A Very Russian Farce

  • Posted: August 8, 2018
  • Category: Blog
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It is said that history repeats itself, a point well visited by the wise and otherwise. If we are old enough, we feel its truth in our bones. Perhaps the most serious and quotable of the varied prophetic voices is George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Like much of what Santayana wrote, it is a catchy phrase and easily remembered, but – what does it really mean? Given that Santayana’s day job was Professor of Philosophy at Harvard, his ability to speak in oracles probably was well received during his appearance before the Tenure Committee.

I have used my preferred variation on Santayana’s words before, those of Mark Twain, who said “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.” But another man of letters from the 19th Century was even more precise when he said “History repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce.” Sometimes it is easy to see why much of the 20th Century was caught up in the spider webs of Karl Marx’s ideas.

Marx’s quotation smacks of prophesy in thinking about the American news cycle during my lifetime. I spent much of my life reading of the great battle between the Free World and the Communist Menace. America led a coalition of nations engaged in a struggle to turn back totalitarian regimes in China and the Soviet Union. Then with the coming of the Reagan Administration, we won. The communist monolith imploded and freedom dawned over Eastern Europe and to a lesser extent in China. Hundreds of millions rejoiced in the sunshine of political freedom and a rising economic tide.

Then came the invasion of Kuwait, Arab Spring and Twin Towers. America once again took up the gauntlet to battle those wishing us harm. Fresh from victory over communism, we were confident of how to defeat the enemy, destruction of the enemies conventional forces on the battlefield assured us of victory. We marched into the Middle East and Central Asia. But to our dismay it turned out that Iraq wasn’t Poland but Afghanistan bore a remarkable resemblance to Vietnam. There is a case to be made that history was now repeating as tragedy.

And now America faces another nefarious villain on the world stage, a villain both familiar but strangely shrunken. Our betters, the Adorables, tell us that Russia, no longer the noble experiment once known as the USSR, is an international gangster brutalizing its own people while intent on causing trouble anywhere and everywhere.

While in past times the Adorables once found endless reasons to excuse the horror of the gulag, hectoring America to make nice with the sour old butchers of the Kremlin, from Uncle Joe to Nikita to Brezhnev and beyond. Our best and brightest now recoil in horror at the menace to our way of life posed by the evil and depraved Vladimir Putin. They conveniently overlook the fact that Russia, despite the no doubt ugliness of the Putin Government, now has the most enlightened government in its history.

Once more America faces off against an evil foe, history is repeating itself yet again. But following the media’s s**t storm on Russia today is reminiscent of Marx. But rather than Karl Marx, I’m thinking more like Groucho Marx. Karl Marx cautioned his disciples to be alert for history repeating as farce and in truth, watching today’s news stories on the Russian Front calls to mind both that inventor of the dialectic, Karl, and that master of understated buffoonery, Groucho.

Looking over the talking heads and their commentary concerning Russia, its leadership and the proper United States responses, one with any sense of the past is impressed with the flexibility displayed by those talking. Contrary to what less important people might think, it is not easy to speak out of both sides of one’s mouth, even when separated by a decade or two.

One is tempted to recall Mitt Romney warning that Russia was America’s “greatest foe” with Barack Obama’s snide reply that “the 1980’s called and they wanted their foreign policy back”. Barack Obama turned his back on decades of US effort and invited Russia to participate in the morass of the Middle East. Barack Obama was caught in a private conversation with the Russian President commenting that he would have “more flexibility” after the election. There is no need to embarrass the Adorable media by recalling their words and stories about  Obama’s policies and words at the time.

I am tempted to use the word ironic in describing the Adorable world view of today, but Groucho would not have it, insisting that irony is simply the opposite of wrinkly. And there is no way the Adorables are wrinkly. When it comes to today’s talking heads and their view of the Russian menace, Groucho put words in their mouth when he said, “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them . . . well, I have others.”

The consensus of the Resistance and other neer-do-wells appears to be that our President is a clumsy puppet of Vladimir Putin. Mr. Putin is pulling the Donald’s levers. Putin, the puppet master, can make President Trump do as he wills, to America’s great disadvantage and in the service of Russian evil intentions. The thinking among those in the know is that Donald Trump is either the Manchurian Candidate or there is blackmail, a well-remembered specialty of the KGB, in play.

Out here in flyover country among the Deplorables that strains belief. What sort of dirty secret, known only to Russian intelligence, could be hiding in the Donald’s closet? Has Trump fallen into a honey trap, or perhaps dallied with porn actresses? Maybe he has had secret affairs with Playboy models? One dares to hope that Donald Trump does not dishonor the example of his predecessors and soil the furniture in the Oval Office with his sexual peccadillos.

What else can the Russian hold over Trump be if not sexual shenanigans? Perhaps the dirty secret is money, secret payoffs. But the Donald is a billionaire. Given the state of Russia’s finances, they probably couldn’t afford to bribe Donald Trump. They don’t have enough money. Or perhaps Vladimir has offered Trump Enterprises a sweet deal on prime real estate for a luxury resort along Siberia’s Lena River in exchange for political favors?

The election of 2016 gave us an unexpected glimpse into the workings of our masters in Washington. That is the way of the unexpected. The machine is purring along, all the pieces in their places diligent in their assigned work areas. Like the staging of homes on HGTV, we are shown a picture that flatters, the picture we are meant to see. And then the unexpected and for a moment the covers are off, the gears are grinding and the sausage makers are seen up to their elbows in “stuff”. I can’t help but see that scene in the Wizard of Oz when Toto pulls the curtain back, exposing the Wizard working the levers.

Everybody not asleep recognizes that the whole Russian kerfuffle is a pathetic attempt by Adorable America to explain and, if at all possible, overturn the 2016 election. The entire Adorable Universe knew for an ironclad fact that Hillary Clinton would be the next President of the United States. Given this certainty the denizens of the Washington swamp made their bets, polished their resumes and worked to maximize their own personal outcomes from this change in the guard.

Those of us of a certain age and experience of human beings and office environments understand the game being played, but in the interests of making this blog post longer than it needs to be, lets talk about it. The people who do well in large bureaucratic organizations are political animals. That is not to say that they don’t have ethics, beliefs and morality, noble goals they wish to achieve. They do. But first of all, they are political animals. They never stop networking, avoiding “uh-oh’s” and accumulating “atta boys”, merited or not. You don’t climb high unless you know how to climb and, you know, actually engage in the dirty work of climbing.

The new President to be, Hillary Clinton, was no stranger to Washington’s elite. Actually, she was simply the B-side of a long-playing record, the Clinton Machine. Whatever one thinks of the Clintons, their habits are well known to the Washington ambitious. The Clinton Machine rewards their friends and punishes their enemies. The Clinton’s expect their friends to advance their interests without regard to procedures, customs or law. Anyone not actively advancing the Clinton interests is an enemy. They are utterly ruthless.

It was well known in the fetid reaches of the Washington swamp that during the Obama Administration, Hillary Clinton had operated in the manner of Don Corleone with the State Department of the United States as her “family”. Political influence and access in Washington were readily available to those seeking favors, but there were customs to be followed. Not following the customs of the Clinton’s would freeze favor seekers out of the access they desired. Those not following the rules of the Clinton State Department would have a meeting, hearing a paraphrase of the Don Corleone’s own words. Imagine a Marlon Brando-esque Hillary, solemnly sitting behind her desk, facial muscles stiffened by BOTOX, speaking in a noticeable accent to a sad faced foreign oligarch:

“You come and say Mrs. Hillary, Madame Secretary of State, help me talk to the right people in Washington. But you don’t ask with respect. You don’t offer me friendship or favors. You don’t even think to donate to the Clinton Foundation.”

Of course, Hillary’s behavior was outrageous, illegal, even stomach turning to those with any sense of integrity. But just as his patrons within the Police Department protected Don Corleone, Hillary was protected by the Department of Justice. Even with unshakeable blatant evidence, any attempt to prosecute Hillary Clinton would be a political firestorm. It is a fact that a sitting Secretary of State can be prosecuted only by the Attorney General of the United States. And even with hard evidence, it would take an Attorney General with nerves of steel and fire in his belly to prosecute Hillary.

Going back in time to the political and legal firestorms surrounding Bill Clinton’s oval office dalliance with Monica Lewinski sheds light on Hillary’s D-Line. The Lewinsky scandal back in the late 1990’s had shaken out for the Clinton’s who could be trusted and who couldn’t. The Obama Administration’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, may or may not have had nerves of steel, but he had served as Bill Clinton’s point man during Kenneth Starr’s investigation of the Lewinski affair. Eric Holder had proven to the Clinton Machine under the hottest fire that he could be trusted.

Eric Holder’s successor in 2015, Loretta Lynch, was another trusted soldier. Late in the Obama Administration, the politically clueless, outgunned and poorly led Republicans made an attempt to call Hillary to account. Loretta Lynch, Attorney General of the United States, then had a secret meeting with Bill Clinton on the airport runway to discuss ways and means of dealing with the hapless Republican efforts. There was no way Hillary was going to be investigated or prosecuted for anything, no matter the outrage.

So Hillary Clinton was protected. There was nothing but painfully futile career suicide in trying to take her on. Hillary was going to be the next President, most probably for eight years – an eternity in terms of a 50 something’s career. We should not be surprised that people, ambitious career Federal bureaucrats, acted in light of that knowledge.

Everyone knew the best way to advance one’s prospects in the coming Clinton Administration was to do favors for the Clinton campaign. In a twisted way, the closer to the edge of legal and ethical boundaries one came in doing favors for the Clinton’s, the better those favors would be received. After all, simply doing your job was no ticket to the executive suite in a Clinton Administration.

And then the unexpected!! Donald Trump was elected. Clouds of pigeons could be seen on the horizon coming back to roost. A lot of people’s questionable actions were suddenly exposed. Many things done by ambitious people to curry favor with the Clinton Machine might be seen in retrospect as career ending, even illegal. Toto had pulled the curtain back!!

Any politician or political bureaucrat of any experience knows the best way to deal with inconvenient truth is to simply throw mud at the person speaking the inconvenient truth, laugh at the accusations as outlandish lies, accuse the accusers loud and often, stonewalling anything that might get at the truth. And that is what they did.

And so we are in our second year of a slow motion masquerade. Groucho would have made a great movie out of it. Our President is under investigation by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller for conspiring with Russian intelligence in the past election. This Russian hacking is said to be the reason for Trump’s surprise victory over Hillary Clinton. It seems that sometime between the Obama Campaign of 2012 and the Trump Campaign of 2016, planting “fake news” on Facebook and other channels of social media became a crime. Who knew?

Though the actual crimes of which Trump and the Russians are accused continually morph over time as slow—ly emerging evidence continues to render existing accusations hysterical and unfounded. Whatever the merit of Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, it will go on for a long time because it plays into core Adorable beliefs, Adorables both Democrat and Republican.

The first belief is the need for a credible explanation of the Trump victory over Hillary Clinton. This was so bizarre that rational people living within the NPR/Stephen Colbert/Jimmy Fallon bubble cannot believe that it happened. It can only be interpreted as an act of God or done by foul play. Since God is a fantasy for the simple minded, justifiably called the opiate of the Deplorables, foul play is the only explanation that can be taken seriously.

The second belief is that all those folks out in fly over country are simpletons, easily fooled into believing all manner of “fake news”. The idea that Russians could plant false news causing these yokels, these rubes out in the heartland, to make foolish choices on their ballot is a belief cherished by Adorables of both political parties.

At the same time as Robert Mueller and his acolytes delve into the mysteries of how many Trump associates could sit on the same chair in the Russian Ambassador’s waiting room, the US Congress is attempting to carry out different responsibilities. This investigation mandated by the US Constitution rather than the New York Times involves Congressional oversight of the Bureaucracy. Even though the Mueller Investigation is only quasi-legal, it receives the headlines as well as a simpering and fawning coverage by our media.

An otherwise obscure congressman, one Devin Nunes Chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, is trying to conduct a parallel investigation to that of the Special Prosecutor. Devin Nunes is a rara avis, a Republican congressman from California. Perhaps that is why the media so universally disdains him and his attempts to investigate what actually happened. Perhaps the media has it right. The idea of a Republican from California is so outré that it shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Robert Mueller continues to conduct his Star Chamber proceeding, using the power of the Special Prosecutor to threaten bankruptcy or prison to various go-fer’s obliquely associated with the Trump Campaign. As Mueller harrumph’s and threatens in an effort to squeeze out testimony of secret handshakes and blood oaths, curious wisps of fact swirl in and out of view. These briefly glimpsed facts paint a farcical picture of a frightening reality, a burlesque disguising the Danse Macabre.

It seems more and more clear that the FBI, the CIA and the NSA were actively conducting surveillance on the Trump Campaign, both before and after the election. This surveillance included wiretaps, monitoring of cell phones and emails along with human surveillance – i.e. following people and watching them from unmarked white vans. Even more troubling, it seems that US intelligence had spies in the Trump Campaign. It also seems to be true that this surveillance was initiated because of information provided by the Clinton Campaign.

This is very troubling. Particularly when the IRS targeting controversy of conservative organizations is remembered. There are so many things wrong about the secret investigation and surveillance of political campaigns by arms of the US government, particularly such secretive and closed off communities as those charged with intelligence and enforcement. If surveillance of this kind is warranted, it can only be even contemplated if there is very strong evidence of treason.

Treason is a very strong word. The evidence must be overwhelmingly powerful, clear and objective. Which of course is the object of Devin Nunes’s investigation. What set off these investigations of a very serious nature, investigations of treason? What did the FBI and various intelligence agencies know, when did they know it and exactly where did the suspicions originate?

The agencies of our Federal Government are powerful, frightening. They appear on your doorstep with little notice, tribunes of the State with seemingly unlimited power to do whatever. All of our secret fears suddenly become real. It is glancing in the rear view mirror and seeing a Highway Patrol car. The IRS has audited me as an individual. As the head of a small company, the Department of Labor, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and OSHA have audited or investigated me. These people have great power to harm with little recourse available to the citizen. I can testify from personal experience, they are frightening.

Mr. Nunes’s investigation is now a year and a half old. It is increasingly difficult not to conclude that the Justice Department, the FBI and the various intelligence agencies are simply stonewalling, hoping and waiting for mid-term elections that will replace Mr. Nunes with a more sympathetic chairman, a chairman eager to once more close the curtain and send Toto scurrying. One would think that if clear evidence of treason existed, it would quickly be supplied to both Mr. Nunes and Mr. Mueller. This has not happened.

There is in the world of logic a principle known as Occam’s Razor. Occam’s Razor or as William of Ockham himself named it – Lex Parsimoniae puts it this way:

“the simplest solution with the fewest assumptions tends to be the right one”.

The Adorables assert there exists a secret agreement between Russia and Donald Trump. Despite a quasi-legal inquiry that has ruined peoples’ lives, bankrupted others, thrown the elected government of our country into turmoil and cast a pall over the entire country, no smoking gun has been found.

The most important finding of the Mueller Investigation after eighteen months of fact-finding is that political campaign operatives have questionable ethical standards. Who knew? But it is clear that if a smoking gun does not exist, if there did not exist objective evidence of treasonous intent and behavior by the Trump Campaign/Administration in the hands of the FBI/CIA back in 2016, many of our most powerful federal agencies have acted in clearly illegal, if not treasonous ways,

A simpler answer is that a number of our senior bureaucrats have simply done what they have always done, played the game of climbing the ladder. But this time they went too far and then were surprised, caught out seeking to outdo each other in performing favors for the expected next President of the United States. Against all of their expectations, Donald Trump was elected, not Hillary Clinton. These senior bureaucrats now stand exposed and are facing career extinction, if not prison sentences. They are playing an age-old game of defense – stonewalling, hurling accusations and maligning the character of those who seek justice.

Among the faceless mandarins at the CIA, Justice and Treasury, there is one bureaucrat whose face is clearly visible in this slow moving farce, James Comey. There is a suspicion that Mr. Comey, Director of the FBI during the election and its aftermath, represents the most laughable character in a farce – the straight man, the man in the middle who does not realize that it is a farce. Perhaps in the movie, Groucho Marx might play the part of James Comey.

There is ample anecdotal evidence that James Comey is a Boy Scout, a career lawyer of integrity and ethics. Congressman Nunes, whose job requires him to be informed of these things, had no idea that the Justice and Intelligence community were conducting a secret surveillance of the Trump Campaign. That is because James Comey told him that there wasn’t one, his truthfulness and integrity standing tall with Congressman Nunes. Congressman Nunes believed Mr. Comey, despite the many rumors that the Trump Campaign was in fact under investigation, because James Comey was that rarity in the Obama Administration, a high ranking civil servant with no agenda.

What to make of Mr. Comey? His actions seem questionable at best. He intruded himself in a very public way into the 2016 election. He made very public pronouncements in which he overstepped his boundaries, making decisions that could only be made by the Attorney General. After the election, he assumed a hypocritical posture that forced his firing. What gives? Contrary to his so-far nameless and faceless co-conspirators (?), Mr. Comey showed little evidence of trying to curry favor with the supposed in-coming President, Hillary Clinton. He was that rarity in the Obama Administration, a Republican.

One possible explanation for James Comey’s behavior was that he was a man of integrity and a patriot. Imagine yourself as an honest person in the high levels of the Obama Administration seeing the corruption of the Clinton Machine at first hand over several years. You would be sickened by what you see, the vice on open display.

And then it appears destined that this person, this schoolmarm with a black heart, will be the next President of the United States. Comey knows that the Republicans will have a strong position in the new Congress and will be looking to exact partisan advantage by coming after all her ethical lapses, i.e. Don Corleone @ State, Benghazi, the record of corruption displayed in her emails.

Mr. Comey had been here before. He was the deputy special counsel in the Senate Whitewater Investigation of Hillary and Bill Clinton during the 1990’s. He knew how corruption and politics mix with the Clintons. He had seen it at close range over twenty years in the nation’s capital. Mr. Comey may have thought it best if the country was spared from another circus of Clinton investigations. Past experience told him nothing would come of it, as the Clinton’s had repeatedly escaped similar situations. But he knew from past experience that the business of the country and its government would suffer greatly during the fruitless circus of an investigation.

Mr. Comey stepped up and issued what was essentially a blanket pardon of Hillary Clinton, declaring the graft and political chicanery on display in Hillary’s email off limits to future investigations. He expected that FBI exoneration of Hillary in advance of the election would short circuit future political wars during her Presidency. James Comey’s long experience as a prosecuting attorney told him that not every criminal is brought to justice. Sometimes you just have to cut your losses and move on.

Donald Trump was elected and like Adorables everywhere, James Comey was appalled. It seems that one of Mr. Comey’s faults is a certain self-righteous rectitude that exhibits itself when he is questioned. Not to put too fine a point on it, James Comey suffers from a strong case of self-righteousness. It didn’t take President Trump long to push Mr. Comey’s buttons. And perhaps Mr. Comey was now feeling somewhat guilty about his prior actions in the Hillary storm. Even the best of us are hurt when our good deeds are not seen and praised as good deeds.

If this view of Mr. Comey’s actions has any merit then Mr. Comey would join a long line of American men and women. It has become the tradition, fashioned over the past fifty years for lawyers of vision to substitute their own individual version of what is right for what is the law. People like Mr. Comey, lawyers who tread the narrow path of high individual ethical standards, are particularly susceptible.

Those who see the sausage being made in Washington become cynical about the law. Even worse, they see justice, or at least their vision of justice, being repeatedly denied. And so very often the will of the people does not accord with the ideals of those called to make or enforce the law. Sorting out the will of the people into laws that the people can actually live with is hard work, requiring time and determination. Even more, it requires humility, looking into ones own biases and recognizing the rightness on the other side of the aisle. Humility does not come easily to the self-righteous.

As a nation, we have fallen into the short cut of deferring to the judgment of the supposedly wise men and women inhabiting the rabbit warrens of Washington. Rather than argue, debate and reach compromise, rather than requiring those we elect to actually govern instead of posturing with cardboard cutout ideals that tweet well, we allow judges and regulators to make the hard decisions for us.

Living in such a world, how can we fault James Comey for what he did? Or for that matter the faceless people who acted to curry favor with the Clinton Machine? I expect they were simply doing “business as usual”.

It is an old problem. Though a currently unfashionable idea, people are not basically good, even oppressed minorities are not good people. If we are to live in some semblance of peace with each other, we must give the power to govern to some. We need the police and we need the judge, jury and executioner. To think otherwise marks us as fools, known these days as social justice warriors. But then the police, the judge, the jury and the executioner are people like us. The question then becomes one posed by an ancient writer twenty centuries ago:


“Quis custodiet ipsos custodies (who will police the police)?”



One Response to “A Very Russian Farce”

  1. Rex Rinne says:

    Bill, this is one of your best posts. Tragically, what you write is true.

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