In October, the FBI Director published a deliberately misleading report aimed at influencing the outcome of the election. It worked.
On Friday, the CIA released (through a leak from the Senate) its conclusion that Russian intelligence actively supported the Trump campaign with a covert operation. Unspoken, yet crystal-clear was an even more volatile accusation – that the FBI knew what the Russians were doing and misled the public about the danger. Today Republican Senators McCain and Graham joined their Democratic counterparts in demanding that the majority leader open hearings on the matter.
It has begun.
A previous post described Trump’s election as the collapse of the Third Republic. Our idiotic new leader hasn’t even taken office. In fact, he hasn’t even won the Presidency yet, and our most powerful secret institutions are already staking claim to chunks of the rubble.
America’s most powerful internal security organization decided to interfere in the political process to influence the outcome of the election. Our most powerful international security institution has now dropped its political neutrality to influence the outcome of the Electoral College. Regardless who we inaugurate in January, the new President will carry little if any political legitimacy. Congress is a clown-show. The Supreme Court is deadlocked- by Republican design. Our democratic institutions seem to have lost the capacity to constrain or govern our deep state institutions.
We are well-beyond any Trump vs. Clinton rivalry. We are beyond partisan rivalry. We are now in banana republic territory, in which our fates will turn on the outcome of a potentially lethal standoff between rival deep state bodies. President Trump has signaled his intention to strengthen his supporters in the FBI and police. He earned Russian support for his intention to weaken, if not destroy, our military and international intelligence apparatus. It seems unlikely that the CIA will stand by while an inept goofball in the White House tries to gut their power.
If the Electoral College performs its constitutional role and denies Trump the Presidency, the outcome will likely be little better. The FBI, the Fraternal Order of Police, and other internal security institutions will be bitter enemies of whoever and whatever takes Trump’s place. They will relentlessly harass the new President and hound his appointees.
The CIA’s move in publicizing Russian meddling prior to the Electoral College vote effectively delegitimizes Trump. Whatever action he attempts to take to weaken the intelligence services will be resisted. The services will find ample political support for any legal or illegal actions they take in self-preservation. In the short term this may be welcomed as a means by which to preserve our basic international military and intelligence capability. Over the longer term, this means we will lose the capacity to influence the actions of those agencies via the political system.
All of this meddling by security services could be shut down in a heartbeat by a healthy legislative branch. We no longer have one. Congress ceased to function after 2010. We cannot look to the legislative branch for help.
After 2010, our political system ground to a halt thanks to Republican obstruction. Congressional Republicans destroyed the remaining political norms that had previously allowed us to peacefully mediate rivalries within a legal framework. They replaced those norms with raw exercise of partisan, sectarian, religious, and even regional power. Having disregarded laws and legislative traditions in pursuit of obstruction, they now have no tools by which to build legislation or restrain the ambitions of powerful executive branch players. Their obstruction burned down the institutions they have inherited.
Leadership in the judicial branch could pilot us through this crisis, but Republicans have weakened and politicized our courts beyond effectiveness. Thanks again to Republican obstruction we have a Supreme Court with eight deadlocked members. Congressional Republicans built the monster that is preparing to eat us.
Clinton supporters may be tempted to cheer for the CIA. Trump supporters may line up behind Comey and the FBI. Both are mostly missing the point. This problem didn’t start with Trump and it won’t go away when Donald Trump goes to prison or slips away into exile in some Third World hellhole. In true banana republic fashion, our fates are sliding into the hands of unelected officials more powerful than our democratic institutions.
It is extremely difficult for democratic institutions to regain control over military or para-military institutions which have slipped their leash. The Japanese and Germans did it, but only by losing a war.
Thanks to a crumbling political culture, there seems to be no force in American public life with the power and legitimacy to lead. We are left to build a way forward with the weakest of tools and no roadmap.