James Clapper writes in his book, Facts and Fears: Hard Truths…, that he believes the Russians decided the 2016 election for Trump.
How does he know that? You have to read the book!
Or watch Rachel Maddow’s excerpt from Clapper’s argument at the RealClearPolitics link above. Clapper’s argument is a little like saying, “I’m on my parents’ health insurance because I saw Pajama Boy in Obama’s marketing campaign.” Or, “I bought a Dodge Ram rather than a Ford 150 because I heard Martin Luther King on the Super Bowl.” Or, to focus more on Twitter and Facebook, “I cast my vote for the Donald because I saw all this stuff on social media, and I knew my friends would vote the same way.”
If you listen carefully to Clapper’s logic as Maddow reads from his book, you think, “Man, we have people like that who lead the country! They always think they’re right!” These are not people who ever think they could be wrong, or who qualify their thoughts as possibilities. If you serve years as a powerful person in the federal bureaucracy, do you come out that way? Or is that the quality that sustains you from the start?
You have to remember, Clapper is the gentleman who claimed on March 13, 2013, under oath before Congress, that NSA did not wittingly collect digital intelligence on American citizens. Did he go before the Senate Intelligence Committee, and not expect Ron Ogden to ask him a question about domestic intelligence collection? Did he say “Not wittingly” because Ogden’s question surprised him? He could have answered in the haughty style of his high-level colleagues in government, “What difference does it make?” He chose to lie instead.
The man has a lot on his mind, after all. He may have forgotten that NSA had invested a fair amount of its budget since 2001 in domestic intelligence collection. An obscure contractor in Hawaii named Edward Snowden thought he might perhaps jog Clapper’s memory a bit. Sometimes your boss needs a little help.
So a couple of months after his damn lie to the Senate Intelligence Committee – which counts as perjury, by the way – he starts to see the names Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras in the press. The reports look a little obscure at first, but they don’t look good: something about top secret programs to monitor phone calls and email. People gather round him to ask, “Didn’t you just say you don’t do that?” And, “What do you know about this guy named Snowden, hiding out in Hong Kong?”
For Clapper to say he knows the Russians swung the election beyond a doubt is immediately recognizable as claptrap, in this case claptrap that helps him sell his book on Maddow’s show.
Now he tells us the Russians swung the election, and Rachel Maddow wants us to listen to him. Why Rachel Maddow wants us to listen to James Clapper is a little mysterious, given her presumed opinions about the so-called intelligence community. But there it is. If Clapper agrees with her about Russian meddling, she’ll tout his book on her show.
Why do we listen to this stuff? Why do we talk about it? First, it’s possible Clapper is right, though I wouldn’t want to admit it. Fact is, Clapper’s hypothesis is not falsifiable or provable, and he knows it. Or he ought to know it. A lot of things in politics are not falsifiable, or provable. For Clapper to say he knows the Russians swung the election beyond a doubt is immediately recognizable as claptrap, in this case claptrap that helps him sell his book on Maddow’s show.
We talk about these things, I think, because somewhere we still care about American democracy. It’s touching how people in the mainstream media still use that phrase, after our democracy has slipped away. We did not think that much about protecting our democracy while we still had it. It was a rough-and-tumble, corrupt political system back when we had it, but we agreed with Churchill that we couldn’t do better.
The security state has had fifty years to strangle American democracy. Yet we still talk protectively about how we want to save it.
Then we lost it after WWII. Eisenhower and Truman both warned us. The Dallas coup sealed it. The security state took charge. Even a corrupt, powerful man like Lyndon Johnson could not withstand it. I wonder what he thought the night his arch-enemy, Bobby Kennedy, died.
To return to the main point: in merely ten days, we’ll note the fiftieth anniversary of Bobby’s death, as we noted the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death last month. The security state has had fifty years to strangle American democracy. Yet we still talk protectively about how we want to save it.
With bureaucrats like Clapper around to manage the security state, we may still succeed. They may have titles, large offices, and memoirs on our shelves, but they do not act like politicians. Of course, politicians won’t retrieve our democracy, either. I can’t think of any scenario, at this point, that would bring it back. We can only say that current leadership won’t do it. History indicates, though, that honest leaders do emerge.
Edward Snowden is an honest leader. Yet many have not heard of him, and among those who have, many do not like him. Some readers of this blog may say, “Look at the author of The Jeffersonian. He’s an honest leader.” Writers do not become political leaders, though many political leaders write. The sorry phenomenon we cannot escape is that we want leadership to restore our democracy, but we cannot find it anywhere.
So here comes Mr. Clapper with his new book. We’ve had plenty of Washington rumors in our news feed over the last couple years. Now the former head of national intelligence has elevated one of them to argument status. “I have no doubt…” We’re happy to hear the Russians swung the election, J. C. We admire you for your perspicacity. Now invite Mr. Putin over for a congratulatory drink. Give him a signed copy of your book.