One of the themes I’ve sanctimoniously harped upon throughout the life of GTFUP.org is the notion that, when it comes to recognizing how bad things in the U.S. are likely to get, our imaginations are hopelessly limited.
We’ve not seen this kind of attack on America before – on our values, on our society, our institutions, our basic governing structure. And while there are clear parallels to be drawn between the ceaseless assault on America that is Trumpism, and countless cases of crumbling democracies in the past 100 years, we cannot shake that soothing voice in the back of our minds, whispering (falsely) that those types of things can’t happen here.
My imagination failed me, most recently, when it came to Bill Barr. Sure, I knew he had a history of partisan hackery, I knew that one of the most basic axioms of Trumpism – it can always get worse, even when replacing AG Jeff Sessions – would hold true in some way or another.
But Barr also seemed like one of those stiff, pathetic institutionalists who we’ve come to know so well in this era: the types who will let our democracy unravel slowly, whimpering and hedging and maintaining a thin veneer of plausible deniability, all in a hopeless effort to keep their good name out of the Trumpian gutter.
My imagination failed to comprehend what an unabashed villain Bill Barr would be.
I was unable to imagine the way that he would immediately, and without any sense of shame, corrupt the DOJ, both with his high-profile, Narrative-shaping lies about the Mueller Report, and his unprecedented partisan approach to every aspect of the DOJ decision-making. And more importantly, my imagination was not able to contemplate how utterly deflating that type of shameless villainy would be.
In his public lying about the Mueller report, and his undercutting of every form of investigation or attempt at accountability, Bill Barr has made clear that the DOJ’s position is simply that the President*, and the entire executive branch, is fully above the law.
In his loose and dangerous lies about “spying” against the Trump campaign, and his McCarthy-esque investigations of lifelong, non-partisan American patriots, Bill Bar has made clear that the DOJ will use every ounce of its power to punish the President’s enemies, and to advance Trump’s political interests.
In his legally nonsensical attacks on the Affordable Care Act, and his flirtations with outright defiance of a Supreme Court Order regarding the census issue, Bill Barr has made clear that, in his DOJ, “the law” is a quaint notion that it’s fine for the Attorney General to ignore if it advances the interests of the President, or of the GOP.
All of these things have generated a level of outrage, they all warrant more, but the reality is that – barring an unthinkable crisis of conscience from dozens of GOP Senators – the horse has long since strutted out of the barn. There does not appear to be any limit, not even the once-trusty guardrail of public disgrace or shame, to how completely the DOJ will be corrupted under Bill Barr’s leadership – to what ends he will bend, break and abuse the law.
I’ve ranted before, at length, about the dangers of a corrupted DOJ, but my little brain could not conjure just how damaging and destructive – and how demoralizing – an apologetically lawless Attorney General like Bill Barr could be.
I bring all of this up because it was announced over the weekend that Dan Coats would be resigning from his position as Director of National Intelligence.
Mr. Coats has made news, more than once, for standing up to FAT’s worst instincts, including, most notably, for re-affirming the reality of Russia’s attack on the U.S. after the President’s embarrassing, subservient performance in Helsinki. Indeed, he may be the last person in a position of leadership in the Trump Administration who has actively attempted to prevent future attacks on our elections, making news earlier this month – less than two weeks before his departure was announced – for directing a multi-agency effort to coordinate election security.
Within hours after the news that Mr. Coats would be departing, the President* tweeted that he intended to nominate John Ratcliffe, a far-right GOP congressman from Texas who apparently impressed FAT by being making absurdly dishonest attacks against Bob Mueller.
It was almost immediately clear how deeply unqualified, and wholly inappropriate, John Ratcliffe is for this traditionally non-partisan role. But with a fully-tamed, fully-complicit, fully-corrupted GOP majority in the Senate, it’s fair to assume that all of that may not matter.
We need to do everything in our power to make sure that it does matter.
Indeed, if there’s one thing we can learn from our failure of imagination with regards to the villainy of Bill Barr, it’s that dangerous and flagrant partisanship in positions of immense public trust needs to be stopped in its tracks.
There was muted opposition to Bill Barr’s nomination, but there was not sustained, insistent outrage. The President’s government shutdown had just ended, he had just delivered a divisive SOTU, there were endless headlines about every variety of Trumpian outrage, each demanding a level of attention. In the end, three Democrats voted to confirm Bill Barr, and his confirmation by the Senate, which was treated from the outset as a foregone conclusion, turned out to be exactly that.
The American people lost the Department of Justice when Bill Barr was confirmed. We cannot afford to see our intelligence community fall too … at least not without a furious public fight.
“We can’t imagine what a fully unchecked Donald Trump might look like, or how destructive a fully-corrupted, GOP-weaponized American intelligence apparatus might be.”
It can be hard in this moment, when the President* and his enablers are setting a dozen fires a day, to choose our battles. And the appointment of a “central casting” Texan to an opaque, quiet-by-design position can feel minor, secondary compared to the very real attacks on very real people that the Trumpism engages in every single day.
But the amount of damage that an unqualified, shameless partisan could do in a position like Director of National Intelligence is unthinkable, and this is one of those battles that we can’t afford to ignore.
This is one of those battles that requires us to protest, to scream and yell, to pester our Senators, to tap into the energy and rage that we harnessed so effectively early on in this American shit show, to make, as the heroic John Lewis argues in the video below, “good trouble.”
And this is one of those battles where it is incumbent on our leaders – on the Democratic leadership team, on every Democrat running for President – to be as loud and angry and unyielding as their most strident constituents.
We used to chuckle about how Donald Trump’s worst instincts were curbed by “the adults in the room,” a group that included Jim Mattis and John Kelly and HR McMaster, and Dan Coats. Coats was the last person standing in that club, and by most accounts, the toughest and most principled in the face of our dangerous President.*
We can’t imagine what a fully unchecked Donald Trump might look like. We can’t imagine how destructive a fully-corrupted, GOP-weaponized American intelligence apparatus might be, just how deep the damage might cut.
But all evidence points to it being pretty fucking bad. Act accordingly.