As We Face Our Current Emergency Let’s Not Forget How (and Who) Our Last One Contributed to This One

All over Twitter yesterday, people introduced this Michael Hayden tweet decrying Trump’s “assault on truth, a free press or the first amendment” by emphasizing that he served as CIA and NSA Director.

They seem to forget that, in the name of supporting expansive executive authority, Hayden lied to Congress, targeted Thomas Drake for his unclassified communications with the press about Hayden’s support for profiteering contractors, and attacked journalists who have covered the Snowden leaks.

Also on Twitter, Ben Wittes wrote a long thread, advocating that “Americans do not need to be actively contesting right now across traditional left-right divisions” so long as “Americans of good faith collectively band together to face a national emergency.”

In a thread that singles out the First Amendment (though not, predictably, the Fourth), Wittes imagines two main entities that might conduct investigations into Trump: law enforcement and “men and women of the bureaucracy who are courageous enough to come forward and assist,” though he follows quickly with a generalized profession that this non-partisan truce he has unilaterally declared also involves supporting the spooks.

Having declared a truce on “important foreign policy questions,” he then emphasizes we have to keep our promises abroad.

And also we have to keep promises about rights.

The two, together, have set off a debate about what our national emergency really is — where Trump came from.

Remarkably, I’ve seen few pointing back to this remarkable Adam Serwer piece on the whiteness that got Trump elected. As he lays out, Trump got elected because white voters cared more about restoring “traditional” race, sex, and class roles than about all the horrible things Trump espoused.

Trump’s great political insight was that Obama’s time in office inflicted a profound psychological wound upon many white Americans, one that he could remedy by adopting the false narrative that placed the first black president outside the bounds of American citizenship. He intuited that Obama’s presence in the White House decreased the value of what W. E. B. Du Bois described as the “psychological wage” of whiteness across all classes of white Americans, and that the path to their hearts lay in invoking a bygone past when this affront had not taken place, and could not take place.

That the legacy of the first black president could be erased by a birther, that the woman who could have been the first female president was foiled by a man who confessed to sexual assault on tape—these were not drawbacks to Trump’s candidacy, but central to understanding how he would wield power, and on whose behalf.

Americans act with the understanding that Trump’s nationalism promises to restore traditional boundaries of race, gender, and sexuality. The nature of that same nationalism is to deny its essence, the better to salve the conscience and spare the soul.

Serwer’s piece is absolutely required reading.

But his exposition largely focuses on the domestic aspect of white supremacy. This paragraph is one of the few that focuses on the last emergency people like Wittes and Hayden screamed un-self critically about, the never-ending war on terror.

In the meantime, more than a decade of war nationalism directed at jihadist groups has shaped Republican attitudes toward Muslims—from seeing them as potential Republican voters in the late 1990s to viewing them as internal enemies currently. War nationalism always turns itself inward, but in the past, wars ended. Anti-Irish violence fell following the service of Irish American soldiers in the Civil War; Germans were integrated back into the body politic after World War II; and the Italians, Jews, and eastern Europeans who were targeted by the early 20th century’s great immigration scare would find themselves part of a state-sponsored project of assimilation by the war’s end. But the War on Terror is without end, and so that national consolidation has never occurred. Again, Trump is a manifestation of this trend rather than its impetus, a manifestation that began to rise not long after Obama’s candidacy.

And there’s no mention of white supremacy’s foreign counterpart, American exceptionalism, which has long led (white male) Americans to believe America had somehow earned its wealth and prestige without, at the same time, hurting the well-being of others around the world, one which has made Trump’s instinct to demand capitulation from other countries so popular.

Both are, after all, about assuming the capitulation of brown people is the natural order we deserve, whether in our neighborhoods or on the other side of the world.

I raise all this because, in addition to the whiteness problem Serwer lays out, I do think the exceptionalism and expansive executive power that Hayden and Wittes have championed are part of what created this emergency as well. Those who created and sustained that last emergency — those who insisted we needed exceptional measures the last time, exceptional measures that gave Trump far more tools with which to violate norms and persecute enemies — want us to divorce this emergency from their own actions that contributed to it and may make it harder to recover from.

By all means, those who newly admit problems with expansive executive power are welcome to join those of us who’ve long been fighting it. But I’m not sure why everyone wants them to take the lead.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

31 replies
  1. condor says:

    This is pitch perfect.

    Flawless — from one older pair of hands at the till — to one with a far grander power of… precognition.

    Well done, Marcy.

    Namaste — nolo (from 2002)

    • bmaz says:

      Nolo!!!

      I love having you back. More than you can imagine. Would you do us a favor and pick a new handle and stick with it? It would be much appreciated. Be a Three Day (way underrated great movie) or a regular Condor. But pick one so we know. Thanks.

  2. lefty665 says:

    Fuck Hayden and the horse he rode in on. He is the son of a bitch who turned the NSA inward to destroy American privacy. He has done as much disembowel the 1st and 4th amendments as any other individual person, and more than all but a few.  Do you really want to link arms with him? It is like welcoming the architect and builder of gas chambers to an anti-Nazi movement.

    Is racism still rampant in America? You betchya. However, it comes under the heading “and that too”. It is a straw man, a white herring.  Desperation and hopelessness driven by 40+ years of the decimation of the working class, median family incomes and wages that are no higher than they were in 1978, are what elected Trump. Dem abandonment of close to 90% of Americans and embrace of elite neoliberalism is primarily what drove voters to Trump out of desperation and refusal to yet again elect more of the same.

    Compromise with evil yields only the illusion of progress. Evil takes what you give it then comes back for more. Be careful who you embrace.

     

     

  3. Rapier says:

    As financial market observers say, Hayden it talking his own book. In markets that means touting a stock or trade that supports the position you have in it. In this case it’s in support of all the old hands who run or did run the spook world, over newcomers, whoever they may be.

    Since the rise of Trump little has been more disgusting on the D Team than touting the authority of the CIA and the spooks, and the War Party that was in charge of Obama’s State Department, meaning Hillary Clinton, that played such a vital role in the destruction of Libya, Syria, and the Ukraine and the neoliberal coups in Brazil and Honduras. Understandable and inevitable as it all was.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Wittes is like the post-Watergate Katharine Graham and Washington Post.  Having succeeded in enabling a president to topple himself with his lies and crimes, the Post – along with the permanent-elite-America-doesn’t-have known as the Trilateral Commission – were happy to enforce a return to a less democratic time, when democracy meant voting every couple of years, and where people conformed to the wishes of their betters in between.  For those that didn’t, there was always Nixon’s continuing “war on drugs/nonconformists/people of color”.

    Trump’s only positive value – infinitely ironic, given his devout racism – may be partly to achieve what Martin Luther King was deprived of the time to do.  That is, to unite people of every color, to help them recognize their common interests, and to unite them in opposition to the rapacious of those who claim to rule in their stead.

    With the Kochs about to control Time, Inc., with the prospect of his majesty in fact being on its cover, it would be none too soon.

      • lefty665 says:

        Hi bmaz, he may well be, I don’t know him from Adam. He does make some legitimate observations in the post I linked.

        Writing off Trump voters as racist deplorables is such profound denial of what happened that, horrid as Trump is, it invites future electoral disasters.

  5. GKJames says:

    I suspect that the discrepancy between the nonsense peddled by Hayden et al while in office vs. what they’re peddling now is especially jarring to those who’ve never bought into American exceptionalism (read, people who looked closely enough). It may be useful to keep in mind that the Haydens of the world are clerks of empire, beneficiaries of military and economic might cemented in place since WWII. They come with attitudes baked in. It simply doesn’t occur to them that their (and US) actions play a role in causing non-US actors to react rather than initiate, or that the basic rules even apply to them. (In fact, it’s likely a career killer ever to question the apparatus.) So far, there’s nothing particularly American about this. What IS American is the delusion layered on top to the effect that the US is exclusively the good guys who never meddle/kill/invade/corrupt/torture unless being compelled by bad people to do so, if only to “preserve our freedoms”. No one on earth can best Americans in salesmanship, even if it’s only themselves that they’re hustling. But one can’t blame the Haydens who perpetually have the ultimate defense: by and large, the American public sees the world the same way, thereby legitimizing what they do.

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    There is a third world because there is a first, there is a first world because there is a third.  In a world of finite resources, a few aggregate great wealth by taking from others.  The trick is convincing enough people that their lack of resources is not owing to elite rapaciousness, but is caused somehow by those beneath them grabbing for a piece of bread and shelter.

    That was true for Pharaoh and his slaves; for the medieval church, nobles and serfs; for Columbus, his monarchical Spanish patrons and Caribbean natives; for Jeff Bezos and Charles Koch and their increasingly poor and disenfranchised customers.

    So far as big business is concerned, the Rotarian ideal that business is a fair and reasonable exchange of value is hocus pocus taught in marketing class, just as organizational development gurus teach the insights of the so-called happiness industry.  But it is Enron-style rapaciousness that is the order of the day in financialized America.

    That dynamic is true between countries, too.  Belgium had its Congo, the Dutch their Indonesia, the British their India and South Africa, the Americans the world, especially Latin America.  In that, America is not exceptional at all.

     

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    OT, but the CFPB fracas seems to be an own goal by Trump.

    What idiot president would push out his budget director in the midst of a budget crisis, compounded by a major tax reform fight?  Makes.No.Sense.  But that’s SNAFU for Donald, who seems comfortable with so few people that he always overuses and abuses the few he lets inside his inner sanctum.

    Trump’s nomination of Mulvaney to head the CFPB is a destructive distraction, especially for progressives. Mulvaney will do his damndest to gut the agency. Normally, that would be a desired end for Trump, but he’s unlikely to win this fight unless Kennedy at the Supremes agrees with the Gorsuch crowd.  That said, as with Putin and the US, induced paralysis is as good as an outright win.

    The Senate could make the matter moot by speedily consenting to Mulvaney’s appointment.  But it has a lot on its plate already and Mulvaney is so contentious a pick he might not be approved.  Until Mulvaney is approved by the Senate, I think that Cordray and English’s reading of the governing statute is by far the better one: English as deputy head becomes acting head until the Senate approves a permanent one. 

    To interpret the statute otherwise requires a perverse reading of the law.  It would also lead to the confusion and paralysis we have here, not typically an acknowledged statutory intent.   Cordray, on the other hand, did his cause no end of hurt by waiting until the last minute to appoint English as his deputy, now acting head.  What was that about?

    • Rugger9 says:

      Actually not really the last minute: he was supposed to stay another week, but in a bit of good gamesmanship left early.   I would suspect he did so precisely because he could have his named successor out there before the WH could name one, which they did with Mick the Knife hours later.  Technically speaking, Ms. English was acting director before Mick was proposed for the position and “possession is nine-tenths of the law”.

      Since the law specifically calls for the process run by Cordray, the WH plan (even if blessed “officially” by OLC lap dogs) would have to make the case that Congress didn’t intend for Cordray to do what he did even though the law says he can.  It also does not provide for the WH to appoint the acting director or any apparent mechanism for the WH to overrule Cordray’s action, which is why OLC reached back to 1998 for a legal lever to do that. Only the most partisan hack judge would support such a reading of the law, but unfortunately we have Bushies and Trumpies all over the court system now who would go there.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        You are talking about the Supreme Court, so partisan hackery does occasionally come up: Bush v. Gore, Clarence and Neil come to mind.  But Cordray had a year and a half to appoint a deputy.  He could have done it under the last administration, he could have done it six months or a month ago.  That suggests that keeping himself in the limelight might have been part of the equation, or will he not run for governor of Ohio?

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        As for the OLC opinion, The Intercept has a nice piece on the lawyer who wrote its memo about the appointment power.  Turns out that the lawyer spent years working for “payday lenders”, defending them against regulatory action by the CFPB.  Nice agency you have there; be a shame if anything happened to it.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Mulvaney’s memo to CFPB staff – “Disregard that woman behind the curtain, I’m in charge, damn it!!!” – is the essence of non-leadership.  It demands that his junior staff pick sides in a street fight between two putative successors, an impossible position for them.

      Mulvaney has no more leadership skills than his boss.  But his and Trump’s incompetence will at least temporarily halt the agency’s work – a win for Trump and his banking patrons and a broadside into the regulatory state foundering on the Shoals of Trumpdom.

  8. Erin McJ says:

    I adore this piece.

    I follow Wittes now because he’s useful, but I’m always aware that his objection to the current moment is based largely in his sense that That Sort of Person shouldn’t have power that rightly belongs to his friends — not in any objection to the power itself. A sort of immune response to an invader.

  9. Trevanion says:

    “In a thread that singles out the First Amendment (though not, predictably, the Fourth), Wittes…”

    That’s had me chuckling for the past few hours. Nicely done.

  10. K says:

    This points out a failure of the progressive media/ commentators.

    The willingness to legitimize fools when, like a broken clock, they happen to be accurate by happenstance.

    Look at the adoration that MSNBC gives to steve smith the man who gave us alaska barbie and now bemoans the lowering of discourse. Or even allowing erick ericson within 100 yards of a platform to spew his inanities while ignoring his history of vile insulting lies about anyone or any thing his feeble little brain disliked ( Judge Souter)

    The list goes on and on ( killer joe scarborough never explained dead women in office, charlie sykes rants ) yet they have a legitimacy bestowed upon them that they will use as a knife to stab any progressive politician/ position in the back.

    And now they have MSNBC, CNN, NYT commentator on their resume to verify their “reasonable” bigotry, hate and ignorance. How can they be ignored as the whack jobs they are while being given platforms on “liberal” media.

    So it is for rethuglican candinates promoted over progressive ones by D party apparachek ( Florida) or, as is this case, a hard right whack job who fears irrelevency when his position to promote ignorance and lies is taken away from him.

    Remember the fable of the scorpion and the frog. These nut jobs will turn and poison any discourse or candinate that they start to see as a threat to their greed and hunger for power to oppress with.

    Hayden was trash. He still is. This is just a desparate attempt to embellish his standings so he can be seen as an “honest” judge in the both sidess do it smears.

  11. Watson says:

    That was a very powerful post, Ms. Wheeler. Thank you!

    ‘Americans … believe America had somehow earned its wealth and prestige without, at the same time, hurting the well-being of others around the world.’ In fact the USA must patrol the world in order to maintain its wealth.

    But the Viet Nam war revealed that many Americans are – like Bush, Cheney, and Trump – chicken hawks who shun the dangerous role of overseas policeman. So who will be the foot soldiers of our foreign policy?

    Zbigniew Brzezinski went to his grave bragging about his solution to the problem: fanatical, terroristic, Sunni Muslims would be our gendarmes abroad. Saudi Arabia, with its world-wide Wahhabi ‘terror tourism’ program, would be the major sub-contractor. Osama bin Laden worked for us in Afghanistan.

    The blow-back in the form of terror attacks here and throughout the world has provided spooks like Hayden the justification for their ‘expansive executive authority’ in the form of total surveillance, torture, extra-judicial prisons and executions, and God knows what else.

    I humbly suggest that, not only is Uncle Sam’s role as political and economic hegemon unjust, unethical, and subversive of our rights, it is also impractical because we lack the home-grown ‘boots on the ground’ to enforce it. We should abandon that role and seek a more equitable arrangement.

  12. Hieronymus Howard says:

    The presidency of Trumperian the Magnificent is a national emergency? Okay, if you say so. But it’s a little too early in the season for that kind of hyperbole. Better to wait till just a few months just before the midterm elections, then set people’s hair on fire. Otherwise the drama is too prolonged & irritating.

  13. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Anonymous Halo, er, Howard, I hope they’re not done tweaking the software, because posts like yours set no one’s hair or thinking on fire.  (I don’t know whether Harry Bosch would care overmuch for your handle, either.)

  14. Vikram Chatterjee says:

    The obvious problem with this is that the reason that the “War On Terror Without End” has no end is because it is actually a War Of Defense Against Jihad, the holy war of Islam which HAS no end, because it is declared in the immutable Quran, preserved on a table in Paradise.

  15. Hieronymus Howard says:

    You’re not a very good troll, Earl. Those put-downs didn’t work for me. But I got the gist.

  16. Evangelista says:

    For a bit of trivia, Michael Hayden is, with his other “accomplishments” “immortalized” in Linux System spyware through connection to an item called “.freedesktop.org”, a hidden file that is externally owned and makes a ‘bookmark’ file log (usually called “recently-used.exbel”) recording metadata for  what is opened on the computer, accessible by the external owner (the NSA) whenever the computer is online.  Essentially a ‘hose’ into private computers for government (U.S.) use anytime they want to see what you have done (it records location and filename data for files you create, copy you write, etc.) and where your computer has been visiting.

    Hayden is also associated with “icanhazip”, which is a NSA write-home internet address, with military connections left over, or continuing, from its early days and Michael Hayden’s early military years, that masquerades as an ostensible ping-test site, but that is an auto-connect, calling home to check in each time your computer connects to the internet.  The “Michael Hayden” who ‘owns’ the “test” site changes appearance over time, being a series of employee-clones who answer to the “Michael Hayden” name to deny being anything but a “free service” provided for goodness-of-heart only…  If you use a plug-in net-card and when you plug it in your computer says a variant on “connecting to the internet”, even if your connection routine is manual, that is icanhazip’s program embedded in the device attempting to connect and call home even before you start your own attempt.

    What can you do about this?  My recommendation is to open a word or editor program and title a file “To Jihad, or Not To Jihad, My Personal Discussion”, then open the file and write in caps: “HELLO SHITHEADS!”,  then save anywhere on your hard drive. “.recently-used.xbel” will record the location and “freedesktop.org” will make its location on your computer available when the icanhazip numeric address connects and scans your “.recently-used.xbel” file, whereupon the word “Jihad” should make the NSA program search out and upload your greeting to Big Brother…

    Other than that, the spy program is built deeply enough into your Linux Distro, and its desktop, that there ain’t much you can do, except find your system’s “.recently-used.xbel” hidden file and go there and delete it as part of your start-up or shut-down routine;  the file will remake itself immediately, but will contain “bookmark” data only to what is no your computer in the current session.

  17. Watson says:

    ‘the “War On Terror Without End” has no end is because it is actually a War Of Defense Against Jihad … declared in the immutable Quran’

    Crackpot exhortations to violence can be found in virtually all religious screeds, not least the Old Testament/Torah.

    To most Muslims, ‘jihad’ means the struggle for personal and spiritual improvement.

    Palestinians have occasionally employed terror tactics, but their cause has been nationalism, not Islam. Militarized Islam was virtually unknown in modern times before ‘Charlie Wilson’s war’ in Afghanistan.

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