Things get unreal…then they get real
Things got real when David Brooks started advising the resistance:
How should one resist the Trump administration? Well, that depends on what kind of threat Donald Trump represents.
It could be that the primary Trump threat is authoritarianism. It is hard to imagine America turning into full fascism, but it is possible to see it sliding into the sort of “repressive kleptocracy” that David Frum describes in the current Atlantic — like the regimes that now run Hungary, the Philippines, Venezuela and Poland.
And those are the first lines of the piece. He doesn’t have to provide any context. And he’s not being sarcastic (he is still David Brooks). Ok, things are real, and David Brooks has advice for us. Good advice.
But before things got real, they got unreal. A series of unprecedented events. The stuff of novels. Bad ones.
I’m sure folks are well-read on the basics, but they’re also likely over-read on the extra-curricular and conspiratorial. So let’s focus on the essentials: Senior White House staff engaged in foreign relations that are very likely illegal and potentially more troubling in a broader context of the recent political campaigns and related national security breaches.
The American public is aware of most of the above through leaked intelligence published by either the main stream media or sources like Wikileaks. Perhaps some were informed during the early days of the saga when then-candidate-Trump promoted leaked information and seemed to be a big fan of hacks and leaks.
A lot has changed. Or maybe it’s just Donald Trump’s views on leaks that have changed. The fact that there are leaks and that there’s a curious case of Russia in American politics remains the same. They’re both a big deal. And thankfully some are demanding answers. Not enough, but it’s a start.
But then there are all the leaks. I gotta say, I sympathize with the President’s (new-found) view that the leaks are an important story here. I disagree that the leaks are *the* real story because I see all the stories as equally unreal…and then equally real. But point taken: people need to scope out and consider the fact that the intelligence community is leaks, probably directly from the intelligence community, are exposing foreign relations conducted by the Office of the President.
There are interim and important questions this raises, like: why are some in the government taking such seemingly desperate measures to communicate with and instigate the White House? What did Congress or the rest of the NSC know? Were any of them they planning to do anything about it?
Then there’s the big question you eventually get to: is the intelligence community newly-empowered to interfere with — or even manipulate — every administration’s foreign relations? Will American politics now be dominated and dictated by hacks, leaks, and new and perhaps indefensible levels of manipulation from actors both foreign and domestic with unprecedented resources and monopolies of information? Are all these genies out of their bottles? And what does it all mean for the future of the Presidency?
Which brings us back to Brooks:
…it could be that the primary threat is stagnation and corruption. In this scenario, the Trump administration doesn’t create an authoritarian regime, but national politics turns into a vicious muck of tweet and countertweet, scandal and pseudoscandal, partisan attack and counterattack…
…If we are in [such a] moment, the smart thing to do is to ignore the degradation in Washington and make your contribution at the state and local levels.
Add leaks and hacks to the tweets and countertweets, David. But same outcome: political campaigns that look even more like reality show competitions.
And another Brooksian scenario:
The administration could be swallowed by some corruption scandal that destroys all credibility…
…The national security apparatus will decide that to prevent a slide to global disorder, it has to run itself…
In this scenario, the crucial question is how to replace and repair. The model for the resistance is Gerald Ford, a decent, modest, experienced public servant who believed in the institutions of government, who restored faith in government, who had a plan to bind the nation’s wounds and restored normalcy and competence.
Brooks concludes that we are, in fact, in a Gerald Ford moment. Hard to argue with that — and Washington, in particular, should take note. But it sure can’t hurt to take up his advice to also “ignore the degradation in Washington and make your contribution at the state and local level.”
Things got real, but with so many genies out of their bottles, the coming challenge is to keep things from getting unreal again (or more like reality TV). Sure, dutiful public servants who can hold fast to their values, truth, and the interests of the American people will be essential. But people who can see that truth through the rest of the Washington shit show and vote on it will be even more bigly.