To say that these are interesting times is an understatement of gargantuan proportions. In fact, the strangeness of things, the unexpectedness of so much transpiring of late has been offering a surfeit of "interesting" surprises.
Back in the '60s, when I was a student engaged in civil rights and anti-war activism, I would never have believed I would live long enough to find myself speaking up in defense of the CIA and the FBI. As we used to say, however, in that ungrammatical way in which we often swapped movement-encoded clichés, that just wasn't "where my head was at."
The CIA was hardly regarded by people on my end of the political spectrum as an outfit that was unequivocally good. In fact, they were considered by many of us on the left to be a shadowy army of sneaky people working around the world to subvert popular movements for needed and positive change in a variety of countries. They were also not even seen as being terribly good at what they did, the Bay of Pigs fiasco being a recent example of the agency's ineptitude.
Why was it, many of us wondered, that we always seemed to be supporting the bad guys—the corrupt dictators, the generals who ruled countries with iron fists while oppressing their peoples? Why did we—a nation born of revolution against unjust and distant power--so often find ourselves throwing in with the people our founding fathers would have revolted against in a hot minute?
Distrust of the CIA and other intelligence agencies only increased as the years went on, from the overthrow of Allende right on down to the shameful role the CIA played in helping Bush/Cheney sell the disastrous Iraq role to the American people—with consequences and costs never fully examined or considered. Anyone remember the morally rudderless ethical void represented by CIA director George Tenet? I do.
As for the FBI, I know with certainty that I've had my picture taken a time or two by employees of that agency. They could be seen in every march and protest I was in back in the '60s, and that wasn't a figment of activist paranoia. There were also agents from the bureau who infiltrated the anti-war movement, looking for phantom communists and sometimes acting as provocateurs who encouraged or engaged in unlawful activities in order to tar the general reputation of "peaceniks."
And then there was J. Edgar Hoover, the creepy showboat who had led the FBI for four decades, a cross-dresser with a bull dog's face who spent more of the FBI's resources going after people like Martin Luther King than he did monitoring the huge corporate theft or corruption in defense department spending so common whenever a war is going on and all the thieves and con men come running to the banquet. Hoover was hardly a liberal by anyone's stretch of the imagination. His unrelenting assaults on unions were but one example of his, and the FBI's many political biases.
And even as recently as the days leading up to the election of 2016, I found myself appalled by the actions of FBI director James Comey, first in his wholly inappropriate editorializing about Hillary Clinton when he issued the condemnatory statement that he'd found no evidence of crimes related to her use of emails, then later, just weeks before the election, when he gratuitously announced that the FBI was reopening the Clinton investigation, a bit of additional sleuthing that led nowhere and produced nothing other than that second opportunity to take a swipe at her, with results that almost certainly influenced the outcome of the election. Comey acknowledged that possibility in a committee hearing, testifying after the harm was done that the very thought he had influenced the outcome made him "mildly nauseous."
For these and other reasons, it is both odd and ironic to find myself in the position of being warily supportive of the intelligence agencies, including the CIA and the FBI. They say old men sometimes experience a second childhood, and this may be mine, a partial return to those thrilling days of yesteryear when my comic book heroes included "G-Men," and square-jawed warriors against crime, Nazis, and subversion.
But I'm not quite old enough yet to have returned to a time when I could so readily see the world in terms of good guys and bad guys. The days are long gone, perhaps never to return on this side of senility when I could see the world in such stark terms, when the U.S. was the bastion of unequivocal virtue in a world teeming with evil doers who didn't respect their moms, didn't like baseball or apple pie, and didn't wipe their feet before coming into the house. There were the Russkies, of course, and the KGB, up to mischief everywhere, imposing tyranny wherever they went.
And, when the comic book creators wanted a change up or two in the villains, they detoured back to the recent past and depicted the FBI fighting the totalitarian forces of fascists, Nazis, and fanatical "Japs." As a kid, it gave me a sense of security to know such brave men were working to keep America safe for Little League. And though the FBI and CIA guys didn't rise to the role-model level of Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, or an assortment of cowboy heroes in my aspirational fantasies of what I wanted to be when I grew big. strong. and occasionally in need of a shave.
Now, with death stalking me, along with all the other members of my slip, slidin' away generation, I find myself in the precarious position of depending on the FBI, the CIA, and the other intelligence gathers I've mistrusted for most of my adult life
Now, embarked on the journey of losing height, brain cells, and hair, however, I find myself, along with lots of other Americans, depending on a former director of the FBI to get at the truth about hostile foreign tampering with our election process, possible collusion with that tampering, obstruction of justice that seems blatant and obvious, and a range of other dastardly misdeeds by an ignorant, addled, and clearly criminal megalomaniac who now is golfing his way through a presidency that is doing irreparable harm to the nation he leads.
So now, with death stalking me, along with all the other members of my slip, slidin' away generation, I find myself in the precarious position of depending on the FBI, the CIA, and the other intelligence gathers I've mistrusted for most of my adult life, counting on them to defend the nation against a truly existential threat to everything it means to be an American in the best senses of the word. I also, incidentally, find myself helplessly dependent on a handful of generals or even lower ranking military personnel to subvert the chain of command should an order come from the POTUS that could throw the entire world into a death spiral, a nuclear war of all against all detonated by the delusions of mad men with massive egos.
We've all heard and read a lot about Robert Mueller's integrity and basic decency. Like many others, I've been clinging rather desperately to the hope that hangs by that thin thread. The fact that the thread itself can be snipped by Rod Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney General, should he buckle to an order from Donald Trump, makes that thread even more slender. And should Rosenstein demonstrate the integrity to refuse, it's possible that Trump, who enjoys firing people, could go down a list until he found an employee at the Department of Justice who was willing to fire Mueller.
Nothing in this scenario is sufficient to ensure restful sleep for people worried about the workings of our system. We were all busy last year trying to reassure ourselves that there were adults in the room who would protect us from Trump's worst impulses. Chief among those adults, we were told, was General Kelly, a guy who subsequently revealed himself to be something less than most reasonable people might have hoped. The more he spoke, the less there was to like about him. His comments about the Civil War being a result of the "inability to compromise" were, for starters, not only ignorant, but arrogantly wrong-headed, a wrong-headedness by his assertion that "history is history" as he put a capstone on his pronouncement that overlooked so much history while displaying loony logic in a Fox "News" interview.
[dc]"I[/dc]t's a curse to live in interesting times." That's a variant of an old Chinese proverb. Now, in the most interesting and perilous times imaginable, with so much hanging on the objectivity and integrity of Robert Mueller, and with so many threats to his tenure as an honest broker of the truth, it remains to be seen if the curse of Trump can be broken.
And, to state the obvious, we are surely cursed if it can't.