The Russia probe is making a lot of Americans unhappy, either because they are convinced that Vladimir Putin is an enemy who must be taught a lesson, or because they know the deep state is fabricating a case for war.
One thing I never hear mentioned, however, is the fact that political issues turn into legal issues much more often in the US than perhaps anywhere else. I have lived in half a dozen foreign countries for a total of half my life, without encountering a similar phenomenon.
The United States’ founding by people escaping religious prosecution by a powerful ruler all-but guaranteed a suspicion of everything foreign, reinforced by our geographical location on the far side of a great ocean: THEY were ‘over there’, in places from which WE had happily escaped, determined to do things differently.
But ‘different’ does not mean ‘more just’: four hundred years later, our government is still opening investigations at the drop of a hat, in an almost maniacal determination to track down the tiniest clue concerning citizens’ behavior. A phrase that become a mantra during the Watergate investigation of President Nixon has become a leitmotif: “What did X know and when did he/she know it?” Knowledge has become a liability.
Take the case of Donald Trump, Jr: When he received an invitation to meet with someone who offered to provide ‘dirt’ on his father’s presidential opponent Hillary Clinton, the legal code required him to alert the FBI! Every media anchor assured us that they would have done so because it was their duty as citizens.
How can this be??? Well, presidential candidates are forbidden to accept any aid from a foreign government — meaning not only money, but also information. Of course, like any state, the US attaches great importance to having allies who are treaty-bound to come to its aid in the event of an attack, but it forbids them to help any candidate get elected: Other are ‘foreign’ before they are allies.
To assuage its fear of ‘the Other’, the young republic quickly turned to the law: The 5th United States Congress, dominated by Federalists, passed The Alien and Sedition Acts, four bills signed into law by President John Adams in 1798. They made it harder for an immigrant to become a citizen (Naturalization Act), allowed the president to imprison and deport non-citizens who were considered dangerous (Alien Friends Act) or who were from a hostile nation (Alien Enemy Act), which also criminalized making false statements that were critical of the federal government (Sedition Act).
Almost a hundred and fifty years later, in 1917, Congress passed the Espionage and Aliens Act which, as in every country, punishes military insubordination and supporting United States enemies during wartime, and also prohibits citizens from interfering in military operations or recruitment.
The following year, Congress passed a new Sedition Act, applicable during wartime. It punished any speech or writing that cast the government or the war effort in a negative light — or even that interfered with the sale of government bonds! The use of “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” about the United States government, its flag, or its armed forces that would cause others to view the American government or its institutions with contempt” could bring jail sentences ranging from five to twenty years! The Postmaster General could refuse to deliver mail that met the standards for punishable speech or opinion, meaning that he could open suspicious-looking letters and confiscate opposition newspapers.
The progressive movement that began with the fight against slavery fell fully victim to the foundational fear of the foreigner when the Russian revolution toppled the Tzar. When President Franklin Roosevelt declared that robber capitalism left too many people out in the cold, the corporate-owned media conflated his New Deal with socialism, socialism with ‘foreign’ and ‘foreign’ with ‘Red’. In 1938, Congress created the infamous House un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), unleashing a witch hunt against suspected Communists (who were, by definition ‘beholden to a foreign power’) that became known as McCarthyism, never really dying out.
In HUAC’s days, Americans suspected of approving socialism were tracked down, often losing their jobs. Today, if you question Russophobia, you are considered ‘un-American’, even if you are the President of the United States!
In days gone-by it was an oxymoron that nations should try to get along with one another through diplomacy instead of resorting to war. War was a last resort, and even then, it had to be approved by the fifteen member United Nations Security Council — until it became a means of ‘saving’ foreign civilians from evil leaders, which soon morphed into a determination to prevent ‘foreign’ nations from seeking to influence the voters’ choice of an anti-war candidate for President, facilitated by the continuity of legislation going all the way back to the country’s founding: foreigners bad!
The people’s representatives consider that it is right for them to parallel the investigations being carried out by the nation’s judiciary — which is ‘independent’ of both the ‘executive’ (the Presidency) and the legislative (Congress) — as long as their activities do not affect those of said judiciary, care being taken by both sides not to trample on each other’s turf. The lengths to which will go to uncover any ‘collusion’ (a synonym of ‘cooperation’ which however has a negative connotation) on the part of US citizens with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, are all the more shocking in light of the US’s real problems, ranging from crumbling bridges to runaway health care costs, to racial tensions and wars without end.
As if nothing were more natural, our ‘best and brightest’ devote the greater part of their time and energies to investigating the members of the Trump White House in an effort to establish criminal behavior associated with our self-defined ‘adversary’. ’As I write this, on Tuesday, September 12th, news anchors reveal that White House employees who would never be in the news are compelled to hire lawyers if they remember ever having been in the presence of the President’s son-on-law, Jared Kushner, who is under investigation for meeting with Russians, because they will be asked to remember everything he may have said. According to MSNBC’s Morning Joe:
“If Kushner had discussed touchy issues in presence of lower downs, they could have problems….Everyone has to lawyer up after talking with Kushner….If he discussed such issues with the President without a lawyer being present, he could have problems.”
Lawyers have replaced bodyguards, as prosecutors go beyond an individual’s conscious behavior to establish guilt.
I’ve written elsewhere (Lunch with Fellini, Dinner with Fidel ) about the day-long ‘interview’ I was put through with two FBI agents when, knowing i had spent a dozen years in various countries ‘behind the Iron Curtain’, an Assistant Secretary of State had the unconscionable idea to hire me as a speech writer. That was almost fifty years ago, and today, a lowly policeman who happens to be a Muslim, can become a victim of the government he has served.
The September 11th (sic) issue of the New Yorker magazine tells the story of a Muslim American who had been considered an outstanding member of the New York Police Department until someone decided that as a Muslim he had to be guilty of something. He was eventually fired, even though a judge ruled he was innocent of the ridiculous charge of having an affair with a French counterpart. He can no longer get any job with the city, and is back to driving a cab to support his American family, as he did when he first arrived as an immigrant twenty-five years ago.
The details of the investigations carried out by various departments of ‘New York’s finest’ mimic the current wave of Russophobia investigations: No one is safe.