go “meh, fan-mail from some flounder”?  Or do they cable/email him back, going “WTF Mike?”  IDK, maybe the FBI does run like the Post Office.

In September 2016, a frustrated Steele shared some of his materials with Jonathan Winer, previously the deputy assistant secretary of state for international law enforcement, and before that an aid to Senator John Kerry, now the Secretary of State.  Winer took the stuff to Nuland, “who indicated that, like me, she felt that the secretary of state needed to be made aware of this material.”[5]

[1] Mark Hosenball, “Former MI-6 spy known to U.S. agencies is author of reports on Trump in Russia,” Reuters, 12 January 2017.

[2] Michael Isikoff and David Corn, Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump (2018).

[3] Emily Tillett, “Victoria Nuland Says Obama State Dept. Informed FBI of Reporting from Steele dossier,” CBS News, 4 February 2018.

[4] Mike Levine, “Trump ‘dossier’ stuck in New York, didn’t trigger Russian investigation, sources say,” ABC News, 18 September 2018.  https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-dossier-stuck-york-trigger-russia-investigation-sources/story?id=57919471

[5] Jonathan Winer, “Devin Nunes is investigating me. Here’s the truth,” Washington Post, 9 February 2018.

The New Russia Investigation The Usual Suspects 13 June 2019.

Paul Manafort.

During the Cold War, the United States applied the Roosevelt Standard to foreign rulers: “He may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he’s our son-of-a-bitch.”  Paul Manafort made a very good living by helping improve the image of some very bad people.  He represented Jonas Savimbi, Ferdinand Marcos, and Joseph Mobutu in the corridors of power.  All of this activity aligned with American foreign policy.  Then the Cold War ended.  Suddenly, the “sons-of-bitches” had to swim for it.  So did Manafort.  He found an apparent new gold-mine in working with the post-Soviet Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.  Much of this work focused on Ukraine.

Ukraine had escaped from the Soviet Union upon the collapse of the evil empire.  However, old antipathies and affinities survived in the new country.  Basically, the farther west you go, the more Russophobe the people become[1] and the farther east you go the more Russophile the people become.  From 2004 to 2010, Manafort found work trying to improve the political chances of the Russophile presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovitch.  It should have been obvious that this work aligned with post-Soviet Russian foreign policy.  Reportedly, sometime between 2006 and 2009, the American Ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor, told Manafort that he was working against the interests of the United States.  Apparently, Manafort did not heed this warning.[2]  In 2010, Yanukovitch won the presidency in an election judged fair by international observers.[3]  In 2014 he aroused massive opposition among the Russophobes by reversing course on an application to join the European Union.  He certainly did this at the behest of Vladimir Putin.  Soon, Yanukovitch was both out of office and out of Ukraine.  According to one account, the FBI then opened a criminal investigation of Paul Manafort.[4]  It was still running when the FBI began its investigation of suspected conspiracy between the Russians and the Trump campaign in Summer 2016.

What did the FBI investigation launched in 2014 discover?  Did it discover that Manafort had scored big-time, but hadn’t reported his earnings to the IRS?[5]

Michael Flynn.

Michael Flynn had an impressive career in military intelligence during the “Global War on Terror.”  In April 2012, his ascent peaked when President Obama nominated him to lead the Defense Intelligence Agency.  Two years later, Flynn announced his retirement.   Normally, it seems, people get three years in that position, so he was leaving early.  Why?

On the one hand, there’s the whispering campaign.  It was “leaked” to the press that Flynn had a chaotic management style; he didn’t play well with others; he abused his staff; he wasn’t a team-player; and he had a loose grip on facts.  These seem like personality traits.  Nobody noticed them before while promoting him from Lieutenant to Lieutenant-General?  So I don’t think this is very credible.

On the other hand, there’s the counter-whispering campaign.  It has been suggested that Flynn repeatedly told the Obama White House that much of the opposition to Bashir al-Assad came from conservative-to-radical Muslims.  The “moderates” weren’t much present on the battlefield.  This seems to have contradicted the “narrative” preferred by the White House.  Eventually, the White House got fed up.

Then there’s this.  In February 2014, Flynn attended the “Cambridge Intelligence Seminar,”[6] run—in part–by Stefan Halper.  Reportedly, Halper found it alarming that Flynn seemed very close to a Russian woman who also attended the seminar.  Someone else shared these concerns with American “authorities.”[7]  The woman involved was Svetlana Lokhova.[8]  She denies that she spoke with Flynn for any extended period or that they had a personal relationship.  Did American authorities believe that Flynn had been caught in what John Le Carre novels call a “honey trap”?  The Director of the CIA at the time was John Brennan, subsequently an engaged participant in countering President Donald Trump’s allegations about the intelligence community.

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holodomor

[2] Why not?  Perhaps because he was making a lot of money and the American government wasn’t offering him an alternative income.  Perhaps because he was trying to get his guy elected president of a new democracy.  America is all about exporting democracy.  What’s more important, democracy or getting the American candidate elected?

[3] See: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/feb/08/viktor-yanukovych-ukraine-president-election

[4] See: https://www.newsweek.com/donald-trump-paul-manafort-michael-flynn-russia-robert-mueller-turkey-620215  One might be forgiven for wondering if the investigation was pay-back for Manafort having ignored Ambassador Taylor’s warning.  If it was pay-back, it soon hit pay-dirt.

[5] If so, then what—exactly—was Robert Mueller doing with his time for two years?  The Russian hacking information came from the NSA and pretty damn quick at that.  Carter Page and George Papadopoulos were low-hanging fruit easily plucked.

[6] On the larger framework of the Seminar, see: https://thecsi.org.uk/  NB: The reported views of Sir Richard Dearlove are interesting.  For a recent iteration of the Seminar, see: https://www.hist.cam.ac.uk/seminars/intelligence

[7] See: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/18/us/politics/trump-fbi-informant-russia-investigation.html

[8] Her version of the encounter can be found at https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-39863781  See also: https://thefederalist.com/2019/05/28/lawsuit-suggests-spying-trump-campaign-started-early-2016/

The Boston Massacre.

In 1768, the British government sent army troops to Boston, Massachusetts, to support the civil authorities in enforcing unpopular new laws.  The troops were equally unpopular as the laws.  On 5 March 1770, a crowd harassed a lone British sentry posted in the street before Boston’s Old State House.  An officer brought other soldiers to his support.  The crowd grew in size and emotional mobilization.  Long story short: the soldiers fired into the crowd, killing five.  We remember this tragedy as “The Boston Massacre.”

The bloody events came at a moment of intense political polarization in Massachusetts.  The political middle ground had disappeared as the people of Massachusetts divided into a large majority opposed to the policies of the Crown and a minority who supported those policies.  By the end of March, the British soldiers and four civilian employees of the Customs House—who were alleged to have fired into the crowd from the windows of the building—were indicted for murder.

A pamphlet campaign—part of the larger pamphlet war that preceded the American Revolution—told strikingly different stories about the Boston Massacre.  That media war was full of curiosities.  For example, one of the most inflammatory—and untrue—portrayals of the events came in an illustration by Henry Pelham.  The illustration showed the British officer ordering his men to fire into the crowd and a musket fired from a window.  Paul Revere copied that illustration and presented it as his own.  Pelham himself turned into a Loyalist who left Boston with the British troops and the other Loyalists in March 1776.

John Adams, a future signer of the Declaration of Independence and future President of the United States, defended the British soldiers when they were tried for murder.  Adams argued that the soldiers had the right to fight to defend themselves against the mob.  If any of the soldiers were provoked but not actually in danger, then they were guilty of manslaughter.  His argument persuaded the jury.  The officer commanding and six of his men were acquitted; two soldiers were convicted of manslaughter.  They escaped the death penalty by pleading “benefit of clergy” (i.e. they could read and write, which was enough to escape the gallows in literate-deficient colonial America.)  Instead, they were branded.  On the thumb.

The four civilians who were alleged to have fired from within the building were tried later.  All were acquitted and the man who had testified against them was later convicted of perjury.

In retrospect, Adams concluded that “The Part I took in Defence of Cptn. Preston and the Soldiers, procured me Anxiety, and Obloquy enough. It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country. Judgment of Death against those Soldiers would have been as foul a Stain upon this Country as the Executions of the Quakers[1] or Witches[2] anciently.”

I butcher History in this fashion because Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recently analogized his handling of the Trump-Russia investigation to John Adams’ defending the British soldiers.[3]    The related analogies will suggest themselves.

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_martyrs

[2] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salem_witch_trials

[3] Katie Benner, “Rosenstein Answers Critics In an Impassioned Speech,” NYT, 27 April 2019.

My Weekly Reader 6 May 2019.

Surveying the current “winter of our discontent,” one cannot but wonder what turned political differences into polarization.[1]  If we take the Sixties as the starting point, then the story might run something like the following.  John F. Kennedy beat Richard Nixon in the presidential election of 1960 by a razor thin majority.  However, the Kennedy Administration pursued no divisive polices.  Abroad it remained within the mainstream of Cold War foreign policy.  At home, it kept the Civil Rights movement at arm’s length and could not muster legislative support for any other major initiatives.

The assassination of Kennedy brought Lyndon Johnson to the White House.  Johnson seized the opportunity to shift government policy at home and abroad.  Formed by his youthful encounter with poverty and injustice, and a determined supporter of the New Deal, Johnson sought to “complete” the New Deal to address the needs of a different time.  Johnson won passage of the Civil Rights Act (1964), then crushed his Republican rival in the 1964 election.  Secure in victory and backed by a powerful shift to the left in Congress, Johnson’s legislative program created the “Great Society” structures.  Many of these are with us still.[2]

Catastrophically, however, to win election, Johnson had closed off Republican charges that Democrats were soft on Communism by using the Tonkin Gulf incident (or non-cident) to begin committing American ground troops to combat roles in South Vietnam.

Furthermore, no one in Washington foresaw the huge social upheaval when the “Baby Boom” passed through the Sixties.  “Sex and drugs and rock-and-roll,” demonstrations in the streets and on campuses, and the further development of the Civil Rights movement demanded a response.  Many Democrats embraced these causes, while many Republicans reacted against them.  (In California, the backlash made Ronald Reagan—a former Goldwater supporter—governor and a polarizing national political figure.)  The Vietnam War poured fuel on the fire.  Then the Pentagon Papers (1971) and Watergate (1972-1974) created a distrust of Washington.  That distrust fed a longing for “outsiders”: Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Obama, Trump.

These events set the pattern as policy issues have divided Americans.  Abortion, gun control, gay rights and marriage equality, forced busing for school integration and affirmative action, drug policy, taxation, and welfare all became embattled.[3]  There is something to be said on both sides of most of these issues, but now no one is listening to the other side.

What made each of these issues so bitterly divisive has been the conflict between federal and state power.  Most of the Bill of Rights was “incorporated” during the Sixties, while the Warren Court delivered a series of other decisions that rocked state preferences.  Republicans have opposed this universalizing of rights on the grounds that it amounts to an imposition of Democratic beliefs on Republicans by court decisions and executive actions.  The courts themselves are as embattled as the rest of us.  Except those who have checked out in disgust.

[1] For a contrary view to what follows, see: Kevin Kruse and Julian Zelizer, Fault Lines: A History of the United States since 1974 (2019).

[2] Julian Zelizer, “The Fierce Urgency of Now”: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society (2015).  Marvelous book.  Excellent scholarship, but written for the “intelligent general public.”

[3] The case of Roy Moore in Alabama is illustrative.  Allegations of sexual misconduct dogged Moore and caused many Republicans to sit out the election, but many other Republicans voted for Moore because his opponent supported “choice”—which is, in their minds, “baby murder.”

Migrants 1.

Social scientists posit that people experiencing disturbing social change can seize on particularist identities like ethnicity or nationality.  Demographic change and economic change and shifting social values all can trigger such a response.  On the other hand, cultural and economic elites in Western countries celebrate the free flow of goods and labor.  They also have developed more cosmopolitan views than have many fellow citizens.[1]

Illegal immigration provides a good example of the particularist-cosmopolitan tension.  In recent times, illegal migration has become easier than ever before in history.  In both Europe and America bitter quarrels over immigration rack politics.[2]  These controversies arise not from heavy current immigration, but from heavy prior immigration.  More importantly, the general backlash against elites–who led us to war in Iraq and then into the financial crisis—has ensnared migrants.

Illegal migration to the United States dropped sharply during the Great Recession.  It hasn’t picked up immensely in the past year.  However, that still leaves 10-12 million illegal immigrants in the United States.  Human symbols of elite failure.  Liberals insisting on calling them “undocumented immigrants”—as if there is just some bureaucratic foul-up in Washington—adds fuel to the fire.  President Obama’s skirting of the law angered many people.  Illegal immigration in the European Union is more recent.  There the flood of migrants from various failed states mixes with refugees from war-torn Muslim states.

People leave their “shithole” countries for good reasons and not just on a whim.  Until conditions in those countries improve, there is not likely to be a significant drop in attempts at illegal immigration.  To complicate matters further, while many of the migrants are economic migrants, the law allows them to request asylum as victims of persecution.  This clogs the immigration system and delays repatriation.

In light of this reality, attention has turned to deterring them from reaching American or European soil in the first place.  Europeans have negotiated with pathway countries—Libya, Sudan, and Turkey—to stem the departures for Europe.  The implementation of those agreements involves a good deal of brutality that is much worse than anything suffered by Central American migrants to the United States.  Mexico is unwilling to play that sort of role for the United States.  The “zero tolerance” policy attempted by a Trump administration grown tired of waiting for Congressional approval of a border wall offers another form of deterrence.

Cosmopolitans sometimes phrase the choice in a misleading way: “What sort of society do they wish to be?  Do they wish to be immigrant nations with continual demographic and cultural change?”  First, both the European Union and the United States have long had substantial legal immigration.  Second, it is legitimate to debate what kinds of immigrants best serve the interests of the community.

[1] Benjamin Barber, Jihad and McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism Are Shaping World Society (1996).  Barber’s analysis remains engaging, but it wasn’t new.  Late-Nineteenth Century sociologists had identified the problem of anomie.  For that matter, historians long ago diagnosed the rise of “mystery” religions as a response to the cosmopolitanism of the Hellenistic kingdoms.

[2] Amanda Taub and Max Fisher, “In U.S. and Europe, Conflict Over Migration Points to Political Problems,” NYT, 30 June 2018.

The Deep State.

Anyone who paid attention to the Egyptian coup that overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohammed Morsi, or to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s battering of the Turkish military, civil bureaucracy, and intellectuals after a failed coup will have encountered the term “deep state.”  It refers to networks of officers, bureaucrats, journalists, and businessmen who actually control government by concerted actions behind the scenes.[1]  The “deep state” endures across generations, rather than being a momentary conspiracy; it recruits its members by invitation, rather than by public competition; and it is inherently un-democratic, both in its means of operation and its ability to manipulate the course of elected governments.  However, Middle Eastern societies seem particularly vulnerable to conspiracy theories.

Now the term has surfaced in American politics.   Breitbart News, other right-wing web-sites, and the social media feeds of many Trump supporters have been using the term for a while now.  When President Trump’s supposed “grey eminence,” Steve Bannon, used the term “administrative state” in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, the New York Times construed his words to refer to the “deep state.”[2]  Newt Gingrich seemed to be playing Charlie McCarthy to Bannon’s Edgar Bergen when he said that “We’re up against a permanent bureaucratic structure defending itself and quite willing to break the law to do so.”  Their aim is to undermine the Trump presidency.   Some even see this conspiracy as being directed by former President Barack Obama, who announced his willingness to break the traditional silence of former presidents when the new administration threatened “our core values.”[3]  (This view ignores the roll-out of HealthCare.gov.)

Former Obama administration government officials rushed to denounce the charge, albeit in circumspect language.  One said that “deep state” is “a phrase we’ve used for Turkey and other countries like that, but not for the American republic.”[4]  Another expressed surprise that a president would suggest that civil servants would try to undermine the government.  So, that’s settled.[5]   The NYT sought to normalize this as habitual Republican back-biting.

What gets lost in this unseemly mud-slinging is the pedigree of the issue.  In his 1959 farewell address Dwight Eisenhower warned of a “military-industrial complex.”  In the 1960s and again in the last few years, well-informed people have analyzed the power of the national security bureaucracy.  Sandwiched in between these Jeremiads, the journalist-turned-open-novelist Fletcher Knebel hit the best-seller lists with “Seven Days in May” (1962), about a military coup, and “The Night of Camp David” (1965), about a crazy president.  More recently, Chalmers Johnson published three books on the costs of “empire.”  Democracy was chief among them.[6]  Well-informed people haven’t taken the issue as a joke.  Even if everyone else does.

Is there a “deep state” in America?  Of course not.  What seems more likely, and disturbing, is that there is a momentary open quarrel between a president and the national security professionals.   Would such a quarrel precipitate the formation of a “deep state”?

[1] If this is true, then the common public discourse and action beloved of academics has little real meaning.  Instead, the books on the shelves of junior army officers and school principals, and conferences on the middle floors of government ministries or dinner meetings in private homes hold the key to understanding events.

[2] Julie Hirschfeld Davis, “’Deep State’?  Until Now It Was a Foreign Concept,” NYT, 7 March 2017.

[3] It is worth comparing these remarks with the boom in sales of dystopian novels to alarmed Democrats.

[4] OK, so what’s the American term?  The NYT reporter did not ask.

[5] Although it doesn’t seem to have been the Russkies who leaked to the press news compromising National Security Adviser-for-a-Day Michael Flynn.

[6] See: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2015/02/13/cinay-sayers/;and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chalmers_Johnson