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Brennan, Venality and Turpitude

John Brennan was CIA director from March 2013 to January 2017. If there is a “deep state” he’s been a key figure in it in recent history. So it’s particularly significant when he tweets, addressing the president: “When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America…America will triumph over you.”

Whoa. This is unusual.

The proximate cause of the tweet was the abrupt and cruelly punitive dismissal of McCabe, the FBI Deputy Director, under fire from Trump in the past. Reports of disillusionment and despair in the “intelligence community” regarding Trump are legion. (Among other things, it’s hard to be an empiricist under a delusional Caesar. You cannot tell him, no, your horse cannot be a senator. He will not hear you.) But now you have Savonarola-like general condemnations of the man’s venality.

It’s not about Russia. It’s about turpitude. (As you know, this term means inherent baseness and depravity, so the former head of the U.S. intelligence agencies is saying that Trump is in the most fundamental sense an asshole.) Here he echoes the outgoing secretary of state’s empirical observation that Trump is a moron. Tillerson was referring to Trump’s manifest ignorance of foreign and military affairs; Brennan to Trump’s general asininity.

A vast array of powerful, influential figures are building their various cases to bring down this asshole. His unleashing of vituperation at random targets in his irrational way has invited sharp language in return. Not just among the people and press of course; that’s been the case since the election. Nor even among the intelligence community; didn’t 50 intelligence officials identifying as Republicans sign a letter in August 2016 declaring that Donald J. Trump “lacks the character, values and experience” to be president and “would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being”? But now he’s at war with Brennan, former (fired) FBI director Comey, and McCabe, all of whom will be speaking out more, addressing in part deep state actors who can help undermine the regime.

Trump in his spontaneous tweets has castigated the FBI for “corruption at the highest level.” There is an obvious, deepening contradiction between the “intelligence community” and the executive.

Trump has reportedly asked deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein to fire special counsel Robert Mueller. A reckless move by Trump to close down the Mueller investigation will likely create a general political crisis. It could bring him down. But will “America triumph” over Trump as Brennan suggests? Should Trump fall, America will be saddled with Pence. There is no triumph in sight, just more corruption and oppression.

***

I keep thinking of that Classics IV song from 1968: “Oh, stormy, oh, stormy, bring back that sunny day.”

Stormy Daniels could possibly do what the Russia probe won’t do. Should she charge the president with a threat of physical violence to insure her paid silence about a three-month affair, his ass may be grass. But again, his departure will change little. And there’s no sunny day to go back to. Just venality and turpitude.

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Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

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