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In Search of an Empire Without an Emperor: Dynamics Behind the Comey Firing

In a very short amount of time, it’s become something of cliche to talk of Trump’s firing of Comey as the equivalent of Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre,” in which Nixon fired anyone at the Department of Justice unwilling to fire the Watergate independent prosecutor.

If that does turn out to be an apt analogy, it’s hardly surprising that this is happening in many respects. The crimes of Watergate came out of the Vietnam War, though this is poorly understood. The Watergate “plumbers“ were originally set up to plug the leaks about the Vietnam War.

And so, with the rise of the imperial presidency, it was hardly surprising that someone like Nixon would use the mechanisms of Empire — the capacity for secrecy, for surveillance and for violence — for his own political purposes. Indeed, Hoover, atop the FBI, had been doing so for decades.

The late Watergate historian Stanley Kutler writes in his book Abuse of Power that Nixon railed to his aides about papers regarding the Vietnam War that he thought were at the Brookings Institution, then a liberal think tank now a neoliberal white paper mill.

“I want it implemented…. God damn it, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get it.”

The documents Nixon apparently wanted to get hold of allegedly showed that Johnson curtailed the bombing of Vietnam in 1968 to boost the Democrats’ election prospects of winning the election that year.

A great irony now is that the establishment Democrats are going after Trump in a number of personal ways, but collude in others, and indeed stiffen up his use of violence. When Trump uses military violence in Yemen or Syria, he is lauded by presumed liberals like Van Jones and Fareed Zakaria as presidential.

Johnson was thought to curtail bombing for political gain. Trump now gains politically when he engages in bombing.

The U.S. establishment seems to want an Emperor who will go around the world spying on people and killing them as he sees fit, but want to make sure he abides by legal niceties in the U.S.

The obsessiveness over secrecy and the intense “principless“ partisanship give us a situation where the political factions spew allegations to the public that are at best difficult to decern, even if you follow politics full time, much less if you’re trying to hold down a regular honest job.

This leads to a political culture based on loving or hating various political figures, or just checking out of politics, which much of the political establishment may want for large sectors of the public.

The secrecy and the surveillance are sold the the public as necessary for their own protection, but the opposite is true. The little known Katharine Gun case highlights how the actual target of surveillance is frequently not “terrorism”, but the threat of peace.

So, the Trump administration’s ridiculous claims about the reasons for the Comey firing are fairly similar to the lying pretexts that U.S. officialdom used to justify the Iraq invasion. Empire is compatible with democracy only with a series of dehumanizing triple standards. It’s fine there, just don’t do it here.

After all, the main victims of the Iraq invasion were the Iraqi people, and they are off screen and the officials who inflicted horrors on them have all walked away nice and clear.

The mechanisms of Empire are tolerated, until someone like Trump seems to be using them for his own personal ends.

In terms of Trump’s own crimes, he is quite impeachable on the domestic emoluments clause, but the establishment Democrats seem quite uninterested in pursuing that.

They have focused on his apparent ties to Russia. There may well be something there, Trump is a corrupt figure and it’s well within his capacities to engage in massive, if at times possibly buffoonish, coverup. But it is incredibly dangerous that the establishment Democrats seem intent on risking escalations with the other major nuclear power on the planet so they can beat Trump over the head.

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Sam Husseini is founder of the website VotePact.org

February 19, 2019
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