Of today’s two big news stories, one of them, excerpts from Michael Wolff’s new book will be obsessively consumed as political junk food always is.
But it won’t tell us anything we didn’t know before.
We already knew Donald Trump is the worst person in the world.
If it tells us anything at all, it is something slightly different. That is that even those we already knew to be the worst people in the world can be even worse than we thought they were.
But this says more about us than it does about Trump.
In particular, what is shows is that we lack imagination.
This was painfully apparent during the election.
Again and again, those urging voting in swing states to make sure Clinton was elected were met with the completely obvious rejoinder that she was a terrible candidate-a lying, neoliberal warmonger in Adolph Reed’s words. It was also entirely irrelevant since anyone with minimal contact with the planet earth also knew that Trump was-and would be-worse, possibly even much worse as he has turned out to be.
But again and again, this simple logical fact-i.e. that X is terrible does not imply that Y can’t be worse-was dismissed or never even registered on the consciousness of more than a few leftists. Hence they, which is to say we, became a small but not insignificant part of the reason why we are currently living a nightmare.
The second news story is getting much less attention but is self-evidently far more serious and significant. This involves James Risen’s disclosures that New York Times editors Phil Taubman and and Bill Keller actively colluded with the Bush administration to spike Risen’s reporting on NSA spying in 2004, a decade before it was revealed by Edward Snowden.
Risen also details how the Obama administration, in the face of hopes that it would roll back some of the worst aspects of the police state imposed by the Bush administration worked to advance them and cement them in place.
One example was Risen’s own prosecution by the Bush administration justice department for refusing to reveal his sources. This was, as Risen reports, intentionally delayed by the presiding judge Leonie Brinkema based on the expectation that it would be dropped under a Democratic administration. As we now know, Eric Holder moved forward threatening Risen with many years of imprisonment only dropping the case in Obama’s final months when it was clear it was not sustainable.
But as important as all this is, it is also, like Wolff’s book, mostly irrelevant to what needs to be our major if not exclusive goal from now until November 2018 and then November 2020: to remove from all positions of institutional power the Republican Party, “the most dangerous organization in human history” as Chomsky referred to it.
The Wolff bombshells, if they are believed, (regardless of whether they are true), only matter in that they are likely to further drag down the Republicans’ prospects. But this will only increase the pressure for Republicans to accede to an impeachment resulting in a President Pence with a return to “normal” Republican rule-no less dangerous than Trump, but only less flamboyant, and more competitive. If this is to materialize, there is nothing to celebrate about Wolff’s book-as dadaistically amusing as some might find it.
The Risen story raises a different category of problems in that it shows how, when it comes to matters of national security and the military budgets which are required to support an increasingly aggressive international posture, how little difference there has been between the Republicans and Clinton/Obama neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party. It is unlikely that their anointed candidate will depart from this suicidal path.
This is one of many indications that if it is to have any chance of reversing its string of losses, the DP will need to fundamentally change course in the direction which the Sanders wing is pointing. While far from ideal, Sanders has a long record of opposing the worst excesses of militarism having during the campaign, for example, denounced Henry Kissinger and Benjamin Netanyahu, brought up the U.S. support for dictators such as Pinochet while running on his opposition the Patriot Act and the Iraq War.
While Sanders’s foreign policy shortcomings are significant, everything that does not involve fighting for the course change his wing of the party are trying to effect against neoliberal elites dead set on maintaining it is a distraction.
We should consume, and for that matter make, our news with that in mind.